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Berkhamsted WWI troop training trenches

On 28 September 1914 troops from the Inns of Court Officers' Training Corps, nick-named The Devil's Own, arrived in Berkhamsted to train before heading for the battlefields of northern France. 

During the course of WWI, 12,000 troops passed through the training camp at Berkhamsted.  They lived in a tented camp near the station, paraded on what is now called Kitchener's Field and trained on Berkhamsted and Northchurch commons and in the surrounding countryside. 

Military camp with 350+ tents and wooden huts

Troops from the UK and abroad spent several months in Berkhamsted in intensive training, building skills and character, before being commissioned into other regiments. 

Troops digging training trenches, Berkhamsted Common WWI

Over 13 km (or nearly 8 miles) of training trenches were dug on the commons of which just 500 m remain. A team of volunteers from the Commons Project and Chiltern Society mapped the location of the best preserved trenches. Their work parties can be seen in this gallery of photos and short film by Colin Drake.

The impact on the small town of about 7,500 was huge and there was strong respect and appreciation between local residents and the Corps.  For many of the young men, Berkhamsted was their last "home" before the horrors of the Western Front.  By 1918, nearly half of all trainees had become casualities of the war with 2,200 killed.

Visit Berkhamsted Common to see the trenches yourself - they are to the south of the bridleway between New Road and Brick Kiln Cottage (grid reference SP 998102). There are signs to them from the car park by the war memorial at the top of New Road For commentary while you walk, download a free Audio Trail (Walk 2) from the Berkhamsted Town Council website.

Troop trainees on Berkhamsted Common in WWI

More than 50 local volunteers were involved with the mapping project, plus trainees from RAF Halton and members of the current Inns of Court TA Squadron.  We are very grateful to Norman Groves who led and coordinated the project with his core team of Peter Johnston, Richard and Brian Shepherd.  Thanks are also given to Alex Thompson and Ken Wallis of Berkhamsted and District Archaeology Society for their enthusiasm and valuable help.

 

There is now an interpretation board by the path near the trenches on Berkhamsted Common.  The board outlines the history of troop involvement in the Berkhamsted area during the First World War and includes a sketch showing the location of the trenches in the area. 

Berkhamsted Common WWI troop training trenches

Finger posts direct walkers from the public rights of way that lead onto the common from New Road, Berkhamsted, including the informal car park by the Inns of Court war memorial.

 

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