A GROUP of Belgian schoolchildren are peering into a dugout in a shallow trench. They’re almost the age of the young Yorkshire soldiers who toiled, ate, slept and fought at this site when it bore witness to major battles of the First World War.

Located on the northern stretch of the Ypres Salient - one of the most notorious Western Front war zones - the Yorkshire Trench is a window to the war, not least the first gas attack in April 1915, the Third Battle of Ypres and the horror of Passchendaele.

Last autumn the Yorkshire Trench opened to the public, following a crowdfunding project to restore it. At the site, comprising a trench and entrances to a dugout, is a large panoramic landscape cartoon of the northern battlefield of the Ypres Salient. At the centre of the illustration - Some Corner Of A Foreign Field - is the Yorkshire Trench. This vibrant cartoon is helping schoolchildren understand how the restored trench fits into a larger trench system, and what life was like in the trenches.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dave's remarkable cartoon depicts the northern battlefield of the Ypres SalientDave's remarkable cartoon depicts the northern battlefield of the Ypres Salient (Image: Dave Chisholm)

Created by British cartoonist Dave Chisholm, the drawing is part of an educational experience, The Salient Illustrated, developed by the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM) in Ypres. Dave, whose cartoons have appeared in the Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph, has also created an information board at the site. His remarkable drawings show in detail what lay below the site, making the history of it more accessible to visitors.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dave with his panoramic cartoon at the siteDave with his panoramic cartoon at the site (Image: Jonas Verbeke)

Says Dave: “Since around 2010 I’ve been using cartoons to illustrate many UK heritage projects for the likes of the Council for British Archaeology, English Heritage, Work for Kent in World War 1, the Home Front Legacy project under the Umbrella of the Imperial War Museum’s First World War Centenary, and cartoon representations of Second World War defences on the north Kent coast for The Forgotten Frontline. All this inspired me to approach the IFFM.

“The Yorkshire Trench refurbishment was being planned when I approached the IFFM, as was the conversion of Klein Zwaanhof farmhouse to a field studies centre. I contacted the IFFM director and brought examples of my work and he said ‘Let’s do it’.

“The artworks are a combined effort between myself and the experts at, and associated with, the IFFM. Their knowledge is humbling and the artefacts they store and display are an unparalleled recorded of the staggering history of the conflict along the Ypres Salient.”

Dave’s research began pre-Covid: “I worked with the IFFM Learning Team to get every historical detail right. My aim was to create a cartoon representation of the Western Front, with trenches both sides of No Man’s Land. It was an ambitious project; it took months and months of background work. A lot of war experts come out here and they know if a bayonet or whatever isn’t quite right, so it had to be authentic.

“When it came to creating the cartoon, I drew it in A3 sections, each one scanned then merged digitally, then coloured.”

Dug initially by the French, the trench was managed by the British from June 1915. In the spring of 1917 a new one was created, named the Yorkshire Trench after the British 49th (West Riding) Division which had manned the site.

The trench served as headquarters for the 13th and 16th Battalions Royal Welsh Fusiliers during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, but was abandoned after the first assault.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Immersive experience: Visitors can walk through the trenchImmersive experience: Visitors can walk through the trench (Image: Newsquest)

Dave’s panoramic drawing depicts soldiers engaged in various aspects of trench life. Some are carrying out jobs in the pump and carpentry rooms, some are cleaning weapons, others are typing up reports. Some of the men are sleeping in bunks, a few in blood-stained bandages, a few of them are puffing on cigarettes. Others peer over the barbed wire top of the trench. It’s a busy network of passages, chambers and staircases, set against a stark landscape of scorched trees. On the other side of No Man’s Land are German soldiers in their trenches, with aircraft above.

“I took into account uses of the many rooms in the trench,” says Dave. “There’s a carpentry, gunsmith’s, medical and store room, two command posts (one for each regiment present), bunk rooms. In the trenches you see soldiers setting off on wire cutting duties and manning fire steps and machine gun emplacements.

“Most interestingly, there are two pump rooms. The dugout was constructed below the water table so there had to be constant pumping (from the trenches above, not the pump rooms below) by hand to stop flooding. When the troops left for the attack of July 31, 1917 they didn’t return; it was the water and mud that filled the complex that preserved it.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The trench site has been restored thanks to a crowdfunding campaign The trench site has been restored thanks to a crowdfunding campaign (Image: Toerism Lepe/Visitflanders)

Dave, who delivers cartoon workshops in primary schools, hopes his drawings will capture the imagination of young visitors: “A lot of children learn visually; they’ll remember a bright, colourful artwork. I hope this helps future generations learn what happened here.”

Sabien Lahaye-Battheu from West Flanders tourism company Westtoer, who attended the opening of the Yorkshire Trench, said the restoration will “ensure the region continues to tell a unique, historically accurate story to the visitor - specifically to the many schoolchildren who visit this site. Thanks to Dave Chisholm’s approachable landscape drawings, this will become an attractive and educationally valuable site.”

The trench, in a field in Boezinge, a village near Ypres, was unearthed by a farmer in 1992. A group of amateur archaeologists, The Diggers, led by Patrick Van Wanzeele, set about excavating the site, discovering an underground shelter and chambers.

In 1998, with a neighbouring industrial estate about to be expanded, The Diggers further excavated the site, working every Saturday. As well as artefacts, and ammunition, they recovered more than 200 bodies of British, French and German soldiers, which were laid to rest in war cemeteries.

The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, which acquired the artefacts for its collection, purchased a small plot of land around the trench. In August 2002 The Diggers restored about 70 metres of the site; using most of the original A-frames and replacing walkways and sandbags. The footprint of the 1915 trench is marked with paths and information boards. Last year one of the dugout entrances was repaired, after it collapsed, wooden stairwells were renewed and safety barriers installed.

It was here in Yorkshire where much of the fundraising was galvanised. John Morrison, a reservist with the Yorkshire Officers’ Training Regiment, raised over £17,000 from crowdfunding. Funds were also raised by the Friends of IFFM. John, who visited Bradford World War 1 Group to talk about the project, says: “When I mention the Yorkshire Trench, the first thing people say is: ‘My uncle, grandad, great grandad was wounded or killed in Ypres’. Some have relatives buried in the vast cemeteries around Ypres or still lying in the earth, unknown. There were so many other WW1 battles. But mention Ypres in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, and people know it. Yorkshire has a collective memory of Ypres. The Yorkshire Trench is part of the fabric of that memory. ”

* Continued support is needed to maintain the Yorkshire Trench. Go to inflandersfield.be and visitflanders.com