Life on the front line

Two soldiers in flooded trench Two British soldiers standing in a flooded communication trench during World War One

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On the Western Front, the war was fought in trenches.

Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers lived all day and night.

Interactive trench

An illustrated trench scene

Explore an interactive trench and find out what life was like for soldiers on the front line.

There were many lines of German trenches on one side and many lines of Allied trenches on the other.

In the middle, was no man's land, so-called because it did not belong to either army. Soldiers crossed No Man's Land when they wanted to attack the other side.

Rest

Soldiers in the trenches did not get much sleep. When they did, it was in the afternoon during daylight and at night only for an hour at a time. They were woken up at different times, either to complete one of their daily chores or to fight. During rest time, they wrote letters and sometimes played card games.

Dirty trenches

The trenches could be very muddy and smelly. There were many dead bodies buried nearby and the latrines (toilets) sometimes overflowed into the trenches. Millions of rats infested the trenches and some grew as big as cats. There was also a big problem with lice that tormented the soldiers on a daily basis.

A typical day in the trenches:
  • 5am - 'Stand-to' (short for 'Stand-to-Arms', meaning to be on high-alert for enemy attack) half an hour before daylight
  • 5.30am - Rum ration
  • 6am - Stand-to half an hour after daylight
  • 7am - Breakfast (usually bacon and tea)
  • After 8am - Clean themselves, clean weapons, tidy trench

Hear from veteran Tommies

Soldier on watch while others rest
  • Noon - Dinner
  • After dinner - Sleep and downtime (one man per ten on duty)
  • 5pm - Tea
  • 6pm - Stand-to half an hour before dusk
  • 6.30pm - Stand-down half an hour after dusk
  • 6.30pm onwards - Work all night with some time for rest (patrols, digging trenches, putting up barbed wire, getting stores, replacement of unit of soldiers every five days)

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes and classroom ideas looking at life on the front line.

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