Life in the Trenches. An Examination of Living Conditions on the Western Front During the First World War. World War I Erupts. The First World War erupted in the summer of 1914. Initially the war was met with tremendous optimism as hundreds of thousands eagerly volunteered for duty.
An Examination of Living Conditions on the Western Front During the First World War
British and French recruits greeted by cheering crowds in 1914.
Strategic Situation in the Summer of 1914.
The Battle of the Marne (September 1914)
The front lines shown changed little between 1915 and 1917.
A typical trench system.
This captured German trench was typical of those found on the Western Front. Generally better prepared than Allied trenches, the resilience of German trenches would frustrate Allied attacks throughout the war.
Barbed-wire entanglements were virtually impassable. The primary function of any preliminary bombardment was to ensure the destruction of the enemy’s barbed-wire.
Soldiers did not spend the whole of the time in the trenches.
While not common, massive artillery guns such as the German “Big Bertha” shown above could fire one-ton shells more than ten miles.
It has been estimated that the Germans used 68,000 tons of gas against Allied soldiers. This was more than the French Army (36,000) and the British Army (25,000).
Between 1914 and 1918, more than 91,000 men were killed as a result of poison gas. Gas casualties, however, accounted for almost 3,000,000 total casualties.
It has been estimated that about 75,000 British soldiers in the war were killed by British shells that had been intended for the Germans.
Corpses lay everywhere and were often in various stages of decay. With little time to bury the dead, the decomposing bodies of men would attract rats. With rats came disease.
"We all carried the smell of dead bodies with us. The bread we ate, the stagnant water we drank. Everything we touched smelled of decomposition due to the fact that the earth surrounding us was packed with dead bodies."
This 1915 Punch magazine cartoon depicts the dehumanization process which results from service in the trenches.
During the winter of 1914-15, for example, over 20,000 men in the British Army were treated for trench foot.
Between 1914 and 1918 the British Army identified 80,000 men as suffering from shell-shock.
On one or two faces there are even the hints of smiles.
Some, however, will never smile again...