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Living in the Trenches of WW1

The Trenches of WW I

During the First World War, many soldiers fought and died. Some survived, and some lived but were disabled for the rest of their lives, but everyone who fought in the trenches lost close friends or family members.

Every soldier who fought in the trenches knew death and the smell that followed, a smell that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Life in the trenches was often said to be hell on earth and nobody who went there argued to the contrary. In the trenches, those poor fighting men got up close and personal with death, disease, mutilation, fear, hunger, horror, lice, rats, maggots, insects, and constant threat. There, every waking moment was spent dodging shellfire and bullets, defending life.

There was plenty of life in the trenches, but sadly there was no real living for the men who served their time there.

Soldiers in the Trenches: World War One

Here, some men are having a little time out while others stay alert on the firing step.

Here, some men are having a little time out while others stay alert on the firing step.

Daily Trench Routine During World War 1

Although It may sound difficult to believe, there was order in the trenches. Even in the bloody chaos of the fiercest battles, soldiers still followed a daily routine.

Every day and night, the fighting went on but the young men still tried to stick to a routine which gave them a purpose other than killing each another. Keeping to a routine was a moral booster for the men because even if it did just last for a few moments, it was a break from the killing fields (although they still had to worry about a bullet with their name on it).

A Day in the Trenches

The daily routine (an example):

Since many raids and attacks would be carried before dawn, an hour before sun up, everyone would get up and climb up on the fire step to watch, weapons drawn, for dawn raids by the enemy. Oftentimes the soldiers would fire their weapons randomly toward the enemy at this time, as a defensive measure.

After the sun came up, the soldiers would clean their equipment and stand for inspection by senior officers. This was mostly a roll call to check which soldiers were still alive. Then they'd go for breakfast. Breakfast time was an unofficial truce in most areas on the front line, a truce that was sometimes extended to the wagons delivering food and medical supplies.

After breakfast, they'd get their daily chore assignments. There were always soldiers assigned to watch on the the fire step. The men sent to the firing step would be relieved after two hours and then they would be able to spend some time "relaxing" before being sent to do other chores, such as shoring up parts of the trenches that had been damaged by shellfire, re-filling sandbags, draining water from the trench floor, gathering supplies such as ammunition and food, maintaining latrines, and burying the bodies of their dead comrades.

During the rainy season, the trenches would fill up with water and the walls would turn to mud, creating dangerous living conditions inside, so the men had to work hard to maintain the trenches. Once the chores were done, the men were subjected to an inspection by senior officers.

At some point in the day, the men would have some leisure time when they might be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Of course, there was no real freedom during free time, and they could not move around and risk getting shot, so they'd sit still in one spot while they rested, played cards, or wrote letters.

At sundown, stand-to was repeated and everyone would aim and fire toward the enemy with one last noisy pre-emptive blast of defense for the day. They waited for darkness to fall before sending men to the rear lines to retrieve supplies. All night, someone was always standing for a two-hour watch on the fire step while others would be sent out to patrol the no-man's-land between their line and the enemy's.

Routine in the Trenches WW I

As part of their daily routine, these men are adding fuses to shells.

As part of their daily routine, these men are adding fuses to shells.

Trench Cooking WW1

Royal Artillery trench cookers in Wancourt, France.

Royal Artillery trench cookers in Wancourt, France.

Food in the Trenches of the First World War

In the heat of battle, it was impossible to have a set mealtime for the fighting soldiers, but if there was a lull in the fighting, hot meals were able to be delivered from the field kitchens to the front line trenches.

When soldiers were at stand-down, food was easier to acquire and both British and German troops could expect food to be available with some degree of regularity.

The soldiers in the trenches ate quite well, and the food was luxurious compared to what their families back home were eating.

A typical day's ration for a British soldier would include:

  • 20 ounces of bread or 16 ounces flour or 4 ounces of oatmeal
  • 3 ounces of cheese
  • 5/8 ounces of tea
  • 4 ounces of jam or 4 ounces of dried fruit
  • ½ ounce of salt, 1/36 ounce of pepper
  • 1/20 ounce of mustard
  • 2 ounces of dried vegetables or 8 ounces of fresh vegetables or 1/10 gi. lime juice if vegetables were not available
  • ½ gi. of rum or 1 pint of porter
  • 20 ounces of tobacco
  • 1/3 ounces of chocolate (rare)
  • 4 ounces of butter/margarine

For a German soldier, the daily rations were:

  • 26 ½ ounces of bread or 17 ½ of field biscuit or 14 ounces of egg biscuit
  • 53 ounces of potatoes
  • 4 ½ ounces fresh vegetables or 2 ounces dried vegetables
  • 7/10 ounce sugar, 9/10 ounce salt
  • two cigars and two cigarettes
  • .44 pint wine, .17 pint spirits, .88 pint beer

There was meat available for both the British and German soldiers in the trenches, but only when a lull in the battle allowed it to be delivered from the field kitchens.

