Wiltshire

WWI practice tunnels found under Salisbury Plain

Tunnels uncovered at site Image copyright MOD
Image caption The site was used to emulate conditions soldiers would face in trenches in France and Belgium during the war

A "unique" network of tunnels used to train soldiers to fight in World War One has been found on Salisbury Plain.

Archaeologists working with the Ministry of Defence, which is building hundreds of military homes at Larkhill, made the discovery.

The site was used to emulate conditions soldiers would face in trenches in France and Belgium during the war.

More than 100 pieces of graffiti have been uncovered in the chalk walls of the trenches and tunnels.

Soldiers training on the site who left their names include decorated heroes and one recorded deserter.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption More than 100 pieces of graffiti have been uncovered written in the chalk walls of the trenches

The names feature Wiltshire men as well as West Yorkshire coal miners, and two brothers wrote "Semper Fidelis" (Ever Faithful) beneath their signatures.

Archaeologist Si Cleggett, who described the Larkhill excavation as "unique", said: "It has been a humbling experience to stand and read the names of young soldiers in the very spaces they occupied before leaving for war.

"Having stood in their footprints a century after their time at Larkhill, we really will remember them."

Training relics such as grenades, ammunition and food tins were also found.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption The Australian 3rd Division infantry trained on Salisbury Plain in 1916

The Australian 3rd Division infantry trained on Salisbury Plain in 1916 and the dig uncovered a chalk plaque inscribed with the names of Australian bombers - soldiers specially trained to use hand grenades.

One name is Private Lawrence Carthage Weathers, who won the Victoria Cross in September 1918 for attacking a machine gun post with grenades, capturing it and taking 180 prisoners.

Steve White, of building contractors GABLE, said the Larkhill tunnels project "represented a unique opportunity to be a part of a story of unprecedented archaeological significance".

About 4,300 soldiers and their families are to move to Wiltshire from Germany and UK bases by 2019 as part of the Army Basing Plan.

Image copyright MOD
Image caption The site is being described as having "unprecedented archaeological significance"

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