Where heroes were made

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

ANETWORK of tun­nels used to train Bri­tish sol­diers to fight in the trenches has been dis­cov­ered un­der Sal­is­bury Plain. The fas­ci­nat­ing site was un­cov­ered by ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing with the Min­istry of De­fence, which is build­ing hun­dreds of mil­i­tary homes at Larkhill, Wilt­shire. The tun­nels were meant to em­u­late con­di­tions in France and Bel­gium dur­ing the First World War. Some of the men who trained there were lo­cal to the West Coun­try, oth­ers were coal min­ers from West York­shire.

More than 100 pieces of graf­fiti have been found on the chalk walls of the tun­nels, some by dec­o­rated heroes and one by a known de­serter, as well as a plaque in­scribed with the names of Aus­tralian bombers who trained there in 1916. Among other Latin mes­sages, two broth­ers wrote ‘Sem­per Fidelis’ (‘Ever Faith­ful’) be­neath their sig­na­tures and Prostate Can­cer UK—MR Porter is a sur­vivor of the dis­ease him­self. ‘The XKS led Bri­tain’s “Ex­port or Die” cam­paign to earn vi­tal dol­lars in the dark days af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Now, they are lead­ing the fight against this can­cer that af­fects one in eight men,’ he says. Launched in 1948, the race-win­ning XK 120 was named for its top speed; devo­tees in­cluded Clark Gable and Humphrey Bog­art. XK 140s and XK 150s fol­lowed in 1954 and 1957. Oc­tavia Pol­lock grenades, am­mu­ni­tion and food tins were also found.

‘It’s been a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence to stand and read the names of young sol­diers in the very spa­ces they oc­cu­pied be­fore leav­ing for war,’ says ar­chae­ol­o­gist Si Cleggett. ‘Hav­ing stood in their foot­prints a cen­tury af­ter their time at Larkhill, we re­ally will re­mem­ber them.’

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