The path of a First World War practice trench, now overgrown, at Ballykinler. Image courtesy of the Ministry of Defence

First World War training trenches found in Northern Ireland

Posted on on 16 March 2014
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Trenches used to prepare soldiers for the Western Front have been discovered at a British Army training ground in Northern Ireland.

A full practice trench system, including dugouts and an old 600-metre gallery range, have been found at Ballykinler in County Down.

They are thought to have been originally used by the 36th Ulster Division in preparation for the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The Ministry of Defence says it's a timely discovery in the Centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War.

Experts from the MoD are investigating the site with Heather Montgomery, a PhD student at Queen's University in Belfast. She said: "I’m currently investigating the First World War British training grounds in Ireland that were established to house, train and maintain the troops from Kitchener’s first army across Ireland.

"The island of Ireland hasn’t been represented archaeologically or accurately historically as far as the involvement in the First World War is concerned. I’m hoping that my investigations will help to lead to a better understanding and enhancement of that knowledge."

Battle of Guillemont 3-6 September 1916. British infantry waiting their turn to advance. A tank moving in distance.  Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q4511)

It's thought this investigation marks just the beginning of a project which will unearth a wealth of 20th century Irish military history.

Major Tony Canniford, Senior Training Safety Officer at Ballykinler, said: "We knew we had some First World War remnants here at Ballykinler, but we didn’t know exactly what we had as the training camp has been here since the Boer War.

"With the help of Queen’s University we have been able to identify a number of interesting archaeological elements, and we hope to unearth more and work to preserve and maintain this part of history."

The team has also uncovered what is believed to be a Second World War grenade range.

The project is being managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which provides and maintains facilities for Britain's armed forces.

Senior archaeologist, Richard Osgood, said: "Our strategy now is to investigate this legacy further and try to understand who put the trenches in place, why they were used and how effective they were, and then to see what steps we can put in place to conserve them."

News of the Ballykinler discovery comes as a project is starting in the UK to identify sites connected to the First World War.

As reported in Centenary News, an extensive trench training system has recently been discovered on Ministry of Defence land near Gosport, on England's South Coast. 

The announcement marked the launch of Home Front Legacy 1914-18, a project coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, to preserve Britain's unrecorded Great War sites before they are lost.

Source: UK Ministry of Defence

Date of news release: 14th March 2014

Images courtesy of the Ministry of Defence and the Imperial War Museum

Posted by Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News