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Uncovering WWI history on Berkhamsted Common

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Uncovering WWI history on Berkhamsted Common

In 2014, the country will come together to remember the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, which touched so many families. Apart from losing many of its sons, the Chilterns also played a crucial role in providing major training camps for the infantry and cavalry.

One of the essential skills for soldiers was planning and constructing trenches, the front line defence at the time. They learnt to do this in the Chilterns but nearly all of the practice trench sites have now disappeared.

Now, in time for the 2014 anniversary, one of the few remaining sites in the Chilterns is being mapped to help preserve it and provide a permanent commemoration. The site is on Berkhamsted Common, where the public have free and easy access.

Volunteers from the Chilterns Commons Project, run by the Chilterns Conservation Board, and The Chiltern Society will plot the location of trenches originally dug by trainees of the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps - nicknamed 'The Devil’s Own'.

Their camp was at what came to be known as 'Kitchener's Field' near Berkhamsted Castle. In nearly five years from 1914, over 14,000 men passed through - three of whom were awarded the Victoria Cross. A more sobering thought is that the average life expectancy of an officer in the trenches was between just four and six weeks. 2,147 of the men trained in Berkhamsted gave their lives in France and another 5,000 were injured.

The mapping process, which will be 'hands on' and very simple, will take place between October and next April. The trenches are near the golf course by New Road in an area of scrub. To enable the surveying, some of the scrub will be cleared by volunteers before mapping starts. This clearance work has been carefully timed to minimise disturbance to wildlife. Mapping the practice trenches will help us to understand more about battle tactics of the time and help to commemorate this very important 100th anniversary in Berkhamsted.

The Berkhamsted Golf Club is supporting the project, recognising the historical significance of this work and combining it within the next 10 year conservation plan being agreed with Natural England for large parts of the Common.

Rachel Sanderson of the Chilterns Commons Project said:

"There is so much hidden history to be discovered on local commons. It's really exciting to be helping to uncover this rare piece of WWI history near Berkhamsted."

If you would like to find out more or get involved, please contact Rachel Sanderson on 01844 355525, email rsanderson@chilternsaonb.org

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