Presentation on theme: "World War One Trench Warfare. The Western Front The Trench System."— Presentation transcript:
World War One Trench Warfare
The Western Front
The Trench System
A British working party digging the trenches
No Man’s Land C. R. W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory (1917) No Man's Land at Passchendaele in 1917
No Man’s Land Ernst Toller, I Was a German (1933) One night we heard a cry, the cry of one in excruciating pain; then all was quiet again. Someone in his death agony, we thought. But an hour later the cry came again. It never ceased the whole night. Nor the following night. Naked and inarticulate the cry persisted. We could not tell whether it came from the throat of German or Frenchman. It existed in its own right, an agonized indictment of heaven and earth. We thrust our fingers into our ears to stop its moan; but it was no good; the cry cut like a drill into our heads, dragging minutes into hours, hours into years. We withered and grew old between those cries. Later we learned that it was one of our own men hanging on the wire. Nobody could do anything for him; two men had already tried to save him, only to be shot themselves. We prayed desperately for his death. He took so long about it, and if he went on much longer we should go mad. But on the third day his cries were stopped by death.
Waterlogged Trenches Private Livesay, letter to parents living in East Grinstead (6th March, 1915) 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.
Waterlogged Trenches J. B. Priestley, letter to his father, Jonathan Priestley (December, 1915) The communication trenches are simply canals, up to the waist in some parts, the rest up to the knees. There are only a few dug-outs and those are full of water or falling in. Three men were killed this way from falling dug-outs. I haven't had a wash since we came into these trenches and we are all mud from head to foot.
Trench Foot Sergeant Harry Roberts, Lancashire Fusiliers, interviewed after the war. 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. A photograph of a man suffering from trench foot
Private Pollard wrote about trench life in his memoirs published in 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.
J. B. Priestley, letter to his father, Jonathan Priestley (December, 1915) The communication trenches are simply canals, up to the waist in some parts, the rest up to the knees. There are only a few dug- outs and those are full of water or falling in. Three men were killed this way from falling dug-outs. I haven’t had a wash since we came into these trenches and we are all mud from head to foot.
British soldiers try to keep their trench dry by pumping the water
Dysentry Guy Chapman wrote about his experiences in the trenches in his book Vain Glory. We descended to primal man. No washing or shaving here, and the demands of nature answered as quickly as possible in the handiest and deepest shell-hole. Army engineers establishing water points in the communication trenches
Rats "The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a wounded man if he couldn't defend himself." "I saw some rats running from under the dead men's greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies. His helmet had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured and from the yawning mouth leapt a rat."
Sergeant A. Vine, diary entry (8 August 1915) The stench of the dead bodies now is awful as they have been exposed to the sun for several days, many have swollen and burst. The trench is full of other occupants, things with lots of legs, also swarms of rats. Richard Beasley, interviewed in If you left your food the rats would soon grab it. Those rats were fearless. Sometimes we would shoot the filthy swines. But you would be put on a charge for wasting ammo, if the sergeant caught you.
Frank Laird writing after the war. Sometimes the men amused themselves by baiting the ends of their rifles with pieces of bacon in order to have a shot at them at close quarters.
German soldiers after a rat hunt in their trenches
George Coppard, With A Machine Gun to Cambrai (1969) Rats bred by the tens of thousands and lived on the fat of the land. When we were sleeping in funk holes the things ran over us, played about, copulated and fouled our scraps of food, their young squeaking incessantly. There was no proper system of waste disposal in trench life. Empty tins of all kinds were flung away over the top on both sides of the trench. Millions of tins were thus available for all the rats in France and Belgium in hundreds of miles of trenches. During brief moments of quiet at night, one could hear a continuous rattle of tins moving against each other. The rats were turning them over. What happened to the rats under heavy shell- fire was a mystery, but their powers of survival kept place with each new weapon, including poison gas.
German soldiers lice hunting in the trenches near Reims (1915)
Allied troops striving to keep warm in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium
Shell Fire Guy Chapman, A Passionate Prodigality: Fragments of Autobiography (1933) One morning, while I was inspecting the rifles of the sentries on duty, I was startled, not to say alarmed, by three whizz-bangs bursting as it seemed all round my head. I heard one coming very close, caught a glimpse of it out of the tail of my eye, and at that moment slipped. I picked myself up, but before I could reach my full height, the minnie burst. A furious hot whirlwind rushed down, seized me and flung me violently back against the earth. I lay half-stunned while a rain of earth and offal pattered down on me, followed by something which whizzed viciously and stuck quivering in the trench wall; it was a piece of jagged steel eighteen inches long.
