The corner of an English field that is for ever a foreign ‘no man’s land’: WWI training camp found on south coast

The site appears to have been used for highly realistic mock battles – in preparation for more lethal encounters on the Western Front

Archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown First World War ‘battlefield’ – on the south coast of England. The discovery is of huge archaeological and historical significance.

Located near Gosport, Hampshire, the site appears to have been used for highly realistic mock battles – in preparation for more lethal encounters some 150 miles away on the Western Front.

It’s the most sophisticated and best preserved First World War battle-training complex ever found in Britain.

Covering some 50 acres, the long-forgotten facility consists of opposing ‘British’ and ‘German’ trench systems – with a 300 metre wide no-mans-land in between.

Both systems consist of a frontline trench, rear ‘support trenches’ and a network of communication trenches. Several forward observation trenches, protruding from what was probably intended to represent the British front line, have also been found.

To add realism to this practice battlefield, craters appear to have been deliberately created in the no-mans-land between the two opposing trench systems.

What’s more, the two front-line trenches, each around 300 metres long – were both designed with a series of right-angled ‘zig-zags’ to prevent blast travelling along them. The site – discovered by Gosport Borough Council conservation officer, Robert Harper, was brought to light through a detailed examination of old aerial photographs.


It is located at Browndown Camp, just west of Gosport, on land which is still owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – but is accessible to the general public most of the time.

Up to two miles of the trenches on the site appear to have survived,  some to a depth of almost 1.5 metres – but are almost all obscured by thick bracken and gorse.

Detailed research is now likely to be carried out into the newly discovered complex at the site by historians and archaeologists, working in co-operation with Gosport Borough Council and the MoD – and it is conceivable that, at some stage, interpretive display boards will be installed to fully explain the site to the public.

It is currently not known which regiments trained at the complex or took part in any mock battles there.

Despite the fact that trench warfare training was a major aspect of British soldiers’ experience in the First World War, relatively little research has ever been carried out into that aspect of the conflict.

However, it is likely that battlefield training at Browndown Camp would have involved a very broad range of activities ranging from reconnaissance practice to mock battle charges.

Troops would almost certainly have used the complex to practice how to minimize casualties while advancing against the enemy – and how to clear German troops out of enemy trenches.

Historians, specialising in the First World War, say that it is likely that troops would also have practised night-time as well as day-time attacks – especially in the last two years of the conflict.

Smoke bombs and flairs may also have been used to create a realistic ambience and replicate the visibility problems caused by some types of poison gas. But deliberate smoke creation would also have been used to practise how to conceal advances and other activities from the enemy.

Experts say that, although realistic hand-to-hand combat was obviously difficult, it almost certainly formed part of battlefield training at places like Browndown. Fortunately, however, fixed bayonets would have been kept sheathed! A ‘telescopic’ blunt rifle bayonet, which gave way on impact, was invented a few years before the First World War for practising combat and may well have been used at the site.

Mock gas attack, casualty recovery and semaphore communication exercises are also likely to have featured in the training there.

“The newly discovered trench complex is an extremely significant discovery, likely to represent a training area in which both attacking and defence were practised by British troops during the First World War,” said Dr Stephen Bull, a leading military historian and author of a detailed book on British and other First World War battle tactics – Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front.

“The site is almost certainly unique in Britain in terms of its complexity. It’s particularly interesting that the complex shows a remarkable similarity to those trench system lay-outs illustrated in British Army trench construction manuals published in the middle years of the war,” he said.

The site is internationally important because of its size, sophistication and excellent state of preservation. Although trench construction has featured in warfare since at least Roman times, the technique was used more extensively during and after the Napoleonic Wars, especially in the Crimean conflict and the American Civil War. But in the First World War it was used on a truly grand scale – with more than 20,000 miles of trenches being dug on the Western Front alone.

In the Britain, there are at least a thousand known First World War military structures and other features which still survive today. However, the Council for British Archaeology and English Heritage believe that many more still await discovery. Others are known – but have never been properly recorded. The two organisations are now appealing to the public to help them find and record them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions