The Common, Berkhamsted
During the years of the First World War, Berkhamsted was the location of a huge army training camp. Over 2000 men were stationed here, swelling the population of the town.
Initially, the Northumberland Fusiliers were stationed here, but it was the Inns of Court Regiment who became established in Berkhamsted. The regiment, nicknamed “The Devil’s Own”, placed thousands of young officers here. In preparation for going to fight for King and Country, recruits spent several months in training here, carrying out field exercises in nearby villages and countryside, sometimes in deep snow and often at night. In 1916, King George V visited to inspect the Officer Training Corps and boost morale. The training ground gained the nickname “Kitchener’s Field” after Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War during WWI whose pointing image on the “Lord Kitchener Wants You” posters became an iconic and enduring image of WWI.
On the Western Front, trench warfare became established military practice. To prepare trainees for what awaited them, they were made to dig practice trenches on Berkhamsted and Northchurch Commons. The local flint and clay soil was difficult to dig, and trenches would rapidly collapse – good preparation for the conditions on the front.
In total, 12,000 trainee officers passed through Berkhamsted; by the end of WWI, over half were wounded and 2200 were killed in action. Near the trenches at the top of New Road, the Inns of Court War Memorial commemorates the fallen of “The Devil’s Own”. While most of those who died were buried in Belgium and France, a number of the burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery are connected with the Inns of Court Regiment, and bear witness to the enormous burden of sacrifice felt by Berkhamsted families. The cemetery burials are listed below.
The Kitchener’s Field trenches totalled 12km (7.5 miles) in length. Most of them were filled in after the war, but 600 metres (0.4 miles) are still visible. They are now considered historically significant and were mapped by volunteers in 2013. The trenches can be visited today and are reached via a public footpath that runs from Berkhamsted Castle up into the woodlland of Berkhamsted Common.