Night in the Trenches - November 2012

Remembering the casualties of war

Each year, close to Remembrance Sunday, several groups of Great War re-enactors meet at The Staffordshire Regiment Museum near Lichfield to remember and honour those who fought in wars, especially The Great War.

Members of the public accompany the soldiers into the British and German trenches, where they find out what it was like to be under enemy fire during the night.

The experience is made more realistic as they experience gunfire from weapons of the period, simulated pyrotechnic shell detonations in no-man's land and gas attacks.

They witness the evacuation of a wounded soldier from the battlefield and follow him as he is treated in the medical unit before being sent away to recuperate.

The battlefield display concludes with the British troops going "over the top" into no-mans land where they face the German machine guns, with disastrous results.

This is a unique experience - no other museum has a trench system used in this type of re-enactment with members of the public in the centre of the action.

The evening starts with the soldiers on parade before they march into the trenches to take their positions to fight for their respective countries.

The soldiers are then joined in the trenches by members of the public.

Simulated gas attacks and shelling add to the atmosphere in the trenches.

The first part of the trench system is occupied by the German troops who explain to the visitors what conditions were like on their side of no-mans land.

All the time the British Tommys are firing on the German positions and launching artillery shells and mortars.

Visitors then experience life in the British section of the trenches, again under fire from the enemy.

A shot from the German side is followed by a shout. A British soldier has been wounded.

Quickly he is placed on a stretcher and carried from the front line to the medical station for treatment.

The digging of mines underneath the enemy trenches was an important technique used by both sides. Completed tunnels would then be filled with explosive and detonated.

The order to "go over the top" was given, and the soldiers climbed out of their trenches and went towards the German lines, facing machine guns, barbed wire and artillery shells.

Casualties were high.

Visitors then make their way to the Medical Post, where they meet the young soldier shot in the trenches.

They watch as he undergoes an operation in the field hospital to remove bullet fragments and dirty uniform fragments from his leg before he is returned to Britain - a journey that will take less than 24 hours to complete.

The medical equipment used in the "operation" dates from the Great War period. The equipment used by Doctors today has changed little in the intervening century.

Once anaesthetised the operation to remove the bullet and debris can begin.

The surgeon has to go deep into the leg and probe to find any bullet fragments, clothing shreds or other foreign bodies.