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Understanding The Importance of Trenches in World War I

  • Subject: War
  • Essay Topic: Trench Warfare
  • Pages: 8
  • Words: 3566
  • Published: 11 December 2018
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World War I had claimed many lives and was a great tragedy; the reason the war had started was because most of the other European countries had great empires consisting of many other countries. However Belgium did not have anything to do with these great empires instead she opted out of any wars and any political fights, so she became a neutral country. Even though she had refused to fight, Belgium helped the wounded and anyone who sought medical aid. Whilst the rest of the European countries were making their empires stronger and larger over time, Germany, in 1889 realised that they didn’t have such a huge empire as Britain and the other countries did. Germany’s new monarch was overwhelmingly jealous, so Germany had quickly become a hard working, wealthy and orderly nation. Even though Wilhelm II had great plans for Germany there were not many good land spaces left to conquer. His confidence and invasiveness made other world leaders feel uneasy and they felt that they had to try and protect their great empires. Basically Germany invaded Belgium and Britain thought that it was not fair to invade a neutral country so they went out a place in France called the Somme. There was a river nearby named the Somme. This was known as ‘The Great War’ because it was not only great in the fact that it lasted 4 years and used loads of ammunition, it was also called that because so many lives were taken and so many people suffered because of the huge effect it had on them and their family. The effects of ‘The Great War’ were devastating, most of the children sent out to fight in the war killed and horrible mutilated. All because they were ardent for some desperate glory. They had been enticed by the old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. Which means; It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country. There were many effects of World War I e.g. Women had to look after and work for the country because the men were fighting and die for their country, families were torn apart with the loss of family members from the war and the mental and physical illnesses that the men came back wreck there whole life.

The Effects, During World War I 1914-1918, of Trench Warfare on the Western Front

After the battle of the Marne in September, the German retreated. The German Commander, General Falkenhayn said to his men that they would have to dig trenches; this he said would protect them from the British and the French. The soldiers dug and dug creating furrows in the ground. In a few months the news spread to the Swiss frontier near the North sea. These trenches were so long that they stretched all the way from the North sea to the Alps. The trenches were not dug out in straight lines because if someone from the enemy made it to the trench they could just shoot straight, then this would result in many men being fired at. The front side of the trenches were called the Parapet and the backside was called the Parados. Gradually on both sides of no mans land there were trenches dug out into the clay mud. But because the Germans had thought of this new idea to dig trenches into the ground they had first pick of the where they wanted to dig their trenches, and obviously they chose the higher and less muddy ground to place these trenches. So the British were left with lower ground that got extremely muddy and wet when it rained. The muddy puddles that were on no mans land were so dangerous that there had numerous accounts of men being swallowed up by the octopus like mud. Once men had fallen in, there was no help for them they would have had a slow death. The German were far more sophisticated than the British’s trenches, they had cement wall and a new type of barbed wire. The cement they used was actually imported in from Britain in Rugby.

The barbed wire they used was much better than the British barbed wire, it was stronger and there were much more spikes. By 1915 both sides were living and fighting in the trenches. Thus starting ‘Trench War Fare’. Trench warfare was when both sides were fighting it out from there trenches. It had all started because the Schlieffen failed and when wrong. Alfred Von Schlieffen devised the Schlieffen plan. He had calculated it all by 1905, he had made this plan so that his army would be able to defeat France and Russia on two different fighting fronts and most importantly he wouldn’t have to split his army. His plan was to send his army at quite a fast speed then they would have been unprepared for the attack, so then they would have been expect to surrender in less than six weeks. After the whole army would be transferred by railway to Russia before the Russians had time to gather up ammunition and mobile their soldiers. Alfred Von Schlieffen’s plan was a work of art, however several ideas that made this ingenious plan proved to be incorrect. When the Russians found out that they were going to be attacked they mobilised their soldiers, the German were still required to attack France first because they had to follow the Schlieffen plan. The next flaw in the plan was that Schlieffen didn’t take into account that if France were attacked Russia would help them. So then Germany was stuck, the Russian soldiers had reached to were the Germans were and the Germans had to fight France and Russia at the same time. Finally the last defect in the plan was that because Germany had sent ammunition, soldiers and equipment to Belgium (which was a neutral country) at speed to save time, this had broken Belgium’s neutrality. Britain had said in 1839 that they would protect Belgium’s neutrality, so by the time Schlieffen had reached France Britain were already there and the war had begun. The main weakness of Schlieffen’s plan was that it was too rigid, he had left no room for the chance of a mistake in the plans and if they needed to change the train timetables it would have taken months.

