World War I Practice Trenches, Tolsford Hill

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1463181
Date first listed:
01-Nov-2019
Location Description:
Grid ref: TR15521 38294. Lat. 51.103414 Long 1.0771215.
Statutory Address:
Tolsford Hill Down, SE of Postling, Kent, CT21 4EN

Map

Ordnance survey map of World War I Practice Trenches, Tolsford Hill
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Location

Statutory Address:
Tolsford Hill Down, SE of Postling, Kent, CT21 4EN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Grid ref: TR15521 38294. Lat. 51.103414 Long 1.0771215.
County:
Kent
District:
Shepway (District Authority)
Parish:
Postling
County:
Kent
District:
Shepway (District Authority)
Parish:
Saltwood
National Grid Reference:
TR1552138244

Summary

The site comprises the buried and earthwork remains of three distinct groups of practice trenches dating to the First World War.

Reasons for Designation

The earthwork and buried remains of the World War I Practice Trenches, Tolsford Hill, Saltwood, Kent, constructed in or around 1914, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* the First World War was a short but intense period of major change in response to industrialised warfare on a global scale. The large-scale training of recruits prior to their departure to the Western Front enhances our understanding of national defence policy, eloquently illustrated in this monument.

* the monument acts as a poignant memorial to the young men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, RAF Cadets, 31st Middlesex regiment and the Russian Relief Force who trained here before going on to fight in the trenches in Europe.

Diversity:

* such training trenches vary in complexity, type, extent and quality of survival. The extensive training trenches associated with the Sandlings camps illustrate a diverse range of training features and are a good example of this class of monument.

Survival:

* whilst preservation across the site at Tolsford is varied, the western and northern groups are very well preserved as earthworks, and can be examined as a cohesive monument.

Documentation:

* documents and archive photographs relating to the trenches, and recent research undertaken by Historic England, describe and analyse the layout of the trenches and the associated earthworks. The dating and function of the remains are well understood.

Potential:

* the trenches have significant archaeological potential, having been backfilled shortly after 1919. Surviving archaeological features and artefacts will enhance our understanding of the context and development of First World War training facilities in England.

History

The First World War (1914-18), known until the Second World War as ‘the Great War’, was fought on land, at sea and in the air across the globe. Fighting overwhelmingly took place abroad, so the domestic military structures of this war are largely (but not exclusively) related to training and supply. Mass-enlistment and (from 1916) conscription on a massive scale was a further feature of the First World War, necessitating training facilities and camps for troops prior to their embarkation for the Front. These ephemeral sites will sometimes leave visual marks above ground in the form of earthworks, and much more can be understood through the archaeology of these places.

By the early C20 the method of trench warfare was a familiar practice; it was the First World War, however, with static battle conditions and modern weapons that saw the development of trench systems of unprecedented scale and complexity. The same war saw an acceleration of the acquisition of land to construct sophisticated land and coastal defences, troop accommodation and training and testing areas. A feature of many First World War sites such as these are practice trench systems, which were developed in order to build the physical strength and resilience of new recruits and also to establish bonds of teamwork, trust and comradeship. They were also used to teach recruits how to construct and maintain them so that they could be occupied for both defensive and attack purposes. As such many had to accurately replicate conditions on the front, with many combining British and German trench designs.

Typical features include lines of fire trenches, characterised by their regular, crenellated trace, creating firebays. The trench lines were usually three deep and were often connected to each other and to the rear by the more irregular communication trenches. Both types of trench would employ upcast earth to create a parapet at the front of the trench and a parados to the rear side, serving to increase the depth of the trench, providing increased headcover and protection from shells. Other structural elements include fire steps, saps extending into no-man’s-land, positions for Vickers medium machine-guns and latrines, and E-shaped grenade training trenches. When originally constructed the trenches would have been revetted with a range of materials including; timber planking, wattle hurdles, sand bags, or expanded metal (XPM) or corrugated iron sheet, held in place with angle irons. Other construction materials and features included metal cables used for revetting, wood trench boards (duckboards) or elements of ‘A’ frames used to brace trench edges and support trench boards in wetter areas.

