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Life And Suffering In The Trenches

2914 words - 12 pages

World War I, also known as the Great War, endured from the summer of 1914 until the late fall of 1918. The war was fought between the Allies, which consisted mainly of the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire, and the Central Powers, which consisted mainly of the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria (Alliances - Entente and Central Powers). In total, it is estimated that twelve million civilians and nine million combatants died during this horrific and devastating war (DeGroot 1). When the war originated in 1914, many people thought that it would be a war of movement that would rapidly be settled. However, that changed when the Germans, who were trying to reach and capture the city of Paris, were forced to retreat during the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 (Ellis 10). German General von Falkenhayn, who felt that his troops must at all costs maintain the parts of France and Belgium that they had overtaken, ordered his men to dig in and form defensive trench lines (Ellis 10). The Allies could not fracture the enemies lines and were forced to create trenches of their own (Ellis 10). This was only the beginning of trench warfare. A war of movement had quickly come to a standstill on the Western Front. A massive trench line, 475 miles long, swiftly spread and extended from the North Sea to the Swiss Frontier (Ellis 10). With neither side budging, soldiers were forced to live in the most miserable of conditions. Simply put, life in the trenches was a living hell. A lieutenant of the 2nd Scottish rifles wrote, “No one who was not there can fully appreciate the excruciating agonies and misery through which the men had to go [through] in those days” (Ellis 51). The daily routine of soldiers living in the trenches, miseries such as water and mud, trench foot, lice, rats, and the stench, rations, and death all encompass life and suffering in the trenches.
Soldiers followed a basic routine on normal days. The day began with the stand-to in which soldiers would wake up an hour before dawn and stand on the firing step, rifles in hand, to look out for a predawn attack by the enemy (Feature Articles - Life in the Trenches). Each trench possessed a firing step, which was placed two to three feet from the trench floor to allow soldiers to peer over the trench and spot the enemy (Fire Step). Stand-to, which is short for ‘stand-for-arms,’ occurred because it was believed that just before dawn, when it was still dark, was the best time to mount an attack (Ellis 38). Both sides practiced this morning ritual.
After stand-to and the morning hate, when both sides would relieve the tension of the morning by firing their machine guns in the air, an unofficial truce was called by the enemies for about an hour as they prepared and ate breakfast (Ellis 38). After breakfast, rifles were inspected and daily chores were appointed to the soldiers (Feature Article - Life in the...

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