A complex system of World War I trenches was initially constructed by the Divisional Army Military Authorities in Blackpool for training purposes. It was said that the trenches should be preserved, maintained and restructured in their existing condition, and a committee, made up mainly of local businessmen, was formed with the Mayor of Blackpool Sir Albert Lindsay Parkinson in the chair.
The corporation generously supplied all the materials required and the local officer commanding the King’s Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital undertook to oversee the work, maintain the trenches, provide guards, working parties and guides from those soldiers fit and able as part of their convalescence.
The labyrinth of trenches was so well camouflaged that, on the first impression when entering the area from Lytham Road there was nothing to suggest that there were two miles of admirably planned and cleverly constructed trenches, a perfect replica in practically every detail of formation and construction of the actual trenches in the Arras district in Northern France.
Features included in the trench system were the Redoubt, a small temporary fort, usually without flanking defences, which commands an uninterrupted view of the whole country around. This detached section of field work, enclosed by a parapet, has the advantage of only requiring a comparatively small garrison to hold it against very large numbers of Infantry, and frequently Artillery have to smash up the Redoubt before a further advance can be made.
Also in close proximity to the Battalion Headquarters were several dug-outs which were used for a variety of purposes. There were the Doctors’ Quarters, the Hospital, Dressing Stations, Ammunition Stores, the Cooking Department and the Stores Dug-out, from which all the food was issued and conveyed to the men stationed in the different lines of trenches. The general method of traversing the system was extensively used on various fronts to prevent them being enfiladed, that is a fire of musketry or artillery raking the whole length of a trench from end to end.
The trenches proved to be an attraction for both residents and visitors alike. Sixpence per person (plus war tax) and half price for wearers of His Majesty’s and Allied uniforms was charged, with all fees received from admissions distributed between the Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the Central Fund of the King’s Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital.
The Convalescent Hospital had been set up following the outbreak of War in 1914 on the Clifton Park race course at Squires Gate (site of the former Blackpool Airport Terminal) to accommodate and rehabilitate injured soldiers.
The success of the pay-to-view trenches can be gauged by the fact that in the first year of operation during 1916, £2,000 was handed over to the Central Fund of the King’s Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital, £436, 16 shillings and 9 pence to the Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, whilst £766, 7 shillings and 8 pence was paid by way of War Tax.
Perhaps little do the residents of the Watson Estate now occupied by Watson Park, and properties on Windermere, Thirlmere, Ullswater and Coniston Roads, realise what history once lay underneath their foundations.