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RCAHMW U-boat Project - NAS Field School 2019

During 2017 MADU were commissioned by the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) to run two field schools, one in North Wales during 2018, and one in South Wales during 2019. The field schools formed part of Commemorating the Forgotten U-Boat War around the Welsh Coast 1914-18 that was a project co-ordinated by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The 2019 field school was planned and took place over a 10-day period from 7th to 17th June, at Abercastle in Pembrokeshire, and include diving on the wreck of the SS Leysian, which lies approximately 600m from the slipway in Abercastle Bay in around 8 - 16m of water. The land-based side of the field school was centred at Garn Isaf, the ideally situated bed and breakfast, self catering farmhouse and campsite in Abercastle.

In late 2018 and through 2019, to help publicise the field school, MADU ran various exhibitions stands and provided talks for the:

NAS Conference 2018

MADU providing a talk on the field school at the 2018 NAS Conference in Newpoprt (© Lynn Jones)

In October / November 2018, BSAC & SAA dive clubs in Wales, along with the clubs that took part in the 2018 filed school on Anglesey, were invited to bring their dive boats to dive the SS Leysian and join the field school in June 2019.

Dive club invitation to join the 2018 field schoolEnglish (enlarge)

Dive club invitation to join the 2018 field schoolWelsh (enlarge)
Dive club invitations to take part in the 2019 field school

By March 2019, over 100 people, representing 16 dive clubs, had signed up to attend the 2019 field school:

A 20 strong crew had also very kindly offered their help to run the event:

The field school  crew
Some of the field school crew (when their t-shirts were still clean!)

Over the course of the 10-day field school, diving and recording the wreck site took place, while between dives, and for non-divers the event offered a range of activities including NAS Skills day courses. Below are a selection of photographs taken during the field school.

Abercastle Village Launching Boats
Abercastle Village Launching in Abercastle Bay
Morning Briefings Morning Briefings
Dive Planning Morning Briefings
Underwater Recording Underwater Surveying
Underwater Recording Underwater Surveying
Recording the spare propeller boss Drawing of the spare propeller boss
Recording the Spare Propeller Boss Sketch of the Propeller Boss
Training Courses Training Courses
A NAS Recording Skills Day A NAS Surveying Skills Day

While underwater recording and surveying of the wreck, together with above water training courses were being run, the hard boat NovaT was moored over the site and being used as a platform from which an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), fitted with a video camera and sonar head could be operated.

The ROV being assembled Piloting the ROV
Assembling the ROV Piloting the ROV
NovaT moored over the site A Sonar Image
Operating the ROV A sample Sonar Image from the site

In addition to recording the remains of the wreck, underwater video and stills of the fauna and flora found on the site were also captured, and following the field school identification of what was observed was complied and included into the final project report.

Fauna & Flora found on the site Fauna & Flora found on the site
Fauna & Flora on the site was recorded for later identification

Despite running the field school in June, the weather throughout the 10-days remained cold and windy, and after 3 days of diving the weather deteriorated even further. With gales and storm force winds forecast, all the boats were removed from the water and 3-days diving were lost due to the weather.

Boats being recovered from the water Boats being recovered from the water
Boat being removed from the water prior to the impending storm
Rough weather over the site Rough weather at the site
The storm arrived and diving was suspended for 3 days

The loss of time spent underwater meant that more time could be spent on other activities. The most frutful of these was made by people who visited, recorded and reported back on some of the terrestrial heritage sites local to Abercastle.

The on-line Welsh heritage catalogue Coflein, lists sites throughout Wales considered to be of significant importance, and prior to the field school, 34 of these sites had been identified close to Abercastle. Most of these sites only had a brief description attached to them, and only 3 included pictures taken from the ground.

During the field school 28 of the 34 sites were visited and information, videos, photographs and sketches were handed in for possible inclusion and up-dating of the existing historic record of the area. Examples from some of these sites is included below.

