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The flag should then be fired at by one of Britain’s 47 Naval Guns, when, on securing a hit, the trench will immediately explode with a loud report.”

So read the instructions to one of the scarcest of all William Britain productions. As its title suggests, The New Patent Exploding Trench is a toy with an interesting and poignant history.

During the opening weeks of the First World War, the Britain’s factory took the decision to reflect a relatively new form of warfare in their extensive range of cast lead military subjects. An ingenious mechanism was created (patent no.3189) and colour was added to the camouflaged wood and fabric “trench” with the addition of six riflemen dressed in the parade uniform of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

In the up-beat pro-war atmosphere of 1914 all this might have seemed a good idea but Britain’s caught the market completely wrong, launching the product in 1915 shortly after news arrived from the Western Front of the first major Allied casualties.

Suddenly the promotional slogans “Very Interesting. No Danger” seemed a little hollow, and putting British rather than German soldiers in the trench could hardly have helped anyway.

Public outcry forced the model off the shelves and the New Patent Exploding Trench was deleted from the production schedules never to appear again.

Accordingly it is now one of the Holy Grails in the lead soldier market and this example – in near working order and complete with its original box – appeared at the Ilkley rooms of Andrew Hartley on March 20, where it was competed to £1450 (plus 7.5 per cent premium).

This is no mean sum, but the last exploding trench appeared at auction 15 years ago when Phillips found an example in very poor condition and even then sold it for £1200.