Nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches dealing with the experiences of Allied and German soldiers

Various aspects of trench warfare and life in the trenches contributed to the difficult and unruly conditions that Allied and German soldiers endured on a frequent basis. Combined, source A and source B illustrate the cold, lack of sleep suffered and stress endured. However, existing characteristics of trench warfare also include the mud, vermin and diseases. Source A is a cross-section visual that illustrates the layout of a typical front line trench. The trench shown is narrow and appears to be structurally sound but provides minimal comfort.

Different features of the trench are shown in Source A. They are, a depth that allows a soldier to stand without being exposed to the enemy, wooden reinforcements for protection, an ammunition shelf for storage, dugouts for sleeping and elbow rests for support when shooting. Source A depicts a lone conscious soldier defending his trench, gun in hand and leaning against the sloping wall of the trench. The soldier is the only one conscious, whilst four others have succumbed to sleep.

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The majority of the time, soldiers are increasingly sleep deprived as the war went on, resulting in the loss interest of where they sleep, as seen they are seen resting along various points of the trench. Source A communicates that the snow and cold often brought about undesirable conditions. Every inch of the trench is covered in snow, including the men. They were forced to endure freezing temperatures whilst wearing clothing that struggled to contain body heat. Source B reinforces a similar experience. The impact of the cold is discussed in the journal entry.

Most men struggled to control their toes. Source B claims the only way men were kept warm was to move their arms and stamp their legs. Fires were forbidden and the majority of the time, any ‘hot food’ from the communication trench was cold by the time it reached the front line. Therefore, the movement was the sole option for a front line soldier to keep warm. As source B states, the cold frequently impacted a soldier’s ability to perform, making it imperative that a soldier keeps warm in order to protect himself and his men.

It also had long lasting effects on the men. Many had trouble controlling their toes and still felt the effect of the cold long after they left the trenches of the Western Front. Trenches were built after both Allied and German soldiers failed to outflank each other, resulting in the need for them to ‘dig in’. Such actions led to trench warfare, a strategy that was initially meant to last for the winter. However, trench warfare continued on for almost four years after they first dug the trenches. Life in the trenches was difficult.

Men were required to dig and maintain trenches, accept the sight and stench of death and deal with the cold, wet and dirty conditions. Soldiers were also expected to battle with the noise and boredom of war whilst being constantly alert due to the dangerousness of the job. In diaries, journals and recounts of life within the trenches, soldiers often write about the struggle of mud. It was a frequent problem as each time it rained, the trench floor would turn to mud. Duckboards were often used, however, soldiers suffered from trench foot regardless of any attempt made.

Trench foot was a condition that evolved after feet had been submerged in water or mud for a long period of time causing the blackening of skin, swelling and a bad stench. In severe cases, feet were amputated at a hospital to prevent the spread of the condition. However, if the trench foot was mild, the soldier was sent to a hospital until he could recover. Soldiers were also sent to the hospital for other reasons. Diseases were one of the largest causes of non-battle casualties. Dysentery, frostbite, nephritis and pneumonia were the most frequent causes of admission.

However, venereal disease was the largest. Men were often punished for being ill. During the time of the war, trench fever was not regarded as a real disease, however, a later study showed that it was related to infected lice. Punitive treatment or a starvation diet were given as punishment. Some men even went as far as deliberately hurting themselves in order to escape the brutality of war. Vermin were a major concern and extreme nuisance for soldiers. Flies were drawn by the excrement of both horses, people and other animals as well as the dead bodies. Rats multiplied rapidly on the Western Front.

This was due to the numerous amount of dead bodies that they fed off and were sustained by. It was not uncommon for soldiers to kill up to 30 rats in one night. Rats were killed off by a short amount of time through gas attacks however they always came back. Much like rats, nothing could be done to rid the trenches of lice. Lice eggs could survive the cold and were not killed easily. There have been reported cases of over 100 on the body at once. They drank blood and fed 12 times a day, causing widespread discomfort and often infections. One of the main comforts for soldiers were food.

It allowed soldiers to bond with each other and share memories of the past. Ideally, a soldier would eat breakfast, lunch and tea. However problems in food supply include breakdowns, being stuck in the mud and the supply being bombed. Rum was an additional sole comfort. It was issued after Stand Down, when the weather was bad and when times were tough. Other comforts include chocolate, washing, proper toilets and cigarettes. However, they were not regularly attainable. Over the course of the war, there were a progressively large number of behaviour disorders and mental health cases.

Between 1914 and 1915 alone, there was an increase of approximately 19 000 cases. The pressure of being under threat of all times and the sight of dead bodies often had negative effects. Some men were slowly worn down and others cracked suddenly. Anxiety severely affected soldiers and often generated serious physical conditions. In the British and German armies, soldiers were shot for cowardice. Both sources A and B, as well as other historical information, depict the horrendous conditions that soldiers endured. This included aspects of trench warfare such as the cold, lack of sleep, stress, mud, vermin and diseases.