The Trenches

A front line trench in World War One was a horrible place to be.

If it rained then the trenches became muddy or even flooded. Standing in the wet, cold, mud for hours on end caused trench foot, which could lead to gangrene and amputation.

Dead bodies in or near the trenches led to infestations of rats., which spread diseases. Soldiers also had to deal with itchy body lice.

The soldiers lived by a strict routine. They woke up just before sunrise to "stand-to", meaning to be ready for any dawn attacks by the enemy. After that they would have their breakfast and do chores like pumping out water or fixing duckboards (the wooden boards that lined the trench floor). As sun set they had to "stand to" again and after dark they could carry out other jobs under cover of darkness and bring up fresh supplies.

Soldiers didn’t spend all of their time in the front line trenches. They were only there for a couple of months a year. The rest of the time they would be in trenches further back or recovering away from the fighting or at home. However the horrible conditions in the trenches meant that even a month was too much for some soldiers to deal with. Sometimes soldiers would try to get wounded on purpose so they would be sent home - this was called a Blighty Wound.

British soldiers in their trench. Behind them the wall is lined with sandbags and at the top of the picture you can see the barbed wire defences. It looks like they might be making a cup of tea here. The strips of material around the soldiers' legs are called puttees. Puttees were made of wool; they kept the soldiers warm and also stopped them from losing their boots in sticky mud.

Soldiers get a hot meal at a field kitchen on the Western Front. This would have been located behind the front lines. Hot food was rare in the trenches.

You can see quite clearly the basic construction of a trench here. The floor is covered in duck boards to keep the soldiers' feet dry and make it easier to move around. The walls are lined with sandbags. The man nearest the camera is using a periscope to look over the top of the trench. The man behind him is holding a Lewis Gun - the British machine gun.