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Life in the Trenches on the Western Front in World War I

Life in the trenches in World War I was miserable, dangerous, and boring.

Before World War I, the Germany army had already developed a plan for attacking France. It required going through Belgium to take France’s port cities and then attacking Paris from the South. After defeating France and cutting off the possibility of English reinforcements, the Germans planned to concentrate on the Russian army in the East. This plan did not work quite as planned, however, and the Germans and the French ended up in a stalemate with both sides dug into a complex trench system stretching all the way across France. Life in these trenches was miserable, dangerous, and boring.

It was miserable because dampness and death caused a number of unpleasant diseases and infestations. The cold mud of the trench floor often caused trench foot, a sometimes gangrenous condition that could require amputation. Those same conditions facilitated a rat infestation. These rats, which could grow to be the size of a cat, would eat the eyes and the liver of fallen soldiers, crawl on the living in their sleep, and contaminate the water supply. Another type of pest, lice, was also a nuisance. Despite occasional delousing, lice eggs often stayed in uniforms and eventually hatched. Not only would they cause uncomfortable itching, but they could cause a disease call “Trench Fever.” Unfortunately, no one knew what caused Trench Fever until close to the end of the war, so the armies did not take better precautions against lice until then.

Obviously, these unsanitary conditions were responsible for many deaths, but soldiers had to worry about the enemy too. Both sides fired artillery at each other’s trenches almost incessantly. Many soldiers were killed by this artillery, including some who were buried alive by the earth blown up in a particularly large shell. Especially in the early days of the war, before soldiers quickly learned their lesson, snipers were a constant danger as well. Any soldier foolish enough to poke his head over the trench, could get a bullet for his curiosity.

As much death as soldiers saw every day, life in the trenches was repetitive and boring. Soldiers were sometimes occupied with repairing trenches, guard duty, etc., but the lack of movement in the trenches, meant that there was only so much of this labor to go around. Soldiers generally had many hours out of the day to themselves. Perhaps we should be thankful that soldiers had this extra time. Some of our best art and writing to come out of the war was done by soldiers during their long stretches of free time in the trenches.

Life in the trenches was bad, but it was better than life outside of the trenches. Of the course of the war, both sides lost hundreds of thousands of men in gain control of the others’ trench. Given that the area between the trenches was covered in barbed wire, mines, machine guns, and snipers, it is little wonder that so many died. As bas as life in the trenches could be, it was to be much more preferred to almost certain death in No Man’s Land.

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User Comments
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    On January 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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