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Explain and describe the dangers and difficulties faced by the soldiers on the Western Front.

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Question 1 Explain and describe the dangers and difficulties faced by the soldiers on the Western Front. During World War 1, the soldiers of the Western Front faced many extreme dangers and difficulties. Troops on all sided suffered and endured the horrific conditions of trench warfare, which claimed the lives of millions, and traumatised millions more. Dangers and difficulties that soldiers on the Western Front endured included: DANGERS DIFFICULTIES * Artillery * Machine gun fire * Sniper fire * Poisonous gas * Gas Gangrene * Trench Foot * Other diseases * Execution of soldiers * Extreme weather conditions * Lice * Rats and vermin * Flies * Shell-shock * Psychological traumas due to loss of fellow soldiers * Poor food rations/malnutrition * Poor personal hygiene and sanitation * Stench and decay The dangers and difficulties often overlap one another, as many difficulties were also potentially life threatening. ARTILLERY Artillery, or explosive shells, had produced three-quarters of all wounds by the end of the war (DIXON, S. Modern World History. 1996). Therefore, it was the greatest danger to all soldiers. A common cause of death or wounding was by shrapnel, which occurs when tiny jagged pieces of metal from the explosive shell penetrate into the body in an explosion. In addition, artillery explosions created huge craters in the earth which churned the soil and turned the land into wet, muddy swamps, combined with barbed wire and dead bodies. MACHINE GUN FIRE The Germans used machine guns quite effectively for defensive purposes. ...read more.


Death from disease was the second greatest cause of death apart from enemy attack. EXECUTION OF SOLDIERS In both the armies of the Allied forces and the Central Powers, certain offences committed by soldiers were punishable by death. For the British army, these offences were mutiny, cowardice before the enemy, self-inflicted wounds, disobedience, desertion or attempted desertion, sleeping or being drunk on post, striking a superior officer, casting away arms or ammunition in the presence of the enemy, leaving a post without orders, abandoning a position, and treacherously communicated with or in any way assisting the enemy. (Source:http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWexecutions.htm) Although the danger of being executed was not as significant in comparison to the other obvious dangers of trench warfare, a total of 304 died this way (another secondary source by REES, Rosemary, Britain and the Great War (1993) states that 346 men were killed). Most soldiers were extremely fearful of their commanding officers and the "firing squad" that performed the executions. Life in the trenches of the Western Front was so unbearable for most troops that the punishment of committing desertion or mutiny was a risk they were willing to take. This table below indicates the number and reason for executions in the British army in World War One. EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS The extreme weather conditions that were endured by the millions of troops on the Western Front were an indirect cause of thousands of deaths that occurred during the war. The intolerable winters of Western Europe claimed the lives of many sick and dying soldiers. ...read more.


The British soldiers, although better fed than the German troops, received less than half the allocated 4300 calories per day. Rations consisted mainly of tea, sugar, bread biscuits, stew and bully beef. However, it was rare that full rations were allocated to troops as food was stolen, contaminated, lost or spoiled in transit. The rations were of such poor quality that bread and biscuits were hard enough to break teeth. The Germans suffered greater food shortages due to the Allied blockage. These poor diets resulted in malnutrition, and the inability for soldiers to recover effectively from disease or injury. POOR PERSONAL HYGIENE AND SANITATION / STENCH AND DECAY In the front lines of the Western Front, sanitation was virtually non-existent. The personal hygiene of the men was tremendously poor, and was a major contributor of the development of disease and infection. The troops were bathed or showered quite rarely and it was not uncommon for a soldier to wear the same clothing for up to several weeks. The heavy rain was not enough to wash away the debris of rotting corpses, human faeces, manure, urine and assorted rubbish thrown away by the soldiers. The rotting carcasses of soldiers, infested with vermin, lay around in their thousands which produced an appallingly unbearable reek. The stench of the latrines, manure, urine, unwashed men and their rotting, stinking feet added to already intolerable smell of the trenches. However this was also made worse by the smell of creosol, chloride of lime (used to fight infection) the lingering odour of poison gas and rotting sandbags. The combination of these disgusting odours often induced vomiting, which had a foul smell of its own. ...read more.

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