It didn’t take long for soldiers to settle into the life of ‘trench warfare’ as each side realised that the war might take a lot longer than they first thought. Many soldiers had thought the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ which certainly wasn’t going to be the case.
Trench life must have been a strange existence for the young men of both sides who had been trained to keep moving and fight the enemy face to face, as instead they were asked to look out from their long thin trenches into ‘no-man’s land’ (the space between the trenches that neither side controlled) at an enemy they could hardly see.
This led to some terrible living conditions as men tried their best to survive in the deep, wet mud of the French and Belgium fields while guns from each side attacked them with large shells that exploded all around them and killed or wounded them or their friends.
Quite often the soldiers also had to go ‘over the top’ into no-man’s land, which meant they had to either stand up and walk across towards the enemy in an organised attack, or go on one of the many ‘night-raids’ to sneak into an enemy trench and capture a prisoner to interrogate for information. Both of these, of course, were terrifying experiences and many brave men died during them, from either shell or machine gun from the enemy trenches.
Although the danger of going ‘over the top’ and also the shellfire was extremely dangerous, at other times trench life could be quite boring, with men spending time writing letters, doing their duty on ‘sentry-go’ (when they had to take turns to guard the trench), or simply on the maintenance of the trench itself, filling sandbags or repairing walls. They also spent a lot of time just cleaning and looking after their kit and rifles to make sure they worked properly, which had to be checked daily by their officers, who would get in trouble themselves if other commanders higher up the chain found out they were dirty.
Not many people realise this, but the officers were also in charge of the general health of the men and they carried booklets that gave them instructions on things such as making sure that the men didn’t get ‘trench foot’ (when their feet would start to rot because of the wet mud, yuk!) and also on the need to make sure that the men’s toilets were always clean and ready to use. Of course, this is one job that they never did themselves, and being put on ‘latrine fatigues’ was dreaded by every soldier because it meant filling in messy, smelly holes and digging new ones for your trench.