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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.
November 2, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

The home front: Surrounded by barbed wire, sandbags and mud, this 60ft trench is barely distinguishable from those occupied by British soldiers fighting in the First World War almost a century ago. The enormous dugout has been painstakingly recreated by an ex-history teacher in his back garden in Surrey, and the dedicated 55-year-old even spent 24 hours living in its confines with a team of volunteers as part of his efforts to experience life as a WWI soldier.
posted by ShawnString (47 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think without artillery crashing round him and the severed limbs of comrades underfoot, he's not going to get real close. But I admire the attempt.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:48 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or rats...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:54 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


He could make the experience much more realistic by having the local sewage treatment plant and the local abattoir each dump a truck load into the trench and then letting it ripen for a while. His neighbors might be less excited about that, though.
posted by Forktine at 7:56 AM on November 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here is a summary of my knowledge of WWI:

Private Baldrick: No, the thing is: The way I see it, these days there's a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: How did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?
Captain Blackadder: Do you mean "How did the war start?"
Lieutenant George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire- building.
Captain Blackadder: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganiki. I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front.
Lieutenant George: Oh, no, sir, absolutely not.
[aside, to Baldrick]
Lieutenant George: Mad as a bicycle!
Private Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
Captain Blackadder: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
Private Baldrick: Nah, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war.
Lieutenant George: By Gum, this is interesting. I always loved history. The Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives, all that.
Captain Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Private Baldrick: But, this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
Captain Blackadder: Yes, that's right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
Private Baldrick: What was that, sir?
Captain Blackadder: It was bollocks.
Private Baldrick: So the poor old ostrich died for nothing then.
(source)
posted by blue_beetle at 8:00 AM on November 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


Baldrick, I believe the phrase rhymes with "Clucking Bell".
posted by DreamerFi at 8:06 AM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought Passchendaele, while it was a pretty cheesy movie on the whole, did a good job of recreating the sheer misery of the trenches. It showed the soldiers sitting down in waist-high filthy water.
posted by orange swan at 8:18 AM on November 2, 2012


Dysentery or it didn't happen.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:33 AM on November 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


This isn't really an accurate simulation unless they've sampled some of the ingenious make-do cuisine of the trenches:

Sauteed rat
Fricasseed rat
Apple brown ratty
Rat-au-van...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:34 AM on November 2, 2012


If this gets shared with students, it is an absolutely worthwhile project. Thank you for sharing this.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:37 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, compared with a real WWI trench, there seems to be a distinct lack of filth, rats, fleas and ticks, human refuse, splattered human remains, incoming shells, poison gas, machine gun fire, mines, tuberculosis and the Spanish flu.

Other than that, oh yes, it's a perfect reproduction.
posted by Skeptic at 8:42 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article quotes a neighbor:

'Last time we came to an agreement that Andy would stop shooting at certain times when the horses were out."

There'll always be an England!
posted by rdone at 8:44 AM on November 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


I forgot typhoid and a wide range of venereal diseases.
posted by Skeptic at 8:47 AM on November 2, 2012


Well at least it looks like a WWI trench. Although I am in agreement with all the comments so far.
posted by marienbad at 8:51 AM on November 2, 2012


Even if a few of the aforementioned less savory aspects of life in the trenches were included, 24 hours in your backyard with the knowledge that you get to go back inside and take a hot shower falls a bit short of experiencing life as a WWI soldier.

Being on the outer fringes of the American Civil War reenacting scene I totally get why people like dressing up in period clothing, firing period weapons, and roughing it for a weekend - I just wish more people would admit that, even if fascinated by the period and proud of an ancestor who fought in the conflict, it's more about dressing up and shooting off guns than actually trying to recreate the miserable conditions that soldiers experienced. Not that there aren't hardcore people like that - the Confederate reenactor in Tony Horowitz' Confederates in the Attic comes to mind.
posted by usonian at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well they could have done a thing where at a random time a random person would be selected and suddenly removed from the trench and replaced with a squib-burst sixty kilo bag of assorted offal spraying everywhere.

And then, yeah, it happens again, and again.

And you can't get out of the trench or it'll be you next, and you can't go home after sunrise for bangers and mash and a washup with the missus.

But still, a good spot of play-acting for the lads.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the corrugated tin realistic or just a modern safety feature. Either way, coolest backyard ever.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:08 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


More soldiers died from disease than from bullets, bombs, maces, becs-de-corbin, etc. in WWI.
posted by Mister_A at 9:10 AM on November 2, 2012


But it is said that, among battle casualties, the source of the greatest number of fatalities was a broken femur! Soldiers died of shock before they could be relocated to treatment.
posted by Mister_A at 9:11 AM on November 2, 2012


This is over the top.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wondered about the tin as well.
posted by Mister_A at 9:16 AM on November 2, 2012


I really don't understand the point of these comments suggesting that this project is somehow pointless if it doesn't include disease, artillery bombardment or gunshot wounds. All of that is self-evident. Do you honestly presume that he'd show this to kids and say, "And this is what war's all about, kids! Great fun, eh?" and just skip all those other not-so-easily-simulated details?

