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Year 9 ‘entrenched’ in WW1

As our Year 9 History students discovered last week, life in the trenches during World War 1 was a nightmarish test of human endurance as soldiers battled death in appalling conditions.

It’s hard for our Year 9 History students to comprehend just how hellish life was in the trenches of World War 1. But last Thursday, they participated in an all-day incursion with a difference. It was engaging, hands-on, fascinating and harrowing. And by the time Shane Blackman from WW1 Living History left Wenona, our students had a comprehensive understanding of what the soldiers had to endure: darkness, mud, rain, corpses, guns, gas, shells, barbed wire, rats, lice, flies, cold, trench-foot, boredom and terror.

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Trench warfare in World War I was employed primarily on the Western Front, an area of northern France and Belgium that saw combat between German troops and Allied forces from France, Great Britain and, later, the United States.

Using contemporary images, maps and authentic accounts, as well as lots of military weapons and artefacts, Shane brought trench warfare to life in all its gory details. He explained how soldiers lived in the trenches – the long, deep ditches that were dug as protective defences to protect troops from machine-gun fire and artillery attack from the air. And he taught them all about the terminology of the time: saps, dugouts, Ops, firebays and knife-rests. They also learnt how attackers approached the trenches and the sort of warfare that ensued to overcome them: shells, gas, snipers, bayonets etc.

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As Shane explained, the British trenches would have three parallel lines - front, support and reserve. Often built on low-lying ground, the land was often little more than a giant bog. The Germans, holding the higher ground, often built more sophisticated trenches, with their reserves held in lavish underground bunkers.

With the land churned up by artillery and the constant rain, the ground would become like thick slime making it difficult to move and turning the trenches into cesspools where men floundered and drowned, weighed down by their heavy luggage and uniforms. With corpses piled everywhere, the flies were unbearable, swarming over the dead and covering food whenever the soldiers tried to cook or eat. And there were plagues of rats. Day and night, they would crawl over their food supplies, devouring their rations, scurrying over their faces when they tried to sleep.

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Ali and Amelia in Year 9 said, “On Thursday, the Year 9 History students attended an all-day incursion with Shane Blackman, an historian known for his abundant knowledge of WWI and WWII. The students were greeted with a huge display of artefacts, many originating from 1914. Shane provided an extensive and thought-provoking description of the harsh conditions and battles the soldiers confronted. He engaged with us by inviting students up to the stage to select an artefact of their choice, with some girls even dressing up in military uniform. One artefact that stood out for us was the weaponry, mainly the bayonets, which served multiple purposes. Overall, Shane gave us a great insight into war and the lifestyle the soldiers faced over the years at battle.”

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As Head of History, Ms Poole explained, “Shane presented on both the war in Europe and war in the Pacific utilising primary sources, such as weapons, and uniforms. He was a fascinating presenter with a depth of knowledge around military history and it was amazing to see the students handling items which were often over 100 years old!”

This was a fantastic way of bringing the past to life for our Year 9 students. Thank you to Shane Blackman from WW1 Living History and bravo History Department!