Originally posted 2019-07-31 13:17:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
The Western Front in World War I, located in France, was fought using trench warfare. WWI started on 28 June 1914, and by the end of 1914, both sides had built trenches that went from the North Sea and through Belgium and France. Neither side made much ground for nearly three and a half years – from October 1914 to March of 1918.
It is estimated that there were about 2,490 kilometre of trench lines dug during World War I. Most trenches were between 1-2 metres wide and 3 metres deep.
Trenches weren’t dug in straight lines. The WWI trenches were built as a system, in a zigzag pattern with many different levels along the lines. They had paths dug so that soldiers could move between the levels.
Trenches typically had an embankment at the top and a barbed wire fence. Often, trenches in World War I would be reinforced with sandbags and wooden beams. In the trench itself, the bottom was covered with wooden boards called duckboards. These were meant to protect the soldiers’ feet from the water in the trenches to try and prevent Trench Foot.
The trenches were dug by soldiers and there were three ways to dig them. Sometimes the soldiers would simply dig the trenches straight into the ground – a method known as entrenching. Entrenching was fast, but the soldiers were open to enemy fire while they dug. Another method was to extend a trench on one end. It was called sapping and was a safer method but took a lot longer. Tunneling – which is digging a tunnel and then removing the roof to make a trench when it is complete – was the safest method, but it was the most difficult too.
Trenches needed to be repaired constantly to prevent erosion from the weather and from enemy bombs and gunfire.
It took 450 men six hours to build around 250 metres of British trenches.
LIFE IN TRENCHES
Life in the trenches was very difficult because they were dirty and flooded in bad weather. Many of the trenches also had pests living in them, including rats, lice, and frogs. Rats in particular were a problem and ate soldier’s food as well as the actual soldiers while they slept.
Lice also caused a disease called Trench Fever that made the soldiers’ itch terribly and caused fever, headache, sore muscles, bones, and joints.
Many soldiers living in the trenches suffered from Trench Foot. Rain and bad weather would flood the trenches making them boggy, muddy, and could even block weapons and make it hard to move in battle.
Sustained exposure to the wet, muddy conditions could cause Trench Foot, which sometimes would result in the foot being amputated. Cold weather was dangerous too, and soldiers often lost fingers or toes to frostbite.
Some soldiers also died from exposure in the cold.
Soldiers rotated through three stages of the frontline. Most soldiers would spend anywhere from one day up to two weeks in the trenches at a time. They spent some time in the frontline trenches, time in the support trenches, and also time resting.
Even when they weren’t fighting, soldiers had work to do – including repairing the trenches, moving supplies, cleaning weapons, undergoing inspections, or guard duty.
The land between the two enemy trench lines was called “No Man’s Land.” No Man’s Land was sometimes covered with land mines and barbed wire. The distance between enemy trenches was anywhere from 50 to 250 yards apart.
The noise and uncomfortable surroundings made it very difficult to sleep in the trenches. Soldiers were constantly tired and in danger of falling asleep. This is why the watch shift was kept to 2 hours to avoid men falling asleep while on watch.
There were several cease fires or truces in the trenches during World War I. In 1914, around Christmas time, both the British and German soldiers put down their weapons, came out of their trenches and exchanged gifts and sang carols – ceasing fire to celebrate Christmas. This is now known as the Christmas Truce.
The majority of raids in WWI happened at night when soldiers would sneak across No Man’s Land, dodging mines, to attack the enemy in the darkness.
Every morning, soldiers would “stand to“. This is when they stand up and prepare for battle, because many attacks would take place first thing in the morning.
A typical WWI soldier would have a rifle, bayonet, and a hand grenade with them while fighting in the trenches.