The front line directly faced the enemy, who would usually be between
200 and 800 metres away; the space in between the front lines of the
defenders and the attackers was known as "No Man’s Land";
the front line was protected by barbed wire, which was secretly erected
or amended during the night.
Behind the front line were the "Reserve Trenches",
also known as the "Second Line" or the "Support
Trenches"; these were the second line of defence and they
were used if the front line was captured by the enemy; usually there
was a third line of defence, known as the "Communication Trenches"
and they ran for around another 1km away from the front line towards
safety; everything going up the front line, such as fresh soldiers,
water, food, mail, ammunition, etc, had to use these lines and wounded
soldiers went in the other direction to the hospitals.
The Trench Layout:
Trenches were formed in 'U' shapes, as opposed to straight lines; this was to prevent attackers from shooting straight down the trench and it helped to reduce the effects of blasts from shells; it also meant that it was more difficult for the trench to be captured as the enemy had to fight round each corner to capture more and more of the trench.
Another method of slowing down the process of the enemy capturing the trench, were barbed wire doors, which were situated at regular intervals along the length of the trenchs; when they were open they fitted into gaps in the side of the trench, but when they were closed they were lethal doors.
Almost all trenches were deep enough for a man to stand up straight
in without being seen by the enemy; however on the occasions when they
weren’t deep enough the men had to crouch or crawl all day long,
for if enemy snipers saw so much as an hair on a soldiers head, they
would attempt to blast the soldiers head right off.
The mud that was dug out of the trench was piled up in front to form
a parapet, which helped to protect the soldiers from bullets; sandbags
were also used as protection; the "Firing Step" was
another feature of many trenches; these were used only at night, for
obvious safety reasons, by sentries, but they were also used in battle
when soldiers were shooting.
Wet weather caused the trenches to become very muddy, very quickly,
so flat planks of wood called duckboards were laid end-to-end along
the ground, and were nailed together; these helped to provide a floor,
which could cope with the soldiers walking on them from day-to-day;
as these did not sink into the mud, they soon became a common sight
in British trenches
The soldiers slept in little holes cut out of the side of the trench known as dug outs; planks and sandbags were used to support the roof of the dug out in an effort to make them safer, as there was a huge risk that the roof could fall in on the soldier; this risk was greatly increased if shells had weakened the trench; planks were also placed on the ground in the dug out to provide a hard wood base for the soldier to use as a bed; blankets were hung over the front of the dug out to give the soldier a bit of privacy, but they did not however, give any protection against shell splinters.
Living conditions in trenches were very basic and extremely wet; the soldiers often had to stand with water up to their ankles, sometimes even up to their knees and this caused them to suffer from a condition called Trench Foot; this was a foot condition that started off with the feet wrinkling up, like when you’ve been in the bath too long, but as time went on, blisters developed and then severe pain making soldiers lame; the soldiers were advised to rub whale oil onto their feet and to change into dry socks on a regular basis, but these didn’t do a lot of good, the dry socks just got wet and the Trench Foot got worse.
Apart from the battles and bombardments, unhygienic living conditions
in trenches caused many deaths; the trenches were a perfect place for
germs to thrive and any diseases caught by soldiers were easily and
quickly spread to others and to make matter worse there were no antibiotics
for them or the wounded and wounds that went septic often turned into
could be fatal.
Daily Routine in the Trenches:
Battles were not daily occurrences, and most days were much the same
as the last, nothing really changed; each morning at first light, the
order "Stand down!" was given and knowing that the
threat of a night raid was now over, the sentries would relax a little;
breakfast usually consisted of a cup of tea and whatever else was available;
cooking was normally done on small fires made from scavenged scraps
Meals consisted of tinned "Bully Beef", a loaf of
bread, to be shared amongst up to 10 men, and jam, which was usually
Tickler’s plum and apple flavour, which the men soon got fed up
of; occasionally there was an abundance of cheese, but this caused constipation
and the men thought that it was a deliberate attempt to ease the problem
of trench toilets.
In case of an emergency, there was always a supply of hard biscuits, but these were as hard as concrete and caused immense problems to men with false teeth, they had to soak them in water before eating!
By mid-morning most of the soldiers were at the day-to-day work, which consisted of repairing damage to the trenches, filling sandbags, carrying supplies, running errands, etc; the most common task carried out by soldiers was the cleaning of their weapons; every soldier possessed a Lee Enfield rifle and it was their duty to keep this thoroughly clean to prevent it from jamming at a vital moment.
Daily medical checks were also part of the soldier’s daily routine; every soldier was crawling with lice, in their hair, on their body and in their clothes; therefore, occasional de-lousing took place but this rarely did any good because the lice always seemed to find a safe hiding place in the folds of clothes.
Another problem which soldiers dealt with was water; in the trenches water was usually brought up to the front line in petrol cans and chloride of lime was added to kill off bacteria; however, the chloride of lime gave the water an awful taste; in winter, water was less of a problem because snow and ice could be melted; occasionally, however, bodies were found frozen in the ice, which caused further distress.
The Tactics of Trench Warfare:
In WWI, there were three main ways of attacking; the first tactic was
bombardment; which was probably the most common tactic; the idea of
bombardment was that the attackers used shells to destroy the opposition’s
communication trenches as well as the front line, this was to prevent
reinforcements from reaching the front lines; soldiers then went "over
the top" of their trenches and approached the opposition across
No Man’s Land in the hope that when they reached the opposition’s
trenches, all the enemy soldiers would be dead, the barbed wire would
be destroyed and they could successfully capture part of the enemy's
However, this was rarely what they found when they went "over
the top"; the reality, in most cases, was that the German’s
had dug their trenches so deep that they had sufficient protection from
the shells; the Allies had not predicted this and were surprised to
find the German’s still alive, the trenches and the barbed wire
still intact and the German artillery not destroyed, meaning that many
of those that went "over the top" were mown down
on their way to, and from, the enemy trenches.
Another tactic used was called the "Creeping Barrage";
this was a very well developed tactic, which comprised of the British
firing guns and shells at the enemy, whilst soldiers crept towards the
enemy lines; the shellfire caused the Germans to be too scared to leave
their trenches, often allowing the British to capture part of their
trenches; there was however one major drawback to this tactic, if the
cannon fire was off target then British soldiers were in danger of being
The third tactic involved the digging of tunnels, under No Man’s Land, in an effort to reach the enemy without being seen and therefore catching them off guard; however, this was not a very effective tactic due to the fact the opposition could hear the digging and they too began to dig; this led to them meeting somewhere in the middle and battling underground.
All of the tactics resulted in many deaths from shell fire, machine gun fire, etc, but they were considered necessary for the war to eventually come to an end.