BODY LICE Men in the trenches suffered from lice. One soldier writing after the war described them as "pale fawn in colour, and they left blotchy red bite marks all over the body." They also created a sour; stale smell. Various methods were used to remove the lice. A lighted candle was fairly effective but the skill of burning the lice without burning your clothes was only learnt with practice. Where possible the army arranged for the men to have baths in huge vats of hot water while their clothes were being put through delousing machines. Unfortunately, this rarely worked.
A fair proportion of the eggs remained in the clothes and within two or three hours of the clothes being put on again a man's body heat had hatched them out. As well as causing frenzied scratching, lice also carried disease. This was known as pyrrexhia or trench fever. The first symptoms were shooting pains in the shins and was followed by a very high fever. Although the disease did not kill, it did stop soldiers from fighting and accounted for about 15% of all cases of sickness in the British Army. TRENCH FOOT Many soldiers fighting in the First World War suffered from trench foot.
This was an infection of the feet caused by cold, wet and insanitary conditions. In the trenches men stood for hours on end in waterlogged trenches without being able to remove wet socks or boots. The feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn red or blue. If untreated, trench foot could turn gangrenous and result in amputation. Trench foot was a particular problem in the early stages of the war. For example, during the winter of 1914-15 over 20, 000 men in the British Army were treated for trench foot.
The only remedy for trench foot was for the soldiers to dry their feet and change their socks several times a day. By the end of 1915 British soldiers in the trenches had to have three pairs of socks with them and were under orders to change their socks at least twice a day. As well as drying their feet, soldiers were told to cover their feet with a grease made from whale-oil. It has been estimated that a battalion at the front would use ten gallons of whale-oil every day. Many men killed in the trenches were buried almost where they fell. If a trench subsided, or new trenches or dugouts were needed, large numbers of decomposing bodies would be found just below the surface.
These corpses, as well as the food scraps that littered the trenches, attracted rats. One pair of rats can produce 880 offspring in a year and so the trenches were soon swarming with them. TRENCH RATS Some of these rats grew extremely large. One soldier wrote: "The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a wounded man if he couldn't defend himself." These rats became very bold and would attempt to take food from the pockets of sleeping men.
Two or three rats would always be found on a dead body. They usually went for the eyes first and then they burrowed their way right into the corpse. One soldier described finding a group of dead bodies while on patrol: "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." World War One Trench Trench warfare After the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the German army were forced to retreat. They had failed in their objective to compel France into an early surrender. Rather than give up the territory which they already held, the Germans dug in to protect themselves from the guns of the advancing Allies. The Allies couldn't break the German trench lines and so followed the German example. The trench lines soon spread from the North Sea to Switzerland. The trenches on both sides were protected by lines of barbed wire with No-Man's Land in-between.
The shelling churned the landscape into a sea of mud and craters. As machine guns could bring concentrated fire to bear on any attacking troops, few attacks were successful. Most military offensives ended with few gains and enormous casualties. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the British Army lost around 20, 000 men.
The offensive cost the Allies over half a million casualties but only penetrated 12 km at most into German lines. The trench system Front line trenches These were usually about seven feet deep and about six feet wide. The Allies were forced to dig their trenches in lower ground so they were often waterlogged. They had a zigzag pattern to prevent the enemy from shooting straight down the line. Sandbags were put on both sides of the top of the trench to absorb enemy bullets. Lines of barbed wire protected the frontline trench from any enemy attacks.
Fire step This was cut into the side of the trench and allowed the soldiers to peer over the side of the trench towards the enemy. It was where the sentries stood or the whole unit when they were on 'standing-to' duty which meant that they were waiting for a possible enemy attack. No-Man's Land The land that separated the Allies and the German trenches was a wasteland of craters, blackened tree stumps and the occasional shell of a building. It was normally around 250 yards but could vary between 7 yards at Zonnebeke to 500 yards at Cambrai. Communications trenches Linking the front-line trench to the support and reserve trenches.
They allowed the movement of men, equipment and supplies and were also used to take the wounded back to the Casualty Clearing Stations. Trench artefacts Gas alarm Empty shell casings were used as make-shift gas alarms. Trench ladder Ladders were only put in place just before going 'over the top'. Ammunition store Ammunition was stored in specially-dug bunkers along the front line..