What the hell, metafilter?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:16 AM on November 2, 2012 [30 favorites]


I forgot typhoid and a wide range of venereal diseases.

And Trench foot.

I visited some "authentic" trenches on a school trip to Ypres when I was a wee lass. Of course, as any school teacher will tell you, trying to control (much less enforce a feeling of solemnity upon) a pack of rowdy 10-year-olds hopped up on bags of free Belgian chocolate is pretty much impossible. Our somber reflection soon turned into chasing each other through the winding pathways and scrambling up the concrete sandbags to run through the trees. It was incredibly surreal to stop and think, as you crawled through a tunnel or stamped through puddles, that hundreds of young men may have lost their lives on that very spot.

At one point we were lead into an enclosed square space and the tour guide explained, in halting English, that this was where soldiers would retreat to if the trench was taken over, because it had hidden firing slits in the walls from which their fellows would gun down the invaders as they chased them inside. We stood there for a moment in silence, then we were lead back to the bus to eat our packed lunch on the grass.

Like I said, surreal.
posted by fight or flight at 9:20 AM on November 2, 2012


over the top

And the thread is over, over there.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:24 AM on November 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


He probably had a ton of sandbags sitting around and didn't know what else to do with them. Sandbags can really be a nuisance.
posted by orme at 9:25 AM on November 2, 2012


Though some of these comments are tongue-in-cheek, I don't really understand why some people seem to feel compelled to shit all over this. I don't think anyone is claiming that hanging out in a trench in this guy's backyard is exactly what soldiers experienced during WWI. It seems to me that it's meant to be a learning tool, to give a sense of what it might have been like. Given that, there's really some excessive cynicism in a lot of these comments.

I think it's a cool project. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by i. shishkin at 9:39 AM on November 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


orme: "He probably had a ton of sandbags sitting around and didn't know what else to do with them. Sandbags can really be a nuisance"

Or just a bunch of empty pillowcases and a beach.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012


Coulda used some Hescos.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:47 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't have time to find a link, but yeah, having visited the War Museum in Ottawa enought times, they used corrugated iron sheets in WWI trenches.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:50 AM on November 2, 2012


I don't really understand why some people seem to feel compelled to shit all over this.

Why? Well, read the first sentence of the article:

Surrounded by barbed wire, sandbags and mud, this 60ft trench is barely distinguishable from those occupied by British soldiers fighting in the First World War almost a century ago.

Except for, you know, most of its nastiness. People aren't shitting over a worthy project by a magnificent specimen of the British anorak species. People are shitting over posting a single link to a terrible, terrible article from the Daily Fail, no less.
posted by Skeptic at 9:54 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:17 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Being a soldier in the trenches in WWI is the most terrifying experience short I can imagine, short of being actively tortured. I try to avoid thinking about it, much less re-enacting it. It sounds like that might be a common sentiment based on the strong feelings expressed in this post.
posted by ianhattwick at 10:22 AM on November 2, 2012


People are shitting over posting a single link to a terrible, terrible article from the Daily Fail, no less.

And yet, the comments don't say that. The comments say that the replica fails in its job because it doesn't send visitors home as scarred, broken human beings like a real WW I trench would. If the comments were about the crappy article, they'd say, "Wow, what a crappy article," and not, "This doesn't inflict PTSD, so it's a waste of time."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've been meaning to ask AskMe lately but haven't gotten around to it, and this really seems like as good a spot as over there: what're some WWI movies that come recommended? I've been fascinated by the event as of late and have been surprised at the lack of decent films on the subject, let alone excellent ones.
I might as well admit that this was bought about by watching War Horse when it came out and yes, I know. I've seen Paths of Glory, of course, and both versions of All Quiet on the Western Front and more or less liked them both, though they weren't perfect. Same with Sergeant York. I was disappointed in Beneath Hill 60 and Gallipoli, assuredly not because they're both Australian takes on the matter - or maybe it was because they're Australian. Who the hell knows. Ideally I'd like to see the Saving Private Ryan or Platoon of Great War pictures, but until that's made I'm interested in anything that depicts fighting in the trenches and mud as realistically as possible, violence/gore/tense-as-fuck and all, with minimal to no romantic interludes.
Ideas?
posted by item at 10:37 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Item, an IMDB search for the "World War One" tag might be a start. You can further refine the search on the right-hand side of the screen.
posted by Harald74 at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2012


I'm sure in the right circumstances, this replica could serve as a very good tool in teaching awareness. By itself it's a nice thing, but I think when combined with a good instructor, such a trench could help immerse the student with a bit of perspective.

By that I mean, if I were crouched in that trench, could not see anything except the sky above and more dirt, and someone were to describe the actual conditions of trench foot, body parts, and shelling, I think I could come away with a better sense of understanding than with just a textbook.

