, pub-3284883286138550, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 CEMA: A Reconstructed WWI Trench in the Kent Countryside? -

CEMA: A Reconstructed WWI Trench in the Kent Countryside?

If you go down to the Kent woods today, you’re going to be in for a big (time travel) surprise. For in a copse of trees near Maidstone there is a First World War trench system. It was dug by a passionate team of re-enactors, history buffs and historians.

All under the watchful eye of Mark Ingarfield and WWI historian Andy Robertshaw. Both Andy and Mark being the brains behind the project.

Mark and Andy both started CEMA, Centre of Experimental Military Archaeology, during the COVID pandemic. Things just grew from there one could say.


But what purpose does a replica WWI trench serve? Well, the answer is a simple one really. To educate schoolchildren, and adults, about the life of a WWI soldier or ‘Tommy’. “It’s muddy and wet for most of the year but trenches weren’t always like that” Mark explained.

WWI Trench
Men of the ‘CEMA’ garrison line the trench on one its many open days.

“In fact sometimes the soldiers on the Western Front suffered as much from the heat and dust as they did the cold and muddy conditions.”

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The trench is built to standards as outlined in trench manuals of the day. And more to the point it’s surprisingly well designed with drainage sumps and wooden ‘duck’ or ‘trench’ boards to keep the soldiers feet out of the clay and mud. This helped prevent the dreaded ‘trench foot’ so feared by all soldiers during the Great War.

How Deep?

Mark Ingarfield, business director of CEMA, says that the 150m long and 2m deep trench took about a year to build, and is a complete replica of the Railway Wood trench in Ypres, Belgium – which is one of the most well preserved British frontline First World War trenches remaining.

But why build it in a forest in Kent? Was it just for convenience?

Andy Robertshaw explained in more detail.

“It’s no coincidence we built it here at all. In fact, nearby there is evidence of what would have been a Roman watchtower. We also have a well-preserved Norman motte-and-bailey castle across the road, and this site in particular was part of the 1914 Chatham Land Front – which was built to protect any attacks coming from the South East. So, it really was a battlefield!”

Attacks from whom I hear you ask?

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“Well, the sea is only about 3 miles away so the threat of a German invasion during WWI was a very real prospect” Andy said.

“By having the trenches here on what is called a stop line it would have prevented the Germans from building up momentum if indeed they had landed. If they’d landed unopposed, they would have taken nearby Maidstone and the Naval Dockyard at Chatham and then pushed onto London”.

Thousands of sandbags have been used in the replica trench and roll after roll of (fake) barbed wire have also been used to create a somewhat claustrophobic feel. It really does give you a sense of loneliness and makes you feel terribly vulnerable when walking in the trench. It’s a very sombre experience but also very humbling to walk in ‘Tommy’s footsteps’.

Shattered Trees

CEMA Trench
Men of the ‘CEMA’ Garrison prepare for a work weekend… in period uniform of course!

Shattered trees and shell holes in no mans land really do make up the image of a ‘real’ trench.

Also of note is the proximity of the German ‘frontline’. It soon becomes shockingly apparent just how barbaric this war must have been.

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Phil Hodges, one of the CEMA tour guides explained:

“One of the biggest shock moments for students is when you point out that the nearest German listening post is only about 25 metres away. In real life the soldiers on both sides could easily of heard one another talking. They would have smelt one another’s breakfasts cooking in the morning and would have been able to talk to one another throughout the day and night. Not every day in the trench was about fighting or going ‘over the top’. Most days would have passed by with absolute boredom. This of course, could have changed quite literally with a flash.”

Films and TV Programmes

Although fraternisation with the enemy was of course strictly forbidden by both sides you can see how conversations were struck up. However, as the war went on and the fighting became more bitter and frequent the hatred for the enemy increased. Instead of a bar of chocolate or bottle of schnapps being thrown from trench to trench it was more likely to be a hand grenade.

Phil went on to say:

“It’s important we educate children and adults alike about the truth of the Great War and avoid the romanticised versions we so often hear about. Often these stories are nothing more than myths and have little or no truth behind them.”

The trench has been the ‘star’ of several TV programmes and films. All bringing this unique location to life. It was even featured on the BBC1 morning news!

CEMA Trench
An aerial view of part of the trench and a shot of inside the officer’s dugout.

Of course it’s not just about the carnage and brutality of trench warfare that CEMA talk about. Far from it. Food plays an equally important part to any army as does the uniforms and equipment they used. All of these talks are offered at CEMA.

When students visit, they can undertake a tour which includes a look inside an officer’s dugout, a walk through the trench itself, a demonstration of kit and equipment (including genuine artefacts) and an explanation of rations and how soldiers managed to cook.  


At CEMA talks are also offered on life on the Homefront as well as medicine and evacuation during WWI.

The Great War as it became known was felt by all walks of life and in every corner of Great Britain. The women’s Suffragette movement was in full swing and women wanted their freedom and independence.

They also wanted to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort and roles varied from working in munitions factories to becoming tram drivers or policewomen, something of a novelty back then.

Also, with war often comes advancements in engineering and technology. Medicine was no different and many practices we use today come as a direct result from WWI, including casualty evacuation and triage.

The muddy Trench
If you visit in the winter months bring your wellies. The trench under construction.

All of these topics are covered in detailed talks at CEMA.

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If you’re curious about visiting the trench with your school or college or wish to attend one of the many open days contact CEMA direct. And if you really want to get stuck in and have a fully immersive experience why not ask to attend a ‘work weekend’ and help maintain and build the trench using WWI techniques and manuals. You’ll be made most welcome and will even get a cup of ‘char’ and a bully beef stew. Just bring wellies and a waterproof!