Archaeologists have found an officers' toilet in a replica German trench made in the Hampshire countryside in World War One

By Culture24 Reporter | 16 August 2016

A deep pit where officers could relieve themselves and a brazier for keeping the injured warm have been discovered at a World War One site in Hampshire

An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
Wessex Archaeology says a recreation of a German trench system, used in Hampshire to prepare soldiers for the Somme, was unexpectedly complex© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
A series of mock-up Hampshire defences known as the “Bedlam Trenches”, designed to replicate the German trench systems of the Somme and teach soldiers the tactics to attack enemy lines, were impressively constructed to include shelters, an aid post and an officers’ latrine, say archaeologists who have spent two weeks carrying out an intense dig at the site.

A sap – a trench used to advance and gain a territorial advantage – would have replicated the “eyes and ears” of no man’s land, according to a geophysical survey and extensive excavation carried out at Perham Down, where the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 13th Essex Regiment and two battalions of the Middlesex Regiment once prepared for World War One.

An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
Two biscuit tins and a condensed milk tin were discovered© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
Servicemen were taught how to build trenches around the heavily-used trample layers. Military material had been left in an adjacent part of the “front line” alongside chalk-filled World War One sandbags after the war, with the farmer later adding agricultural debris to the pile.

“The officers’ latrine turned out to be substantial, with a deep pit for urine at the end that was partly filled with small blocks of chalk, butchered animal bone and sand, which together would have provided appropriate material to form the soakaway,” says Phil Andrews, the Post-Excavation Manager for Wessex Archaeology.

“The areas where people stood indicated heavy use. The locations and functions of these features were conveniently indicated on a rare and detailed contemporary map of the system. In all cases it was clear that these elements had been properly constructed.
An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
Postholes and stakes remained at the site, which the team returned to its former look at the end of the excavation© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
"The shelters, with a communications trench running through them and a supply trench joining them from the west, contained chalk-cut benches providing seating on each side.

“There were also the remains of timber posts that would have supported the roof and held the side revetting in place. In the bottom were two biscuit tins and a condensed milk tin – all empty.

“The aid post had wider benches than the shelters, probably to hold stretchers, while in the corner there was evidence for a brazier – essential to keep the injured warm.”

An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
The work was commissioned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
A strengthened trench and redoubts recreated a second line of German defences. A two-way corridor had also been created.

“It had been dug to its full depth on the south side, but was relatively shallow to the north – perhaps one of the rare examples where for pragmatic reasons the system was not fully dug,” says Andrews. “It was also made straighter than indicated on the contemporary plan.

“The geophysics information illustrates very clearly the layout of the ‘German’ practice trenches in the area.

“Every one of the seven areas excavated has turned out to have an interesting story to tell, and what has survived, and what we have learnt about this system of practice trenches, have far exceeded expectations. We have only looked at a tiny fraction of this extensive system.”

An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
Volunteers, veterans and professional archaeologists took part© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
The team observed a short ceremony to remember the people who took part in the exercises a century ago.

“We now know the names and details and have photographs of more than 30 of the soldiers from the Middlesex and Essex Regiments, most of whom were only in their late teens or early 20s,” says Andrews, who also oversaw the discovery of part of a cap badge carved in one of the trench surfaces.

“There are other elements of the Perham Down system we could look at, including one of the redoubts, a kitchen and a Battalion Commander’s post.

An overhead photo of archaeology work at an outdoor world war two trench system
The relatively shallow depth of the latrines suggests they were probably not long-drop toilets© Crown and Wessex Archaeology
"We might also consider another season of fieldwork.”

Screw pickets, blank rounds, food and drink tins from World War One and a variety of exploded World War Two ordnance pieces are now being cleaned and recorded by volunteers.

The work was carried out as part of Operation Nightingale.

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Three places to see World War One stories

, Bath
World War One Remembered will show the impact of the First World War on Bath and North East Somerset, compiled from images, family memories, archive material, community research and news articles from 1914-18. October 25 — November 19 2016.
, Stoke-on-Trent
The museum has installed an outdoor replica First World War trench system next to the venue in the city centre. It marks the centenary of the outbreak of the war in 1914 and aims to offer visitors an atmospheric, thought-provoking understanding of some of the conditions experienced by soldiers on the front line.

, Chichester
Explore the bravery, creativity, joy and sorrow of the war and its impact on Chichester in this interactive exhibition with lots of hands on activities, including first aid World War One style and testing out a German Picklehaube.
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