The Development of the Trenches in Spring 1915 The spring of 1915 saw a new frontier develop: the trenches. Trench
warfare was one of the main reasons so many men died. It was a
ruthless system of warfare, in which lines and lines of men were
repeatedly mowed down, one after the other. Life in the trenches, on
the daily, was filled with horror, and death. Death was a constant
companion to those serving in the line, even when no raid or attack
was launched or defended against. Life in the trenches was brutal,
terrifying and sordid. Soldiers suffered from a lack of food,
diseases, awful weather conditions and the long periods of constant
bombardment. Life in the trenches during the First World War took many
forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to
Undoubtedly, it was entirely unexpected for those eager thousands who
signed up for war in August 1914.
A constant fear of death was a notion felt by many men in the
trenches. In busy sectors the constant shellfire directed by the enemy
brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench
or lying in a dugout (many men were buried as a consequence of large
shell-bursts). Similarly, novices were cautioned against their natural
inclination to peer over the parapet of the trench into no man's land.
Many men died on their first day in the trenches as a consequence of a
precisely aimed sniper's bullet. It has been estimated that up to one
third of allied casualties on the Western Front were actually
sustained in the trenches. They were under long periods of constant
bombardment - which affected their physical and mental health.
Discipline was harsh - the punishment for falling asleep on duty was
death. The mass bombardment and continual proximity to death, together
with the confinement in the trenches and loss of autonomy led to shell
shock. Many in this state tried to escape the battle field and were
court-martialled and shot.
Diseases and infestation played a major role in the daily lives of
soldiers on the front. They witnessed minor wounds becoming diseased
because of lack of care and medical supplies. Rats in their millions
infested trenches, gorging themselves on human remains (grotesquely
disfiguring them by eating their eyes and liver). Men became
exasperated and afraid of these rats, attempted to rid the trenches of
them by various methods: gunfire, with the bayonet, and even by
clubbing them to death. It was futile however: a single rat couple
could produce up to 900 offspring in a year, spreading infection and
A lack of hygiene initiated the arrival of lice,...