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WW1 soldiers spent 'half their time' on the front line

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  • World War One
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image captionProf Grayson at Goldsmiths says his project marked a "radical departure" from traditional research methods

World War One (WW1) soldiers spent less than half their time on the front line, according to researchers.

A study led by Goldsmiths, University of London, found British army infantry troops spent less than 47% of their time on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

While there, they spent one in five days fighting directly with their enemy, researchers found.

They added trenches as shown in TV show Blackadder were "just not correct".

Around 27,000 volunteers helped contribute to the research.

image copyrightNational Archives
image captionThe cavalry spent 20% of their time at the front or fighting, according to information collected by war diaries posted online

Information was collected from war diaries posted online, via the Operation War Diary, and logged details such as place names and activities carried out, which Goldsmiths then analysed.

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image captionGoldsmiths University says it is 'just not the case' soldiers spent most of their time on the front line

Artillery soldiers spent 62% of their time either at the front or fighting on the Western Front, in France and Belgium, while the cavalry spent 20% of their time at the front or fighting, the study found.

Professor of 20th Century history at Goldsmiths Richard Grayson, who led the research, said a lot of the soldiers' time at the front was "quite quiet".

image captionBlackadder Goes Forth is set in 1917 on the Western Front

He added: "In terms of the popular perception, people imagine that soldiers spent most of their time at the front and that is just not the case.

"I'm a big fan of the BBC programme Blackadder and it does portray a lot of things accurately, but the idea that people were living in trenches all the time is just not correct."

Prof Grayson said the project was a "radical departure" from traditional methods where an academic sifts through documents without help - allowing data to be produced far more quickly.

The project was carried out with the help of the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum.

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