In the trenches of 1914-1918 What were the trenches? Although most of us think primarily of the Great War in terms of life and death in the trenches, only a relatively small proportion of the army actually served there. The trenches were the front lines, the most dangerous places. But behind them was a mass of supply lines, training establishments, stores, workshops, headquarters and all the other elements of the 1914-1918 system of war, in which the majority of troops were employed. The trenches were the domain of the infantry, with the supporting arms of the mortars and machine-guns, the engineers and the forward positions of the artillery observers. Why were the trenches there? The idea of digging into the ground to give some protection from powerful enemy artillery and small arms fire was not a new idea or unique to the Great War. What were the trenches like? The type and nature of the trench positions varied a lot, depending on the local conditions. The enemy had a very similar system of trenches.
Shellshock By 1914 British doctors working in military hospitals noticed patients suffering from "shell shock". Early symptoms included tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration and headaches. Eventually the men suffered mental breakdowns making it impossible for them to remain in the front-line. Some came to the conclusion that the soldiers condition was caused by the enemy's heavy artillery. Some doctors argued that the only cure for shell-shock was a complete rest away from the fighting. Philip Gibbs, a journalist on the Western Front, later recalled: "The shell-shock cases were the worst to see and the worst to cure. Between 1914 and 1918 the British Army identified 80,000 men (2% of those who saw active service) as suffering from shell-shock. Official figures said that 304 British soldiers were court-martialled and executed.
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From trench to tomb: The unknown warrior's journey 11 November 2010Last updated at 02:12 By Mario Cacciottolo BBC News The tomb, in London's Westminster Abbey The unknown warrior was carried from a French battlefield 90 years ago, to be laid to rest among kings and statesmen in Westminster Abbey. But how did this symbol of the sacrifice of war come to be chosen? In 1916, a Church of England clergyman serving at the Western Front in World War I spotted an inscription on an anonymous war grave which gave him an idea. That moment of inspiration would blossom into a worldwide ceremony that is still being replicated in the 21st Century - the grave of an unknown warrior, symbolising those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The Reverend David Railton caught sight of the grave in a back garden at Armentieres in France in 1916, with a rough cross upon which was pencilled the words "An Unknown British Soldier". But there was a procedure in choosing a single corpse to represent the many unnamed dead. Continue reading the main story
Two soldiers in flooded trenc World War 1 – who started it? Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary When Franz Ferdinand, his nephew and heir, was murdered, Emperor Franz Joseph I decided that military action was required to cut Serbia down to size. But with time lost to investigations and diplomacy, it was not until July 23 that Serbia was presented with a harsh ultimatum. Serbia’s measured reply was to agree to almost all demands. Why did the 83-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph and his Vienna government take such a hard line? More than two-fifths of Bosnia’s population was ethnic Serb, many of whom yearned for independence and union with a Greater Serbia. An even more powerful reason was because many in the Austrian government and military felt the time was opportune. They feared a pan-Slav movement spearheaded by Serbia (and backed by Russia), and were determined, in the words of Foreign Minister Leopold von Berchtold, to “tear away with a strong hand the net in which its enemy seeks to entangle it”. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
Life In The Trenches | WW1 Facts There was nothing glamorous about trench life. World War 1 trenches were dirty, smelly and riddled with disease. For soldiers life in the trenches meant living in fear. In fear of diseases (like cholera and trench foot) and of course, the constant fear of enemy attack. Trench warfare WW1 style is something all participating countries vowed never to repeat and the facts make it easy to see why. Constructing WW1 Trenches The British and the French recruited manpower from non-belligerent China to support the troops with manual labour. 140,000 Chinese labourers served on the Western Front over the course of the First World War (40,000 with the French and 100,000 with the British forces). No Man’s Land The open space between two sets of opposing trenches became known as No Man’s Land because no soldier wanted to traverse the distance for fear of attack. The climate in France and Belgium was quite wet, so No Man’s Land soon became a mud bath. Hell on Earth
