Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Historian turns back time with backyard battlefield

A former history teacher has recreated a First World War trench in his Surrey garden and now plans to launch a website that will allow pupils to explore the front lines.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 2 November

Historian turns back time with backyard battlefield

A former history teacher has recreated a First World War trench in his Surrey garden and now plans to launch a website that will allow pupils to explore the front lines.

Andrew Robertshaw, 55, spent a month removing 200 tonnes of earth from his back garden in order to build a three-room trench and replicate the wartime experience.

Thirty volunteers, including soldiers from 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistics Corps, who have recently returned from Afghanistan, helped the historian to create the 60ft (20m) trench, which he hopes will teach people about the horrific conditions soldiers contended with on the front line.

Mr Robertshaw, who worked as an advisor on Steven Spielberg's recent adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's popular novel, War Horse, said: "I wanted to show people that the war was about survival and not just about death. When the soldiers weren't fighting, this is how they were living.

"The most common experience was living in a trench and trying to be as comfortable as possible while living in a hole in the ground," he told the Daily Mail.

The military expert and the volunteers spent 24 hours living in the trench, which contains a kitchen, infantry room and officers' dugout, and is complemented with barbed wire, sandbags and gas masks for authenticity.

The participants dressed up in replica uniforms and shot blanks from First World War rifles into the countryside. Mr Robertshaw's neighbours showed true wartime spirit by bringing the re-enactment troops cups of tea during their overnight shift.

Only one local resident, 63-year-old horse owner, Steven Andrews, was concerned about the neighbouring battlefield, but his worries were dealt with amicably when Mr Robertshaw agreed not to shoot guns while the animals were outside.

The ex-teacher is now in the process of creating a video for schools and a website which will allow students to take a virtual trip through the trenches. He believes this will help young people to gain a more realistic idea of wartime military life than the black and white photographs often used in the classroom.

Images of Mr Robertshaw's trench are available in his book: 24 Hour Trench: A Day in the Life of a Frontline Tommy (The History Press).

Questions for discussion

  • If you could recreate a moment from history, which would you choose?
  • What do you imagine conditions might have been like for soldiers living in the trenches?
  • Can you think of anything that you might take forgranted which soldiers in the trenches would not have had access to?
  • Are recreations like this a good way to learn more about the past? Why?

Related resources

Daily life in the trenches

  • From rations to free time, these group activities help students explore the life of Tommys.

War poetry

  • Encourage students to reflect on the trench experience with this descriptive writing activity where they must write a letter, poem or newsletter from a soldier's point of view.

War Horse

  • Explore the stage version of Michael Morpurgo's novel, with this NationalTheatre resource pack.

Blackadder battlefront

  • A history lesson on perceptions of the war which compares Blackadder Goes Forth to historical sources.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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Nadeem Islam and Kayleigh Goacher, both students from South East London, picked up an award worth 3,000 Euros at the ZEBRA International Poetry Film Festival last week.

Brighton and Hove City Council has suggested removing honorifics from all documents to help better support the needs of the city's transgender community.

In the news archive index