A “UNIQUE” set of trenches used as a practice battlefield for soldiers heading to the front line in the First World War have been discovered overgrown and forgotten in a British coastal town.
Television historian Dan Snow has heralded the find on heathland in Gosport, Hampshire, as a significant reminder of the efforts made by the UK as it headed to war 100 years ago.
The site, which is the size of 17 football pitches, contains two sets of opposing trench systems, each with a 200 metre-long (660ft) front line, supply trenches and dug outs with a no man’s land in between the two sides. It was discovered a few months ago by Rob Harper, a conservation officer with Gosport Borough Council, who spotted a set of strange lines on an aerial photograph from the 1950s and went to investigate.
Mr Harper said: “I was looking for something else, I was looking for Second World War pillboxes and features associated with an airfield nearby and I came across this 1951 plan in the office of this area in Gosport and I couldn’t believe it because in one corner of this plan was your absolutely classic First World War trench systems – it’s quite jaw-dropping really, we are talking about an area of 500 metres by 500 metres.”
He continued: “This is something that seems to be quite unique, we are at a time when we had our eyes on the western front, and that will continue to be case and rightly so, almost forgetting that on the home front there were many tens of thousands of men coming through sites like this, training ready to go straight out. You are only 48 hours from the trenches here, if not less.
“Also, I am aware they were actually experimenting and thinking about how they develop the trench systems and this may well be to do with that, it was a constantly moving science.”
Mr Snow, who is president of the Council for British Archaeology, said: “What strikes me about this, to be honest, is the scale of it, I never thought I would see something this large in the UK.
“To have the enemy and front lines, to have second lines, communication trenches, it’s an entire replica World War One battlefield.
“It shows how serious they took the business of training and how serious it was here, they had to send the guys out to France ready to do the hardest of tasks, something no-one had done before, that is to defeat the German army when they were dug in, they had deep trenches, they had pre-sited artillery, machine guns and how to break that deadlock, the answer is right here in front of us.”