Monday, 27 June 2011
Life in a Front Line Trench, 1916
Each battalion stayed in the front line for a few days, then it moved to form a reserve close to the front line. Then it would be moved to the rear so that the men could rest before going back to the front line again.
Battalions changed position at night, moving carefully along communication trenches. Most units stayed in the same area for months, so they knew the trench network very well.
The trenches were infested with lice, fleas and other vermin. The British soldiers called these creatures “chats”. Each day men went to the second or third trench in small groups to pick the vermin off each other. This was called “going for a chat”.
Soldiers began to suffer a strange, new disease called “trench foot”. This was caused when feet were wet and cold for more than 48 hours at a time. The feet became infected with fungus. Trench foot was so painful men could not stand.
In the three months of January, February and March 1915 more than 30,000 British soldiers got trench foot. They had to be taken out of the fighting to go barefoot in warm, dry houses for two weeks to cure the condition.
In April 1915 it was found that trench foot could be prevented if boots were made waterproof by soaking them in whale oil and socks were changed three times each day. By 1916 trench foot was a rare disease.
Soldiers tried to make themselves feel at home by giving familiar names to features in the trenches. London soldiers called trenches names such as “Regent Street”, “Mayfair” or “Piccadilly”.
It was often too dangerous to retrieve bodies of men who were killed. The bodies lay rotting in the open for weeks.
Boredom was a major problem. The soldiers formed choirs, drama groups and trench schools to help pass the time.