The battle to save the Capital’s First World War trenches has been won after it was confirmed the monument will be preserved.
The campaign was launched by the Evening News and historian Lynne Gladstone-Millar, whose father trained in the now crumbling network, to ensure they were not lost forever.
Today archaeologists working for the Ministry of Defence estate hailed the Dreghorn trenches as a “monument of national significance” as they said it must be saved and transformed into an educational facility.
Work is now set to be carried out to protect and preserve the trenches and to provide information boards so that the public and school groups can visit the site and learn about what happened there.
The preservation of the site where thousands of Lothian soldiers were prepared for the horror of life in the trenches of France comes as plans are being drawn up for major commemoration events throughout the UK to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War next year. Soldiers first dug the trenches as practice for doing the job for real and then reheared battlefield drills there.
Phil Abramson, an environmental adviser to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which manages the Ministry of Defence’s huge land estates, said: “Dreghorn Trenches is a monument of national significance and this work helps us preserve it for future generations. The survey has shown that considering some of the trenches have been open for 100 years they are in remarkably good condition but that they are vulnerable to several threats including soil erosion, scrub growth and damage from tree throws.”
Archaeologists have also revealed the trenches, which lie on MoD owned land in Colinton, stretch further than first thought – and may include installations dug for the Second World War.
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who supported the campaign, hailed the Evening News backed victory.
Ms Davidson said: “This is great news because the trenches are not only a stark reminder of what Great War generations faced, but also a valuable educational resource.
“It would have been a tragedy to allow these trenches to be neglected, overgrown and forgotten.
“I congratulate the Edinburgh Evening News on this fantastic campaign, even more so now that is has proven to be a very definite success.”
Colinton resident Lynne Gladstone-Millar brought the trenches to the attention of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation in 2012. Her father, William Ewart Gladstone-Millar, was trained in the Dreghorn trenches before he was sent to the Battle of the Somme.
The trenches had been largely forgotten in woodland, known locally as Covenanters Wood, and had been left to become overgrown by trees. Ms Gladstone-Millar said: “This is the most fantastic news. I really feel I have achieved something – it’s something I’m very proud of.”
Earlier this year, a £6,500 survey was commissioned by Edinburgh City Council which saw DIO archaeologists work with specialists from the University of Glasgow and GUARD Archaeology Ltd to uncover the full extent of the site.
Using state-of-the-art surveying systems and GPS equipment, the survey showed two sets of trenches to the north and south of the Bonaly Burn.
Colinton Councillor Jason Rust, who has supported the campaign since initially raising the issue of the trenches with the council on behalf of Ms Gladstone-Millar, said: “I am delighted. We have the finished survey report and will be studying it closely. There seems to have been a lot more found than initially thought, including the Second World War remains – the maintenance recommendations can now be taken forward as part of the woods management plans and we will be looking to take the campaign forward.
“The reaction by the Evening News and local residents has been superb.”
Richard Lewis, the council’s culture convener, said: “The council has a duty to protect Edinburgh’s rich cultural heritage and we are keen to work with our partners going forward to establish our next steps.
“With the centenary of the First World War coming up next year, preserving these trenches takes on a special significance. Saving them for future generations will help us all remember the thousands of Scots soldiers that lost their life in battle.”
The survey report makes a number of recommendations for further work to enhance the best preserved sections of the trenches as part of a five-year woodland management plan, which DIO has agreed with the council.
Developers Miller Homes and Taylor Wimpey – who have bought the land – will carry out the work under planning arrangements for a nearby part of the Dreghorn Barracks site, known as the Polo Fields, which has been sold for housing.
Steps for future management of the site which are expected to be approved include the removal of trees and shrubs which may cause further damage to the trenches, the installation of interpretation panels to explain the trenches’ history to the public and material for schools. Further research and limited excavation to better understand the important monuments is also being considered.
Those trenches to the north of the burn were different to those on the south and some of them may have been dug in the run up to the Second World War or even later.
Colonel Philip Bates, Commander Edinburgh Garrison, said the results of the work showed the importance of the Community Covenant we have with City of Edinburgh Council and other partners.
He said: “I’m delighted that we now have a range of options that can be considered by representatives from the city, defence and others working together for the benefit of our wider community.” Survey work on the site dovetailed with internationally-recognised archaeological work on trench networks on the Western Front and other conflict zones. Options for future management of the site will now be considered by DIO’s historic advisers.
LEARNING WARFARE IN ‘DREGHORN SLUDGE’
WILLIAM Ewart Gladstone-Millar – or “Glad” – was one of only two students from his final year at university to survive the Great War. His daughter, Lynne Gladstone-Millar, wrote about his experiences, including his time training in the Dreghorn trenches.
She recalls her father telling her the training troopers would “march each day to the Dreghorn Woods and the Pentland Hills to learn the craft of trench warfare”. The soldiers used the huge wooded grounds around the old Dreghorn Castle for exercises, and it was there Glad first got some idea of what lay ahead of him.
She remembers her father saying: “There was a very specialised kind of mud there. We called it ‘Dreghorn Sludge’.
“It caked on to your kilt so that the pleats lacerated your chapped knees like knives. It always seemed to be raining and, day in day out, we had to plunge in and out of these trenches, getting soggier and soggier. And then there was the march back to Mortonhall.”
Even though the conditions at Dreghorn were similar to northern France nothing could have readied the men for the horrors they would face. Now, thanks to this announcement this chapter in history will be preserved forever, said Ms Gladstone-Millar.
HOW THE BATTLE WAS WON
September 3, 2012: We launch our campaign to save the trenches, used to train soldiers before they went off to battle – many of them never to return. The campaign is led by writer and historian Lynne Gladstone Millar.
September 4, 2012: Support floods in for the effort, as it is estimated they will cost around £10,000 to save.
September 13, 2012: The Ministry of Defence confirms it is actively seeking funding to preserve the trenches.
October 22, 2012: Calls are made to transform the trenches into an educational facility.
November 5, 2012: Military historian Andrew Robertshaw, who was an adviser on Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, lends his support to the campaign.
November 9, 2012: Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson backs the campaign.
December 27, 2012: The city council commits funding to carrying out a survey of the site.
June, 25, 2013: It is announced the trench network will be preserved.
DECISION IN TIME FOR CENTENARY
MILITARY historian Des Brogan, the director of Mercat Tours, said news that the trenches are going to be preserved could not have come at a better time – with events set to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War next year.
Mr Brogan, who has said he wants to include the trenches in his firm’s First World War tours aimed at schoolchildren, believes there will be renewed interest in the conflict.
He said: “It’s absolutely brilliant timing. What this will do is focus the attention of everyone on to the local contribution – the contribution of Edinburgh – in World War I.
“The Scottish Government has given grants to schools to visit battlefields in Europe but this will make things even more personal and close to home for children from the Capital.
“This will be a must visit for teachers to make to prepare youngsters for going to the battlefields or to consolidate their experiences when they return home.”
Mr Brogan, whose Mercat International tours see children from comprehensive and private schools across Scotland visit sites of historical importance at home and abroad, took groups of children to visit the Dreghorn trenches in the 1970s and 80s while working as a history teacher at Holy Rood High.
As part of the centenary events next year, he is preparing to re-enact the famous football match of the Christmas Day truce and has organised a 2014 trip to Belgium, which will include the match and carol singing on Boxing Day.
He said: “What we need now is some joined up thinking to see how we can link the Dreghorn trenches and the centenary together as some sort of package.”