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Trench Life
Soldiers were not always in the front line of trenches.

Trench Life

Trench Life looks at those at or near the front line.

When it began, the First World War was expected to be over in a few short months. Thousands of men volunteered to serve and hoped to be home again for Christmas. Little did they know that the war would be locked in a stalemate for four years with minimal advancement of the front line. Faced with such immobility the armies dug trenches in the muddy ground. These trenches, dirty, cold and wet, were to be the temporary homes for millions of young men. But what was it like to live there, in a hole in the earth not far from a deadly enemy army?

The largest amount of casualties during the First World War were sustained when advancing on the enemy rather than in the comparative safety of the trenches. The trenches were not all that safe though. What proportion of Allied casualties on the Western Front occurred inside a trench?
Approximately one third
Approximately one quarter
Approximately one fifth
Approximately one sixth
Many sections of the line were under almost constant shellfire which could kill or bury men in the trenches. Another danger was that of being picked off by a sniper if you were to peer over the parapet. Many men died on their first day in the trenches when they took a peek into no man's land
Men inside the trenches were not alone. They shared their homes with many creatures. Which of the listed animals was not found in the trenches?
Lice were a particular problem and caused the disease 'Trench Fever'. Rats were attracted by the poor sanitary conditions and fed on the bodies of the dead. Slugs and beetles also lived in the trenches and frogs were often found in the water at the bottom of a trench
Soldiers were not always in the front line of trenches. Men were rotated between front line, support and reserve positions along with periods of rest. However, even when in a rest period soldiers were often given roles which placed them in danger from enemy fire. As well as these four areas of duty a soldier would be granted occasional leave. How much leave to visit home could a soldier expect in a year?
6 weeks
4 weeks
2 weeks
1 week
At the beginning of the war a soldier was entitled to 10 days leave. This was later increased to 14 days but over a period of 15, not 12 months. Even when on leave a soldier was not really able to relax. His friends and family could not understand the horrors he had seen
For many the day began with 'Morning Hate'. What was this?
Burning of a German flag
Chanting of anti-German songs
A reprimand by an angry sergeant
Firing weapons against no particular target
One hour before dawn men were ordered to 'stand to' on the fire step of the trench with their weapons aimed towards the enemy positions. This was to guard against any enemy attack which might commence at dawn. The weapons were often fired simply to relieve the tension
After the stand off the men cleaned their equipment and then had breakfast. What beverage was issued to the men in some areas of the line?
For every 20,000 men 300 gallons of rum were allocated. This was usually reserved for the winter months. Men in the French army received a daily ration of wine and the Germans had brandy
Going to the toilet was not a pleasant task for a man in the trenches. Which of these was not used as a lavatory?
A bucket
A shell crater
A biscuit tin
A water closet
Latrines were dug, often making use of shell holes. The smell was unpleasant and so containers or buckets were used and then emptied daily into the latrine. Latrines in the foremost trench were, strangely, placed closer to the enemy. This would be an incentive for a man not to take too long relieving himself!
Sentry duty, in which a man would look out over no man's land for any advancing enemy, was a night time task. For how long would a period of sentry duty last?
For one hour
For two hours
For three hours
For four hours
Such a boring task, performed at night time by weary men, carried the risk of falling to sleep. The punishment if one was found asleep on duty was a court martial followed by execution by firing squad
Another night time task was the patrolling of no man's land. Patrols often encountered enemy patrols doing the same. What was the most likely outcome of such an encounter?
An alarm would be sounded
An exchange of gunfire between the two groups
Both sides would go on their way
A flare would be set off to illuminate the enemy position
Sometimes the patrols would engage in hand-to-hand fighting as the noise of gunfire would attract a hail of bullets from machine guns, but more often than not the two patrols would avoid each other
Most of the activities performed by men in the trenches were done at what time of the day?
In the early morning
At noontime
In the afternoon
During the night
In addition to sentry duty and patrols most other activities were done under the cover of darkness. Maintenance work, such as repairing barbed wire, was done although this was still dangerous as the enemy would be watching for any activity. Supplies such as water, food and ammunition were also brought forward from the rearmost trenches at night time. A trench at night was a busy place
There was one aspect of trench life which new arrivals noticed at once, but veterans grew accustomed to. What was it?
The noxious smell
The lack of a radio
The constant noise
The lack of electricity
The trenches were filled with many strong odours, few of which were pleasant. Bodies rotting in shallow graves, open latrines full of human waste, men who had not bathed in months and cordite used in weapons were all smells which filled the air. Men new to the trenches are said to have been sick because of the smell, but constant exposure gave immunity to the foul stenches found in their new homes


Author:  Graeme Haw

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