Yesterday I wrote about trench construction (which you can read here) during World War I. While fragments of the original trenches on the Western Front still exist today and are preserved as reminders of the war, most are long gone, grown over with grass and wildflowers, reclaimed by the earth they were dug from.
But there is one man, a farmer named Jeremy Hall who lives just outside of Ipswich, England, who can walk out on his property and step back in time. Several years ago Taff Gillingham, a military historian, approached him with the idea of creating accurate trenches along a stretch of fallow land on his farm. Jeremy Hall agreed, and in ten days’ time they had reconstructed an Allied trench using a 1916 British Trench Building manual. The structure includes latrines and a system of communication trenches. In 2006 they added a German trench (making sure that it was dug deeper and on the high ground). Between the two is an accurately depicted no man’s land complete with shell holes, and trees shattered by shellfire.
Gillingham was charged with instructing the Downton Abbey actors about life in the trenches. Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) described the experience of filming:
The war scenes were very exciting to film. There was a network of trenches and it was amazingly authentic and incredibly muddy. It really gave you a sense of the environment–going over the top, guns firing, bombs exploding, men shouting and all the while the cameras are rolling. The adrenaline really went–it wasn’t so much the noise of the bombs as that you could feel it in your chest. And then you would look up at the end of the take to see the crew completely covered in ash.
Downton Abbey was the first drama filmed at the Ipswich site, but several documentary films have utilized the reconstructed trenches.