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Take A Tour Of WW1 Trenches At RAF Halton

Find out what life in the trenches was like for men in the First World War.

In the heart of Buckinghamshire, RAF Halton is home to the battle line trenches used in WW1.

Originally dug by the men in 1914, the trenches stretch for miles, previously accommodating soldiers who used the trenches as training grounds to aid the learning of surviving in the Western Front as they prepared to face disease, hunger and little sleep.

Once they were able to dig and learn the basics of survival, the men were sent to the Somme. The battle claimed 60,000 lives on the first day alone.

Original WW1 Trench at RAF Halton
Restored WW1 Trench

What were the living conditions like in WW1 trenches?

In the trenches, your average life expectancy was about six weeks and disease accounted for a third of deaths.

Rats, trench foot and shell shock plagued the men. There was a small amount of rum to enjoy but tea tasted horrible thanks to the chloride of lime used to purify the water. 

It was said that soldiers in the trenches were highly superstitious, many were said to have seen angels appear over the trenches to save them from disaster.

Officer wading through the mud, Gird Trench, Gueudecourt.
Solider Wading Through Mud At The Somme, 1917.

What did men eat in the trenches?

A typical meal in the trenches was "maconochie" - a stew of turnips, potatoes and carrots. Other rations included bully beef and even Marmite.

How long does it take to dig a typical trench?

During the First World War, more than 25,000 miles of trenches were dug on the Western Front alone-equivalent to 137500 football fields.

Many had nicknames like Bond Street, Death Valley and German lines were given names like Pilsen Trench.

According to the guidelines for British trench construction, it is said to take 450 men, six hours at night to complete 250m (270 yards) of front-line trench system.

A Sniper Of The 6th Battalion. York and Lancaster Regimenon the front at Cambrin, 6th February, 1918.
A Sniper Of The 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, 1918.

What do trenches look like a century later?

Believed to be the last remaining trench in the UK, RAF personnel were tasked with digging out the trench at Halton, which had become overgrown.

Stg Dermot Walsh
Sgt Dermot Walsh

2010 saw the restored RAF Halton WW1 trenches, as members of the RAF station worked to make them available as an educational exhibit. Sgt Dermot Walsh lead the team of Royal Air Force and Royal Engineers who worked together to preserve the trenches. He said:

"This is part of our heritage. The men who dug these trenches over a hundred years ago were Royal Engineers.

It’s not just mapping, it’s getting our military personal back in touch with their history".

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What will happen to the trenches in the future?

In a speech led by the House of Commons by the Defence Secretary on 7th November 2016, it was said that RAF Halton would cease to be part of the MoD by 2022, although this was later revised in a speech given by MoD Minister Tobias Ellwood announcing that the plan to remove RAF Halton would be extended until 2025.