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Historian builds First World War trench in Charlwood garden

By Leatherhead Advertiser  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

  • Andrew Robertshaw takes a break in a sleeping hut RELM20121106A-006_C Photos by Liam McAvoy

  • Mr Robertshaw stands above his homemade trench RELM20121106A-009_C

  • Andrew Robertshaw RELM20121106A-001_C

  • The trench comes complete with sandbags, barbed wire and walkways RELM20121106A-004_C

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ANDREW Robertshaw, 55, spent a month shifting 200 tonnes of earth to recreate a First World War dugout outside his home in Russ Hill, Charlwood.

The father of one, who spoke to the Advertiser on Tuesday morning after a 16-hour stint in the trench, said it was the "most authentic way" to mark Remembrance Day this weekend.

"When it comes to teaching about trench life during the war, historians seem obsessed with concentrating on the battle aspect," he said.

"In truth the real battle came with the living conditions.

"I had a group of people stay with me overnight and the more common issues are living in complete darkness because you cannot use a lantern for fear of being shot. Then there's being wet and cold all the time.

"This trench is about teaching people what these soldiers went through, for example the lack of sleep and being constantly uncomfortable. Trench warfare isn't just about death, but survival.

"Remembrance Day is coming up and I really wanted to share this with others and that is why we did an overnight session, complete with lookout duties and rationing, on Monday."

The historian, who runs the Royal Logistics Corps Museum in Deepcut, was inspired to build the replica because his grandfather fought in the trenches during the war.

The trench was built by a team of more than 40 volunteers, and is complete with barbed wire, sandbags, sleeping huts and an officer's dugout.

The 60ft replica was built using original plans and aerial photos of a trench system built by British troops near Ypres, in Belgium.

Mr Robertshaw, who worked as a military advisor on Steven Spielberg's film War Horse last year, is now preparing to open the trench to the public for educational use next year.

"For more than 20 years I was head of education at the National Army Museum, and despite using images and artefacts I felt most audiences failed to grasp the reality of the war.

"This trench offers the real experience in the most authentic way. I want to have some sort of adult education programme.

"Unfortunately I think having schools here would be a health and safety nightmare."

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