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LIFE IN THE TRENCHESStrong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes, Less chanced than you for life, Bonds to the whims of murder, Sprawled in the bowels of the earth
PHOTOS OF THE TRENCHES
Conditions in the Trenches
This is an entry in the diary of Harold Saunders, a soldier during World War One. He describes trench life as he knows it.When I made my debut in the line I had a cheerful conviction that nothing would hit me. And I remember standing on the fire-step for the first time and saying to myself exultantly: "You're in it at last! You're in it! The greatest thing that's ever happened!"Lice and wind-up came into my life about the same time. At stand-to one morning a flight of whizz-bangs skimmed the top of the trench. The man next to me went down with a scream and half his face gone. The sand-bag in front of me was ripped open and I was blinded and half-choked with its contents.
Rats and LiceTwo types black and brownSoldiers made games of killing themLice were an even worse problem
Diseases in the TrenchesTRENCH FEVERTRENCH FOOT
What Else?Novice DeathThe Trench CycleStand To and The Morning HateThe Breakfast TruceInspection and ChoresPatrolling No Mans Land
GASFirst used by the FrenchSecond Battle of Ypres
DIARY ENTRY of Anthony Hossack on THE FIRST GAS ATTACK
Life in the Trenches
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes, Less chanced than you for life, Bonds to the whims of murder, Sprawled in the bowels of the earth From Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg Photos of the TrenchesGerman soldiers in Trenches at YpresBritish soldiers digging trenches with gas masks onFrench soldiers in their trenchesBritish boys playing at being soldiers in the trenchesFrench soldiers shooting at the Germans over their own deadA bomb bursting in a British trenchCanadian soldiers in their trenchSerbians receiving their rations in the trenchConditions in the TrenchesWhen I made my debut in the line I had a cheerful conviction that nothing would hit me. And I remember standing on the fire-step for the first time and saying to myself exultantly: "You're in it at last! You're in it! The greatest thing that's ever happened!"Lice and wind-up came into my life about the same time. At stand-to one morning a flight of whizz-bangs skimmed the top of the trench. The man next to me went down with a scream and half his face gone. The sand-bag in front of me was ripped open and I was blinded and half-choked with its contents.There two types of rat in the trenches the black rat and the brown rat. The brown rat was especially dangerous, being the one that could carry disease. These rats however were no normal rats feasting themselves on the remains of the dead soldiers they grew to the size of cats.When bored, soldiers made games out of hunting them down and killing them using their guns or bayonets. This was pointless however one rat couple can produce 900 offspring.Nits and lice were an even worse problem in the trenches. Every single soldier was infested with them. It sounds disgusting now, but in the trenches it was quite normal to hang a soldier upside down and whack them with a hard-backed book or something similar; and seeing the little black insects fall in showers out of their hair.Diseases in the TrenchesTwo diseases were extremely prevalent in the trenches. The first was trench fever. Symptoms of this included headaches, skin rashes such as the one in the picture, inflamed eyes and leg pains. Although not a very serious illness with a recovery period of five or six days, this proved to be the chief illness in the trenches. It was not until 1918 that it was discovered to be caused by lice.The other was trench foot. Many soldiers fighting in the First World War suffered from trench foot. This was an infection of the feet caused by cold, wet and unsanitary conditions. In the trenches 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 red or blue. If untreated, trench foot could turn gangrenous and result in amputation. Trench foot was a particular problem during the early stages of the war. 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. As well as drying their feet, soldiers were told to cover their feet with grease made from whale-oil. It has been estimated that a battalion at the front would use ten gallons of whale-oil every day.What Else ruled the lives of those soldiers in the trenches?Novice Death Novice Death was the name for the death that occurred to many young men on their first day in the trenches. Not knowing where the weak spots were in the trench caused many to be smothered by collapsing soil. Perhaps the worst cases of novice death were when natural curiosity caused new men to look over the top of the trench into No Mans Land and were killed by a precisely aimed German sniper bullet.The Trench Cycle Each battalion would have to go through this trench cycle. Typically, the group of soldiers would spend a certain amount of time at the front, then move to support, then to reserve, and then have a short period of well-earned rest before the cycle started up again. However, this varied from battalion to battalion. If they were doing well and gaining ground, a battalion might be ordered to stay on the front line for much longer than they were supposed to.Stand To and The Morning Hate One hour before dawn, all of the soldiers were woken up and registered. They stood with their guns over the trenches, guarding against a dawn attack. Even though both sides knew that the other was guarded against raids or attacks timed at dawn, many were actually carried out at this time. As the tension built in the early hours and the sun rose, stand to would be accompanied by The Morning Hate. Both sides would often relieve the tension of the early hours with machine gun fire, shelling and small arms fire, directed into the mist to their front: this made doubly sure of safety at dawn.The Breakfast Truce While breakfast was served and eaten, both sides adopted an unofficial truce. The truce often extended to the wagons delivering the food to the trenches. Inevitable, a senior officer of the battalion would learn of the truce after a few weeks and stamp it out but despite this, the breakfast truce prevailed throughout the war. Inspection and Chores - With breakfast over the men would be inspected by either the company or platoon commander. Once this had been completed NCOs would assign daily chores to each man (except those who had been excused duty for a variety of reasons). Daily chores included the refilling of sandbags, the repair of duckboards on the floor of the trenches and the draining of the trenches, which would often become waterlogged after rain.Patrolling No Mans Land - Patrols would often be sent out into No Mans Land. Some men would be tasked with repairing or adding barbed wire to the front line. Others however would go out to assigned listening posts, hoping to pick up valuable information from the enemy lines.GASAlthough it is true that the French were the first to use gas in the war, they did not use poison gas. They used tear gas, a gas which blinded men for a short period of time.The Germans were the first to use poison gas. They introduced it at the Second Battle of Ypres, with devastating consequences. The effects of the poison gas were severe. Within seconds of inhalation it destroys your respiratory organs, bringing on choking attacks which eventually kill you.As we gazed in the direction of the bombardment, where our line joined the French, six miles away, we could see in the failing light the flash of shrapnel with here and there the light of a rocket. But more curious than anything was a low cloud of yellow-grey smoke or vapour, and, underlying everything, a dull confused murmuring.Plainly something terrible was happening. What was it? Officers, and Staff officers too, stood gazing at the scene, awestruck and dumbfounded; for in the northerly breeze there came a pungent nauseating smell that tickled the throat and made our eyes smart.We were now in the area of the ill-fated French Colonial Corps. Ambulances were everywhere, and the village of Brielen, through which we passed, was choked with wounded and gassed men. We were very mystified about this gas, and had no protection whatever against it.One man came stumbling through our lines. An officer of ours held him up with levelled revolver, "What's the matter, you bloody lot of cowards?" says he. The man was frothing at the mouth, his eyes started from their sockets, and he fell writhing at the officer's feet. Within seconds, he was dead.There is no way that we will ever able to understand what life in the trenches was like. It doesnt matter how many diaries, or letters we read or how many photos we look at we will never comprehend what this hell on earth was like. To conclude, I would like to show you a short video of the trenches. It starts with British soldiers being recruited. It goes on with marching soldiers, then to soldiers digging trenches quickly before a battle. The next clip shows Brits receiving their rations in the trenches, and the last shows them frantically pumping water from their trench as their friends lie dying. The music playing in the background is a track called Pack up Your Troubles, a song popularly sung by the soldiers.