ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Trenches Of World War One

Updated on August 13, 2013

The Great War 1914-1918

When war broke out in 1914, both sides dug themselves into trenches along the Western front.

The Western Front stretched over 430 miles from the Belgian coast to the border of Switzerland.

Trench warfare meant that a war that many thought would be over by Christmas, would now be a long and drawn out war. The "Digging in" meant that gaining territory from the enemy would be much more difficult to achieve for the armies because it was almost impossible to move over land without falling prey to a stray bullet or shell.

The trenches of the Western Front claimed the lives of millions of men, not only did they die in battle but almost 2 million men died from illness and disease caught from living in the horrific trench environment.

Map Showing the Western Front of World War 1

The Western Front was almost 700 kilometers long.
The Western Front was almost 700 kilometers long. | Source

WW1 Trench Diagram


British Soldiers Digging Trenches 1915

The Trenches of WWI

The trenches of World War 1 were in reality big holes dug into the ground where soldiers ate drank worked and slept.

Around 12 feet deep and between 3-5 feet wide, the floor of the trench was made from wooden planks or duckboards.

Men slept in dugouts cut into the sides of the trenches and smaller cut-outs were used to store food and equipment.

Parapets were built at the top of the trench and firing steps around 5 feet from the floor of the trench were made for men to stand on to spy on or shoot at the enemy over the parapet.

At the top of the trenches were sandbags to protect the soldiers from enemy fire, there were often small gaps between the sandbags for the soldiers to watch enemy movements or to fire through.

The trenches were lined with a wire mesh to prevent them from collapsing.

A soldier in the trenches could see no more than 10 meters either side of him, trenches were built in a zigzag fashion to ensure that if any part of the trench was shelled only that part of the trench was damaged, and the men in trenches either side were safe from shrapnel.

Trench Foot

WW I poster warning soldiers the dangers of trench foot
WW I poster warning soldiers the dangers of trench foot | Source

WWI Trench Foot

With the rain came the mud, Trench foot became a common complaint in the trenches, The constant immersion of the mens feet in the wet mud took its toll, the soldiers foot would become numb, and turn either a red or a blue color, as the condition worsened the skin would become flakey and the aroma of rotting flesh would be smelled when the soldier took off his boots. In more advanced cases the feet would begin to swell, blisters and open sores would appear in the skin and if left untreated fungal infection would set in.

Common Diseases in the Trenches

Diarrhea and Dysantry
Infectious Hepititis
Common Respitory Disease
Typhoid Fever
Tubercolosis (T.B)
Scarlet Fever
German Measles
Undulant Fever
Trench Foot
Trench Fever
From 1918-1919 there was an Influenza Pandemic which killed more people around the world than were killed in The Great War. Over 40 million people are said to have died in the pandemic.

WWI Trench Living

Living conditions in the trenches were barbaric; being in Europe rain became a major problem for soldiers living in the trenches, no matter how well the trenches were constructed, the rain turned them into filthy, muddy holes in the ground.

Smells in the Trenches

A new soldier going in to the trenches for the first time would notice the smell before anything else. The acrid cordite smell from the constant shellfire. The smell of rotting flesh from dead soldiers lying in shallow graves. There were no toilets or washing facilities for the men the smell of faeces and urine filled the air, even the creosote used to mask the smell of the cesspits had its own unique aroma. Stagnant mud, cigarette smoke, the smoke from cooking food. Rotting food left by soldiers in the heat of battle and the smell of the men themselves. Unwashed for days and living in the trenches the soldier’s clothes and bodies held on to all of the other smells around them. Soldiers may never have gotten used to this combination of smells but they learned to live with them.

Disease in the Trenches

With so much death and decay, rats soon became a nuisance in the trenches, eating the flesh of soldiers who had fallen in combat. The men tried to kill as many of them that they could but it was an ever-losing battle.

In the unsanitary conditions of the trenches, head lice and body lice became a major problem for the soldiers. No one living in the trenches escaped them, men shaved their heads and shaved all of their body hair to try to avoid infection but the lice lived in their clothes. Even after their clothes were washed, eggs laid in the seams by the lice would hatch and re-infect the soldiers.

Lice were responsible for trench fever a debilitating disease that could last for up to 12 weeks.

Insects were everywhere flies, bees, wasps, horned beetles, worms, ants all adding to the unsanitary conditions.

With the rats, lice and the creepy crawlies everywhere in the trenches sickness and disease was inevitable.

Disease was rife; men were taken from the front line everyday suffering from infections and disease that had been caught whilst doing their duties. Field hospitals were over run and over worked, not only were men dying from gunshot and shell fire but the death toll from illness and disease was growing, over 2 million men died from disease and infections caught in the trenches of World War I.

