13 March 2019
World War 1 education for children in Kent.
Hawthorne Trench is an area of recreated World War 1 (WW1) trench systems which totals over 200 metres. The trench system was designed two years ago by my father and myself to extend our interest of WW1 further. The trench is aimed to be a replica of the Somme, in particular British and German trenches form Hawthorne Hill where one of the massive mines set off during the Somme battle was located. To make the trench as accurate as possible, the designs were guided by both historical images and military order books of how to build trenches in WW1, so what you see is as close as you can get to the real WW1 trenches. It is one of the only replica trench systems that you can visit in Europe. Currently the Trench consists of an Officers' dugout, regimental aid posts, cookhouses, railway systems, dugouts and latrines; as well as front and second line which is connected by communication trenches. These measure approximately 200m in length with the British and German trenches separated by 25m of no man's land made up of barbed wire and shell holes.
In 2018 we opened the trench to the public to share what we have with others. At first it was mainly public open days at the weekends, in which I would give a tour around the trenches and give out information about each section of the front line, as well as giving the public an opportunity to interact with both soldiers in WW1 uniform and certain exhibits within the trench such as the officers dugout and the regimental aid post. After a short period of time, members of the press heard about the trench and did reports on the trench, including the Kent Messenger, The Daily Telegraph and BBC News; as well as ITV Meridian who did a live broadcast on 10 November 2018 as part of their commemorations of WW1 as you may have seen. After the press had picked up on the story, we decided to begin to run school trips to visit the trench. So far we have had a number of schools - including visits from Primary schools, Secondary schools and Home Education Groups, with over 600 students and many more booked in. Our main aim with visits to the trench is to teach what day-to-day living in the trenches would have been like and give people an idea of the feelings and emotions their ancestors would have felt in the war.
The trench is located in Elham, near Canterbury in Kent. This site is one of a kind and you would struggle to find another one in Europe that you would be able to visit.
We are aiming to get every school in Kent, or as many as we can, to organise a trip to the trench as we are right on their doorstep. However, as a relatively new site Hawthorne Trench is quite unknown to most schools.
The trench system we have is great for the students as they remember and learn so much from their time at the site, as they can interact with all the exhibits within the trench such as going into dugouts, trying out the soldiers bed and just learning the day to day life of a soldier in the trenches. Also WW1 is on the curriculum for Primary schools so the visit would be extremely beneficial to their learning plus their efforts to remember those who fell in the Great War.
The visits so far have been in the region of 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the numbers and age of the students. We also provide a quiz booklet with questions related to the talk on the trenches so that the students can take something home with them. There is an onsite “class room” which has tables and chairs, which is full of WW1 props such as uniforms and equipment that the students can try on and handle. Students can also have their lunch in here or outside as the trench is set in a 20 acre field. To get the best from the visit we split larger groups into a maximum of 25 to 30, but we can have two or three groups going at the same time at different points in the trenches.
In addition to school trips, I am currently in the process of organising visits for all varieties of Cadet Groups including a camping option.
We have an open day on Saturday 23 March 2019 with tours at 10:30am and 1:30pm, with each tour lasting an hour and a half allowing you to experience each section of the trench.