THE musings of soldiers who carved their names into trees while under fire is being studied by a Malvern student.
Former Dyson Perrins School pupil Chantel Summerfield, aged 23, who is studying for a PhD at Bristol University, is writing her thesis on arborglyphs, or carvings made in tree trunks.
According to Miss Summerfield, she is the only researcher in this unusual field of work and has been cataloguing carvings in several areas, from the Army training grounds of Salisbury Plain to the forests of the Ardenne in Belgium.
The carvings have been made by soldiers on training, on a front line, or on sentry duty.
She became interested in the topic while she was pursuing 20th-century combat archaeology, and an English Heritage researcher told her about trees on Salisbury Plain where generations of soldiers have left their mark, carving their names and those of wives or sweethearts.
She started to find out more about the carvings, which date from the First World War up to the present day, using military records to try to find out the fate of some of the names she found.
Her work led her to Normandy, where many more arborglyphs can be found – left by the soldiers who took part in the 1944 D-Day invasion during the Second World War.
In one case, she was able to find relatives of the American GI Frank Fearing, whose name she found on one of the Salisbury Plain trees, along with the name Helen.
She managed to get in touch with Helen Fearing – Frank had died in 2001 – and sent her a picture of her name carved into the tree.
“Something like that really makes you feel you are in touch with the past,” said Miss Summerfield, who has wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as she can remember.
She is the only archaeologist who has published work on arborglyphs, but says there is room in the field for other researchers.
“I’ve only explored a small part of Salisbury Plain, so there’s a lot more to be uncovered,” she said.
“I’m the only one who specialises in graffiti on trees and I’m off to Canada and later Luxembourg this year.
"The oldest I have found was from 1908.
“It’s fascinating. Some-times you get very elaborate carvings of women, a name, a date, but what I have never found, for example on the British side, was any carving criticising the war, or of the King, or any swearing.
"Instead, there seems to be a desire by soldiers who feel a need to mark that they were in that place for that moment in time.”
Anyone with information about any arborglyphs can contact Miss Summerfield by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org