A LLANGWM man has built a First World War era trench in his garden as part of a film project inspired by his own family history.

Bob Phillips, of the Gail, Llangwm, built the 20ft trench in his back garden in March as a set for a film called Gathering the Graves, which charts the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission (now Commonwealth War Graves Commission) in the aftermath of the 1914-18 war.


Bob Phillips and Lloyd Grayshon. PICTURE: Martin Cavaney.

“The origin of the idea was that I was involved with the Llangwm Village Opera project. Through that I started to investigate my own family history,” said Bob.

The former stage technician’s research led him to the story of his great uncle, Charles William John, of Haverfordwest, who died at the battle of Mametz Wood, and his wife Claire’s great uncle Henry Davies of St Nicholas, who died at Cambrai just days before the end of the war.

“To have my wife’s ancestor up the road, I was thinking: would they have passed each other? They were killed the same distance apart as where they lived,” said Bob.

In the course of his research, Bob visited some of the British war cemeteries in France and began writing a short story about Charlie and Henry in 2016.

“The cemetery at Mametz was so tranquil. I started to research how they came about, how the war graves commission recovered the bodies and how it was organised,” he said.

Soon Bob’s project grew into plans for a three-minute short film about the work of the then-Imperial War Graves Commission with help from his friend, Lloyd Grayshon, an actor and videographer.

Though the film was mainly focused on the efforts of the war graves commission at home, and the effects of war on families in Pembrokeshire, the pair realised they needed a trench for some scenes in the film.

Using his set building expertise, corrugated metal sheets and wooden boards donated by a friend, and historical photographs, Bob built a set modelled on the German army’s trenches over some raised beds at the end of his garden.

Gathering the Graves soon grew into a 40-minute film, and has been shown to audiences across Pembrokeshire over the summer months, including at Llangwm’s literary festival.

“The point is the impact of the war carried on and even to this day we are finding bodies and giving them a dignified burial,” said Bob.

The War Graves Commission was founded by Fabian Ware in 1917 to give proper burials to those who died in the Great War regardless of their background.

The commission worked closely with the British and French governments to establish and maintain the war cemeteries across France and Belgium.

Bob and Lloyd are now planning to apply for grant funding to transform their short film into a full-length feature.