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World War I

LIFE IN THE TRENCHES

The Yi-Wen | 9 Rho | August 1, 2016


Table of Contents
Introduction to The Great War .................................................................................................................... 1
Trench Warfare - What were trenches? ......................................................................................................2
Development of Trench Warfare........................................................................................................... 2
What Was the Trench System? .................................................................................................................... 3
What Were Living Conditions Like In the Trenches? .............................................................................. 4
Pests ....................................................................................................................................................... 4
Weather ................................................................................................................................................. 4
Daily Routine .................................................................................................................................................5
“At Rest” – What Soldiers Did When Not Fighting .............................................................................5
Sports and Games ..................................................................................................................................5
Letters .....................................................................................................................................................5
Cleaning and Eating ...............................................................................................................................5
Battle of Verdun ........................................................................................................................................... 6
Weapons .........................................................................................................................................................7
Conclusion .................................................................................................................................................... 8
References ..................................................................................................................................................... 9
Introduction to The Great War
World War 1 started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on June 28, 1914.
Of course, this is just the immediate answer. There were other factors that contributed, such as the
alliances between European countries and agreements to protect each other, militarism,
nationalism, and imperialism.

-Militarism was one of the main causes of the First World War. After 1907, there was an increase
in military influence on policy making. This could be reflected particularly in Germany and Russia.

-Nationalism was an extremely important and influencing factor over the duration of WW1; men
and boys succumbed to ever-increasing pressure to join the war especially through propaganda
using women and children to make men feel obliged to protect themselves and those around them.
And their proudness and distaste for rival countries only fueled them.

-Imperialism is when countries amass a collection of smaller countries and colonies throughout
the world. Often, there would be disagreements on who controlled what.

-Alliances were definitely one of the most important factors as countries had signed agreements to
protect each other and so even if it was just a squabble between 2 particular countries, many others
will be pulled along into the fight.

All that’s left was for a trigger to light the fire; assassination.

The war lasted from 1st august 1914 to 11th November 1918.

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Trench Warfare - What were trenches?
The Great War was expected to be a relatively short affair and, as with most wars, one of great
movement. The First World War was typified however by its lack of movement, the years of
stalemate exemplified on the Western Front from autumn 1914 until spring 1918.

This was because of trenches.

Trench warfare is fighting on land using lines of trenches in which troops are protected from
enemy fire.

Trench warfare
was caused by
great firepower
but lack of
advancement in
mobility, so
defense became
the best offence.

Development of Trench Warfare


After the battle of Marne, when the retreating Germans reached the Aisne, General von Falkenhayn
decided his troops must dig-in and hold onto the parts of France and Belgium that they still
occupied. Soon the Allies realized they could not advance further so they too dug their own
trenches.

On September 1914, Chemin des Dames Ridge was held by German trenches and soon there was a
stalemate with the British Corps. Within a few weeks the stalemate spread along the whole battle
line, from the North Sea to the Swiss Frontier, a distance of some 475 miles.

 stalemate meaning neither side could advance.

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What Was the Trench System?
As seen in these
pictures, the trenches
were 6 feet deep or
more. This was to
protect the soldiers
from enemy fire, but
to return fire, there
was a firestep they
had to step on. This
elevated platform
allowed the soldiers to
rifle at enemies with
only their head
appearing above the
parapet.

Behind the main trenches were the supporting trench and communications trenches from which
men could rest or supplies came in through. Artillery was normally behind these trenches.

As seen in the
illustration here,
there were
dugouts for the
men to rest and
take cover from
shelling.

Sandbags lined
the rim of the
trenches to soak
up water and also
to protect
soldiers from
flying bullets.

The land in between opposing trenches became known as no-man’s-land because it was a
wasteland that belonged to nobody.

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What Were Living Conditions Like In the
Trenches?
As the Germans were the
first to decide where to
stand fast and dig, they had
been able to choose the best
places to build their
trenches. The possession of
the higher ground not only
gave the Germans a tactical
advantage, but it forced the
British and French to live
in the worst conditions.
Most of this area was rarely
a few feet above sea level.

As soon as soldiers began to


dig down they would invariably find water two or three feet below the surface.
Water-logged trenches were a constant problem for soldiers on the Western Front.

“Scraps of discarded food, empty tins and other waste, the


nearby presence of the latrine, the general dirt of living half
underground and being unable to wash or change for days or
weeks at a time created conditions of severe health risk”

Pests
Vermin including rats and lice were very numerous; disease was spread both by
them, and by the maggots and flies that thrived on the nearby remains of
decomposing human and animal corpses.

Weather
Troops in the trenches were also subjected to the weather: the winter of 1916-1917
in France and Flanders was the coldest in living memory; the trenches flooded in
the wet, sometimes to waist height, whenever it rained. Men suffered from
exposure, frostbite, trench foot, and other diseases.

