Student digs WWI trench for film project to honour great-grandfather
Student, 22, digs authentic WWI trench in his parents’ back garden for a final year university film project after being inspired by his soldier great-grandfather
- Chris Richards dug the 3ft by 5ft trench for his final year project at university
- The trench comes with ammunition crates, food tins, and a Lee-Enfield rifle
- The 22-year-old from St Albans hopes to shed light on the role of signallers in World War One in honour of his great-grandfather, Private Lewis Blackman
A student filmmaker has demonstrated a new level of commitment to his studies by digging an authentic World War One trench in his parent’s back garden.
Chris Richards, 22, dug the 3 ft deep and 5ft wide trench for his final year university film as part of his studies at the University of Winchester.
Mr Richards, from St Albans, decided to combine his degree with his love of military history, creating a script based on crucial role signallers played in World War One.
The 3ft by 5ft deep trench took Chris Richards (pictured) and his brother three days to build
It had a particularly special meaning to him as his great-grandfather, Private Lewis Blackman, had been a signaller in the war.
Complete with sandbags and other set pieces on the edges, the trench appears to be about six and a half ft deep on camera.
With the help of his brother, Mr Richards spent three days building the set earlier this month, braving wind, rain and even snow, using hand tools that would have been used at the time to make it more authentic.
The trench comes complete with military kit hired from costume supply shop Khaki Devil, and includes ammunition crates, food tins, a Lee-Enfield rifle and a World War One field telephone.
Mr Richards, who previously starred as an extra in the 2019 blockbuster film 1917, even hired a signallers uniform to film in.
Mr Richards hired a signallers uniform from a costume supply shop to film in
Chris, who starred as an extra in the 2019 blockbuster film, ‘1917’, even hired a signallers uniform from costume supply shop Khaki Devil, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in order to film in.
And he also filled his trench with hired military kit from the costume shop, including ammunition crates, food tins, a Lee-Enfield rifle, and even an original WW1 field telephone.
Mr Richards said his parents had their reservations about the project, but hopes that his great-grandfather would be proud of his project.
‘I’m very much a perfectionist when it comes to set-building and design, and historical accuracy is also very important to me,’ he said. ‘So I don’t think anyone was too surprised when I decided I wanted to build this trench.
The brothers built the trench as authentically as possible during wind, rain and even snow
The film is inspired by the work that the signallers did during World War One
The trench comes complete with military kit hired from costume supply shop Khaki Devil, and includes ammunition crates, food tins, a Lee-Enfield rifle and a World War One field telephone
‘It was quite the undertaking. We did it all using hand tools, just as it would have been done at the time, to make it more authentic.
‘I think the spectrum of weather we had as we were digging added to the realness of what we were doing, too.
‘It makes you realise what strenuous work it was. They had a whole battalion of 1,000 men digging these trenches – so with just two of us, it was really a lot of effort.
‘My mum was a bit concerned when I first told her what I wanted to do – as she kind of sees the garden as a bit of a haven for her.
‘But she’s been really supportive of the project – I think it means a lot to her that I’m keeping our family history alive, and telling her grandfather’s story.
The set is complete with sandbags and wire as it would have been in World War One
‘I had seen photos of my great-grandfather in his uniform, and I’d seen he was sporting the badge with the crossed flags on it – the badge of the signallers.
‘The signallers did such a vital job in keeping communications running between units, laying telephone wires even when they were directly in the line of enemy snipers and at great risk.
‘But they have remained largely unheard of in the mainstream media.
‘It’s very important to me that stories such as my great-grandfather’s aren’t forgotten, and keep getting told.
‘I think film can be a great way of doing that, if done correctly.
Mr Richards was inspired to make the film by his great-grandfather, Private Lewis Blackman
‘It’s been a great experience for me to put my years of research on this into practice, and also reclaim some of my family history at the same time.’
Sadly, his great-grandfather died before Mr Richards was born, but he his family have told him he would have been ‘amazed’ by his efforts.
‘I hope he would have been proud of what I’m doing. This project has made me feel very close to him – especially when I wore the uniform.
‘My mum and my nan – his granddaughter and daughter – have told me that he would have been amazed by the efforts I’ve gone to. It’s been quite a journey.’
Mr Richards is now in the process of editing the short film titled ‘Crossed Lines: The Story of the Signallers’ ahead of submitting it to the University of Winchester as part of his degree
Mr Richards is now in the process of editing the short film titled ‘Crossed Lines: The Story of the Signallers’ ahead of submitting it to his university.
‘I had to change the way I wanted to do it a bit, because I couldn’t bring other actors in due to the Covid restrictions,’ he added.
‘But I’m really happy with the way it turned out, considering everything.’
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