Students vary, of course. It's quite possible you'll get a kid or two who just "won't get it" without the true conditions we all seem to pan this project's lack of. I recall participating in a Habitat for Humanity event where we would spend the night in pressboard boxes; some kids brought sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets and did their homework with a laptop.
posted by CancerMan at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


People are shitting over posting a single link to a terrible, terrible article from the Daily Fail, no less.

Which is why certain commenters are trying to replicate the inanity of the usual 'Mail comment thread by making the exact same joke/snide comment six times in a row as each clever clogs thinks they're the first to suggest hur hur it's not real without the dysentry hur hur?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:16 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


what're some WWI movies that come recommended?

The best has already been refered to above: Blackadder goes Forth, which for all its humour gives a good view of the inanity of the whole war. That final episode, that ends with them going over the top and getting killed (on what's clearly a studio set but that doesn't matter and then fades out into a field of poppies, is one of the most moving scenes in what's supposed to be comedy ever. The buildup to it as well, which starts as the usual Blackadderian caper to get out of the fighting, just relentlessly tightens the screws as one after another the plans fail.

Apart from that, the movie adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front / Im Westen nichts Neues might be worth seeking out.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:25 AM on November 2, 2012


Adding ordinary rats wouldn't do either. The eating for rats on the Western Front was so good that the rats grew to the size of cats.
posted by telstar at 11:58 AM on November 2, 2012


I meant to say this in my previous comment, but I do think this is a cool project. It would certainly be instructive for schoolchildren or anyone interested in WWI.
Yes, yes, yes, all of you internet experts: It's not really Really REALLY as awful as a genuine WWI trench. We get it. And, bonus: they get it. I'll give you odds that the reenactors don't believe they're actually experiencing a time warp to 1917.

But 24 hrs in a dirt trench is still a lot more hardcore - and probably more instructive - than that epic game of WOW you Totally Ruled In!!! last weekend. Even if they aren't using plasma rifles, which would be way cooler, like your 70th-level merc sargent.
From what I have seen with US Civil War reenacting is there is a lot overlap between "painstakingly recreating the past in as much detail as possible to bring history alive for current generations," and "Putting on cool uniforms and playing guns on the weekend."

On the one hand, of course nobody's going to fill a reproduction trench with sewage, body parts and vermin... but on the other, how many of those things can you omit and still call it representative of the real thing? At what point are you just camping out with period equipment? Whichever it is, how do you present it and put it in the right context for a layperson who's going to assume that you're a historical expert, because you look the part? I think that's what troubles people and leads to some of the cynicism seen here.
posted by usonian at 12:05 PM on November 2, 2012


what're some WWI movies that come recommended?

Paths of Glory
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Being a soldier in the trenches in WWI is the most terrifying experience short I can imagine, short of being actively tortured. I try to avoid thinking about it, much less re-enacting it.

My husband and I were watching Parade's End the other day and having a discussion about trench warfare; my conclusion was that it must be the most miserable way to live and die ever invented. Even prison camps were more humane in that you did not have to contend with dead humans and dead rats swelling with decomposition gases just a few feet from where you were trying to eat as well as stagnant water up to your thighs. It is unimaginable what the WWI soldiers endured.

One question I have about the uniforms, what was the purpose of puttees? I realize the cloth bandages replaced the more expensive leather gaiters, but it doesn't seem like cloth would be much protection from anything. It would not keep your trousers dry nor would it protect your legs from injury. They have always struck me as more of a bother than anything-- imagine having to wind those around your leg every day.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:20 PM on November 2, 2012


The purpose of puttees, as well as gaiters was to protect the trouser leg of mounted troops from wear caused by brushing against the saddle and sides of the horse. For infantry, they did serve to protect the bottoms of the trousers from wear and tear, but for the most part they were primarily a function of trends in military fashion, rather than any practical purpose (for other examples see Hussars, Zouaves, gorgets, etc.). Even as early as the Boer War, there were descriptions of heavy mud or clay clumping against puttees and then hardening, weighing troops down even further during marches in difficult terrain.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:31 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Andrew Robertshaw was a regular on the very excellent Two Men in a Trench that rocketed Neil Oliver to TV archaeology fame.

Two Men in a Trench is well worthwhile of you can get a copy.
posted by the noob at 4:34 PM on November 2, 2012


Also Time Team
posted by the noob at 4:35 PM on November 2, 2012


I don't care what all you haters say, this guy and his trench are damn cool in my book.

Also, I have to mention Cantigny and their museums.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:02 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Along the same lines:

Lieutenant George: Will you really? Oh bravo! Yes, jump into the old jalopy and come down and stay in the country, and we can relive the old times.

Captain Blackadder: What, dig a hole in the garden, fill it with water, and get your gamekeeper to shoot at us all day?
posted by cacofonie at 7:14 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did the school trip to Ypres and it was one of the most disturbing days I can remember as an impressionable kid. The trenches, the mud and the rows upon rows of gravestones in the cemeteries left me in no doubt as to the horror. Even then, I doubt I could imagine 1% of the sheer awfulness of life in the trenches.

Good post, especially since Remembrance Day is next week.
posted by arcticseal at 8:01 PM on November 2, 2012


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