History - World Wars: Battle of Passchendaele: 31 July - 6 November 1917 Mud Blood and Poppycock The 'Horrors' of the Trenches Source L: The Perception: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 76 The perception of soldiering in the Great War is of a young patriot enlisting in 1914 to do his bit, and then being shipped off to France. Source M: Marching: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 76 The original BEF, composed of pre-war regulars and reservists, did do quite a lot of marching, but they would have been very unlucky to have to tramp all the way from Boulogne to Belgium. Source N: Trenches: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 79 French and German ideas on trench construction differed according to the military philosophy of the two nations. Source O: Trenches: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 79 The design and dimensions of British trenches were based on a good British compromise. Source P: Toilets: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 85 Despite the tales of rats, lice and general filth, cleanliness and hygiene in the trenches were strictly enforced. Source Q: Rats: Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 88
British military crime and punishment of 1914-1918 Military law reinforces discipline The maintenance of discipline in the army has always been considered a very serious affair. Whilst it is clear from statistics that there was much ill-discipline in the army throughout the war, most of it was of a non-serious nature. The instances of failure to obey orders are relatively few, and the number of men convicted and suffering from serious punishment was miniscule as a proportion of the whole. The acts of discipline outlined on this page were defined by the Army Act and the Field Service Regulations. Small scale misdemeanours These crimes included everything from matters of individual presentation such as being unshaven, untidy or losing kit; not saluting or addressing superiors correctly; dirty or incorrect equipment; being late on parade or after curfew, etc. Moderately serious offences For moderately serious crimes, a man could elect to be tried by a district court-martial, or be 'convicted' and sentenced by his Commanding Officer.
World War One executions content In World War One, the executions of 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers took place. Such executions, for crimes such as desertion and cowardice, remain a source of controversy with some believing that many of those executed should be pardoned as they were suffering from what is now called shell shock. The executions, primarily of non-commissioned ranks, included 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen and 5 New Zealanders. Between 1914 and 1918, the British Army identified 80,000 men with what would now be defined as the symptoms of shellshock. The horrors that men from all sides endured while on the front line can only be imagined. “We went up into the front line near Arras, through sodden and devastated countryside. Victor Silvester. Senior military commanders would not accept a soldier’s failure to return to the front line as anything other than desertion. Few soldiers wanted to be in a firing squad. "We were in the trenches. “The two condemned were tied up from head to toe like sausages.
The medical treatment of British casualties in 1914-1918 This page describes the main medical functions in a complex chain that processed the casualty from the front line back to hospitals at home. It is in a simplified format. Many men missed stages altogether, and of course many wounded soldiers were in no condition to know which of these units was caring for them. Aid and Bearer Relay Posts The casualty is likely to have received first medical attention at aid posts situated in or close behind the front line position. Stretcher-bearers carrying an injured man on a stretcher down a twisting trench in Salonika. Field Ambulance This was a mobile medical unit, not a vehicle. This diagram from a Canadian history shows the locations and types of aid posts and dressing stations that supported the 1st Canadian Division during the opening of the Second Battle of Ypres. An Australian Medical Officer attends a wounded man at an Advanced Dressing Station during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Click on the image for a full scale view. Base Hospital
Sir Douglas Haig's Somme Despatch The second Despatch of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders. Printed in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 29 December 1916. It covered the enormous and critical Battle of the Somme. Haig at his desk in the railway carriage used as a mobile office. General Headquarters, 23rd December, 1916. My Lord, I have the honour to submit the following report on the operations of the Forces under my Command since the 19th May, the date of my last Despatch. 1. Subject to the necessity of commencing operations before the summer was too far advanced, and with due regard to the general situation, I desired to postpone my attack as long as possible. 2. The object of that offensive was threefold: (i.) 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. On the 25th June the Royal Flying Corps carried out a general attack on the enemy's observation balloons, destroying nine of them, and depriving the enemy for the time being of this form of observation. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.