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World One War: Infamous Trench Foot
Horrors of Trench Foot
During the course of the First World War, soldiers of all nations suffered a debilitating and lethal condition.
The condition was that severe and horrific, that to this day, its name evokes images of slaughter and mud.
The term Trench Foot was and is a medical condition which is caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, cold and insanitary conditions. Its name, condition and effects, is grouped under the term Immersion Foot Syndrome. Immersion Foot Syndrome covers a number of conditions which include Trench Foot, Tropical Immersion Foot (Paddy Foot) and Audit Foot.
The infection received its name due to the horrific and insanitary conditions soldiers lived, fought and died in in the trenches.
The stages of the infection are as follows. Firstly, the infected foot or feet may become numb caused by erythrosis (skin turning red) or cyanosis (skin turning blue). Further to this, the infected area may begin to have a decaying smell, due to the onset of necrosis. As the condition worsened, the feet began to swell. The advanced cases of Trench Foot often included blisters and open sores which led to fungal infections.
If the skin is left untreated, the end result would often be gangrene, which ultimately led to amputation. Despite this, if treated properly and quickly, complete recovery is certain. As with other cold-related injuries, trench foot leaves sufferers more susceptible in the future.
The interesting fact about Trench Foot is that unlike frostbite, Trench Foot does not require freezing temperatures and can occur in temperatures up to 60 Fahrenheit. The condition presents itself in as little as eleven hours
During the opening stages of World War One, some 20,000 casualties resulted from Trench Foot in the British Army.
Sergeant Harry Roberts, Lancashire Fusiliers, was interviewed after the war and noted
“If you have never had trench feet described to you. I will tell you. Your feet swell to two or three times their normal size and go completely dead. You could stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are fortunate enough not to lose your feet and the swelling begins to go down. It is then that the intolerable, indescribable agony begins. I have heard men cry and even scream with the pain and many had to have their feet and legs amputated.”
One of the last veterans of the war, Arthur Savage was interviewed at the age of 92 and described a nightmarish existence
“My memories are of sheer terror and the horror of seeing men sobbing because they had trench foot that had turned gangrenous. They knew they were going to lose a leg. Memories of lice in your clothing driving you crazy. Filth and lack of privacy. Of huge rats that showed no fear of you as they stole your food rations. And cold deep wet mud everywhere. And of course, corpses. I'd never seen a dead body before I went to war. But in the trenches the dead are lying all around you. You could be talking to the fellow next to you when suddenly he'd be hit by a sniper and fall dead beside you. And there he's stay for days.”