“A real-time re-enactment of an unspeakable, horrendous event”
What was life like for soldiers who served in the trenches of the First World War? In October 2001, 85 years after the bloody Battle of the Somme, where the British alone suffered 60,000 casualties, 24 volunteers signed up to recreate the experience of trench life.
The volunteers, all of similar ages and occupations as the original platoon, The 10th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment (known as the Hull Pals), are recruited from Hull and East Yorkshire. For two weeks they will experience at first hand the harsh realities of eating, sleeping and living as soldiers during the First World War. With their day-to-day life dictated by the Regimental War Diary of the original Battalion, the modern-day Hull Palls will spend 14 days in an authentically constructed trench system in Northern France.
Before being transferred to the Trench, they spend 11 days with the Army at Catterick Infantry Training Centre learning basic military discipline and necessary skills such as trench repairs, anti-gas drills and sentry duties. The trench itself comprises of a 60-yard front line and 120 yards of communication channels. It was built using Royal Engineers’ drawings.
In the trench, the men are under the command of a serving Army officer, supported by expert members of the Association for Military Remembrance (the Khaki Chums) who take on the role of NCOs. Throughout the series, rarely seen archival footage is used to authenticate the experience as is poignant testimony from specially shot interviews with veterans – men who are now over 100 years old, but whose memories of those appalling times are still astonishingly vivid.
The volunteers quickly form close friendships and alliances of a type very similar to those forged on the battlefield. The soldiers endure simulated bombardments and gas attacks. They also face up to the loneliness, unpredictability and boredom of life in the trench – a life of unimaginable squalor, hardship, fear and real danger that 60 million men from around the world suffered during the Great War.
The three-part series, The Trench, begins Thursday, November 28 at 9 pm ET/PT as a part of History of War Thursdays.