During the first world war; which last between 1914 -1918 and resulted in the loss of hundred’s of thousand’s of men, during that devastating and horrific war the Soldier’s who fought on the Western Front, fought in trenches. Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers lived, fought and more than often died. There were many lines of German Trenches on one side and many lines of Allied Trenches on the other, In the middle, was no man’s land, so-called because it did not belong to either army. It is known that the German Trenches were far more habitable than the Allied Trenches were, many of the German Trenches had underground bunker’s that contained basic furniture and basic comfort’s that made Trench life more comfortable and habitable.
The Trenches were dirty and smelly and there was lot’s of disease circulating, the latrines regularly over flowed into the Trench itself and the dead had to be hastily buried nearby, which also would have bred disease. it wasn’t just the Trenches themselves that caused problem’s for the Soldier’s they had to deal with Million’s of Rat’s infested the Trenches and on some account’s they grew as big as cat’s and then there was the Lice that tormented the Soldier’s on a daily basis, the lice infested hair, clothing and bedding which would have made live pure hell.
A Typical Day In The Trenches
Like today’s soldier’s the soldier’s from WW1 had their day to day life strictly regulated, and every hour was always thoroughly planned out.
5am : ‘Stand-to’ (short for ‘Stand-to-Arms’, meaning to be on high-alert for enemy attack) half an hour before daylight
5.30am : Rum ration
6am : Stand-to half an hour after daylight
7am : Breakfast (usually bacon and tea)
After 8am : Clean themselves, clean weapons, tidy trench and Hear from veteran’s (that would give a moral boost for new Tommies)
Noon – Dinner
After dinner – Sleep and downtime (one man per ten on duty)
5pm – Tea
6pm – Stand-to half an hour before dusk
6.30pm – Stand-down half an hour after dusk
6.30pm on wards – Work all night with some time for rest (patrols, digging trenches, putting up barbed wire, getting stores, replacement of unit of soldiers every five days)
Joining The Army
A man had to pass a physical test to enlist in the army. At the outbreak of war, he had to be aged between 19 and 38 and taller than 5 feet 3 inches. However, there were many younger and older soldiers who lied about their age. Once conscription came was introduced all men within the age group had join up other wise they could be arrested, the only exception’s for this was men that worked in grueling and hard work places like the Colliery and Steelworks.
Once he was in the army, a soldier was given a rank, most soldiers were privates to begin with, some also moved up the ranks to become corporals, sergeants and officers. The higher the rank, the more a soldier was seen as a leader and Ranks defined a soldier’s or officer’s role and how much responsibility he had, they could be distinguished by the stripes and badges worn on the cuff of a soldier’s or officer’s coat.
Each soldier had to carry a lot of equipment whilst out on the front line, These included various protective equipment, weapon’s and spare ammunition and some few personal item’s that they would have been allowed to take with them.
- Gas mask. This protected him against gas attacks from the enemy.
- Weapons and ammunition : Rifle, Bullets, Bayonet and Grenades.
- Protective clothes, Items which were suitable for the trenches (However, this was not always enough for the very damp conditions the soldiers lived in)
- Ground Sheet
- Puttees (long strips of cloth worn from the ankle to the knee)
- Webbing equipment (kit made from strong, cotton webbing material).
- Knife and Fork
- Shaving kit, Soap and a Towel
- Water Bottle
- Shovel. (This helped him keep the trench the way it needed to be, He could use it to remove excessive mud)
Soldiers suffered from many illnesses and injuries on the the front line, Soldiers had to live with the constant fear of getting injured in battle and falling ill from the dirty and unhygienic conditions. Body lice were pests that made soldiers so itchy that they had to shave off their hair completely. Soldier’s had to have daily foot inspection’s and they had “Foot Buddy’s” which were fellow soldier’s who’s purpose was to look after each other’s feet. The theory was that if they had the sole responsibility of another’s feet on their shoulder’s, then they would take proper care of them unlike if they only had to look after their own.
Even though food was very short in Britain during World War One, families often sent parcels to their fathers and brothers fighting at the front. The parcels contained Presents of : Chocolate, Cake, Tobacco and Tinned Food.
At the beginning of the war, soldiers got a daily ration of Just over one pound of Meat, The same amount in Bread and Eight ounces of Vegetables each day. Some soldiers worked in field kitchens which were set up just behind the trenches to cook meals for the soldiers who were fighting. By 1917 the official ration for the average British ‘Tommy’ was much smaller. Fresh meat was getting harder to come by and the ration was reduced to Just 6 ounces of ‘bully beef’ (which we call corned beef today) and Soldiers on the actual front line got even less meat and vegetables than this.
Maconchie’s meat stew’ and hard biscuits was a meal that many soldiers ate, Sadly the meat was mostly fat. This, along with a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, was responsible for many soldiers to suffer from upset stomachs!
Most letters sent from the front line were read by an officer who checked it was acceptable to send, He checked for anything that might give away British army secrets. He also made sure that letters were not too sad, so they did not spoil the morale (the way people felt) back home. This was called censorship. Some could be sent without being read. Soldiers were trusted not to give information away. As well as letters and postcards, newspapers were also sometimes delivered to the trenches. This meant the soldiers could keep up to date with what was happening in the war, at home and in other parts of the world.