Friday, 5 September 2014

Training for the trenches

Back in late 1914 some bright chap at Sandhurst (The Royal Military College as it then was) thought that since the British Army was engaged in a trench war that it might be a jolly good idea to train for such a thing!  Accordingly, some training trenches were dug and despite the ravages of the intervening century they can still be seen.
Thus it was that on an overcast morning in August I found myself trudging through the woods near one of the firing ranges. The poor light is my excuse for the quality of my photos - which are revealed here by kind permission of the Sandhurst Collection  - my guide being Curator Dr Anthony Morton.

I wonder how many of the young officer cadets who trained in these trenches didn't see the end of the Great War.  Makes you think, doesn't it?

While we were there, I was also shown proof that digging training fortifications wasn't a new concept even in 1914.  Nearby is a large earth rampart known as 'The Lines Of Torres Vedras'.  Though rather shorter than the 30km original, this is significant enough to be shown on Ordnance Survey maps.
I would love to know when the Army stopped training cadets to assault such lines, and indeed when the WW1 trenches fell into disuse.


Abwehrschlacht said...

I was unaware of the trenches at Sandhurst, but am not surprised by them being there. Trenches were dug in the UK all the way through the First World War, and all across the country. Personally I have excavated training trenches in Otterburn, Northumbria, and know of ones on Sailsbury Plain. Further to this and closer to home, there are trenches at Redmires in Sheffield (Hill 60), these were started in 1914 and continued to be dug at least until 1917. Plus there are grenade ranges in Silverwood Scout Camp near Barnsley, dug by the Barnsley Pals.

Al said...

Cool post

Tim Gow said...

I believe that a lot of the trenches dug were for trench-digging experience. The Sandhurst trenchers were apparently used for trench raid training.

Tim Gow said...

Thanks - that make the early morning worthwhile!

Archduke Piccolo said...

Looking at these pictures reminds me of a location, not far from my home town, called Pukerangiora. I used to visit there occasionally as a schoolboy. The site was the scene of a siege during the 'Musket Wars' of the 1830s and 40s, fought between Maori tribes. The place backs onto a cliff overlooking the Waitara River. Apparently when the invading Waikato broke into the pa, the defenders leapt over the cliffs to their deaths.

The site was covered in pine trees as I recall, but you could still see the trenches, quite deep they were, well over 6 foot as I recall, and very like the pictures in your posting.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Here are a couple of links to the Pukerangiora story. The pictures indicate that the place has changed in the 40-odd years since I was there last. Then the pine trees stretched from the Waitara Road side to the Waitara River - no great distance.

Edwin King said...

I think the large networks of trenches in the Medway were for practicing assaults.

Tim Gow said...

Archduke Piccolo
Thanks for posting the links - I have vaguely heard of the Musket Wars but I wouldn't claim it was my specialist subject!

Tim Gow said...

Edwin King
Thanks - do any traces still remain?

Michael Peterson said...

Thanks Tim. Great post. It's a little surprising that they were able to change the officer training curriculum that quickly that by late 1914 they were digging trenches at Sandhurst. Presumably they brought in some squad dies for the digging, as it would have been beneath the dignity of young gentlemen. As others here have posted, there were extensive entrenchments set up at training establishments across Britain during the Great War, and presumably others at training depots in France like Etaples. Prior to WW1 I suspect that there was some thought to digging rifle pits, but that based on colonial war experience, the emphasis in officer training was still on manoeuvre.
Cheers, Michael

Tim Gow said...

Michael Peterson
Thanks for your comment - I'm pleased that this rather topical post has generated so much interest.