Posted: 1 March 2009 22:24

For me, a fantastic discovery during my fieldwork was this completely intact slit trench in a Downsforce locality.

Slit trench

I had found this particular trench some time ago, but it is only now that I've realised it is seemingly untouched since the war; this photo comes from My first post on Downsforce in October 2008.

The photo was taken looking down through a small gap which is just large enough to get a camera down. I took an interest in this trench because I could see what appears to be the original floor, giving me the depth (3ft/90cm). The end wall is at left, the angle picket having rusted and fallen out from the corner.

The reason I took no further interest is the piece of corrugated iron at top right; I thought this was part of the rear wall that had buckled inwards due to the pressure of earth it was trying to hold back, and an attempt to lower the camera down and shoot along the trench interior only resulted in a close-up of the piece of wooden beam seen at right.

The problem is that the 'entrance' into the trench is only just big enough to get the camera through with the built-in flash raised and it's very much hit or miss as I take the photo one-handed whilst totally unable to gauge at what angle to hold it.

Slit trench

However, this new photo that shows the trench interior in all its glory was taken by lowering the camera deeper than before (and at risk of dropping it) and shooting underneath the piece of wood.

What I thought was the buckled rear wall of the trench actually turns out to be some sheets of corrugated iron used to cover the trench completely; a layer of earth and grass has kept it under wraps.

To me this is an incredible find as without exception, every other trench I've seen so far has either been partially infilled, and/or has had all or part of its revetment removed or buckled under the pressure of earth; even the relatively intact Christmas Day trench has one collapsed wall.

What we have here is pretty much the original floor level of the trench (note the bottom edge of corrugated iron at bottom left) and all walls still vertical and maintaining the structural integrity of the trench.

I think the cover sheeting has actually preserved the trench and prevented buckling by bracing the upper lip of the revetment. Such buckling seems to start in the centre of the top edge, at a point furthest away from the corner pickets that hold the corrugated iron in place. The cover has also kept the trench from filling with debris over the years, and these points lead me to think that it has been in place pretty much since the war.

Why the trench was covered, I don't know; perhaps it was a farmer's temporary alternative to filling it in, or perhaps it was covered by the army during the war and overlooked when its neighbours were backfilled, or maybe it was being used by local kids as a hideout.

While it's not quite on the same level as the tomb of Tutankhamun, the discovery of this trench is important to me as it provides a rare glimpse of a defence work (and an earthwork at that) as it probably looked around the time of construction.

It also reinforces two points that I persistently make; firstly, a repeat visit to a feature is seldom wasted, and the landscape holds a lot more evidence than people think - you just have to look for it.

- Pete



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Angle picket

Iron stake made in several lengths used for construction of barbed wire obstacles or to hold trench revetment in place.

Slit trench

Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.

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Hibbs, Peter An intact trench! (2024) Available at: Accessed: 19 June 2024

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