It looks just like any other unused and overgrown expanse of land. Fifteen hectares of trees, shrubs, and wild grasses, with the odd remnants of human involvement by way of dirt tracks, rotting fence posts, and rusty gates.
Turns out this area of land to the east of Leicester is hiding a highly unusual manmade history. A history that came to light when GRM was commissioned to undertake land appraisal and site investigations for a housing developer.
During WWII the site served as a military camp for American soldiers from the Gilder Infantry Regiment, of the US 82nd Airborne Division. This included pyramidal tents, huts, mess halls and a battalion HQ. The soldiers trained for D-Day Landings at various sites across Leicestershire before taking part in a glider-borne assault in the Battle of Normandy, landing on 7th June 1944.
The site then became a German POW camp with a capacity for up to 2000 prisoners. It was categorised as suitable for ‘grey’ prisoners, so those between anti-Nazi feelings (white) and hardcore Nazi feelings (black).
While the surface remnants of this WWII camp have been lost, the evidence below the ground is certainly not. Asbestos was widely used for both building materials and by prisoners for making objects, gaming boards, and other activities to pass the time and poses a potential risk to site workers and end-users. Other remnants include metal items such as tent pegs (see image).
A UXO risk assessment concluded that there was likely to be explosive ordnance on-site, and indeed hand grenades had been found by archaeologists.
Nature has played its part too with the identification of hazardous giant hogweed and over 30 active badgers setts.
All these factors were considered during the GRM led site investigation which also involved archaeologists, ecologists and UXO professionals. Shallow trial pitting on a 25m grid system across the whole area is being used to determine the distribution and quantity of asbestos levels so that remedial measures can be put in place if necessary. Soil samples will be sent for chemical testing for a range of contaminants including asbestos. All sampling allowed for ecological constraints such as 30m exclusion zones around active badger entrances.
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