Army lends a hand at Lister Lines

The Assault Pioneers of 2 Mercians arrived at RAF Halton this week to take the lead on a joint project to renovate the WW1 training trenches in a quiet copse behind Initial Force Protection Training hangar (IFPT).

Having taken a tour of the trenches a year ago whilst on exercise, Sgt Chadbourne of the Pioneers was keen to bring his platoon down to conduct renovation works. The objective for the week was to render the sap, communication trench and the front line trench structurally safe. To that end, 16 members of 2 Mercians met with 10 Servicemen awaiting Trade Training (SATTs), on loan from Recruit Training Squadron (RTS), and the work began.

Sgt Ben Smart from IFPT explained the plan of work, saying: “Sgt Chadbourne gave his safety brief and outlined the scope of works to be conducted. From there the SATTs were allocated mentors from the Mercians and commenced the huge task of bagging up over 20 tonnes of sand! Meanwhile the Assault Pioneers jumped straight into the deep end and started digging away at the heavy clay that had set in the rotten sandbags of the old trenches. Under the steady guidance of the Sergeant of Pioneers, the tasks were completed at an amazing pace.

The next task for the group was to replace the woodwork within the trenches, so whilst the SATTs carried the sandbags into place from the filling point and prepared the timber, the Pioneers removed and replaced the rotten shoring.

Day two saw a small controlled collapse which caused extra work for the lads digging out half a foot of clay from the bottom of the trench. Putting this small setback behind them, the work continued, and by the end of day three the sap along with the communication trench were both complete with work already well underway on the front trench.

Now, midway through the work, their success is already evident and the future is looking bright for Lister Lines. We are keen once again to open Lister Lines to the public. This is hopefully the first of many works within the plan of continual improvement to RAF Halton’s WW1 Trench Experience and we hope to continue wowing those who visit our facility.”

Sgt Chadbourne described the week here, saying: “We completed the work in just four days, the first two were tough with the digging and straightening in the clay soil but the last two days have been very enjoyable. We decided on sand in the sandbags rather than cement as sand is easier to maintain and is low maintenance as you can easily remove a split sandbag and replace it. We have used over 2000 sandbags with just two spare at the end. It has been a good week, we have all enjoyed it, and commitments willing, we would also like to come back in a year and do more work on another communication trench.”

Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) Archaeologist Guy Salkeld said: “RAF Halton’s WW1 origins are well documented. At the outbreak of war in 1914 Lord Rothschild loaned an estate to the Army for training. Thousands of soldiers, including men of the Royal Flying Core (RFC) passed through Halton. In 1918 the RFC became the RAF who still occupy the site today. The reconstruction at Halton offers a unique chance to experience an extensive trench system, still in its military context, in a landscape that would be recognisable to those who first trained here. The position and layout of the trenches was designed to allow them to be appreciated from an elevated position and this still provides an unparalleled educational and engagement experience. Halton has added a machine gun post in accordance with original field manuals and the whole system can be approached in civilian (walking) or military (crawling) mode. A visit to the trenches with RAF personnel is an eerie and emotive experience, made all the more powerful by occasional gunfire from the rifle range and the shouts of the instructor as fresh recruits exercise nearby making the trenches as relevant to the raison d’etre of RAF Halton today as they were in 1914.”