'Unique' WWI practice trenches found in Hampshire

A soldier walks through the trenches in the heathland of Gosport, Hampshire.
A soldier walks through the trenches in the heathland of Gosport, Hampshire. Photo: ITV News

A "unique" set of trenches used as a practice battlefield for soldiers heading to the front line in the First World War have been discovered overgrown and forgotten in a British coastal town.

Television historian Dan Snow heralded the find on heathland in Gosport, Hampshire, as a significant reminder of the efforts made by the UK as it headed to war 100 years ago.

The site, which is the size of 17 football pitches, contains two sets of opposing trench systems, each with a 200 metre-long (660 foot-long) front line, supply trenches and dug outs with a no man's land in between the two sides.

The site was discovered a few months ago by Rob Harper, a conservation officer with Gosport Borough Council, who spotted a set of strange lines on an aerial photograph from 1951 and went to investigate.

The 1951 plan that was found shows the trenches in the heathland of Gosport, Hampshire.
The 1951 plan that was found shows the trenches in the heathland of Gosport, Hampshire. Credit: ITV News

Mr Harper was actually looking for Second World War pillboxes and features associated with an airfield when he stumbled across the plan.

"I couldn't believe it, because in one corner of this plan was your absolutely classic First World War trench systems - it's quite jaw-dropping really, we are talking about an area of 500 metres [1,640ft] by 500 metres," he revealed.

Corporal Mark Short of the 42 Engineer Regiment said a "sense of terror" goes through his mind when he thinks of what those First World War soldiers went through.

Corporal Mark Short of the 42 Engineer Regiment speaks to Rupert Evelyn.
Corporal Mark Short of the 42 Engineer Regiment speaks to Rupert Evelyn. Credit: ITV News

He told ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn:

I wouldn't want to operate or work in these trenches to be fair.

What the guys did back then is pretty special compared to what we do nowadays.

Snow, who is president of the Council for British Archaeology, said what struck him about the site was "the scale of it" as "I never thought I would see something this large in the UK".

"To have the enemy and front lines, to have second lines, communication trenches, it's an entire replica World War 1 battlefield," he added.