Trench Warfare Built as shelter from artillery and machine gun fire, the first major trench lines were completed in late November 1914. At their peak, the trenches built by both sides extended nearly 400 miles from Nieuport, on the Belgian

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Trench Warfare

Built as shelter from artillery and machine gun fire, the first major trench lines were completed in late November 1914. At their peak, the trenches built by both sides extended nearly 400 miles from Nieuport, on the Belgian coast, to the Swiss border. Among the Allies, the Belgians occupied 40 miles, the British occupied 90 miles and the French occupied the rest. Experts calculate that along the western front, the Allies and Central Powers dug nearly 62,500 miles of trenches by the end of 1914.

"[the bodies] we could not get from the German wire continued to swell ... the color of the dead faces changed from white to yellow-gray, to red, to purple, to green to black." 

  • Robert Graves, poet, novelist, critic

Allies Trenches

The Allies used four "types" of trenches. The first, the front-line trench (or firing-and-attack trench), was located from 50 yards to 1 mile from the German's front trench. Several hundred yards behind the front-line trench was the support trench, with men and supplies that could immediately assist those on the front line. The reserve trench was dug several hundred yards further back and contained men and supplies that were available in emergencies should the first trenches be overrun.

Connecting these trenches were communication trenches, which allowed movement of messages, supplies, and men among the trenches. Some underground networks connected gun emplacements and bunkers with the communication trenches.

German Trenches

German trench life was much different. They constructed elaborate and sophisticated tunnel and trench structures, sometimes with living quarters more than 50 feet below the surface. These trenches had electricity, beds, toilets and other niceties of life that contrasted sharply with the open-air trenches of the Allies.

Trench Life

On average, daily losses for the British soldiers were nearly 7,000 men killed, disabled or wounded. This figure remained fairly constant throughout the war. To keep morale as high as possible and to keep the soldiers on the front as fresh as possible, the British established a three-week rotation schedule. A week in the front trench was followed by a week in the support trench, which was followed by a week in the reserve trenches. During this third week, the men could relax with sports, concerts and plays, keeping their minds away from life on the front.

No Man’s Land

No Man's Land: The Territory Between the Trenches. By mid-November 1914, the territory between the opposing front trenches was marked with huge craters caused by the shelling; nearly all vegetation was destroyed. Whenever possible, both sides filled this land with barbed wire to slow down any rapid advances by the enemy. The machine gun and the new long-range rifles made movement in this area almost impossible.

Trench Foot

Many soldiers fighting in the First World War suffered from Trench Foot. Initially believed to be a symptom of poor morale by military authorities, 'trench foot' was in fact a fungal infection of the feet. This was an infection caused by cold, wet and insanitary conditions. In the trenches men stood for hours on end in waterlogged trenches without being able to remove wet socks or boots. The feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn red or blue. If untreated, trench foot could turn gangrenous and result in amputation.

The only remedy for trench foot was for the soldiers to dry their feet and change their socks several times a day. By the end of 1915 British soldiers in the trenches had to have three pairs of socks with them and were under orders to change their socks at least twice a day. Eventually, better trench drainage and waterproof gear for the soldiers helped to minimize the cases of the disease.

Picture of Trench Foot:

Journal Entry

“It has only been a short time since I have entered the trench and the living conditions are just awful. The trenches are filled with the stench of rotting meat because we have no ways to dispose of human remains. We do not have time to give them a burial that they deserve, but instead they are just in a giant pile. Our living conditions aren't favorable either. We have to do everything here. We have to eat, sleep, and even go to the bathroom. The stench of everything is just horrific. Everything is always wet because of the rain and we have no protection against the rain. A few of my comrades have what is called 'Trench foot' which is basically when your foot starts rotting off. The only way to prevent this is to keep your feet clean, however we cannot because we must keep our boots on at all times and the rain keeps soaking our feet. My feet are always wet and my clothes are constantly covered with mud. Apparently this trench hasn't even moved from its original position and they have been in a stalemate for quite awhile, but countless lives have been lost due to these battles, but that does not change the fact that we have to constantly be aware for artillery attacks. None have hit since I arrived, but this can only go on for so long. When I can, I shall write back to you to keep you informed.”

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