The Trench Experience


At this year’s festival we are very excited to have created a scale section of a First World War trench. Built by a team of experts and local volunteers, and using authentic methods and materials, official period manuals, as well as drawing upon the testimonies of those who built and fought in them, this will be as close a representation of what a First World War trench was like as is possible.

During the week, we will be offering a new and exciting trench experience especially for this hundredth anniversary year of the Battles of the Somme and Verdun. You will enter an above-ground trench built for the festival, where you will witness both French and British troops recreating a scenario from before and during the Battle of the Somme. From this immersive ‘in the moment’ experience, you will then continue down a ‘Sunken Road’ towards our recreated trench, which is the only authentically recreated First World War trench open for the general public to see anywhere in the country and even France.

The scenario will be the summer of 1919; you will become one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who flocked to France and Belgium to see where so many men had fought and died. The trench will be deserted, left as it had been in November 1918. A trail will take you around it and over foot bridges across the trench system. You will pass communication trenches, dug-outs, with the old trench signs still in place; you will pass shell holes, wire and no man’s land, giving you a unique opportunity to see what a trench of the Western Front looked like.

Also featured as part of the Trench Experience will be an encampment, period vehicles, and displays.


The Trench Experience will cover an area of some 3,600 square metres and will include communication trenches, front-line trench, support trench, officers’ dug-out, other ranks’ dug-outs, fire-steps, shell-holes and wire entanglements forward of the front line. It will be supported by wooden struts and will include a combination of sandbags, wattle, planking and duck-boards.

Interestingly, there was no one design for trench construction, and more often than not it depended on what was available and the skills of those who were constructing it. Our trench will reflect those differing techniques.


The Trench has been project-managed by Luke Winter, Director of the acclaimed Ancient Technology Centre in Cranborne, Dorset. Luke has forged a formidable reputation for the authenticity of his historical building projects and recently planned, designed and oversaw the construction of the Stone Age settlement at the the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Luke and his team were also responsible for the Anglo-Saxon settlement at the Chalke Valley History Festival site.

Our above-ground trench has been designed and project-managed by James Gage, who has considerable experience of creating such experiences and who is a hugely knowledgable living historian of the period and experimental archaeologist.

Pike & Shot Events Ltd is supplying the team of Interpreters to man the trench and the WW1 Living History Encampment for the duration of the Festival.

For these projects, we will be drawing upon the team from the Ancient Technology Centre, but also local volunteers. The Chalke Valley has a rich and long history, and during the First World War it was the site of training ranges, while only a few miles away were the sizeable training camps of Fovant and Sutton Mandeville. This summer, the annual Dig for History archaeological project, always part of the History Festival, will be taking place at Sutton Mandeville camp on Sunday 19 June. Many of those trained there were sent to the front in time for the Battle of the Somme.
A key aim for the History Festival has always been to involve local members of the community and to help them learn more about the history of the beautiful valley in which they live.


To mark the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, there will be a service at the Trench from 7.15am on Friday 1st July, led by the Bishop of Salisbury. At 7.30am, whistles will be blown followed by a two-minute silence. The service will include readings and a brief address.


The Trench will also feature during our special Somme commemoration seminar morning on 1st July.