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Living in the Trenches of WW1

Updated on August 12, 2014

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

Here, some men are having a little time out while others stay alert on the firing step.
Here, some men are having a little time out while others stay alert on the firing step. | Source

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

As part of their daily routine, these men are adding fuses to shells.
As part of their daily routine, these men are adding fuses to shells. | Source

Trench Cooking WW1

Royal Artillery trench cookers in Wancourt, France.
Royal Artillery trench cookers in Wancourt, France. | Source

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

German soldiers trying to eat while fighting. Meals were often the high points of the day.
German soldiers trying to eat while fighting. Meals were often the high points of the day. | Source

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.

Australian Soldiers in Trenches at Gallipoli, 1915

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      bob 18 months ago

      this will help me in my presantation

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      Goy 3 years ago

      Hi, i world like to know information of some names of soldiers and what happen to their feets in the water. Please can you answer before tuesday. Thanks

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      kayla 3 years ago

      hi I love this website rip livesavers

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      Wanker 3 years ago

      Thanks this helped heaps

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      paige 3 years ago

      This website is very good it help me do my home work!

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      fatimah 4 years ago

      thanks great help for history project.:D

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      Ruairidh Fearguson 4 years ago

      #this site #life #omg awsome

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      i love this site like seriously love it

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      samantha 4 years ago

      hi this website is good and more people should check it out it helped me with my project that's for sure !!!!!!:}

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      Amy 4 years ago

      pack with loads of imfo thanks for helping me do my history project on the treaches

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      jack 4 years ago

      very helpful

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      john 5 years ago

      thanx that helped sssoooooooo much

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      Pealet58 5 years ago

      Thx very much this really really helped me with my homework.

      Thx again,

      Pealet58

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      charlie 5 years ago

      helped me with drama homework thanks

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      michael 5 years ago

      so good all info i need !!!!!!

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      Denise G 5 years ago

      "...there was plenty of life but there was no real living."

      I dont know about anyone else but I found that line really cool :D

      Thanks, you helped with my history homework!

    • profile image

      tom 5 years ago

      very good thanx

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      Emily 5 years ago

      Thanks for this page. It was great for helping me with my Yr9 history homework :)

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      Trololololol 5 years ago

      Good page

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      adam 5 years ago

      this really helped although u cud of put about trench foot (fungi on the foot) but other than that it helped me with my work

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      tla 5 years ago

      this really helped with my history homework and its a great website :)

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      bob 5 years ago

      this website is awesome my dad is in the army it is amazing how far warfare has come

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      bob 5 years ago

      great website mate

      absolutly amazing

      it helped me do my home work well

      ta. bob

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      bizzymom 5 years ago from New York

      What a wonderfully informative hub! I was just looking up information for my daughter on trench warfare and came across your hub. Thank you for making her research so much easier!

    • profile image

      Arwel Bennett 5 years ago

      Cheers just helped loads with my history project

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      RAWR! 5 years ago

      thanks so much for this! it has really helped me with my history i will hopefully do well in my test thanks for letting me revise :)

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      staciee 5 years ago

      Thanks for this its helped me with my English homework and i feel sorry for the soldiers that are there fighting for Britain, but they are doing a brilliant job xx

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      Eric Rodriguez 5 years ago

      this really helped with my world wazr one asignment thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      YMCMB 5 years ago

      thanxz :)

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      paige 5 years ago

      this helped me a lot thankyou soooooo much for macking this page i got a 5A in my work that's great thankyou sooo much !!!! :)

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      monitor 5 years ago

      waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay:L

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      shh 5 years ago

      might be helpful

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      Rufus rambles 5 years ago from Australia

      The harsh reality of life in the trenches is well shown here. My great-grandfather was a soldier in the trenches in World War 1 and his letters that we recently found tell of soldiers waking up to find rats in their clothes and having a competition about who could kill the most. I am slowly scanning and transcribing each letter and hope to add it soon to my hub. Thank you for this information. My great grandfather's letters to his mother spare her most of these greusome details - it just shows how brave and stoic the men were back then.

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      brandan 5 years ago

      thank you for all that information it helped me a lot

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      5 years ago

      thankyou so much

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      Sinead Michael 5 years ago

      thx for all that info! It really helped me!

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      LOLlol 5 years ago

      thank you for this information is really helped me for my history assessment

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      x Justin Beiber x 5 years ago

      Can't believe that they had to live in those conditions.

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      xepicxsnipezzx 5 years ago

      whoever posted this is a absouloute legend :)

      THANKS

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      jonh 5 years ago

      hepfull omg

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      jordan 5 years ago

      this is really helpful for my history extended learning task thanks the guy who wrote the answers down

      thannnkkkksss

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      garret 5 years ago

      history project :/

      thank you very much for the information though!

      It helped a bunch!

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      lily 6 years ago

      this help a lot for myschool projects thanks :)

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      dave the quaver 6 years ago

      thanks bud great helpn P:)

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      leecee 6 years ago

      this is amazing !

      thibodaux, la

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      sillywilly 6 years ago

      this has really helped me with my enquiry and i thank you so much .:)

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      hannah 6 years ago

      you're the best just saved my life i didn't have a clue what i was doing i thank you so much you're a star best website i could find and believe me i'm like an expert on th computer but this hlpd a lot :D

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      pez3605 6 years ago

      thanks for the info helped lots with history.

