It was my 31st birthday on the 17th. And my sister (who works ‘in museums’) had an idea to take me to these WWI training trenches near Marlow. It’s very hard to find, luckily she’d been before and between that, the GPS and my ‘that looks like a wood, let’s go there’ approach we found it.
The trenches sit up on a ridge and are in quite a tranquil and sunny spot. Although you do wonder if the powers that be were perhaps being very optimistic by putting the trenches up on a ridge with an excellent view of the enemy to the west. There isn’t a great deal of information about how the area was used, but it appears that the Royal Engineers were one of the groups that trained there. So I imagine they practiced their trench building, whereas infantry were drilled in trench warfare etc.
It’s a very melancholic place, and eerie. Not in the sense that you imagine that it is haunted but that the people who trained there must have been instilled with a great sense of optimism. The sunny day put me in mind of a time that existed before WWI. I imagined officers who had trained at Eton, I imagined people like my great-grandfathers digging trenches and practising their stretcher-bearing. And I imagined all this going on in a sunny quiet spot, in a silence before the storm. I liked it there, I think it stands as an important monument to the time that existed before the war, and before the imagined memories we all have of the noise, the mud, and the blood that covered the real trenches.
You might think that these trenches are forgotten but more than a few people are still using them. We saw dog walkers and cyclists. The local archaeology group have done a great report on the place which you can see here. The trenches are also filled with the remnants of kids at play. We found bike marks, rope swings, and more than a couple of forts.
I like to think that the kids are having great fun there, and that they don’t have to imagine all the bad things that happened to the people who trained there. But at the same time I hope they’re still reading things like ‘The Machine Gunners’ in school and have a grasp of how important places like this are.