Shell Fire Private Henry Russell was badly wounded by shell-fire on 1st July, 1916, at the Battle of the Somme. I crawled into a shell-hole into which another colleague of mine had also crawled. He told me that he had been shot through the middle of the back and that the bullet had emerged through his left ear. We had not long to wait before a shell burst on the edge of our hole; it killed my colleague and injured me in such a way that I was virtually emasculated. I considered the situation hopeless and that even if a miracle happened and I did, in fact, get away, I would not be fit for anything in this world. I, therefore, decided to kill myself. I managed to get hold of the bottle of rum which I had put in my haversack and I drank the lot hoping that it would result in my death. In fact it did me no harm at all. It also probably made me slightly merry and bright and rather stupefied. It also probably caused me to drop off to sleep, though I am not aware of this. However, I came to the conclusion, when I had recovered my senses, that, in spite of my condition (my left arm being torn, my left thigh damaged, my right leg wounded and strips of flesh hanging down from my abdomen) it was still worth making a serious effort to save myself.
Shell Shock Corporal Henry Gregory served with the 119 Machine Gun Company. It was while I was in this Field Hospital that I saw the first case of shell-shock. The enemy opened fire about dinner time, as usual, with his big guns. As soon as the first shell came over, the shell-shock case nearly went mad. He screamed and raved, and it took eight men to hold him down on the stretcher. With every shell he would go into a fit of screaming and fight to get away. It is heartbreaking to watch a shell-shock case. The terror is indescribable. The flesh on their faces shakes in fear, and their teeth continually chatter. Shell-shock was brought about in many ways; loss of sleep, continually being under heavy shell fire, the torment of the lice, irregular meals, nerves always on end, and the thought always in the man's mind that the next minute was going to be his last. Soldier with shell shock
Blighty Wounds Otto Dix, Trench Suicide (1924)
Blighty Wounds George Coppard, With A Machine Gun to Cambrai (1969) On 17th October, 1916, I was shot through the left foot by a.45 bullet from Snowy's revolver. The bullet tore between two bones in front of the ankle, went through the instep of my boot and buried itself in the ground. With his revolver pointed down, and not realising that it was loaded, Snowy had casually pulled the trigger and wham! I was out of the fighting for six months. There was pandemonium for a few moments as I hobbled about in pain, and then I found myself on the back of a comrade named Grigg, who carried me to a field dressing station close by. Poor Snowy was put under open arrest pending an inquiry. Transferred to an ambulance car, I became puzzled to find myself the only casualty in it. Finally I arrived at the 39th Casualty Clearing Station. Next morning I discovered that there was something queer about the place which filled me with misgivings. None of the nursing staff appeared friendly, and the matron looked, and was, a positive battle-axe. I made anxious inquiries, and quickly learned that I was classed as a suspected self-inflicted wound case. Unknown to me, the letters SIW with a query mark added had been written on the label attached to my chest.
Guy Chapman, a junior officer in the Royal Fusiliers, recorded how he discovered one of his men had been arrested for a self-inflicted wound. I glanced down the casualty reports. One name stood out above all others. “Private Turnbull, S.I.W.” A bullet fired deliberately at the foot was the only way out. Perhaps those who call this man a coward will consider the desperation to which he was driven, to place his rifle against the foot, and drive through the bones and flesh the smashing metal. Let me hope that the court-martial's sentence was light. Not that it matters, for, in truth, the real, the real sentence had been inflicted long ago.
One day I was in the trench and we'd been under-non stop attack for days. Well, two of the blokes with me shot themselves on purpose to try and get sent home and out of the war. One lad put a tin of bully beef on a ledge in the trench, then placed his hand behind it and fired his rifle through the tin, thinking, I suppose, that the tin would take the full force of the bullet and he would only get a flesh wound. But he misjudged the power of a shot at such close range and blew three of his fingers off. The other one said to me "Chas, I am going home to my wife and kids. I'll be some use to them as a cripple, but none at all dead! I am starving here, and so are they at home, we may as well starve together." With that he fired a shot through his boot. When the medics got his boot off, two of his toes and a lot of his foot had gone. But the injuring oneself to get out of it was quite common.
A sergeant-major came to see what was happening. I told him that a sniper had just caught a couple of our men who had to get on top of the trench for a minute to move a sandbag. He looked at me a bit sideways, but yelled out for stretcher bearers, and they were carried off.
In his autobiography, Father Figures, Kingsley Martin wrote about how soldiers reacted when they had been wounded. I recall the wounded as being incredibly patient and unhappy. The one thing they asked, hopefully, prayerfully, was whether they'd caught a 'Blighty' this time. Was their wound bad enough to get them home? Did I think it might get them out of the war altogether? That was perhaps too much to hope for. After all, they were damned lucky to be wounded. Most of their company or battalion would never come home.
Naomi Mitchison became a VAD in Her autobiography is All Change Here (1975) The other thing which I found upsetting was to see a patient with his eyes closed and throat heavily bandaged, with a policeman in full uniform sitting next to him. The patient was of course a suicide attempt and this was a crime. Was he arrested as soon as he was conscious? I never knew. Both disappeared from the ward. One thing missing was the blood transfusion apparatus which is now so common in an accident ward that one takes it for granted.
