The centenary of the First World War has been over now for almost a year. I count myself lucky as I started my PhD exactly 100 years from the beginning of the war, and I ended it the same way in 2018.
Each year of my PhD I lived through the war vicariously through the diaries, stories and songs of the servicemen I researched.
I learned about the conditions of the war almost in real time as even my thesis (soon to be a book) loosely followed the chronology of the war.
My research allowed me to feel a shadow of the emotions experienced by the men in the war. My YouTube series Feeding Under Fire let me taste the war, and my obsession for collecting things meant I could touch the war.
But the closest I ever really felt to my research was in the Pollock Park Trench, built and maintained by the Digging in project. This project was a miniature recreation of a First World War trench, complete with duck boards, a field aid post, and a war garden. It was incredible.
I was really fortunate to contribute in small ways by giving several talks to the public in the trench. First I covered disease, then religion, I did a walking wounded tour, and finally I gave a talk on suicide and self destruction. Honestly, these moments were some of the highlights of my academic career so far.
Today I was invited to the ‘wrap party’, it was a lovely thing to be invited and celebrate the end of the project, and meet some of the people who made it possible. This fell on the same day that I visited the trench site one last time completely accidenltly. Walking the dog in the pouring rain we turned into the field to find the trench demolished. Honestly, I was devastated.
The loss of the trench hit me more emotionally than I would have thought. The ground now is so barren, all the character is gone. All that remains is some rubble, raked over ground, and a single poppy plant.
I think that the destruction of the trench hits home because the project personified my own correlating research. With it gone, as is gone my primary focus on the Great War. My book is nearly finished. There is only one more original episode of Feeding Under Fire left to release, and my last articles from my thesis have been sent out to the publishers.
Next is my research in military suicide which is finally gaining traction, which im very passionate about. But this was my first research. To paraphrase a great quote: this was the first research that this researcher researched, and it is seared on to my hearts!
So thank you Digging In. Thank you Lindsay and the team at Northlight (who unfortunately have now been shut down), and thank you! All of you who have been with me on my journey through the First World War.
It has been an honour.