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      6 years ago

      this has helped

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      lol 6 years ago

      thank you

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      E.T 6 years ago

      cheers soilders

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      eddie reyes 6 years ago

      this mad me pss my test thank you

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      TeddyBear 6 years ago

      Great Page! Thanks sooo much!

    • profile image

      bob everheart 6 years ago

      that was sooo cool it helped of how life was like

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      xboxlive 6 years ago

      thank you helped lots with history

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      timi 6 years ago

      thx it helped me

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      claudiaa 6 years ago

      thanks this really helped me thankyou :) xx

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      wonders 6 years ago

      thx fr helping me with my english h/w couldn't of dne it without u... wikepedia is useless

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      Tessa mayleese mullenville 6 years ago

      thankyou this page was great it really helped me with some reseach i had to do!! :) thx

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      MegsEds 6 years ago

      You've saved my life with my GCSE English. Wikipedia is a load of rubbish so thank you. Only now do I really learn to respect my great-grandparents... wish I could say thank you. Its so crazy that this escalated from one Archduke from being shot... quite amazing... Thank you MegsEds

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      christyna 6 years ago

      sorry my grandma always corrects me so its sorta become a habit. what poor living conditions wow they are heroes in every way

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      V Kuro 6 years ago

      Thanks. Good work.

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      gonzo 6 years ago

      helped me whith my project

    • profile image

      hj 6 years ago

      Scary place always anticapating fire.

    • profile image

      Louise 6 years ago

      Yes, like 'J', I also need some simple facts on 'World War One' trenches. This website has helped a lot but I would need some more information. If anybody has any suggestions of websites that I could go on to that would be fantastic. However, information and facts that you already know would be just as useful. Thank you.

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      6 years ago

      i need to know a lot about ww1 trenches for something i am taking part in. easy to understand facts would to useful, thanks

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      Ella 6 years ago

      Thank you SO much i mean it i mean i forgot all about my project and needed to know about the trenches and other stuff i had my homewoek

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      dylan gore 6 years ago

      helped me with a project thnkz

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      taxi 6 years ago

      glad i wasn't alive then!

    • profile image

       6 years ago

      i'm doing a report on this with my friend and it was really helpful. thank u to whoever wrote it! but i'm wondering, was the food really better than the people's at home? i always thought the trenches were horrible in every way!

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      lizzie hoffman 6 years ago

      really helpful! thnx

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      tom 6 years ago

      good for homework

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      Florian Poddelka 6 years ago

      thnx for who writen this thing that is soo useful for me

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      6 years ago

      it is soo help for my project about ww1 trench life thatn every one

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      ruby 6 years ago

      this is so good for my homework!!!!!!!!!!!

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      bill 6 years ago

      this is gr8. helped me complete my hmwk on poetry

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      l.b 6 years ago

      tnx that helped me wiv hmwk ;)

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      jacob 6 years ago

      havnt read it all, but i dont think you mentioned that solderers rarely ever got that much, and often soldiers complained about having just bread for breakfast and hard biscuits for tea

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      aimee 6 years ago

      this was very useful i used it for enlish war poetry

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      nia 6 years ago

      omg thx 2 u soilders

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      Bob 6 years ago

      Thanks! Helped a lot.

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      jenon 6 years ago

      interesting

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      ish 6 years ago

      thanks mate

      that helped a lot:)

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      Skye  7 years ago

      Thank you for posting site. It was very helpful to find all of the information that i needed.

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      Saskia.... :P 7 years ago

      Thanks for posting this! Has been v. helpful!

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      heyy 7 years ago

      this is a good site it has helped me with mi history projct thanks x (: x

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      Jon 7 years ago

      Sorry to be picky but "The soldiers in the trenches ate quite well, and the food was considered to be luxurious, compared to what their families back at home were eating" !??!!? - THIS IS NOT TRUE!!

      I think you'll find that there were massive problems with supplying the actual foods listed!!

    • profile image

      jbbb 7 years ago

      this was helpful, but i need to know more about

      the advantages of trenches!

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      stairwagon 7 years ago

      were the us involved in ww1? i know we were.

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      georgia (12) 7 years ago

      its a really useful website so young people like myself can do homework on it as i'm doing worldwar 1 . thanks

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      Brandon Youngpaddock 7 years ago

      This site is mad as. it was very useful for my history essay. thanks. :)

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      katrina 7 years ago

      its really helpful website

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      katrina 7 years ago

      its really hepl ful website. easy 2 follow what it says. it got all the answer that i needed thanks...

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      Bobby 7 years ago

      So these trenches what are they?

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      emzysmith 7 years ago

      it must be so sad to live in those trenches i would have hated it cuz i hate rats lol xx

    • profile image

      Sammy  7 years ago

      Thanks this was great for my history homework :)

    • profile image

      Corina 7 years ago

      I think this webpage is GR8TE!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Patricia 7 years ago

      I thought their food supplies were bad?

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      Alana  7 years ago

      can anyone help me with the games they played or how they entertain themseleves in the trenches during WW1?

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      jazz 7 years ago

      really good stuff mate...

      don't take it badly or anything, but it's ironic you don't mention anything about France or french soldiers if u know what i mean (and plz no anti-french comments here...).

      Any ways,

      keep up the awesome work!!!!!