This was known as pyrrexhia or trench fever. The first symptoms were shooting pains in the shins and was followed by a very high fever" (Simkin). It was not a deadly disease, but stricken men could not fight. Trench fever affected thousands of soldiers, and so did trench foot.
Trench foot is one of the most common ailments of soldiers in the trenches. Their boots and socks were always wet and muddy, and this led to the condition called trench foot. The feet would become numb and turn red or blue, and in extreme cases, it could lead to gangrene and amputation of the foot. The feet would also swell, fester, and develop sores. Soldiers had to change their socks at least three times a day to control the disease, and after the armies understood how severe is was, soldiers in the trenches received extra socks as part of their gear (Simkin).
Rats in the trenches were also a huge problem. They were attracted by bits of food and bodies buried in the trenches, and they multiplied rapidly so they could take over a trench system in a matter of weeks. They grew increasingly large, and they would attack wounded men and feed on dead bodies. They carried disease, too, and they were a constant source of stress and fear in the trenches.
As can be imagined, feeding soldiers in the trenches was an ordeal. The food was often wet and inedible, and the German blockade of Great Britain created food shortages on the front lines. At one point, fighting men were only receiving about six ounces of meat a day, and in some areas, they only had meat on nine days during the month. Historian Simkin notes, "By the winter of 1916 flour was in such short supply that bread was being made with dried ground turnips. The main food was now a pea-soup with a few lumps of horsemeat. Kitchen staff became more and more dependent on local vegetables and also had to use weeds such as nettles in soups and stews" (Simkin). In addition, cooks only had two large kettles to cook all the meals and everything else, and sanitation was not the best, so food often tasted the same, or like something that had previously cooked in the kettles. Bread and biscuits were always stale by the time the reached the men, and the food was cooked far behind the battle lines, so it was always cold by the time the men got it (Simkin). Overall, food in the trenches was awful, and soldiers constantly complained about the quantity and quality of the food they received.
While the Americans did not openly consumer alcohol in the trenches, the British, German, and French armies did allot some amounts of alcohol to their soldiers. The British had rum, while the Germans and French enjoyed wine and brandy. A soldier remembers "In winter there was a ration of rum, one or two tablespoons per man; this was a strong, black spirit which was usually issued during the morning 'stand-to'; it was very welcome on a cold winter's morning" (Simkin). Most often, small amounts were allotted to the men in cold weather or after an offensive was completed (Simkin).
Many men wrote of their memories of the trenches. One historian quotes, "Primeval forms' are in among you, and No. 2 Post is reduced to a shambles, scuppered by the German raiding party, armed with Bowie knives, lead-weighted coshes, and Walther pistols. In a matter of minutes it is over. The raiding party is already melting into the darkness of no man's land" (Bell). Author C.S. Lewis remembers, "Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies... One walked in the trenches in thigh gumboots with water above the knee, and one remembers the icy stream welling up inside the boot when you punctured it on concealed barbed wire" (Simkin). Life in the trenches was terrible - so terrible that at least some soldiers shot themselves so they would be taken off the battle lines. These self-inflicted wounds (SIW) were punishable by court-martial and death, but no SIW soldiers were ever executed, they did however, serve time in diseases and conditions were bad, and the enemy shelling only made it worse. Another author notes, "[I]n trench warfare a small number of skills were used over and over, almost always with plenty of time to prepare, and with very specific guidance from commanders" (Grotelueschen 19). This means life in the trenches was extremely monotonous, too, with periods of boredom and lethargy followed by intense fighting. Life in the trenches was dangerous, difficult, and demanding, and for many soldiers, the inside of a trench was the last thing they would ever view.
Many of the major battles of World War I were fought in the trenches. Some of these battles include:
Mons - this was the first major battle of the war, fought in France with British and French forces facing the Germans in August 1914. The Germans were attempting to advance through France, and they had about 150,000 soldiers. Infantrymen fought the battle, and the Germans overpowered the Allied forces, forcing them to retreat. The first battle went to the Germans, and that did not make the Allies rejoice. Of course, it would be over two years before America joined the war, so most of the early battles did not include American forces.
The Battle of the Marne - this battle took place outside Paris on the Marne River, at the end of August 1914. The British and French Armies were still in retreat, and the French feared they would lose Paris to the Germans. The French Government fled the city, and about 500,000 residents left, as well. The Germans brought in two armies in an attempt to encircle Paris and take the city, but the British and French forces took advantage of German General von Kluck's massing his forces, which opened up a huge gap between German armies. They advanced into the gap and split the German forces, creating a line the Germans simply could not overcome. The Battle raged for three days, from September 6 thorough the 9, when the German Armies ordered a retreat. The Allied forces crossed the Marne but did not defeat the German Army. However, the Germans lost an estimated 250,000 men during the Battle. If the German Army had been defeated, the war might have been over, but the Allies did protect Paris.
The Battle of Verdun is one of the most memorable battles of the war. Another historian notes, "For France, 1916 will forever remain the year of Verdun. This enormous test of endurance -- the battle stretched from February to December 1916 -- produced staggering casualties and unimaginable suffering" (Cox 63). The Battle began on February 21, 1916, and raged until the end of the year. The Germans attacked the French city with an estimated one million men, to the French forces 200,000. The French retreated twice until they were in their third line of trenches less than eight miles from the city. The French strengthened their forces, while the Germans slowly reduced theirs. There were attacks throughout the spring and into June, with the French holding their ground. By November, the French were strong enough to counter-attack, and they gained back to of their forts. The longest battle of the war finally ended on December 18, with the French losing about 550,000 men to the battle.
The Battle of Somme involved British and French forces and the British used the battle to divert German soldiers from the Battle of Verdun. Somme lasted from July 1, 1916 through November 1916, and it did divert German forces. The French and British forces continually attacked the Germans throughout that time, but the Germans had superior defensive positions and concrete bunkers, and the Allies could not force them out. They did gain some ground, but when the offensive was over in November, the Germans still held their position. Losses were heavy on all sides.
The third battle of Ypres, also called the Battle of Passchendaele, took place between July and November 1917. The Battle began in July 31, 1917, amid heavy rains that turned the battlefields into mud. The Germans held off the British attack, and British forces waited until September to attack again. Two attacks gained the British a ridge outside Ypres, and the Germans retaliated with mustard gas attacks. By November 6, the British and Canadian forces captured the town of Passchendaele and the Battle finally ended. However, by the time it ended, the area had ceased to mean anything strategic and British…
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