World war trench system discovered beneath heathland

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FIRST World War trenches used as a practice battlefield by soldiers heading to the front line have been discovered by chance in Gosport.

Historians and archaeologists have hailed the find on heathland at Browndown as a significant reminder of the efforts made by the UK as it headed to war 100 years ago.

A rifleman from 42 Engineers jumps over one of the newly-discovered trenches. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14672-1)

A rifleman from 42 Engineers jumps over one of the newly-discovered trenches. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14672-1)

Gosport Borough Council’s conservation officer Rob Harper unexpectedly found the well-preserved mock battlefield while looking through aerial photographs of Browndown Training Camp.

The Ministry of Defence land, which is open to the public and used by dog walkers, was found to have an elaborate series of trenches for two sides, with a no man’s land in the middle.

Television historian Dan Snow visited the site yesterday to mark its discovery.

Mr Harper said: ‘A few months ago, I was looking for Second World War features in the area and came across a 1951 aerial photo and zooming into one corner, I could not believe my eyes – it was an extensive system of classic First World War trenches.

‘The plan shows there isn’t just one system of trenches where you have got the front line and the communication lines, there is also another one mirrored across an expanse of no man’s land.

‘Having seen that on the picture, I came down to look.

‘I thought 1951 was a long time ago and there may not be a lot surviving, but the more you look, the more you realise quite a lot is recognisable.

‘I have worked in Gosport 17 years now and we have got some amazing historic sites. There is no way I would have expected to find anything like this.’

Gosport was a departure point for thousands of soldiers setting off for trenches in Europe.

No records have been found as to suggest who used the site or what happened to them afterwards.

It is believed the site would have been used to recreate the scenarios soldiers experienced during battle.

David Hopkins, Hampshire County Council archaeologist, was alerted after Mr Harper visited the site and saw what was left of the trenches.

He said: ‘We do know in Hampshire there are military practice trenches. A lot of them are fragmentary survivals and others are ploughed over or brushed over.

‘This one is extraordinary for the amount that survived, for how well it survived and for the coherence of the battlefield with the front lines, the support lines, the communication trenches, facing each other across the no man’s land. It is an extraordinary survival.’