Today, we were once again heavily bombarding the German lines. It was a routine thing nowadays. Some of the more experienced soldiers didn’t even notice the heavy German response bombardments that were every second posing a threat to their lives. As we heard a shell landing, we heard attentively just to make sure it wasn’t coming direct on us and then, the colossal roar burst from the ground. Life here was getting rather monotonous, always the same routine, four days on the frontline then four days behind lines and then the same thing the following week or so.
It wasn’t what the papers said up in England, they were written to hide the truth of the massacring that occurred at the battle of the Sommes for one example. Hundreds and thousands of corps lay motionless on the ground. General Haig believed that with heavy bombardments we could break through their lines. He was mistaken. Men were crushed by the machine-gun fire as if dry leaves and they lay there, untouched, rotting away in the muddy earth which emitted an incredibly pungent smell. The mud made it almost impossible to live in these trenches.
The water was right up to my knees and there was nothing I could do about it. A lot of my comrades managed to get trench foot which was a disease which made your feet rot due to the fact that they remained submerged for hours if not days. Life was incredibly tough in the trenches, nothing like I had imagined it to be. I thought I’d come back as a war hero but from the English articles we read, it seemed to me as if none of our letters had been dispatched or if they had been intercepted in some way, to not allow our families know the real truth.
They are made to believe that all is well and that the heroes that saved the French are close to victory. This was not true. Although General Haig did believe he made some progress today, it was nowhere near what we had hopes. The Germans knew about the attack and had built very effective means to defend themselves. They had built dig outs that were up to 12 metres deep underground. This was to protect from any sort of shell attack that the English and the French had. They also had very effective barbed wire that the English didn’t completely manage to destroy before the 200,000 men were sent over the top on a suicide mission.
The weather was also very unpredictable some days it would be boiling hot and we would die of thirst waiting for something remotely interesting to happen and other times, we would fear for our lives when we could hear a shell whistling like a train in a tunnel, at which point, we would sink our head right into the mud and not rise until we heard a relatively near explosion. The dig-outs were a good initiative seeing as it has always been a fact that the best way to absorb shell shock is with earth. We heard that some of the accommodations for officers were rather nice in the dig-outs.
They were full complete with a bed, a pump, and sometimes even some different food that they manage to bring along with them and place it in the cupboards. Everyday, there was fear of the new methods that the Germans had developed of attacking us. There was late news that gas attack was in use. Now it was regulation that we had to carry a mask with us at all times otherwise we could be gassed with new inventions such as the mustard gas which apparently burned right through your skin and you suffered a horrible and painful death. We were all worried about this new gas. We didn’t know what it actually smelt like.
Apparently, it had a pungent smell hence the name, mustard gas but most of my fellow soldiers feel that they would fall into panic if a gas attack was to take place One of the very few things which I feel is very positive about the whole trench warfare is the comradeship. I had made some pals that would risk their lives if it would mean saving mine. I had never experienced such a feeling until I came to the trenches. It was truly unique. Knowing that you would have to live with these people twenty four hours a day, seven days a week was a way of knowing that somebody would always be there for you.
You would seriously bond with someone and would do anything to accomplish the promise you made them. This was particularly moving when one of your closest comrades dies in action and you feel you should have died with him or for him. The danger in the trenches was as dangerous on the front line as to get there. We would be exposed to heavy artillery fire in these measly little trenches that compared to the front line looked as if they were built for dwarves. When our men died, we buried them behind the trenches.
It was a petty funeral, no service no nothing, just whoever wanted to attend to dig up a ditch and place his friends in there to rest in piece. It was up to you if you wanted to help seeing as there was always the chance of a stray bullet or a sniper hitting you as you were working. Most were left to rot. After a while, the trenches, with the wet weather deteriorated. There was no more a 4″ thick bullet-proof parapet to save your life; the walls of the trench had collapsed to make the trench into a mud bath with water which was to reach your knees.
During the wet weather it was truly disgusting. Overall life in the trenches is pretty gross and unhygienic although, some officers did get treated rather well and the food that the English were given which was usually bully beef and jam was of a much higher quality than any other front line army. Diseases spread and people suffer of lack of sleep without forgetting the fact that everyone was homesick and wishing to see their families so basically, apart from making good friends and fighting for your country, the trenches must have been a rather appalling experience.