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Man builds 60ft WW1 trench in his back garden

Report & Video by Matt Blake

A former history teacher has built a 60ft WWI trench in his back garden to reflect on life as a British soldier during the Great War.

Andrew Robertshaw, now a military historian, shifted hundreds of tonnes of earth from his back yard, in Surrey, to build the trench complete with a kitchen, an infantry room, and an officers' dugout, and lined with barbed wire and sandbags.

He then invited a team of actors, archaeologists and soldiers from the 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistics Corp, recently returned from Afghanistan, to spend 24-hours living there.

The aim of building the trench was to gain a real appreciation of what daily life was like in the trenches beyond the well-documented military assaults and gas attacks.

He said: "Every single person within about half an hour said, 'I wasn't ready for this.'

"No matter how much planning they did, no matter how much they thought they knew; they knew absolutely nothing. Once they got in there, things got dropped, covered in mud, lost, they couldn't find things, they weren't working as a buddy team, they hadn't thought about what they'd put in their pockets, it was incredible."

Even in the comfort of daylight, just moving around in the narrow trench in muddy and sometimes waterlogged conditions is challenging, and wearing period clothing gives an added sense of appreciation.

But between 1914 and 1918 the horrors of living in a trench was a daily reality. Soldiers had to deal with sleep deprivation, the weather, living in a confined space and the tedium of maintaining the trench as well as the dangers of the conflict itself.

"The most dreadful thing about it, it was just exhausting, if you get just three or four hours of sleep a day you are doing well, you'll sleep in the afternoon, you're working all night, you're nocturnal. If it's wet, you're wet, if it's cold, you're cold. If the trenches fill with mud, then your feet get soaked and it's just a point where you get bone numbing coldness."


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