A day on the WWI front line
Soldiers in the British army would spend about 15 per cent of their active service on the front line and 40 per cent in the reserve trenches.
The average day on the front line would begin with a stand to. This would be around an hour before sunrise and involved all soldiers standing on the fire step, rifles ready and bayonets fixed. They would then begin the ‘morning hate’, firing their guns into the morning mist. This had the dual benefit of relieving tension and frustration, as well as helping to deter a possible dawn raid.
Breakfast would then be served, consisting of biscuits or bread and canned or salted meat. Following breakfast would be a period of chores. These could range from cleaning weapons and fetching rations to guard duty and trench maintenance. The latter would often involve repairing shell damage or trying to shore up the damp, underfoot conditions.
One of the main challenges in everyday trench life was the food. At the start of the war, each soldier received 283 grams (ten ounces) of meat and 227 grams (eight ounces) of vegetables per day. However, as the war wore on, the meat allowance reduced to 170 grams (six ounces) of meat and, if you weren’t on the front line, you only got meat on nine out of 30 days. Diets were bulked out with corned beef, biscuits and bread made of dried ground turnips. As the kitchens were so far behind the front line, it was nearly impossible to provide hot food to the troops at the front, unless the men pooled their resources and bought a primes stove to heat their food and make tea.
Other common meals included pea soup with horse meat and Maconochie, a weak soup containing sliced carrots and turnips.
As dusk fell, the soldiers would engage in an evening version of the morning hate. Essential tasks like repairing barbed wire and rotation of troops were done after dark, as the enemy was less likely to be able to launch an effective attack.
Guards would look out for night-time raids, with watches lasting no more than two hours. Off-duty men would try to snatch some precious sleep before the process began again. Falling asleep while on watch resulted in death by firing squad. Most of the men would sleep in hollowed-out sections of the trench or on the fire step.