"I . . . saw war at its worst with the trench full of dead in all kinds of gruesome shapes." Recollections of Sergeant Anthony James Stacey
Newfoundland Regiment, 1960s
For the soldiers, life between bursts of fighting was often so routine it was boring. Chores were assigned, orders followed. You tried to stay fit and healthy, and made sure your equipment was in working order.
Trench life held some danger—night raids, snipers, shelling and the silent terror of poison gas. But combat brought far worse. Ear-shattering roaring, exploding ground and a driving rain of shrapnel. Shells and bullets ripped comrades apart. The odds of surviving unharmed were low. When the order came to go over the top, you followed it.
Staying in Fighting Shape
Routine army life happened away from the trenches, where bodies, clothes and gear were cleaned and made fit for more action. Every man had a rifle-cleaning kit for his Lee Enfield rifle. Parades and inspections boosted discipline and morale. By keeping busy, soldiers avoided dwelling on difficult experiences.
Trench life’s close quarters, dirty conditions and rats set the stage for dysentery, fever and infection. Cold water and mud caused “trench foot.” Men might carry personal wash bags, but keeping clean was almost impossible, no matter how many lice you picked off. Illness took many experienced soldiers from service.
Don’t Enlist for the Food
Trench meals were welcome diversions, but food was poor and predictable. It often featured bully beef (corned beef), hard biscuit and jam—and a daily rum ration at breakfast. Soldiers carried mess kits and canteens, and greatly looked forward to packages from home with food treats and tobacco.