What were the trenches like?
The type and nature of the trench positions varied a lot, depending on the local conditions. For example, in the area of the River Somme in France the ground is chalky and is easily dug. The trench sides will crumble easily after rain, so would be built up (‘revetted’) with wood, sandbags or any other suitable material. At Ypres in Belgium the ground is naturally boggy and the water table very high, so trenches were not really dug, but more built up using sandbags and wood (these were called ‘breastworks’). In parts of Italy, trenches were dug in rock; in Palestine in desert. In France the trenches ran through towns and villages, through industrial works, coalmines, brickyards, across railway tracks, through farms, fields and woods, across rivers, canals and streams. Each feature presented its own set of challenges for the men who had to dig in and defend. In the major offensives of 1915, 1916 and 1917 many trench positions were only held for a few days at a time before the next advance moved them on into what had been no man’s land or the enemy position. These trenches were scratch affairs, created as the advancing troops dug in, and were sometimes little more than 18 inches deep.