A Field Kitchen in World War 1

A typical field kitchen used in The Great War.
A typical field kitchen used in The Great War. | Source

What The Soldiers Ate in the Trenches of WWI

There were Field kitchens set up away from the front line cooking meals for the soldiers fighting in the trenches. The kitchens provided stews, meat and potato dishes and other cooked meals with the food that was available to them. A lot of the time in the heat of a battle this food could not be delivered to the soldiers on the front line because of shell or gunfire, when this happened ration kits were issued to give the men enough sustenance to get them through their day.

Typical Daily Rations for a British or Allied Soldier

4 Ounces
20 Ounces
3 Ounces
5 Ounces
4 Ounces
1 Half Ounce
1/36th Ounce
1/20th Ounce
Fresh Vegatables
8 Ounces
1/3rd Ounce
4 Ounce
Soldiers were also issued with half and ounce of tobacco, a tot of rum and a tot of port.

A Soldiers Daily Food Ration

The average food rations of a British soldier serving in the trenches.
The average food rations of a British soldier serving in the trenches. | Source

Typical Daily Ration for a German Soldier

Bread or Biscuits
17 Ounces
Dried Egg Buiscut
13 Ounces
7 Ounces
2 Ounces
7 Ounces
1 half Ounce
1 half Ounce
1 Ounce
German soldiers were also issued with an ounce of tobacco, and at the Officers discression a tot of rum, port or a half pint of beer.

The Reality of World War One

WWI Trench Warfare

Fighting in the trenches was horrific and futile, before an attack a bombardment of shells would be fired into the enemy lines. Thousands of young men would then climb out of the trenches, "Go over the top", and run as fast as they could toward the enemy trenches.

The enemy knowing an attack was underway because of the heavy shelling would set up machine gun posts and shoot at anything that moved, Soldiers were mown down in their hundreds without gaining an inch of land from the enemy; most were killed without even getting 3 feet away from their own trenches.

in the video, right, soldiers go "Over the top" Warning this video contains actual footage of soldiers being killed in action.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      This is most informative. I'll add a link for it onto my hubs about my grandfather and my great-uncle in WWI.

      I've been reading about the rations for a Civil War soldier lately and it's interesting to compare their daily food to that provided to the soldiers in WWI.

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 

      7 years ago from USA

      Very interesting Hub. WWI trench warfare must have been horrible for anyone who had to endure it. A truly sad period in world history with too many lives needlessly lost. I've heard about trench warfare all my life, but only recently have begun to realize just how awful it really was.

    • Lightshare profile image


      7 years ago

      Amazing hub! War never can't be an answer!!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image


      7 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      What a wonderful, complete hub. The history is so interesting, excellent photos and tables. I am astounded by how many diseases were prevalent at that time. Thank you for putting so much time into this hub.

    • Academicviews profile image


      7 years ago from Scotland

      What great Hub! I cannot begin for an instance to know what these young men went through. And for nothing really, the First World War was an aristocrat dispute which annoys me. Too many innocent lives lost.

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 

      7 years ago

      Jimmy, great hub about the trenches in WW1.

      Did you ever read All Quiet on the Western Front, by Rainer Maria Rilke? It is written as a novel, but he wasn't making it up. It's just like what you wrote in your hub.

      It is one of the recommended novels for the final year of high school in British Columbia, and it is grim, poetic, beautiful and terrifying all at the same time.

      Every high school student should read your hub, too.

      Well done, and thank you for keeping the facts alive as the veterans who lived it pass--"to you from failing hands we throw/The torch. Be yours to hold it high and/Keep the faith with we who die in Flanders Fields." (John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields."

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      7 years ago from UK

      Great job as usual Jimmy. Typical army to lecture soldiers on keeping their feet dry and clean - of course they would've, if they could've!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Jimmy, great hub. The info re: rations was interesting, Germans were certainly better looked after. This kind of warfare is mind boggling to us now when we look at advances in military strategy and the like.

      Voted up and shared.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Awesome summary, Jimmy. I'm researching for my book at the moment - any idea where I could find out about men hired by the army as scientists? ie Toxicologist vs poison gas?

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Another great article, Jimmy. I don't think many realize how much disease there was in the trenches. "Trench foot" sounds mildly comical (I sense the slang mentality at work there) but if you saw a bad case, you wouldn't think it so. J.R.R Tolkien suffered from "Trench Fever" after the Somme and it basically knocked him out of fighting even though he told them he was fine months later, but he relapsed. Can one imagine millions of men sleeping outside in northern European winters? Voted up and interesting.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      7 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Great hub. Spot on photographs and text. Photo and information on rationing were really informative. The day to day reality of the general conditions were unbearable. Indeed a lost generation.


    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      7 years ago from Rome, Italy

      What a dreadful dreadful war and so good to be told and told again what it was like for the poor soldier. This Hub is wonderfully written. Thank you.

    • onlinecashdigest profile image


      7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      War really brings so much suffering that we must do all we can to avoid it.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      I am amazed at the difference in ration sizes of the British or Allied soldier vs the German soldiers. What a miserable place the trenches must have been. I am honored to have read this hub, and wish to thank all those who served, or are serving their country in military service. Well done Jimmy, quite a tribute.



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)