In this remembrance week it was appropriate that the speaker at the Swindon Society monthly meeting was Steve Williams who gave a talk about a soldier's life in the trenches. Dressed in authentic WWI uniform and carrying 60lb worth of kit, Steve showed us some of the gruesome weapons the men used in hand to hand fighting and trench raids.
A military historian from Trowbridge, Steve travels the country with his reconstructed trench. He describes himself as a storyteller, but his presentation to group members on Wednesday evening proved he is much more than this.
In 1914 the age range for recruits was 19-35 but Steve told how Recruiting Sergeants, who received a cash enhancement for each man they enlisted, were apt to turn a blind eye to enthusiastic youngsters. Following Kitchener's "Your Country Needs You" campaign 100,000 men enlisted in a week. The new recruits of K1-K6 Army Group, as they were known, grew moustaches in homage to Lord Kitchener. Initially new recruits received 16 weeks training but this was quickly reduced to 12 as men were needed to replace the dead on the front line where 250 an hour were reported injured, missing or killed.
Set against the backdrop of the WWI trench, Steve described not only the conditions in which the soldiers lived and fought, but some poignant facts and figures. Of the one million British servicemen reported dead or missing, only 100,000 were ever identified. Out on the battlefields of Gallipoli (modern day Turkey) and in France and Flanders there are the remains of 500,000 lost Tommies.
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