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World War One Trench Warfare

Updated on January 7, 2017

Map Of The Western Front World War One

The bolded black line on the map shows where the trenches stretched from The North Sea to the Swiss border.
The bolded black line on the map shows where the trenches stretched from The North Sea to the Swiss border. | Source

World War One Trench Warfare

On the 28Th of July 1914, World War One began and soldiers from both sides of the battle began diggng big holes in the ground where they would live, eat, sleep, fight and die together.

The trenches became the battle ground of The Great War and they became the final resting place for millions of young men, some as young as seventeen years old.

Most of the men who served in the trenches from 1914 untl 1918, were not really solders, they were either volunteers who gave up their everyday jobs to serve ther country in its time of need or as the war progressed subscription was introduced and if your name was called then you had to enlist in the armed services.

After six weeks of basic traning, the young men were sent to war really unprepared for the unimaginable horrors that lay ahead of them.

The Western Front WWI

The Western Front during World War 1 stretched from the North Sea at Belgium to the Swiss Frontier with France, over 240 miles long, fighting a war in the trenches would bring an end to speculation of a quick war that would be over by Christmas.

Trench Warfare

Trench warfare meant a slow long drawn out war, a stalemate; Men would be shot down in their thousands as they tried to go over the top into the enemy trenches, most before they could even get 50 yards out of their own trenches, this made it almost impossible for either side to gain ground from the other,

Holes in the ground were home to millions of soldiers throughout the war years and although many men died in battle just as many were killed by disease or infection brought on by the inhuman unsanitary conditions of life in the trenches.

Poison Gas In The Trenches Of World War One

After a poison gas attack the smell would linger for days, adding to the many pungent aroma's in the trenches.
After a poison gas attack the smell would linger for days, adding to the many pungent aroma's in the trenches. | Source

Smells In The Trenches WWI

New recruits on their initial approach to the trenches would often be overcome by the putrid Stench that hit them, often it would be too much for some men that they were physically sick even before they reached the Front Line.

Rotting flesh from bodies in shallow graves, overflowing cesspits full of feces and urine, creosote and Chlorine used to cover up the cesspits and to try to stave off infections or disease. Adding to the smell there were also millions of sandbags rotting away through dampness from the rain, stagnant mud, cigarette smoke and even the smell of the men already in the trenches who hadn't managed to have a decent wash in weeks.

The smell of battle also filled the air stinging the nostrils of new recruits, Acrid cordite smells from the ever lasting heavy shell fire, the lingering odour of poison gasses that were sometimes used and of course the gunpowder smell from the soldiers firearms.

The soldiers never really got used to the smell but became accustomed to living with it, some soldiers even claimed that the smell never left them even years after the war was over.

World War I Trench Diagram

A typical trench used during world war one, of course this diagram does not really show the difficulties soldiers faced every day.
A typical trench used during world war one, of course this diagram does not really show the difficulties soldiers faced every day. | Source

WW1 Trench Life

French Soldiers in a captured German trench
French Soldiers in a captured German trench | Source

Disease And Infection In The Trenches Of WWI

The soldiers were never alone in the trenches, many creatures also made the trenches their home which was not really unexpected when you consider the abundance of food that life in the trenches created for them. These creatures were to play a big factor in the health of the fighting soldiers as they were all carriers of disease and infections.

Rats In The Trenches

Rats thrived in the trenches almost everywhere you looked rats would be running around in their thousands, eating human remains, dead insects and anything else that would fit in their mouths. The rats were beyond human control because they were in their ideal breeding ground and for every 10 rats killed another 100 would be born. some of the rats were so well fed that they grew to almost the same size as a domestic cat.

It was a widespread belief amongst the soldiers in the trenches that the rats knew in advance when the enemy was going to attack with a heavy bombardment of shells because the rats always seemed to disappear minutes before an enemy attack.

Lice In The Trenches

Lice were ever present in the trenches and they caused a lot of problems for the poor men who lived in them, even although a lot of the men shaved of every bit of hair from their heads and bodies the lice lived in their clothes and fed on their human blood.

Even when their clothes were washed and deloused some eggs still survived in the seams of the soldiers uniforms and would re-infect them.

Lice were carriers of Trench fever, a particularly painful disease that began suddenly with severe pain followed by high fever which took up to 12 weeks to recover from. It wasn't discovered until 1918 that the lice were the cause of trench fever.

Frogs in The Trenches

Millions of frogs were found in water holes made by shell fire and in the bases of the trenches, with the frogs slugs and horned beetles were lining the walls of the trench, nits were also a major problem with the men which again forced them to save their head and body hair off.