Once the German army were moving, they couldn’t have been stopped. Conditions in the trenches were absolutely despicable. There was a continuous supply of water being filtered into the trenches by the rain, the soldiers would have been walking through these sodden trenches day and night their feet submerged in a shallow pool of water. This was not good for the soldiers this caused them to get trench foot; it was an infection of the feet caused by cold, wet and unsanitary conditions. The feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn red or blue. If untreated, trench foot could turn gangrenous and result in amputation. Another major problem for the soldiers were the rats. These nasty little vermin harboured many diseases like the Black Death and bubonic plague. Trench rats thrived literally in there millions among trenches in most Fronts of the war, rats would also crawl across the face of sleeping men. As they gorged themselves on food so they grew, with many rats reportedly growing to the size of cats. The rats attack and eat the eyes of a corpse first, rats would steadily work their way through the remainder of the body in a short space of time. As horrified as the soldiers were they had a small solution that wouldn’t over come the problem but would let them relieve a bit of stress. They attacked rats with bayonets and took pot shots at them, shooting at the rats was forbidden because the generals said that it was regarded as a pointless waste of ammunition. This was one of many problems that affected the valiant soldiers had to endure. There were worse problems like casualties and death. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme there over 57,000 British casualties and by November 1916 there had been as a total more than 1 and a quarter of a million men killed. The soldiers suffered mental and physical casualties. The constant closeness to machine guns and shell launchers made some men get a mental illness known a shell shock. Early symptoms of Shell shock 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 doctors at military hospitals came to the conclusion that the soldiers’ condition was caused by the enemy’s heavy artillery. These doctors argued that a bursting shell created some sort of disturbance with their brains and caused it to not function properly. I think that the whole idea of war and actually fighting in it was traumatic enough and with all these other things going on would have made it a living nightmare. If the general came across an incident like this they would have that the man would have just been scared of the artillery and that they were trying to get out of fighting, so they probably would have been shot as an example to his fellow comrades. Some soldiers were shown as an example to rest of the soldiers, a soldier that had done something that the general thought was a crime would have been either tied to a post or chair and shot by several men. The general would first tell the men who were going to shoot the ‘convict’ to face the other way or go somewhere else while he would take out all the bullets from the guns and put some in only a couple of the guns.

Then he would ask them to come back and pick up there guns. The soldier who was going to be shot would have been blind folded and who have had a white piece of cloth pinned to his heart as a target for the soldiers with guns to shoot at. The reason the general swapped the bullets around was that some would have shot blanks and other would have actually shot the soldier, they wouldn’t have known who had shot him and who was to blame. The notorious General Haig was responsible for most, if not all the shootings of the innocent soldiers, he was know as ‘The Butcher’. But the physical effects of battling in the Great War were far more devastating and far more gruesome. The bombshells I think killed more soldiers than any other life threatening objects did. These bombs caused death, they caused the soldiers become crippled and even blinded by the explosions of these terrible and murderous weapons. I also think all the weapons were a destructive as each other. The gas bombs, without a gas mask to protect your breathing were deadly. If you were unlucky enough to be without a gas mask when a gas bomb went off, you would have felt as if your lungs were being ripping apart inside you and that your nostril were on fire. The Great War was a traumatic and distressing time for all the British people. Everyone was affected in one or another, especially the brave soldiers that were sent out to protect and fight for their country. The young boys went into the army full of patriotism and idealism, then gradually as time went by and they watched their best friend get blown apart by a bomb, their morale would have become low and they would have probably wished they had never joined such a wretched army. The German general, General. Ludendorf knew that the British soldiers were courageous that he once said “They are but brave hearted lions led by donkeys”. There were many other reasons why the soldiers’ morale was low, but another reason I think contributed more to the depressing ness of army life was the location in which they were at. There were two locations in which the British army fought and they were Marne and a place near the river Somme, they were both in France. The area structure was not to bad at the battle of Marne, but at the Battle of the Somme the British couldn’t have chosen a worse place to root and fight from. In the winter month of November it rained so much that the war had to be postponed for a while until the British soldiers could mobilise through he muddy lands of France. Soldiers were being caught in the muddy pits and being pulled downwards into the stodgy abyss. So I think that place in which the war was situated played a vital role in the effects that the war had on most of the young soldiers.

