Living in the Trenches of WW1
The Trenches of WW I
During the First World War, many soldiers fought and died. Some survived, and some lived but were disabled for the rest of their lives, but everyone who fought in the trenches lost close friends or family members.
Every soldier who fought in the trenches knew death and the smell that followed, a smell that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Life in the trenches was often said to be hell on earth and nobody who went there argued to the contrary. In the trenches, those poor fighting men got up close and personal with death, disease, mutilation, fear, hunger, horror, lice, rats, maggots, insects, and constant threat. There, every waking moment was spent dodging shellfire and bullets, defending life.
There was plenty of life in the trenches, but sadly there was no real living for the men who served their time there.
Soldiers in the Trenches: World War One
Daily Trench Routine During World War 1
Although It may sound difficult to believe, there was order in the trenches. Even in the bloody chaos of the fiercest battles, soldiers still followed a daily routine.
Every day and night, the fighting went on but the young men still tried to stick to a routine which gave them a purpose other than killing each another. Keeping to a routine was a moral booster for the men because even if it did just last for a few moments, it was a break from the killing fields (although they still had to worry about a bullet with their name on it).
A Day in the Trenches
The daily routine (an example):
Since many raids and attacks would be carried before dawn, an hour before sun up, everyone would get up and climb up on the fire step to watch, weapons drawn, for dawn raids by the enemy. Oftentimes the soldiers would fire their weapons randomly toward the enemy at this time, as a defensive measure.
After the sun came up, the soldiers would clean their equipment and stand for inspection by senior officers. This was mostly a roll call to check which soldiers were still alive. Then they'd go for breakfast. Breakfast time was an unofficial truce in most areas on the front line, a truce that was sometimes extended to the wagons delivering food and medical supplies.
After breakfast, they'd get their daily chore assignments. There were always soldiers assigned to watch on the the fire step. The men sent to the firing step would be relieved after two hours and then they would be able to spend some time "relaxing" before being sent to do other chores, such as shoring up parts of the trenches that had been damaged by shellfire, re-filling sandbags, draining water from the trench floor, gathering supplies such as ammunition and food, maintaining latrines, and burying the bodies of their dead comrades.
During the rainy season, the trenches would fill up with water and the walls would turn to mud, creating dangerous living conditions inside, so the men had to work hard to maintain the trenches. Once the chores were done, the men were subjected to an inspection by senior officers.
At some point in the day, the men would have some leisure time when they might be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Of course, there was no real freedom during free time, and they could not move around and risk getting shot, so they'd sit still in one spot while they rested, played cards, or wrote letters.
At sundown, stand-to was repeated and everyone would aim and fire toward the enemy with one last noisy pre-emptive blast of defense for the day. They waited for darkness to fall before sending men to the rear lines to retrieve supplies. All night, someone was always standing for a two-hour watch on the fire step while others would be sent out to patrol the no-man's-land between their line and the enemy's.
Routine in the Trenches WW I
Trench Cooking WW1
Food in the Trenches of the First World War
In the heat of battle, it was impossible to have a set mealtime for the fighting soldiers, but if there was a lull in the fighting, hot meals were able to be delivered from the field kitchens to the front line trenches.
When soldiers were at stand-down, food was easier to acquire and both British and German troops could expect food to be available with some degree of regularity.
The soldiers in the trenches ate quite well, and the food was luxurious compared to what their families back home were eating.
A typical day's ration for a British soldier would include:
- 20 ounces of bread or 16 ounces flour or 4 ounces of oatmeal
- 3 ounces of cheese
- 5/8 ounces of tea
- 4 ounces of jam or 4 ounces of dried fruit
- ½ ounce of salt, 1/36 ounce of pepper
- 1/20 ounce of mustard
- 2 ounces of dried vegetables or 8 ounces of fresh vegetables or 1/10 gi. lime juice if vegetables were not available
- ½ gi. of rum or 1 pint of porter
- 20 ounces of tobacco
- 1/3 ounces of chocolate (rare)
- 4 ounces of butter/margarine
For a German soldier, the daily rations were:
- 26 ½ ounces of bread or 17 ½ of field biscuit or 14 ounces of egg biscuit
- 53 ounces of potatoes
- 4 ½ ounces fresh vegetables or 2 ounces dried vegetables
- 7/10 ounce sugar, 9/10 ounce salt
- two cigars and two cigarettes
- .44 pint wine, .17 pint spirits, .88 pint beer
There was meat available for both the British and German soldiers in the trenches, but only when a lull in the battle allowed it to be delivered from the field kitchens.
German Rations in the Trenches of WW I
The Stench of the Trenches in the First World War
Something must be said about the thing you can't get a sense of when looking at the photographs: the smell of the trenches.
Imagine this: the stench of overflowing latrines, of rotting bodies exposed to the air or buried in shallow graves, and of the living bodies (filthy, infected, bathed routinely in sweat) with no access to baths. Think of the smell of the men's unwashed feet suffering from trench foot, a fungal infection caused by wet and unsanitary trench conditions, an infection that often turned gangrenous and resulted in amputation. Add the odors of stagnant water and mud, gunpowder, slaked lime with chlorine, poison gas, rotting fabric, cigarette smoke, rancid food smells, and the stench of fear, and you have a clearer picture of what it was like in the trenches.
- Amazon.com: The Trenches of World War One A Handy Guide For Students and Schools eBook: James Paters
The Trenches of World War One: A Handy Guide for Students and Schools– Kindle edition by James Paterson. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones, or tablets.
Australian Soldiers in Trenches at Gallipoli, 1915
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