Food In a letter to his parents, Private Pressey of the Royal Artillery described the quality of the food men were receiving on the Western Front. The biscuits are so hard that you had to put them on a firm surface and smash them with a stone or something. I've held one in my hand and hit the sharp corner of a brick wall and only hurt my hand. Sometimes we soaked the smashed fragments in water for several days. Then we would heat and drain, pour condensed milk over a dishful of the stuff and get it down. Gilbert Rogers painted this picture of two stretcher-bearers trying to prepare hot food.
Lice Private George Coppard, With A Machine Gun to Cambrai (1969) A full day's rest allowed us to clean up a bit, and to launch a full scale attack on lice. I sat in a quiet corner of a barn for two hours delousing myself as best I could. We were all at it, for none of us escaped their vile attentions. 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. Lice hunting was called 'chatting'. In parcels from home it was usual to receive a tin of supposedly death-dealing powder or pomade, but the lice thrived on the stuff.
Private Stanley Terry of 15 North End, East Grinstead, wrote a letter to his family in November, The letter was uncensored. We have just come out of the trenches after being in for six days and up to our waists in water. While we were in the trenches one of the Germans came over to our trench for a cigarette and then back again, and he was not fired at. We and the Germans started walking about in the open between the two trenches, repairing them, and there was no firing at all. I think they are all getting fed up with it.
Poison Gas German soldiers after a gas attack in 1915.
Poison Gas William Pressey was gassed on 7th June 1917 at Messines Ridge. He survived the attack and later wrote about the experience of being gassed. I was awakened by a terrific crash. The roof came down on my chest and legs and I couldn't move anything but my head. I found I could hardly breathe. Then I heard voices. Other fellows with gas helmets on, looking very frightened in the half-light, were lifting timber off me and one was forcing a gas helmet on me. Even when you were all right, to wear a gas helmet was uncomfortable, your nose pinched, sucking air through a canister of chemicals. I was put into an ambulance and taken to the base, where we were placed on the stretchers side by side on the floor of a marquee. I suppose I resembled a kind of fish with my mouth open gasping for air. It seemed as if my lugs were gradually shutting up and my heart pounded away in my ears like the beat of a drum. On looking at the chap next to me I felt sick, for green stuff was oozing from the side of his mouth. To get air in my lungs was real agony. I dozed off for short periods but seemed to wake in a sort of panic. To ease the pain in my chest I may subconsciously have stopped breathing, until the pounding of my heart woke me up. I was always surprised when I found myself awake, for I felt sure that I would die in my sleep.
Tanks Tank Production Year UKFranceGermanyItalyUSA , ,3914,
Bert Chaney saw tanks for the first time on 15th September 1916) We heard strange throbbing noises, and lumbering slowly towards us came three huge mechanical monsters such as we had never seen before. My first impression was that they looked ready to topple on their noses, but their tails and the two-little wheels at the back held them down and kept them level. Big metal things they were, with two sets of caterpillar wheels that went right round the body. There was a bulge on each side with a door in the bulging part, and machine-guns on swivels poked out from either side. The engine, a petrol engine of massive proportions, occupied practically all the inside space. Mounted behind each door was a motor-cycle type of saddle seat and there was just about enough room left for the belts of ammunition and the drivers.
Instead of going on to the German lines the three tanks assigned to us straddled our front line, stopped and then opened up a murderous machine-gun fire, enfilading us left and right. There they sat, squat monstrous things, noses stuck up in the air, crushing the sides of our trench out of shape with their machine-guns swivelling around and firing like mad. Everyone dived for cover, except the colonel. He jumped on top to the parapet, shouting at the top of his`voice, 'Runner, runner, go tell those tanks to stop firing at once. At once, I say.' By now the enemy fire had risen to a crescendo but, giving no thought to his own personal safety as he saw the tanks firing on his own men, he ran forward and furiously rained blows with his cane on the side of one of the tanks in an endeavour to attract their attention. Although, what with the sounds of the engines and the firing in such an enclosed space, no one in the tank could hear him, they finally realized they were on the wrong trench and moved on, frightening the Jerries out of their wits and making them scuttle like frightened rabbits.
Snipers R. A. Chell, had his first experience of sniper duty in September, After about fifteen minutes quiet watching - with my rifle in a ready position - I saw a capless bald head come up behind the plate. The day was bright and clear and I hadn't the slightest difficulty in taking a most deliberate aim at the very centre of that bright and shiny plate - but somehow I couldn't press the trigger: to shoot such a 'sitter' so deliberately in cold blood required more real courage than I possessed. After a good look round he went down and I argued with myself about my duty. My bald-headed opponent had been given a very sporting chance and if he were fool enough to come up again I must shoot him unflinchingly. I considered it my duty to be absolutely ready for that contingency. After about two minutes he came up again with added boldness and I did my duty. I had been a marksman before the war and so had no doubt about the instantaneousness of that man's death. I felt funny for days and the shooting of another German at 'stand-to' the next morning did nothing to remove those horrid feelings I had. British fake tree used by snipers and spies.
Flame-Throwers Drawing of a German flame-thrower by A. Forestier