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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: History
  • Essay length: 3060 words

Conditions in the trenches.

Extracts from this essay...


Introduction World War I, the war, from 1914-1918, which began as a local European conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia on July 28, 1914; was transformed into a general European war by the declaration of war made by Germany against Russia, August 1, 1914; and eventually became a global war involving thirty two nations, twenty eight of which, known as the Allies and the Associated Powers, and including Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States, opposed the coalition known as the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. Introduction Trench 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. 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." WHAT IS A TRENCH After the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the Germans were forced to retreat to the River Aisne.


FIRE STEP So that soldiers in front-line trenches could fire through the parapet, a fire-step was dug into the forward side of the trench. The fire-step was 2 or 3 ft high. It was on this that the sentries stood. It was also used by the whole unit when standing-to (an anticipated enemy attack). PARADOS The rear-side of the trench was known as the parados. Both the parados and the parapet (the side of the trench facing the enemy) were protected by two or three feet of sandbags. Soldiers were instructed to build the parados higher than the parapet so that the defenders were not outlined against the sky and therefore easy targets for the German snipers. The parados also protected soldiers in front-line trenches against those firing from the rear. INTERVIEWS FROM PERSONS ABOUT THE TRENCHES (1) Sergeant A. Vine, diary entry (8th 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. (2) Richard Beasley, interviewed in 1993. If you left your food the rats would soon grab it. Those rats were fearless. Sometimes we would shoot the filthy swine's. But you would be put on a charge for wasting ammo, if the sergeant caught you. (3) James Lovegrave, interviewed in 1993. Life in the trenches was hell on earth. Lice, rats, trench foot, trench mouth, where the gums rot and you lose your teeth. And of course dead bodies everywhere. (4) 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. (5) Captain Lionel Crouch wrote to his wife about life in the trenches in 1917.


Sometimes a small group of soldiers managed to buy a small primus stove between them. When they could obtain the fuel, which was always in short supply, they could heat their food and brew some tea. Food was often supplied in cans. Maconochie contained sliced turnips and carrots in a thin soup. As one soldier said: "Warmed in the tin, Maconochie was edible; cold it was a man killer." The British Army tried to hide this food shortage from the enemy. However, when they announced that British soldiers were being supplied with two hot meals a day, they received over 200,000 letters from angry soldiers pointing out the truth of the situation. Men claimed that although the officers were well-fed the men in the trenches were treated appallingly. Food supply was a major problem when soldiers advanced into enemy territory. All men carried emergency food called iron rations. This was a can of bully beef, a few biscuits and a sealed tin of tea and sugar. These iron rations could only be opened with the permission of an officer. This food did not last very long and if the kitchen staff were unable to provide food to the soldiers they might be forced to retreat from land they had won from the enemy. Two stretcher men in the trench trying to make hot food to eat. Conclusion I think from what I found out by doing this project is that the war was terrible but at first I thought the war wasn't half as bad from what I proved. I think the trench foot would have been really bad for the soldiers when they first found out they had it, and I would of hated the waking up and finding a rat beside me. But I might have liked the war because you would meet lots of new people and I would know I would miss my family but If I died I would of at least known I died for my country. By Ross Williams

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