Soldiers of World War 1

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Daily Life

The Daily Life of a Soldier in World War 1

Trench Cycle

For the average infantryman life followed a pattern of rotating in and out the trenches often called the ‘Trench Cycle’. This consisted of a spell in the front line, a stint in the support lines ,a period in reserve, and lastly rest. They would rotate between the three lines and the time spent in each section varied from sector to sector. In the busier sectors of the front, soldiers would spend much longer in the front line and less time at rest. Causing the time of each cycle would vary on how long it would take each infantryman to complete. A typical trench cycle we be two weeks at in the frontline, a week in the support lines, two weeks in reserve and one week at rest. In a year the average infantryman could expect to spend four months in the front line, with another two months in nearby trenches, a further four months might be spent in reserve and only two months would be spent at rest. 

Daily Routine

The daily routine began with the morning ‘stand to'. An hour before dawn soldiers that were sleeping was woken up by the company of an officer and sergeant. Everyone then fixed bayonets, took their positions with the infantrymen climbing up on the fire step, and prepared themselves to guard against a raid by the enemy. Both sides carried out their respective ‘stand to' and even though the knowledge that each side prepared themselves for raids at dawn, it was at this time that many of the planned attacks were carried out. As the day grew, the daily ritual would also be known as 'morning hate'. Both sides would often relieve the tension of the early hours with machine gun fire, directed into the mist to their frontline.

When stand to was over the men would receive and drink rum because it was hard to keep water sanitary. After, the soldiers would clean their rifles and other equipment preceding a daily inspection. The troops would then enjoy their breakfast, even though half of their day has already started. Once they finished with their breakfast another inspection would occur, in which officers would inspect the feet of the soldiers making sure they don't have 'trench foot'. Then, they would be assigned daily chores consisting of the filling of sandbags, the repair of duckboards, pumping out the water that had gathered in the bottom of the trench, digging latrines, or any number of other tasks designed to maintain their section of the trench.

Because the trenches of each army were so close, the soldiers had to limit their mobility to only what was needed. If they were loud they could put themselves at risk. Without chores and tasks to fulfill soldiers had to suffer through daily boredom, but for the most part soldiers were very busy. When their daily chores were complete, the men were free to attend to their personal tasks such as cleaning and repairing their personal equipment, reading or writing letters home and preparing their meals. When not doing these they would snatch whatever sleep they could although it was seldom more than a few minutes before they were assigned another task.

When the day grew to dusk the men would be ordered to ‘stand down' and the nights work of re-supply and maintenance would begin. Men would be sent to the rear to fetch rations and water while others would be on sentry duty. Sentry duty was never more than two hours because there was a chance that a man would fall asleep at his post. Falling asleep on duty was considered to be a serious offence. The penalty was death by firing-squad. There was also a need to patrol no man's land. The patrolling was meant to dominate no man's land to prevent the enemy raids during the night. Sometimes a patrol would meet an enemy patrol in the darkness. They would each decide whether to fight or let the other pass by. If fighting was the choice this would be hand-to-hand because firing a weapon would cause a burst from the enemy's machine guns.

 

Living With Death

Not only was death almost inescapable for most, it was also radom for most. Soldiers could find death wherever they went. Not only in battle, but also while lounging or doing chores. Some deaths were caused by enemy shelling. In busy sectors the shellfire directed by the enemy brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench or laying in a dugout. Many of those who to fell victim to the shelling were buried as a consequence and some even buried alive. Of those buried alive many were rescued by their comrades, but other suffered a very unpleasant death. Other curious soldiers died because of enemy snippering. Some soldiers poked there heads above the trenches to take a look at no mans land and were surprised with an enemies sniper bullet in their head. With the consequences in mind others quickly learned not to be so curious. One of the worst ways to die was death by disease. Disease took a heavy toll on both sides killing anyone who got in its way. Not being able to prevent disease, it is needless to say disease was the winner of the war.