Combat

"This war is never going to be over. I don’t . . . suppose I got to spend another winter out here [in the trenches]." Private Allan S. Young, Newfoundland Regiment, to his aunt
Published in the Twillingate Sun, October 19th, 1917

What had started as an adventure had become something far more demanding and deadly. Battles ended—but new ones began. Men were wounded and killed, replacements arrived, more men were wounded and killed.

The Great War ground on relentlessly, always calling for more. More people, more training, more support, more sacrifice.

Meeting all the demands tested everyone’s commitment, endurance and courage. While pride in achievements grew, so did the understanding and questioning of war’s real cost.

Yet people continued to send support and sign on to help the cause. For many, war was now a way of life.

Tools of War

Trench life was dangerous. Shells burst overhead and snipers were always looking for targets. Soldiers could never relax. On patrol or in battle, they carried specialized weapons and gear: grenades, rifles, bayonets, barbed wire cutters—even clubs for when combat was hand-to-hand.

Reporting on Enemy Activities

Knowing what the enemy was doing or planning was critical for safety but very dangerous work. Most intelligence gathering was done at night by patrolling troops or lone hidden listeners. Information was shared many ways: using trench telephones, wireless sets, signal flags and lights or simply by running messages.

Firepower

For British troops, a mainstay of trench defence was the Lewis Machine Gun. Supported by a crew of eight, it fired more than 500 rounds a minute. It was also easy to move, weighing only 12 kilograms (26 pounds). Soldiers carried a rifle, too, and wore a cartridge belt loaded with ammunition.

Living Underground

On the front lines, trenches and dugouts were safe places—but comforts were few. Hundreds of men shared little space. Rats, lice and filth were constants, as were maintenance chores and the need for caution. Any light could attract enemy fire, so soldiers used special trench lanterns and headlamps.

Wounded in a Battle Zone

Quick action was vital when men were injured. Wounded men applied their own field dressings, if able. Medics would rescue and treat the fallen—identifying the badly injured by their dog tags—and send them to casualty clearing stations. Hospital ships later took them to the UK, where most recovered.

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