Did the Soldiers Themselves, Give a more Accurate Picture of Trench Life than Official Accounts?

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Alex Turpitt

Did the Soldiers Themselves, Give a more

Accurate Picture of Trench Life than Official Accounts?

Trench warfare was a viscous and violent way to fight a war. In World War 1 there were over 600 kilometres of trenches that separated East and West Europe between Belgium and France. They were started by the Germans who dug them for protection after their defeat at Marne by Britain and France. Both sides kept on digging and digging their trenches to stop the other side form outflanking them. The trenches grew and the western front was formed. This place is where the most horrific battles occurred in the First World War. The trenches became soldier’s homes as well as their protection.

This essay is going to look at many sources form many different places and will try to answer the question “Did the Soldiers Themselves, Give a more Accurate Picture of Trench Life than Official Accounts?” It is my hope that by the end of the essay I will be able to come to an accurate answer to this question by using sources I have studied.

In section A the sources are mainly from history textbooks of the 20th Century. I will first look at these sources because they should be accurate and reliable, they should be able to provide reliable information for me to base the other sources on. I will compare and contrast the sources form section A to other sources to help me get a more balanced, accurate view.

Section B includes the official accounts of the war. These include photos, painting and adverts. From these sources I should be able to get an accurate view of what the war was portrayed to be like by officials. When looking at these sources I must be careful that they are not biased or inaccurate. I will also be able to compare these sources to other sources I have already looked at.

In section C the sources are the soldiers accounts of life in the trenches. I think many of these sources will be exaggerated so I must acknowledge that when I study these sources. These sources include letters, photos and diary extracts. I should be able to compare and contrast these sources to other sources to give me a more reliable viewpoint.

The final section, section D includes poems and paintings that show life in the trenches. These sources could prove to be very useful but I must be careful that they may be biased or exaggerated. These sources will be able to back up or disprove other sources.

In the conclusion to my essay I am going to bring everything together and try to sum it all up. To do this I need to look at what I have written carefully and come to a sensible, non-biased conclusion. The judgement in the conclusion will be based on other sources and my own knowledge.

In this source I am going to look mainly at sources taken from 20th century textbooks and study them very carefully. After discussing the reliability and usefulness of these sources I will be able to compare them to other sources and possibly make contradictions to other sources.

The first source I am going to look at is A1, this source describes how the use of trenches in warfare came about. It says how Britain and France won an important battle at Marne at then built trenches for protection. It describes how war came to a point of stalemate and neither side were able to get past the others defences. A good term that is used to describe the war that this source describes is a ‘War of Attrition’. This means wearing down. It explains how each side had to wait for the other side to grow tired and become weak until they gain an advantage.

This source is likely to be very accurate because it is from a 20th Century textbook. This means that it is likely for the writer to have researched the topic and based his work on many primary sources. Because of this I know that the information in it is likely to be true and accurate. Also, I know that the events described in this source were true. This means that they are less likely to be inaccurate because I know that I have seen this information in another source in the past. Something else, which makes this source reliable, is the fact that it doesn’t include anyone’s personal view on the event. It is taken from facts and it means that it is unlikely to be biased.

This source can be seen as useful for many reasons. Firstly, it includes information about one of the important victories over the Germans by Britain and France at Marne. It explains reliable facts like the positions of trenches and how they were used. One reason this source is useful is because it describes what trenches meant for warfare. It says that hand-to-hand combat was no longer necessary and guns were used a lot more. It gives us information on how they were able to attack the trenches and also says about the stalemate that developed.

This source is less useful because of the information it doesn’t mention. The source doesn’t mention what it was like for soldiers in the war and only gives a basic outline of trench warfare and how different methods were employed. Also, the information it does give us can be seen as very vague, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail on what other methods of what warfare was used and how the sides were able to come out of the stalemate position.

One thing, which makes this source more useful, is the map that is included with the text. This map shows where the trenches ran and how big they were. This helps the source to be understood and makes it more accurate as we can see clearly where the trenches were situated.

Because this source doesn’t give us a view on what trench life was like we are unable to compare it to sources to see how good it is in showing us what trench life was like. However, this source is still accurate and gives us a lot of background information on trenches and how they were used. This could give us vital information when we look at other sources because it will help us to understand what they might be talking about.

The second source I am going to look at in section A is source A2. This source is a very short extract from ‘Death’s Men’ by Denis Winter. The source describes what sanitation was like in the war for the soldiers. Its says they had very poor facilities and would rather use No Man’s Land for the disposal of waste. This implies that the facilities that were supplied for the soldier were very poor. It also says that two gallons of water was used to wash up to forty men. This also suggests that their hygiene was very poor and they were often very dirty.

This source is probably reliable because it was written by an historian years after the event. This probably means that he has no reason to change any of the facts he has researched and is likely to write the information as truthfully as possible. Also, he would have collected all the information from other, primary sources and this source is likely to be written based on these more accurate sources.

However, the sources he got his information from have an effect on how accurate and reliable this source is. Because of the content of the source it is likely that he based his ideas on information that the soldiers themselves wrote so maybe the information might be slightly exaggerated. If this were true the information that the historian wrote would be less reliable.  However, this does not make it any less useful.

This source can be seen useful for many reasons. If the information in this source was gathered from soldier’s accounts of the war it is useful in showing how bitter the soldiers must have felt due to the poor conditions they were given. If we take this source to be more accurate then it is useful in showing us what it was actually like for the soldiers. From this source we can learn that soldiers had very poor hygiene conditions and were often very dirty.

Because an historian writes this source we can assume that he has researched the information in it and has based his ideas on these sources. Because of this the source is likely to be very accurate. This could not be true if the historian only looked at sources that showed one side of the viewpoint because this would mean that the information in the source is one sided and therefore inaccurate.

This source is a useful source and can become of more use if we compare and contrast it to other sources. The first source I am going to contrast it to is source B4. This source is a picture of Australians in a front line trench. This source directly contradicts the source A2. The source shows men sat down in shorts cooking some food in a pan. The people in this source look very clean and tidy and their trench is also tidy. This source is implying that men in the trenches didn’t have such a bad time and that they had good food and clean clothes.

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This source is reliable because it is primary evidence and it is a photo, this would mean that what it shows actually happened. However, the reliability of this source is brought into question because it might be set up or staged for government purposes. If this were true the source would not show an accurate portrayal of life in the trenches and would therefore be inaccurate and unreliable.

This source is still useful. This is because it might still show what it was like for men in some parts of the front line. We do not know where ...

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