Passchendaele virtual reality view could keep the horrors of the First World War alive for generations

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Virtual reality technology means the First World War could be the first conflict to be kept fresh in the public consciousness, the historian Dan Snow has suggested, as the Royal British Legion launched a high-tech immersive view of Passchendaele.

Advances in technology could revolutionise military history and keep alive the immediacy of the trenches and Western Front for generations to come.

The television presenter and historian spoke as the legion unveiled six virtual reality experiences taking the viewer back to Passchendaele to mark the centenary of one of the most notorious battles of the war.

Chelsea pensioners try out the virtual reality displays of Passchendaele

Chelsea Pensioners try out the virtual reality displays of Passchendaele

Credit:
Eddie Mulholland

The six films aimed at a younger generation unlikely to read military history, show the battle, trenches and participants in full 360 degree view and can be downloaded onto standard video game headsets.

Historians have used archive photographs, film and testimony to recreate the battle that caused 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties.

The films even allow the viewer an indication of what it was like to go over the top.

The Battle of Passchendaele is one of the most notorious in the First World War

The Battle of Passchendaele is one of the most notorious in the First World War

Credit:
 Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Mr Snow, who helped create the content, said: “We have got a big experiment on our hands here. Every other war that we have fought as humans has drifted into obscurity as eye witnesses have passed away.

“With the First World War, we have got the chance of doing something different. We can keep it fresh.

“It will be interesting to see whether my kids find the First World War as distant as I find the Battle of Agincourt, or will the immediacy of it be maintained because we have got this technology.

“It’s about taking the images and giving it the full treatment of 2017, which is immersive which is a whole step above sitting on your bottom watching television.”

“These sets have primarily been used by gamers so far, but I think history has the most to gain from these.”

Bill Hunt, a Chelsea Pensioner who spent 25 years in the Royal Horse Guards, on Tuesday became one of the first members of the public to try out the new films.

The Royal British Legion to launch Battle of Passchendaele virtual reality content with Dan Snow. To commemorate the WWI battle, the RBL has partnered with historian Dan Snow to create a series of virtual reality videos, from the experiences of those on the front line to nurses battling to treat the flood of casualties

The displays can be seen on standard gaming headsets

Credit:
 Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

The 83-year-old told the Telegraph :“It was a little bit misty and a little bit out of focus, but I could see the hedgerows and the star shells.”

“I could have been there, lying in a field.”

Mr Hunt, who reached the rank of warrant officer and served in Cyprus, Germany and Hong Kong, said it was crucial to teach the younger generation about the horrors of the First World War.

He said: “They know so little about history these days, let alone the First and Second World Wars.”

The legion also has 1,000 cardboard headsets on offer that can be fitted with mobile phones to create makeshift virtual reality sets. The virtual reality displays can be downloaded from the legion’s website.