The Beginners Guide to Converting a Classroom into a WW1 Trench

It’s a wonder how some 30 pallets, paper, sacking, soil and lots of brown paint could make Whiz Bang Alley, such a fantastic replica of a WW1 trench – all in 30 days! With the help of parents, Year 7, 9 and 10 Art students and staff we were able to turn a classroom into a dark and dingy area that is a recreation of a trench, home to so many soldiers during the First World War. The idea behind the design was to simulate the look, feel and even the smell of the trenches – indeed some of the material came from Mr and Mrs Dunn’s farm. The name Whiz Bang Alley comes from the well regarded 1980s WW1 comic strip Charley’s War. The trench installation looks fantastic and it was great to see Webber staff, students and parents working together on such a poignant project.

Pallets were kindly donated by parents and the main construction was assembled in one weekend with staff, parents and pupils all at hand with screwdrivers and saws to create the main trench, Whiz Bang Alley and the Officer’s HQ. Mrs Willett, Rochelle Dunne's mum built trench ladders and the dugouts; Mr Elston, Ben Elston and Mr Mott were all able to come up with a solution for almost anything required involving wood, sandbags and chicken wire: they were the engineers behind putting together the trench superstructure on the first day of construction. Mr Elston and Ben returned on subsequent days to help with securing the pallet floor and putting in the roof over the Officer’s HQ. Large quantities of hessian were used to provide door flaps, cover roofs and anywhere where there was a need to cover over the twenty first century. Mrs Staerck and Mr Marshall were largely responsible, staplers in hand, for covering the sides of the Officer’s HQ based on a superstructure made from two large office cabinets!

The original design for the front of Whiz Bang Alley

Mr Hutchinson and Mr Nash dragged in the very heavy railway sleepers from the garden for the fire steps. Mr Nash will never underestimate the work of the railway navvies ever again! We filled a sandbag with sand so that we can see and feel the real weight of one of these things, it was heavy... The other 120 sandbags used to complete the trench were filled mostly with newspaper brought in by students and parents, plus some with old bedding and pillows.

At back of the room we created an illusion of no-man’s land and constructed a ladder against one of the trench walls to enable the students to visualise what it would be like to have to go over the top of the trench into battle. Sight and sounds of WW1 were projected onto a screen made from a bed sheet pinned to the wall and 20 battery powered candles were installed to give the effect of star and candlelight.

The original plan of Whiz Bang Alley before it was built

Once the main construction was up it was time for the artists to get creative with making sandbags and scrunched up paper for the ground area above the pallet walls. Fences were made with “Hallowe'en barbed wire” to give a look of authenticity and desolation. The floor of pallets was given a wash of brown paint and then scattered with soil, sand and leaves for a damp underground feel. Silver lamps were transformed into rusty looking gas lamps and polystyrene blocks were revamped into ammunition boxes. Lighting was subdued with tracing paper covers and various WW1 memorabilia was carefully placed around the trench for the finishing touch. The blasted stumps of trees and bare branches were made from material brought in from her garden by Mrs Kirwin who also kindly donated the lamps and boxes which helped give the trench such a feel of the First World War. A number of parents gave canes to support the barbed wire pickets, others gave chicken wire without which the roofs of the dugouts could not have been made.

Our trench was completed within 30 days, by the 10th November, phew… THANK YOU to all students, parents and staff that were involved from the Whiz Bang Alley design and build team!

Ms Anacootee (Head of Art), Mrs McNulty (Enrichment) & Mr Nash (Head of History)

Next – some film, accounts and pictures of what we did with Whiz Bang Alley.

A Tour of Whiz Bang Alley

1. Looking out to the front of the trench and no-man's land
2. Whiz Bang Alley dugout, gas mask, lamp and ammunition boxes
3. Lee Enfield 303 Rifle (deactivated), bayonet and WW1 era tins of food. Second small dugout.
4. Officer's HQ
5. View of the back and opposite side to Whiz Bang Alley Dugout. In the book under the cross is a list of soldiers from the Stantonbury and the Knoll School killed in WW1. The Knoll School site was used by the Bury Lawn School between 1977 to 1987.
6. Dugout opposite to the Whiz Bang Alley Dugout

This is the second presentation from the Whiz Bang Alley trench project. The intention is that the blog posts about the project will be brought together on one site where they might inspire others to think about the Great War and maybe attempt a similar project in their schools.

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