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view of the soldier during ww1

By bigen106 Oct 16, 2014 1150 Words
Do you agree with the view that the British soldier’s life in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War was one of unbroken horror? Trench conditions varied widely between different theatres of war, different sectors within a theatre, and with the time of year and weather. Trench life was however always one of considerable squalor, with so many men living in a very constrained space. Source 7 supports this by saying “troops fell prey to dysentery and trench fever as a result of filthy conditions and exposure”. However source 8 disagrees where it depicts how the troops where only in the trenches for a “short time”, furthermore source 9 continues to support source 8 by saying “casualties where low”. The trenches clearly were not a nice place to be and their would much nicer places the troops would of rather been. However Source 9 tells “casualties were low simply because men were in trenches.” This gives the impression that life in trenches was not so bad after all. It explains how the trenches saved the lives of the troops and clearly were an asset to the soldiers. However from my own knowledge I see the trenches to have; scraps of discarded food, empty tins and other waste, the nearby presence of the latrine, the general dirt of living half underground and being unable to wash or change for days or weeks at a time created conditions of severe health risk (and that is not counting the military risks). Vermin including rats and lice were very numerous; disease was spread both by them, and by the maggots and flies that thrived on the nearby remains of decomposing human and animal corpses. This is supported in source 7 where it illustrates the troops “suffered from typhoid caused by lice and were liable to get fungal infection known as trench foot in the frequently wet, muddy conditions.” This supports the view that the British soldier’s life in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War was one of unbroken horror. Troops in the trenches were also subjected to the weather: the winter of 1916-1917 in France and Flanders was the coldest in living memory; the trenches flooded in the wet, sometimes to waist height, whenever it rained. Men suffered from exposure, frostbite, trench foot (a wasting disease of the flesh caused by the foot being wet and cold, constrained into boots and puttees, for days on end, that would cripple a man), and many diseases brought on or made worse by living in such a way. This is supported in source 7 where it states the men were in “wet, muddy conditions”. This surprisingly backed up by Source 9 (Argues the trenches were safe, “constructed for protection”) where it says “the mud that exists in our mental depictions of the Front was most common in Flanders”. However Source 9 contradicts its self by saying “the land tended to drain properly”. This gives a complete different perspective, but goes on to explain why. The reason is due to the” trenches passing through many kinds of terrain”. This explains the a cause for completely different accounts about the lives for the soldiers in the trenches and shows how the vast length of the trench line meant different areas had completely different weather and terrains.

Indeed, the Great War, a phrase coined even before it had begun, was expected to be a relatively short affair and, as with most wars, one of great movement. The First World War was typified however by its lack of movement, the years of stalemate exemplified on the Western Front from autumn 1914 until spring 1918. Source 8 helps to portray this as well where it says “the idea that was not stopping in the trenches for long”. The word “idea” in this quote implies the fact that this is what the generals wanted to happen but may have not actually happened. Source 8 goes on to say, “the result, in the long term, meant that we lived a mean and impoverished sort of existence in lousy scratch holes.” This shows, due to expectation of continues moving towards the Germans, the trenches were not well made or fortified and therefore not giving the men enough protection or comfortable living spaces. This however, is contradicted by Source 9 where it says how “casualties were low simply because men were in trenches.” And where it also quotes the trenches “were constructed for protection”. Not that there wasn't movement at all on the Western Front during 1914-18; the war began dramatically with sweeping advances by the Germans through Belgium and France heading for Paris. However stalemate and trench warfare soon set in, and the expected war of movement wasn't restored until towards the close of the war, although the line rippled as successes were achieved at a small level. Finally, no overview of trench life can avoid the aspect that instantly struck visitors to the lines: the appalling reek given off by numerous conflicting sources. Rotting carcases lay around in their thousands. For example, approximately 200,000 men were killed on the Somme battlefields, many of which lay in shallow graves. Overflowing latrines would similarly give off a most offensive stench. Men who had not been afforded the luxury of a bath in weeks or months would offer the pervading odour of dried sweat. The feet were generally accepted to give off the worst odour. Trenches would also smell of creosol or chloride of lime, used to stave off the constant threat of disease and infection. To add to this the smell of cordite, the lingering odour of poison gas, rotting sandbags, stagnant mud, cigarette smoke and cooking food. This is supported by Source 7, describing how the soldiers “had to share their dugouts and their food with disease ridden rats fattened on a plentiful supply of rotting corpses”. This portrays that the life in trenches was one of unbroken horror. It can be said that the trenches were clearly better than nothing, offering small amounts of protection at the least. However they clearly were not something they looked forward to with its “filthy conditions” stated in source 7. I feel the main difference between the sources which create the argument, is likely to be that the accounts are taken from different locations along the British front line as well the time of the year. As stated previously, the winter of 1916-1917 in France and Flanders was the coldest in living memory, where as other times of the year and different areas were not so bad. Moreover the trenches were a place of hell. Al though they offered protection for the troops, the conditions and living standards were terrible. Therefore, agreeing that the British soldier’s life in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War was one of unbroken horror.

Charlie Renouf

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