The effects were devastating on the front line of The Great War, so those effects changed life in Britain for everyone. The men that didn’t go and fight in the war were sent a white feather from neighbours and other people that might have lived on their road. They thought why should the men in our family suffer in the war while he is just at home. So life in the 1900’s were very different life in the 21st century. The young boys that felt very patriotic signed up to be recruited in the army in there thousands, but others didn’t feel the same idealism as those young boys did. If men of the right age and health could fight in the war, but didn’t want to it would have been hard luck. They would have been a conscription law in place to force those into fighting in World War I. Propaganda played a vital role in getting men to go to recruitment booths and signing themselves up to join the army. The propaganda had made adverts assuring the young men of the time to enlist and that it was for your king and country. Some adverts emphasised on the fact that most men were out of employment and joining the army would give them good wages and a good pension for the wife and children. But one advert made men who had children recruit really fast. What it had on it was a picture of a man sitting in an armchair, his daughter reading a book on the Great War and his son playing on the floor with some toy soldiers. At the bottom of the poster is question “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?”. So obviously this was making men think that their children would have been proud of their farther fighting in the war. But one thing it doesn’t mention in the poster is that there was the huge odd of you never returning from battling in the war! These adverts were put all over the place like on the streets, in the newspaper and adverts in voice form to entice the listener to join the army. There had been, before the war big demonstrations by quite a lot of women across the country trying to gain the right to vote. But when the war had started women had realised that now was there time to shine and show the men that could run a country and not just cook and clean. So with most men out fighting in the Great War, the women were greatly affect by the men battling in World War I because they had to do all the jobs the men did. Some women worked in town and other worked on the land. They were known as the ‘Land Army’.

They looked after all the agricultural duties the men used to do. In the towns women worked in coke and coalmines and factories. They had to carry heavy sacks of the stuff, the men had greatly underestimated the women potential of doing other jobs besides doing household chores. Women took over the majority of work on the farms and kept the country afloat. The role they played of supporting the soldiers was fundamental in the war effort and actively encouraged by the government. Everyone had to do their bit the help the country get through this very difficult time. Women did a variety of jobs, such as filling bombshells with explosives and working in the munitions factories. The side effects of this type of work however, left many women with skin conditions. Allergic reactions to explosives were commonplace and many had bright orange faces. This was an allergy to the chemicals they were working with. Another danger with working with the explosives was that people accidentally using a match in the same area killed sometimes women. Also the radiation given off by the ingredients used for shell explosives made the women’s hair fall out. Women also took on the jobs as Policewomen, nurses for men hurt in the war. These nurses were known as ‘VAD nurses’. Before the outbreak of war some V.A.D. Nurses would do a short course to gain a certificate. The V.A.D. stood for (Voluntary Aid Detachment), V.A.D. workers became very active in the war effort, assisting as nurses or orderlies in hospitals at home and in all the major theatres of war.

The government before and during the war took over most of everything in Britain including people lives. After the DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) passed the government were given great powers that effected nearly everybody’s life. Here is a list of the thing that the government took over:

  • The coal mines were nationalised
  • The railways were taken over by the government
  • Newspapers, books and letters were censored in the army
  • British summer time was invented and clocks were put forward by one hour to save daylight
  • Food was rationed to overcome shortages
  • The opening hours for schools were shortened
  • The opening hours for selling beer was shortened
  • Beer was ordered to be water down to prevent drunkenness in the work place
  • The British national anthem was played after the theatre performances.

A famous historian name A.J.P. Taylor (Alan John Percivale Taylor) once said “Idealism perished on the Somme”. As I have explained in the previous paragraph, the young boys went in to the army full of idealism and patriotism but gradually that faded and they became depressed and some lost the will to live. Many poet from wartime were killed in the war, but because of their experiences of living on the front lines they had made some amazing poems. The moods of most of the poems are kind of dull and depressing, the poems tell me that life in the trenches were very boring and that the soldiers were a little happy when a shell was dropped near because then it gave them something to do.

This is a short extract from the poem Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. This proves that the soldiers didn’t have much to do, so when something did happen they were kind of excited. These word were wrote by a man called Rupert Brooke in 1914. this shows soldiers were very patriotic and that wherever they were a little bit of Britain stayed with them to.

Wartime poems I think are good because they give the reader and insight into the life of a soldier in the Great War and it helps us learn about the conditions the soldiers lived in and we kind of have the same experience of the poet has had but through the words they use in their poems. I think that the general of 21st century should read these and maybe they could learn from the their mistakes in the past. I hope that there will still be poets who create poems that lets the reader know what the life is like for soldiers in wars nowadays because there are quite a lot of poems from World War I it would be nice just to see a poem from the wars happening now, but I suppose its what give the war time poems there originality.

I think that from all the research I have done and all the things I have learnt about World War I, I have now kind of got some sort of picture in my head of what trench warfare was really like. The effects it had on the soldiers and people living in Britain were very traumatic. People said during and after the war that World War I was going to be the war to end all wars because they had never experience such effects of a war that was on such a huge scale as world War I was. But they were terribly mistaken, so I guess that the moral is you can tell when the wars are going to end because there are always going to be disputes between people and countries. My first idea of World War I was all it was about was a lot of men died and that’s about it, but gradually as I learnt more about it, I started to see that not only men died but as a country the whole of the nation was involved and that the soldiers couldn’t have won the war with out the help and support from their fellow peoples.

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Understanding The Importance of Trenches in World War I. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from
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