A good trench was about 6 foot deep, so that we could walk in safety from rifle-fire. In each bay of the trench we built fire steps about two feet off the bottom. This allowed us to put our heads over the parapet. During the day we had an hour’s sleep, on a wet and muddy fire step, wet through to the skin. When anyone had to visit the company on our right he had to walk through thirty yards of waterlogged trench, chest deep in water in some places. The duckboard track was always being shelled. In some places over a hundred yards had been blown away. It was better to keep off the track, but then sometimes you had to walk through very heavy and deep mud.
F. Richards, Old Soldiers Never Die, 1933
There were many complaints about the standard ration of tinned food, bully beef (corned beef) and jam. Often food had to be brought up to the front line. Lice lived in the lining and seams of the soldiers’ clothes and were virtually impossible to get rid of. Rats grew to an enormous size as a result of a plentiful supply of food – corpses.
R. Rees, Colonisation and Conflict, 2002
My dear friend,
I promised to tell you something of my life in the trenches. Our last orders were as follows: Stand To 5:30. Stand Down, clean rifles 6.00 Then Ration Fatigue. Listening Post. Sentry. Wiring Party. Some of these last all night. One is allowed to sleep off duty – but not in the dugouts and the average, now the cold weather has come, and rain, is about three hours sleep. Out of trenches there are parades, inspections, chiefly for shortages; and fatigues … the life is as grey as it sounds, but one manages to hang on to life by watching the cheerier spirits – wonderful people some of them; after all, it is better to be depressed with reason than without. Here there are nine men in a tiny dugout; but good fires and we manage a hot drink three or four times every day!
Ivor Gurney, a war poet, writing 25 October 1916 from France
Gas! GAS! Quick boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,