World War One and the Destruction of the Old Order

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World War One and the Destruction of the Old Order

Wet Trenches and Trench Foot

The daily routine for the men in the trenches was for the most part miserable. It was much like going camping, but with no opportunity to go home to clean up and relax. One of the biggest problems facing the men was the mud. Mud was everywhere including clothes, food and weapons. Muddy water also became a serious enemy to the soldier. It continued to rain through out the whole war. If a person walked into the a certain part of the mud their was a danger they could drown in it.

The trench, when we reached it, was half full of mud and water. We set to work to try and drain it. Our efforts were hampered by the fact that the French, who had first occupied it, had buried their dead in the bottom and sides. Every stroke of the pick encountered a body. The smell was awful.
Private Pollard

Our trenches are... ankle deep mud. In some places trenches are waist deep in water. Time is spent digging, filling sandbags, building up parapets, fetching stores, etc. One does not have time to be weary.
Letter Home 1915
Private Livesay

Men were required to stand guard in water that gathered at the bottom of their trenches as deep as their knees or higher. This led to many men developing a condition called trench foot. This nasty situation caused the foot to swell up. You would also lose all feeling in your foot. The most painful aspect of trench foot came when the swelling started to go down.

If you have never had trench feet described to you. I will tell you. Your feet swell to two or three times their normal size and go completely dead. You could stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are fortunate enough not to lose your feet and the swelling begins to go down. It is then that the intolerable, indescribable agony begins. I have heard men cry and even scream with the pain and many had to have their feet and legs amputated.
Post War Interview
Sergeant Harry Roberts


In addition to the conditions of the trenches, a number of roommates found their way into the lives of the men. Rats were a constant problem found at the front. In a good year, a pair of rats can produce 880 offspring. A good year can be defined as one with plenty of food available. The slaughter of trench warfare was producing large numbers of dead bodies. These bodies were providing an excellent food source for the rats.

As the war dragged on, rats became more numerous. In addition to being found in large numbers, they became more and more bolder. They would even attempt to steal food from men who were not paying attention. Usually they would eat the bodies of the dead. Rats would start by eating the eyes of the dead. If a man were to be wounded and unable to defend himself, rats would sometimes attack them.

The outstanding feature of the trenches was the extraordinary number of rats. The area was infested with them. It was impossible to keep them out of the dugouts. They grew fat on the food that they pilfered from us, and anything they could pick up in or around the trenches; they were bloated and loathsome to look at. Some were nearly as big as cats. We were filled with an instinctive hatred of them, because however one tried to put the thought of one's mind, one could not help feeling that they fed on the dead.
Stuart Dolden


 "The were basically all over us. The things lay in the seams of trousers, in the deep furrows of long thick woolly pants, and seemed impregnable in their deep entrenchments. A lighted candle applied where they were thickest made them pop like Chinese crackers. After a session of this, my face would be covered with small blood spots from extra big fellows which had popped too vigorously. The lice were the size of grains of rice, each with its own bite, each with its own itch."


1. What could happen to a person who walked into a very deep muddy area? Why was it so muddy?

2. What nasty condition happened from too much water being in the trenches?

3. How big do feet swell up to? What did one soldier stick into his feet to see if he felt pain?

4. How many rats can be produced in a year? What did the Rats feed on?

5. What would sometimes attack a wounded man?
6. Stuart Dolden describes the rats getting as big as what?
7. What was all over the soldiers? What were some methods they used to get rid of them?

8. Lice are very very small..How big did they get for the soldiers?

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