Welcome to this blog which is intended to accompany a website on how Suffolk was defended during the Second War. The blog will describe my trips out and about looking for the remains of the Second War defences while the Website will concentrate on putting these into context.

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Monday, 24 February 2014

WW1 Practice / Training Trenches - Suffolk

I spent an interesting day mapping the WW 1 training trenches on the outskirts of Ipswich. They appear to represent opposing trench lines; the line that has survived the best consists of a front line and support line linked by communication trenches. On the other line, the front line survives but the rest of the system has mostly been infilled, as it runs through the nearby golf curse. The outline of part of the system can still be seen on the green!

Above: GPS plot of trenches  and shell holes near Ipswich. Some shell holes may have been missed due to thick bramble and gorse scrub in places. 

Above: The continuation of the trench system can still be seen on the nearby golf green

The front and support lines consist of short  fire bays with traverses. The purpose of traverses was to give protection against enfilade fire and to localize the effect of a bomb or shell bursting in the trench. This gives the trench line the familiar crenelated pattern seen in WW 1. The communication trenches follow a more sinuous line, meaning transverses were not required. In places the trenches are still remarkably well preserved but along some stretches they are beginning to blend back into the land.

Above: Plan of a section of the front line trench showing fire bay and traverse

Above: A front line trench were the fire bays and traverses can still be clearly seen. Other parts of the trench system are as well preserved in places, although covered in bracken, bramble, gorse etc. 

"No Mans Land", the ground between the two opposing lines, is pitted with shell holes. I must admit I am not familiar as yet with the degree in which live firing training took place in WW 1  - the shell holes could be 'mock' to present an accurate replica of the battlefield.  Training pamphlet "Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action", 1917  does say however state: "Live ammunition: No form of instruction with arms can be considered complete until it has been carried out with live ammunition under conditions as nearly as possible approaching those which would pertain on the battlefield". It is probable training took place at platoon , company and battalion level, perhaps even brigade level on this site, with troops practicing trench attacks, advancing in waves etc.

Above: Shell holes - note the meter ruler in the bottom photo for scale.

In the best preserved line (the blue line on the trench map attached), there are a few saps running off the communication trenches, one appearing to end in a 'T Head' ('T Heads' and 'D Heads' were often incorporated in communication trenches as fire posts). Another seems to end in some sort of weapon-pit. There is a large pit in the front line - perhaps a dugout? There are other pits, for which I am uncertain of what they were supposed to represent. There is a single earthwork which looks like a WW 2 slit trench (6' x 2' dimensions) - it is not beyond the realms of possibility the trenches were also used in WW 2 for training.

This weapon-pit is at the end of a sap running off one of the communication trenches. Surely the revetment in the image does not date from WW1? But then when does it date from!

An interesting find was the remains of a .303 cartridge -  manufacture was Royal Laboratories and the date 1917. This at least indicates some sort of live firing took place.

Remains of a .303 cartridge, dated 1917. It has been fired. 

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