Describe the nature of trench warfare and outline the life in the trenches for the soldiers.
The characteristics of trench warfare are that it was a static war due to the impregnability of a side’s frontline once trenches were dug. Within these trenches, soldiers lived and often died in conditions that began as horrendous, but as the war progressed the trenches developed into a comfortable living space. Often the soldiers were not alone as they lived alongside large rats and lice.For the soldiers in the trenches, there was a constant smell that was sickening to those who had not been in the trenches before, but the veterans got used to it. Trench warfare turned a war of movement into a defensive war and created a stalemate. The digging of trenches initially provided a difficult barrier for an attacking force to break, but as the war progressed, an impregnable barrier developed. This was due to the creation of support and reserve trenches behind the front line and concrete bunkers that could withstand everything besides a direct hit from a large calibre shell and the placement of barbed wire.
The trenches that existed in 1914 were crude in construction. The trenches often did not have duckboards to keep the soldiers out of the mud. Without duckboards in place, the soldiers would often get stuck in the mud. As the soldiers were living constantly in the mud, diseases such as trench foot and frostbite were ripe amongst soldiers that made up the ‘other ranks’ or any soldier that does not hold a commission. Funk holes were small holes dug into early trench walls that served to protect soldiers from shrapnel and provided a place for a soldier to sleep.
These funk holes developed into dugouts that could protect groups of soldiers from everything other than a direct hit from an artillery shell and created a comfortable room that turned into a home away from home for many. The dugouts often contained electric lights and beds for the soldiers to sleep on, but the dugouts for ‘other ranks’ were rudimentary compared with the officers. Soldiers in the trenches were usually infected with lice.
The lice would live in the seams of the soldiers’ clothes and would suck the blood of its host.The lice made the soldiers scratch, leading to boils and ulcers forming on the body. It is estimated that up to 97% of officers and other ranks that worked and lived in the trenches were suffered from lice.
Along with lice, the soldiers lived alongside rats. The rats on the Western Front fed off the corpses that littered the trenches and no-man’s land as well as any food lying around the trenches. The rats could spread diseases amongst those in the frontline while also contaminating the food. There was a smell that was constantly surrounding the trenches.
This smell was a combination of rotting flesh from the dead that littered the trenches and no-man’s land, open latrines, cordite from the rifles and machine guns, and the smell from artillery shells exploding. This smell was often overwhelming to those who were new to the trenches, often resulting in them vomiting, which only added to the smell. The veterans were accustomed to this smell and did not cause any distress to them, except after a large scale battle when there was a large amount of dead. In conclusion, trench warfare turned a war of movement into a stalemate, as the trenches created a difficult barrier to penetrate.
Life in these trenches was extremely difficult during the early stages of the war as trenches were crude in construction, but as the war developed, the trenches became more sophisticated and life in these trenches improved somewhat. The trenches were usually infested with large rats and the soldiers’ shared their uniform with infestations of lice. The smell that surrounded the trenches constantly made life in the trenches uncomfortable for those who inhabited them and it made life unbearable to those who were not used to the smell.