DAILY LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
WAR FROM THE TRENCHES
On the Western Front, the war was fought in trenches. Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers lived all day and night. 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. Soldiers crossed No Man's Land when they wanted to attack the other side.
LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
The trenches could be very muddy and smelly. There were many dead bodies buried nearby and the latrines (toilets) sometimes overflowed into the trenches. Millions of rats infested the trenches and some grew as big as cats. There was also a big problem with lice that tormented the soldiers on a daily basis.
REST IN THE TRENCHES
Soldiers in the trenches did not get much sleep. When they did, it was in the afternoon during daylight and at night only for an hour at a time. They were woken up at different times, either to complete one of their daily chores or to fight. During rest time, they wrote letters and sometimes played card games.
A TYPICAL DAY IN THE TRENCHES
- 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
- 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 onwards - 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)
A SOLDIER'S EQUIPMENT
Each soldier had to carry a lot of equipment whilst out on the front line. These included:
- Gas mask. This protected him against gas attacks from the enemy.
- Weapons and ammunition. These included a rifle, bullets, a bayonet and some grenades.
- Protective clothes. Items which were suitable for the trenches like boots, a ground sheet cape, puttees (long strips of cloth worn from the ankle to the knee) and a helmet. However, this was not always enough for the very damp conditions the soldiers lived in.
- 'Webbing equipment' (kit made from strong, cotton webbing material). This included a haversack containing personal items such as knife, fork, shaving kit, water bottle, soap and towel.
- Shovel. This helped him keep the trench the way it needed to be. He could use it to remove excessive mud.
FOOD IN THE TRENCHES
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 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). 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!
As well as the fighting and problems with health, one of the biggest issues that faced soldiers on the front line was homesickness.
Soldiers sometimes had to spend months away from home fighting. Often, they only got ten days of leave (vacation) in a year. However, they were allowed to write letters home to their loved ones. They were given postcards or headed paper that allowed them to write home for free.
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.