Life in the trenches during the First World War took many forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to front.
Undoubtedly, it was entirely unexpected for those eager thousands who signed up for war in August 1914. Indeed, the Great War – a phrase coined even before it had begun – 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.Not that there wasn’t movement t all on the Western Front during 1914-18; the war began dramatically with sweeping advances by the Germans through Belgium and France en route for Paris. However stalemate – and trench warfare soon set in – and the expected war of movement wasn’t restored until towards the close of the war, although the line rippled as successes were achieved at a local level.
So what was life actually like for the men serving tours of duty in the line, be they front line, support or reserve trenches? Death was a constant companion to those serving in the line, even when no raid or attack was launched or defended against.In busy sectors the constant shellfire directed by the enemy brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench or lying in a dugout(many men were buried as a consequence of such large shell-bursts). Similarly, novices were cautioned against their natural inclination to peer over the parapet of the trench into No Man’s Land. Many men died on their first day in the trenches as a consequence of a precisely aimed sniper’s bullet. It has been estimated that up to one third of Allied casualties on the Western Front were actually sustained in the trenches.
Aside from enemy injuries, disease wrought a heavy toll.