Life in the Trenches
The war on the Western front (from 1914-1918) was one of almost exclusive trench warfare. The Western front stretched across Belgium and Northeast France spanning a distance of about 600km. Millions of men were killed along it but its line never moved more than 15km in any direction.
On the Western front French and British troops together with thousands of men from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa occupied a network of deep trenches from September 1914. Facing them, across a few hundred yards of ground known as No Mans Land, were trenches occupied by the Germans. Millions of men were killed on the Western front in battles such as Ypres, 2Verdun, Somme and on routine patrols. Warfare in the trenches was only expected to last until the Spring but by 1917 the war had reached a stalemate because of the ineffectiveness of this type of warfare. The idea of digging the trenches was to prevent the Germans from reaching Paris and no one had thought that it wouldve lasted so long.
The trenches were about 210cm at the top and 100cm at the bottom, which could be uncomfortably narrow. The troops could fire over the parapet from fire steps which were 100-130cm dug into the wall of the trench and at the same time allowing troops to walk upright throughout trenches without having to fear having their heads blown off by the enemy.
Life in the trenches was horrendous for the front line soldiers. During their tour of duty there, they lived in great discomfort and an incredible amount of tension. They had to endure such things as rat and louse infestations not to mention lack of water and other vital supplies.
Vermin infested the trenches. Soldiers would have to sometimes wade through water-filled trenches, which were alive with a multitude of swimming frogs. The sides of the trench would be covered with red slugs and horned beetles. Rats were among the worst horrors, they fed on corpses and grew as large as cats. Many soldiers were horrified more by these creatures than anything else in trench life. Two types thrived on the Western front, the brown rat and the black rat. The former was much bigger and more loathsome, their favourite food being human flesh particularly the eyes and liver. Sometimes, they disappeared and the veterans accepted that the rats could sense shell-fire a full 30 minutes before it began.
3Lice were the great scourge of the trenches and the constant and inevitable companion of every soldier. They would lay their eggs in the seams of dirty clothing and would hatch due to the body heat created by the soldier. Soldiers did what they could to rid of the vile creatures but invariably a fair proportion of eggs remained in the clothing. Lice transmitted an infectious disease known as Trench fever. This caused a shocking pain followed by high fever. Nits infested the mens hair and every company had a barber to shave them to the skull.
The worst ingredient of the incredible stench of the Trenches was the vile odour of putrefaction. The latrines gave off a dreadful smell even in the most of well-ordered trenches. For many soldiers the dominant smell, after putrefiction, was that of sweat caused by the adrenaline due to the constant state of fear the majority of soldiers were in and lack of sanitation. Virtually every action caused the men to sweat and until they got back to the reserve area they had no way to wash thoroughly. The feet gave off the worst smell.
Several months of war passed before regular supplies of water to the trenches were organized. The delay was a result of the prevading notion that the trenches would only be temporary. Many of the men depended on impure water, which collected in shell holes or other cavities. This was a standard, but unofficial, method of water collection developed in the trenches and was used for many months.
Occasionally even the men in the trenches showed some kind of humanity, even compassion towards the enemy. 4Friendly deals, although not official, were made to make the soldiers lives a little better such as no shooting of shells before 8 am in the morning to ensure the soldiers had a good breakfast. The best example to show the compassion of war is what happened on Christmas day, 1914. On Christmas Eve the allies saw lights flickering from the German trenches, they were fearing the worst when all of a sudden they heard the Germans singing 5Christmas carols. When they had finished the allies responded with English Christmas carols. Some of the braver and more headstrong men looked over the top and cautiously started to crawl out of the trenches. They all met on the field for one night united as nothing more than citizens of the human race. There was no nationalism, no fighting, only a truce proving that despite all the wars that deep down humanity still had some good left in it. This was the last shred of evidence that humanity was improving the longer it was around, but unfortunately on Christmas day the leaders of each side met in the middle, shook hands and fired 3 shots into the air. Thus the war had once again begun and would continue for an additional 3 years of non-stop torment and blood shed with brave men sacrificing their lives for no reason but national pride. The last act of friendliness before the fighting once again began was the Allies raising a white banner saying Merry Christmas and the Germans replying by raising a white banner of their own saying Thank you.
Despite the hells of war, the spirit of humanity lives on Capt. Joseph Henrys
Bibliography: Encyclopedia Britannia vol. 29 p. 585
The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World
Modern European History (1871-1975)
World War 1 : Documentary on the Discovery Channel
Written by Thomas GromeWords
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