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Daily Routine
For the soldiers, fighting was an exceptional
circumstance, rather than a daily norm. Majority of the Extract from
army’s life was toiling to supply the front lines.
Frontline troops were rotated to ensure time spent
fighting the enemy was balanced by periods of rest.
BBC Schools
Determination and morale of soldiers to keep fighting A typical day in the
were influenced by the regularity of rotation. trenches:
 5am - 'Stand-to' (short for
'Stand-to-Arms', meaning to be
on high-alert for enemy attack)
half an hour before daylight
 5.30am - Rum ration
 6am - Stand-to half an hour
after daylight
 7am - Breakfast (usually bacon
and tea)
 After 8am - Clean themselves,
clean weapons, tidy trench
“At Rest” – What Soldiers Did  Noon - Dinner
When Not Fighting  After dinner - Sleep and
downtime (one man per ten on
Sports and Games duty)
Soldiers at rest would often find themselves laboring  5pm - Tea
away as there was always need for an extra pair of hands  6pm - Stand-to half an hour
to help. But when there wasn’t, the soldiers grasped at before dusk
the opportunities for recreation such as the common
card games. Some units even held football, boxing or  6.30pm - Stand-down half an
horsemanship competitions. These games were meant to hour after dusk
improve a unit’s spirit or to sharpen military skills. (The  6.30pm onwards - Work all
British Tank Corps even held tank races.) night with some time for rest
(patrols, digging trenches,
Letters
putting up barbed wire, getting
Important was the communication with home to the stores, replacement of unit of
soldiers morale. Letters from friends and family kept soldiers every five days)
soldiers in touch with the life they had left behind. Over
the four years, the British Army Postal Service dispatched 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels.

Cleaning and Eating


These 2 things were yet another factor to keep soldier spirits high, especially the baths and steam-
cleaning of lice infested clothing. No British soldier starved yet their rations were monotonous with
the same tinned food eaten day after day. (Biscuits were compared to dog food)

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Battle of Verdun
21st February to 18 December 1916 (303 days)

German vs French

The battle of Verdun was the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. It’s impact on
the French army (377,231 casualties) even became a primary reason for another battle to relieve
pressure on the French at Verdun.

The area around Verdun contained about 60 forts that historically protected the eastern border of
France and the German general Falkenhayn believed that france was willing to throw in as many
men to protect the area. His goal was to “bleed them to death”.

21st February

140,000 German troops started the attack. They


were supported by 1,200 artillery guns that targeted
2,500,000 shells at the Verdun region. 1,300
ammunition trains were needed to supply these
guns. The Germans also had complete air
supremacy with 168 planes located in the area – the
largest concentration of planes in history up to that
point. To start with, the French only had 30,000
troops to oppose the Germans. On the day the
battle started, February 21st, 1000 German artillery
guns fired on a six mile line along the French front.

“Men were squashed. Cut in two or divided from top to bottom. Blown into showers;
bellies turned inside out; skulls forced into the chest as if by a blow from a club.”

France proceeded to input large numbers of men and supplies to counter the attacks. It is said 66%
of the French army had passed up the army some time during the battle to save Verdun.

End of April

Now the Germans suffered as well, they had lost 120 thousand men and the French 133 thousand.

June 1st

Germany launched a massive attack at Verdun. By June 23rd, they got within 2.5 miles from Verdun
itself – but this attack faltered as the German army itself had given all that it had and it could give
no more. The next day the battle of Somme was fought and the battle eventually forced Germany to
remove troops from the Verdun area winning the French land back around the end of October. It is
said that the French lost over 360,000 and the Germans nearly 340,000.

Pride, politics and tactics all played a role in prolonging this long battle.

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Weapons
When soldiers were ordered to attack across no-man’s-land to reach enemy trenches, they had to
cut through barbed wires before they could use rifles, bayonets, pistols, and hand grenades to
capture enemy positions. Victory or defeat, casualties were often high. Between attacks,the snipers,
artillery, and poison gas caused misery and death.

Airplanes which were new technology were first


used as an eye in the sky. Effectiveness with arming
them with machine guns or bombs became apparent
and dogfights in the sky frequently occurred.

Chemical Warfare first appeared in Belgium,


1915 when poison gas was used. At first gas was just
released and carried by the wind to enemy trenches,
it later developed to artillery shells being shot into
enemy lines. Phospene and other gases were
frequently used by all sides in 1918. This type of
warfare mostly caused a lot of suffering with a variety
of damage being inflicted on soldiers.

Machine Guns were a common weapon of the


Germans (which had realized its potential before the
war.) On the Somme battlefield, German machine
guns killed or wounded 60 thousand men in one day.

Artillery would usually annihilate the battlefield, as


for being successful that's a different topic. Artillery
would be rarely successful because of it’s weak aiming
and speed of reloading. If the artillery was successful it
would bring havoc to the opposing sides trench.

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Conclusion
As I completed this project I found myself with new knowledge that actually fascinated me, like the
tactics used by different divisions of an army eg. British Corps, artillery, and aerial guidance. I’ve
also learnt some things that I haven’t in class, eg. Details of battles like that of Verdun and how
even pride and politics had a place in war. Furthermore I caught a glimpse into the depressing
misery and life of the men that fought in the war.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt how to research more efficiently and quickly thanks to this project, which
also has trained my time management skills.

PAGE 8
References
www.bl.uk

www.slideshare.net

www.u.arizona.edu

alphahistory.com

en.wikipedia.org

ca.answers.yahoo.com

www.longlongtrail.co.uk

www.bl.uk

www.express.co.uk

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