Canberra archeologists have discovered the ACT's own piece of the Somme, a 2.5 hectare complex of trenches, barbed wire entanglements and fox holes used to prepare officer trainees for the Western Front, from 1916 to 1918.
Planning Minister, Mick Gentleman, and Dr Tim Denham, the Australian National University archeologist leading the dig in the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, are hopeful at least part of the training area can be dug out and made accessible to the public in time for significant Western Front anniversaries from 2016 to 2018.
The first trenches, which ranged in depth from four feet to six feet (1.3 metres to two metres) are believed to have been dug by soldiers who had volunteered for the AIF as part of the "Men From Snowy River" recruiting march from Delegate (on the Victorian border) to Goulburn.
Repairs and extensions were carried out by trench digging parties, consisting of an officer and up to 30 men, sent to Canberra from AIF camps around Sydney.
The complex introduced students at the AIF's officer training school run in conjunction with Duntroon to the state-of-the-art in trench warfare.
Established in March, 1916, the OTS transitioned senior non commissioned officers to commissioned rank. Class sizes ranged from 114 to 405 with the average being about 255.
The complex, which nestles into a bend on the Molongolo and would have extended under the Monaro Highway to where the turf farm is today, was originally called the School of Trench Warfare. It was renamed the Trench Warfare and Bombing School.
The 18-day trench fighting course included experience with grenades, mortars and other weapons and exposure to heavy ordinance including explosive mines.
A photograph of a mine detonated at the school in 1916 and published in the RMC's official history by Darren Moore shows a crater almost two metres deep.
"(The school) utilised what would later be known as the `train the trainer' approach," Moore wrote. "Graduates (both officers and senior non commissioned officers) returned to their parent units as instructors, thus ensuring the dissemination of this training throughout the AIF.
"Both schools (the OTS and BWBS) were out of bounds to the (Duntroon) cadets, though occasionally the trench system was used for their instruction."
Dr Denham said the excavation was made possible by the work of historian Mark Butz.
Using Mr Butz's research and aerial photographs dating back to WWII when the trenches were still clearly visible, the ANU's volunteer student dig team struck pay dirt in the shape of a major trench on their first try.
"It would be absolutely fantastic to get (at least) part of this opened up to the public for the Western Front anniversaries," Mr Denham said.
ACT Planning Minister, Mick Gentleman, who visited the site on Friday, said "there is every opportunity to pursue that".