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article imageBritish military historian builds WWI trench in backyard

By Katie Ryalen     Nov 1, 2012 in World
Military historian and Royal Logistics Corps Museum curator Andrew Robertshaw builds a 60ft WWI trench in his back garden to experience life as a British soldier of the Great War.
Anyone familiar with such British archaeological documentaries as Two Men in a Trench and Finding the Fallen is probably familiar with military historian Andrew Robertshaw. Whether it be learning authentic German foot drill in period uniform or hopping into a newly excavated trench to examine an artefact, Mr. Robertshaw appears never to mind getting dirty for the sake of remembrance.
It likely comes as no surprise, then, to Andy Robertshaw fans that he has embarked on the monumental task of reconstructing a World War One trench in his backyard. As reported by Britain’s The Daily Mail, the project required shifting 200 tonnes of earth to create the 60ft trench, complete with barbed wire and sandbags.
As if building it wasn’t enough, Mr. Robertshaw then proceeded to spend 24 hours in his trench with his team of 30 volunteers, which included soldiers from the 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistics Corps. The experience, made as authentic as possible by itchy woollen underwear and tin helmets (reports Britain’s The Guardian) was recorded by the team in diaries.
As to his motivation, Robertshaw states (as reported by The Daily Mail): I wanted to show people that the war was about survival and not just about death. When the soldiers weren't fighting this is how they were living. The most common experience was living in a trench and trying to be as comfortable as possible while living in a hole in the ground.
Unfortunately modern technologies and conveniences did intrude on the experience, hampering its authenticity somewhat. Says Robertshaw (as reported by The Guardian): Our biggest problem is noise pollution. It's hard to pretend you're in the Great War when a jumbo jet [from Gatwick Airport two miles away] goes thundering overhead. In addition, he has had to comply with health and safety regulations, most notably providing team members with hand sanitizing gel and completing a risk assessment.
In an age where N.I.M.B.Y. seems to be a widespread rule of thumb, the fact that this trench was built in Robertshaw’s back garden might lead one to wonder what the neighbours thought of this month-long construction project. But even though he admits he did not tell his neighbours of his plans until the project was well underway, Robertshaw insists that he’s had no complaints so far (reports The Guardian). Quite the contrary—during his 24 hour re-enactment, neighbours passed cups of tea over the trench walls to team members.
Steven Andrews, 63, lives next door to Robertshaw’s trench and was aware of the re-enactment at it was going on. To The Daily Mail he said: My land borders Andy's land but we have never had any real problems ... We can hear the gunfire from the house, he uses real rifles used in WWI, but as it isn't very often we don't mind.
With a reputation for bringing the past to life for students and teachers, Robertshaw intends to use his reconstructed trench to prepare a video and website for use in schools. He has also opened his trench up to the public in the past. He states (as reported by The Daily Mail): I usually target war enthusiasts and societies like the Western Front Association, as it will mean more to them.
The Guardian reports that his upcoming book, 24 Hours in Battle, will include his findings from this project. The book, due to be released next year, is set in April 1918, and follows his earlier book of a similar nature, 24 Hour Trench: A Day in the Life of a Frontline Tommy, which details life in a 1917 trench.
According to his foundation Battlefield Partnerships, Andrew Robertshaw is a military historian and author of a number of historical war books. He is a former teacher, and is the curator of the Royal Logistics Corps Museum in Deepcut, Surrey. Since 2000 he has been featured in a number of radio and television broadcasts, and was a military advisor on the 2011 Steven Spielberg film War Horse.
More about World War I, World war one, First World War, trench, Soldiers
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