Lime Kiln Lime Kiln
Lime Kiln (NPRN 525082)
Landing Place Landing Place
Landing Place (NPRN 525086)
Quarry Quarry
Quarry (NPRN 525083)
Burial Chamber Burial Chamber
Photograph & sketch of the Carreg Sampson Burial Chamber (NPRN 94129)

In addition to the existing Coflein sites, a further 4 sites, considered to possibly be of significant importance, were also recorded, including 2-cannons, an old granary and an inn.

Cannon 1 Cannon 1
Cannon 1
Cannon 2 Cannon 2
Cannon 2
Granary Granary
The Old Granary
Tap House Inn Tap House Inn
The Tap House Inn

At the conclusion of this terrestrial heritage exercise, a report on the sites was compiled:

Report on sites of Historical Interest visited during the 2019 Nautical Archaeology Society Abercastle Field School

Although the storms kept the divers out of the water for 3-days, in addition to visiting heritage sites, the field school also laid on a variety of other activities, some of which are shown below:

Direct Survey Methods Direct Survey Method
Using the Direct Survey Method (DSM) & Site Recorder Software
ROV Construction ROV Construction
ROV Construction
Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) - Design, Construction & Piloting
Plane Table Total Station
Surveying using a Plane Table

Surveying using a Total Station

VideoRay Piloting VideoRay Piloting VideoRay Piloting
Commercial VideoRay (ROV) Piloting
Metal Detecting Beach Clean-Up Anchor Recording
Metal Detecting Beach Clean-Up Anchor Recording
Salvage Site Survey Salvage Site Surveying
Surveying possible salvage locations on the cliff top overlooking the site

Prior to the field school, a considerable amout of research had been carried out to uncover the back story behind the SS Leysian (ex Serak), and one evening during the field school a talk was provided in the local Mathry Community Hall for the local residents. The talk outlined the U-boat Project, the story behind the Leysian, the wrecking and the work being carried out during the field school.

During the evening, a talk was also provided by the Charterhouse Returns who are a charity restoring the RNLI Lifeboat that went to the rescue of the Leysian when she wrecked. And the evening concluded with a song written and performed by Duncan Ross about the Leysian entitled Ferrying Hooves to the Front.

Evening Talk Evening Talk
Ferrying Hooves to the Front The evening talk at the Mathry Community Hall.

The story of the Leysian from being launched as the Serak in October 1906, until she ran into the cliffs in Abercastle Bay in February 1917 has been researched, however from the date of the wrecking, until she eventually slipped beneath the waves around 8-months later, the story remain a mystery.

Anecdotally we believe that a considerable amont of salvege work was carried out while she remained upright and stranded across the bay. However we have not come across any firm documentary evidence or photographs to back this up, so the evening talk was a good opportunity to make a plea for information to local people, and to hand out leaflets requesting their assistance (see below).

Silhouette of the Leysian across Abercastle Bay
Silhouette of the Leysian across Abercastle Bay

Silhouette impressions of what the Leysian may have looked like for around 8 months following the wrecking!

But where are the photographs?


Research Plea for assistance Research plea for assistance
Research plea for assistance - English (enlarge)
Research plea for assistance Research plea for assistance
Research plea for assistance - Welsh (enlarge)

On the last day of the field school, Aled Scourfield from BBC Wales visited and spent time on site filming and interviewing various people. His features were subsequently broadcast the following day in English on BBC Wales Breakfast TV, and in Welsh on the BBC Welsh language station's news programme Newyddion.

BBC filming during the field school BBC TV Interview in Welsh
Aled Scourfield from BBC Wales, filming and interviewing during the field school

The 2019 field school concluded with a report:

Running a Maritime Field School at Abercastle, Pembrokeshire, South Wales as part of the U-boat Project: Commemorating the forgotten U-boat war around the Welsh coast (1914-18)

Reference Links:

For additional information, see the following articles and links:



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For further information regarding the project see:

RCAHMW U-boat Project - NAS Field Schools

RCAHMW U-boat Project - NAS Field School 2018

RCAHMW U-boat Project - NAS Field School 2019 - Legacy Day 2022


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