Student filmmaker digs authentic World War One TRENCH in his back garden

·4-min read

A student filmmaker has shown his commitment to his craft - by digging an authentic World War One TRENCH in his parents' back garden for his final-year university film.

Chris Richards, 22, is in his final year of his university undergraduate degree, studying BA Film Production at the University of Winchester in Hants.

And when it came to creating his final-year film concept project, Chris decided to combine his degree with his passion for military history.

Chris, from St Albans, Herts., created a script based on the little-told story of the crucial role played by the signallers in the Great War - which included his great-grandfather, Private Lewis Blackman.

But self-proclaimed "perfectionist" did not just base his project on his family history - he went one step further, and actually dug a trench in his parents' back garden in which to film.

The large hole is about three feet deep and five feet wide - but with sandbags and other set piled around the edges, Chris has created a trench that appears about six and a half feet deep when he stands in it.

Chris said: "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.

"I'm very much a perfectionist when it comes to set-building and design, and historical accuracy is also very important to me.

"So I don't think anyone was too surprised when I decided I wanted to build this trench."

Chris and his brother spent three days building and constructing the trench earlier this month - braving wind, rain, and even a brief spell of snow.

He said: "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.

"We made use of old fence panels that had blown down in bad weather earlier in the year, and we built up sandbags on top to add to the depth of the trench.

"I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out."

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.

He said: "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.

"I've been doing research into my great-grandfather's role in World War One for the last five or six years.

"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. 

"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."

Chris added: "Sadly my great-grandfather passed away in the early 1980s, before I was born, so I never got to meet him.

"But 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."

Chris wrote, directed and starred in the short film, titled 'Crossed Lines: The Story of the Signallers'.

He is now in the process of editing it together, ahead of submitting it to his university next week.

He said: "I'm pleased with how far I managed to get with filming, especially with the challenge of the Covid pandemic.

"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.

"But I'm really happy with the way it turned out, considering everything."