Little Known Fact
Did you know that there were roughly 25,000 miles of trenches dug on the Western Front?
Soldiers would usually spend no more than two weeks at a time in them. The average life expectancy was around six weeks, with junior officers and stretcher bearers being most at risk. German trenches tended to be superior to British ones, many having shuttered windows and even doorbells.
Trenches were approximately 6 feet wide and 9 feet deep. They were invariably dirty and due to the exposure from the rain, were filled with, not just levels of dirty water oozing mud, but were also home to rats, lice and frogs. The exposure to bad weather meant that the soldiers were always wet and therefore at risk from frostbite, trench foot and dysentery.
Soldiers of 'A' Company, 11th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment, occupy a captured German trench.
Somme. July 1916
|© IWM (Q 3990)|
Trenches typically had an embankment with a barbed wire fence which offered some degree of protection along with sandbags and wooden boards which helped to stabilise the sides of the trench. The floor of the trench was covered in wooden boards which became known as duckboards.
There were three methods of trench building:
Entrenching was digging straight into the ground but this meant that men were even more exposed to enemy sniper fire.
Sapping was extending a trench at one end but this was slow and laborious.
Tunneling involved digging a tunnel and then removing the roof. This was the safest option but took longer.
It took 450 men six hours to build around 250 metres of British trenches.
The men would eat, sleep and relax in the trenches but hot food was not supplied until late 1915. Up until then men had made do with a diet of tinned food , often served cold. Howver, some trenches did set up a primitive cooking system in order to make meals more palatable.
Men of the 2nd Australian Division in a front-line trench cooking a meal, Crois du Bac,