German Rations in the Trenches of WW I

German soldiers trying to eat while fighting. Meals were often the high points of the day.

German soldiers trying to eat while fighting. Meals were often the high points of the day.

The Stench of the Trenches in the First World War

Something must be said about the thing you can't get a sense of when looking at the photographs: the smell of the trenches.

Imagine this: the stench of overflowing latrines, of rotting bodies exposed to the air or buried in shallow graves, and of the living bodies (filthy, infected, bathed routinely in sweat) with no access to baths. Think of the smell of the men's unwashed feet suffering from trench foot, a fungal infection caused by wet and unsanitary trench conditions, an infection that often turned gangrenous and resulted in amputation. Add the odors of stagnant water and mud, gunpowder, slaked lime with chlorine, poison gas, rotting fabric, cigarette smoke, rancid food smells, and the stench of fear, and you have a clearer picture of what it was like in the trenches.

Additional Resource

Australian Soldiers in Trenches at Gallipoli, 1915

world-war-1-trench-living

Comments

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Rufus rambles from Australia on January 10, 2012:

The harsh reality of life in the trenches is well shown here. My great-grandfather was a soldier in the trenches in World War 1 and his letters that we recently found tell of soldiers waking up to find rats in their clothes and having a competition about who could kill the most. I am slowly scanning and transcribing each letter and hope to add it soon to my hub. Thank you for this information. My great grandfather's letters to his mother spare her most of these greusome details - it just shows how brave and stoic the men were back then.

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christyna on June 09, 2011:

sorry my grandma always corrects me so its sorta become a habit. what poor living conditions wow they are heroes in every way

V Kuro on May 09, 2011:

Thanks. Good work.

gonzo on April 17, 2011:

helped me whith my project

hj on April 12, 2011:

Scary place always anticapating fire.

Louise on April 06, 2011:

Yes, like 'J', I also need some simple facts on 'World War One' trenches. This website has helped a lot but I would need some more information. If anybody has any suggestions of websites that I could go on to that would be fantastic. However, information and facts that you already know would be just as useful. Thank you.

J on April 04, 2011:

i need to know a lot about ww1 trenches for something i am taking part in. easy to understand facts would to useful, thanks

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taxi on March 15, 2011:

glad i wasn't alive then!

on March 15, 2011:

i'm doing a report on this with my friend and it was really helpful. thank u to whoever wrote it! but i'm wondering, was the food really better than the people's at home? i always thought the trenches were horrible in every way!

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tom on March 09, 2011:

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jacob on February 06, 2011:

havnt read it all, but i dont think you mentioned that solderers rarely ever got that much, and often soldiers complained about having just bread for breakfast and hard biscuits for tea

aimee on February 04, 2011:

this was very useful i used it for enlish war poetry

nia on January 31, 2011:

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Bob on January 18, 2011:

Thanks! Helped a lot.

jenon on January 18, 2011:

interesting

ish on November 22, 2010:

thanks mate

that helped a lot:)

Skye on November 17, 2010:

Thank you for posting site. It was very helpful to find all of the information that i needed.

Saskia.... :P on November 15, 2010:

Thanks for posting this! Has been v. helpful!

heyy on November 13, 2010:

this is a good site it has helped me with mi history projct thanks x (: x

Jon on November 10, 2010:

Sorry to be picky but "The soldiers in the trenches ate quite well, and the food was considered to be luxurious, compared to what their families back at home were eating" !??!!? - THIS IS NOT TRUE!!

I think you'll find that there were massive problems with supplying the actual foods listed!!

jbbb on October 17, 2010:

this was helpful, but i need to know more about

the advantages of trenches!

stairwagon on October 03, 2010:

were the us involved in ww1? i know we were.

georgia (12) on October 01, 2010:

its a really useful website so young people like myself can do homework on it as i'm doing worldwar 1 . thanks

Brandon Youngpaddock on August 11, 2010:

This site is mad as. it was very useful for my history essay. thanks. :)

katrina on July 03, 2010:

its really helpful website

katrina on July 03, 2010:

its really hepl ful website. easy 2 follow what it says. it got all the answer that i needed thanks...

Bobby on June 17, 2010:

So these trenches what are they?

emzysmith on June 14, 2010:

it must be so sad to live in those trenches i would have hated it cuz i hate rats lol xx

Sammy on June 13, 2010:

Thanks this was great for my history homework :)

Corina on June 07, 2010:

I think this webpage is GR8TE!!!!!!!!!

Patricia on May 20, 2010:

I thought their food supplies were bad?

Alana on May 17, 2010:

can anyone help me with the games they played or how they entertain themseleves in the trenches during WW1?

jazz on May 16, 2010:

really good stuff mate...

don't take it badly or anything, but it's ironic you don't mention anything about France or french soldiers if u know what i mean (and plz no anti-french comments here...).

Any ways,

keep up the awesome work!!!!!