What are trenches? Trenches are heavily guarded ditches dug into the ground. The trenches used during WWI were the depth of just over a man’s height, though they could range between 1.8 and 2.5 meters.
They were built in a zigzag pattern, usually in three rows, complete with dead ends to confuse the enemy.
Parts of a Trench parados
Parapet Parados Pick out some of the features of this trench. Firestep Dugouts Sandbags Duckboards
Most of the fighting during WWI occurred in these trenches. There were two main areas the trenches were built: • Western Front – from the English Channel to Switzerland (Allies) • Eastern Front – between Austria-Hungary and Russia (Central Powers)
Eastern Front These lines were called front lines. Each side had one. Western Front
The space between the two front lines was called No Man’s Land. This area was full of barbed wire, land mines, bomb craters, etc.
Use a pencil crayon to trace the Eastern and Western Front lines. Then circle No Man’s Land.
Eastern Front No Man’s Land Western Front
Men were called to go “over the top”of the trench to advance toward the enemy’s position in order to gain more territory.
It was very difficult to attack across No Man’s Land. Attacking soldiers had to deal with mud, craters, mines, barbed wire, heavy loads, and enemy fire.
The enemy could stay protected in their trench and use machine guns and heavy artillery. Attacking soldiers were open targets and used light rifles that often jammed if mud got in them.
Soldiers were expected to carry all of their equipment with them at all times. It made going over the top even more difficult.
Living in crowded trenches was unbearable. Problems included mud, water, cold, rats, lice, disease, noise, trench feet, trench fever, and shell-shock. Shell-shock: • Extreme stress caused by battle. Symptoms included tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration, headaches and mental breakdowns.
Each day the men were assigned chores such as refilling sandbags, repairing duckboards , and draining trenches. When there was heavy rain, the trenches would flood making it even more miserable for the army, as the walls of the trench would cave in.
“The trench, when we reached it, was half full of mud and water. We set to work to try and drain it. Our efforts were hampered by the fact that the French, who had first occupied it, had buried their dead in the bottom and sides. Every stroke of the pick encountered a body. The smell was awful.” -Private Pollard
Since the front line was always being watched by snipers, soldiers could only move about during the night. It made for long boring days.
After all the chores were done, the men were free to do whatever they wanted, such as writing letters, reading books, or sleeping. What does this picture tell you about life in the trenches?
The cut-out head of the German Kaiser held by one of the soldiers was used for ‘sniper practice’.
Corpses, as well as the food scraps that littered the trenches, attracted rats. One pair of rats can produce 880 offspring in a year and so the trenches were soon swarming with them. Some soldiers claimed that the rats were as big as cats. They became so bold that they would attempt to take food from the pockets of sleeping men.
And even more lice... The other soldiers in the hut took their shirts off after tea. They were catching lice. We had never seen a louse before, but they were here in droves. The men were killing them between their nails. - Henry Gregory
This may seem like a strange Christmas card to send home from the Front, but what does it tell us about the conditions that soldiers found themselves in?
Trench Foot Many soldiers fighting in WWI suffered from trench foot: • an infection of the feet caused by cold, wet, unsanitary conditions.
Men stood for hours on end in waterlogged trenches without being able to remove wet socks or boots. The feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn blue. If left untreated, trench foot could result in amputation.
Warning! Graphic pictures ahead. Look away if you’re easily grossed out.
The only remedy for trench foot was for the soldiers to dry their feet and change their socks several times a day. By the end of 1915, British soldiers in the trenches had to have three pairs of socks with them and were under orders to change their socks at least twice a day.