Over the past few weeks Wessex Archaeology, in collaboration with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, has been carrying out a geophysical survey and then excavating WWI practice trenches on Perham Down, Hampshire.
The trenches, known as the ‘Bedlam Trenches’, replicated German trench systems in the Somme region, enabling soldiers to learn trench warfare tactics by practicing attacking the enemy lines, as well as learning how to construct trenches.
Battalions that used the Bedlam Trenches included the Kings Royal Rifle Corps – now The Rifles (incidentally, significantly involved in Operation Nightingale), the 13th Essex Regiment, and the 16th and 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment – the renowned ‘Footballers’ Battalion.
The work was commissioned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), and the team has consisted of volunteers, veterans and some professional archaeologists. So far they have uncovered:
- part of a trench with a step that would have been used for firing at the enemy (fire step), and with evidence of a possible sap – a trench used to advance into land to gain a military advantage.
- a First Aid post, with seating dug out of the chalk;
- Officers’ latrines, the relatively shallow depth of which indicates that these were probably not long-drop toilets;
- a dugout (shelter) within which the surface which has clearly been trampled down by many pairs of boots, with some corrugated tin and lots of postholes which probably would have supported the revetting which secured the sides of the trench;
- a communications trench;
- other support trenches.
A number of finds have also been recovered, including blank ammunition, and screw pickets – used (instead of wooden stakes) to create barbed wire obstacles on No Man’s Land. We are looking forward to discovering more as the week progresses.