Flies And Maggots In the Trenches

With so much rotting flesh around Flies and Maggots were a constant problem with the soldiers, they were everywhere and anywhere, most soldiers wrapped scarves or towels around their mouths to avoid swallowing them, the flies were responsible for the spread of many infections and diseases in the trenches.

Trench Foot

The Trenches were always waterlogged which meant that the soldiers living in them always had wet feet, this caused a major problem called trench foot especially if it was left untreated for a while. Trench Foot is a fungal infection of the feet which if not treated could get easily infected and turn gangrenous which in most cases would lead to amputation of part of the foot or even the whole foot. Duck board were quickly introduced into the trenches above the common waterline as a prevention in 1915 and cases of trench foot saw a rapid decline although there were still a few sufferers throughout the duration of the war.

Shell Shock

Constant heavy artilliary fire took its toll on many of the soldiers mental health.
Constant heavy artilliary fire took its toll on many of the soldiers mental health. | Source

Shell Shock In WWI

Two percent of the men serving in the trenches between 1914-1918, were the victims of Shell Shock around eighty thousand of the men who fought in the war.

The early symptoms of Shell Shock included constant tiredness, irritability, dizziness, headaches and a lack of concentration. Eventually these men would suffer from a full mental breakdown making it an impossibility for them to remain on the front line.

The constant barrage of shell fire from both sides it was concluded was to blame because they said that an exploding shell created a vacuum in the head and when the air rushed into that vacuum it disturbs the cerebro-spinal fluid upsetting the workings of the brain.

World War One in Color: Slaughter in the Trenches

Trench Warfare, Hell on Earth

Trench warfare was often said to be Hell on Earth and for good reason, there was ne real living in a world surrounded by death and the soldiers who survived were haunted by nightmares of their time served fighting in them.

They may have survived the bullets and diseases of the trenches and they may have gone on to live successful and happy lives but the memories of dead friends and family members who fought beside them never ever left their thoughts.

They sacrificed everything for their country and for that we should always remember them.


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    • profile image

      Aimee Barker 10 years ago

      I am Aimee Barker aged 14 and i am doing a project in history about world war 1. I think it is the most fantasic feeling that there was some people that loved this country so much that they put there own life at risk to save England. I went on a website to see how many people of my family ( Barker) had died in world war 1. There was no-1 that i knew personally but there was plenty that had the surname Barker. It really upset me that someone part of my family fighted for England. Thankyou very mucxh because if you had not of fought in the war i would not be here writing this comment so thankyou x x x

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 10 years ago from Scotland

      thankyou Aimee for your lovely comment and i wholeheartedly agree with you we owe those men a lot they fought for the freedom that we have today.....jimmy

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      Meghan  10 years ago

      I am Meghan I am doing a school topic on trench warfare at school and have found this article very interesting and useful. thank you

    • profile image

      rosiee 10 years ago

      hola. i too am writing a history paper on World War 1, and found this very helpful. thannks bunchess.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      This is a very good series, Jimmy and it looks like you are becoming an on-line history teacher. Good job. Chuck

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      xAmy N Jadex 10 years ago

      we r amy crossley and jade barker we r 14 lol

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      naomi 10 years ago

      hello jimmy my name is naomi H. i have recently been doing a project on why hell cannot be so terrible compare to trench life . i must say that your article has been of great help to my project . thankyou so much jimmy!! and i hope life is fine for you. x

    • profile image

      Ell 10 years ago

      Nice site very useful! It helped me with my homework....

    • profile image

      MIchael 10 years ago

      im doing world war 1 and i found this info very helpful, but it wasn't nice seeing rotting corpes, but its a nice feeling to know they died knowing we'd live

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

      Wow! This is great stuff, Jimmy for an old history buff like me! Great Hub!

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Great Hub! War is hell and to be avoided if at all possible.

    • profile image

      Lyle 10 years ago

      Wow ... a war studying fan also ... thanks

    • profile image

      Emmma 10 years ago


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      sammi 10 years ago

      Great! Helped me with my history assessment thanks! x

    • profile image

      Ash 10 years ago

      Great this site is really helping me with my sose assignment

    • profile image

      ASHEE 10 years ago


      My teacher says that the anzac sacrificed there lives for us and that we should be thankfull for that. i reakon we should have two public holidays for them!!! wooooohooo go the aussies!!

    • profile image

      anonimous 10 years ago

      I had 2 do an assigned task @ school about trench warefare in WW1 and found this site very useful

      Thanx guyz for creating such a gr8 site

      Luv anonimous

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 10 years ago from Northern California

      Really interesting information... personally I find it refreshing that such a helpful and intriguing hub with valid historical information has gotten such a high hubscore :)

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      Linette 10 years ago

      this was great i loved the short youtube clip, very handy

    • profile image

      aa 10 years ago

      very useful information

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