The trench system located on Tolsford Hill was one part of a larger more extensive military landscape in the area. The army camp at Shorncliffe (located approximately 4.1km south east of the trenches) was originally established in 1794 for training during the Napoleonic Wars and already knew and utilised Tolsford Hill for manoeuvres. In 1821 the army used the hill as part of their work to extend the trigonometric survey of England (the genesis of the Ordnance Survey) in an attempt to tie this in to the French survey by direct observation across the Channel, although the exercise was not successful. From 1915, the Canadian Training Division was stationed there, utilising the site as a staging post for troops departing for the Western Front, in part because of its proximity to both London and Folkestone. The Canadian Army Medical Corps also ran a hospital at Shorncliffe from 1917-19, and also at Westenhanger. Due to limited space at Shorncliffe a number of new camps were established nearby for the Canadian troops, including at Otterpool, Dibgate, East and West Sandling, Beachborough, and Lyminge. The trenches on Tolsford Hill were associated with East and West Sandling Camps, which were constructed in Autumn 1914 primarily for training the battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Documentary sources in the form of letters and war diaries from the 21st Battalion CEF contain references to training on Tolsford Hill and marching back and forth during the morning and at night. A war memorial located on the site of the East Sandling Camp suggests that the trench systems were also used by British troops, RAF Cadets, 31st Middlesex regiment and the Russian Relief Force.

War Training diaries relating to a number of battalions include direct references to the creation of the trenches by the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In addition to learning how to construct the trenches, they provided an opportunity to practice going ‘over the top’. There is also some evidence to suggest the trenches were constructed above Folkestone and Hythe as a form of ready defence in the event of invasion. Informal photographs belonging to Sergeant Joseph Thomas Dutton of the 21st Battalion show the trenches in use. They confirm technical details, including that the trenches were full scale and included features such as dug-outs. A number of letters from individuals who trained at Sandling Camps, including Vincent MacCarter Eastwood (attached to the 39th Battalion, and Private Sidney Brook of the 17th Reserve Battalion, make fleeting references to the trench system.

In 1989 the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) undertook a pilot study of Kent. This provided basic mapping of the site which has been augmented subsequently by more recent aerial surveys.

Details

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the site comprises the buried and earthwork remains of three distinct groups of practice trenches dating to the First World War. It is located on the plateau of a chalk ridge known as Tolsford Hill Down, running in an east-west direction, centred at TR 15521 38294 and positioned approximately 170m AOD.

DESCRIPTION: the practice trenches are sited approximately 1km north-east of the site of West Sandling Camp, and approximately 900m north of the site of East Sandling Camp, both of which utilised Tolsford Hill for training. The site is approximately 3.1km due north from Hythe, and approximately 7.8km east-north-east from the centre of Folkestone.

Three areas of trenching are present on the site with no evidence for interconnecting trenches linking them. The orientation of these discrete groups suggests that they were constructed by different battalions during separate episodes of training, as opposed to being a recreation of opposing forces on the front line as seen on sites such as Cannock Chase, Staffordshire or Browndown, Hampshire.

The largest group comprises a complex of trenches occupying approximately 10.14 hectares of the western half of the down. It consists of a series of at least six crenelated fire trenches running in an east-west orientation for approximately 610m. They follow the contour of the crest of the hill with a group of zig-zagged communication trenches running from them, orientated north-south. A number of regularly arranged mock-shell craters form in linear arragements around the trenches, which would have either been excavated manually or are the result of controlled explosions. Some of the fire trenches cut into each other demonstrating that some of them were backfilled during the period whilst Tolsford was in use for training, a practice noted elsewhere such as at Cannock Chase.

The smallest group of trenches consists of a pair located on the north-facing spur of the down north of this main group. The trench to the west, which is the better preserved of the two, comprises a T-shaped group of zig-zagged trenches, running approximately 50m north-east/south-west, with a separate arm running approximately 25m east/west. The second trench is about 70m long and exhibits curved traverses, on the adjacent spur to the east. The form of this trench is clearest from the 1940 aerial photographs, although recent satellite imagery demonstrates that it survives as low earthworks.

The group on the eastern side of the down survive as low earthworks which are less well preserved, comprising a series of irregularly arranged crenellated trenches running for approximately 440m east-west, with a circular earthwork, representing a gun emplacement, in the middle of the trench. The earthwork measures approximately 30m in diameter. The crenellated trenches, whilst following standard practice, form a layout more indicative of a redoubt system.

Sources

Books and journals
Appleby, C, Cocroft, W, Schofield, J, The Home Front in Britain 1914-18: An Archaeological Handbook, (2015)
Brown, M, First World War Fieldworks in England (Research Report Series no. 61/2017), (2017)
Cocroft, W, Stamper, P, Legacies of the First World War, (2018)
Other
Dugdale, M. Discovery of First World War Practice Trenches, Tolsford Hill, Saltwood, Kent (2016).
Rees, L. Tolsford by Cheriton Training Trenches; Research Report. Historic England (2018).

Legal

This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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