Forces Of Nature – Dealing With Weather In Trenches Of WW1
Trenches were dug into the ground to provide protection from small firearms and powerful enemy artillery. The nature of the trenches varies depending on the conditions of the area.
At places where the ground is easy to dig, the sides of the channels are strengthened with sandbags, wood, rocks or any suitable material. The holdup will prevent the sides from crumbling after the rains.
Boggy soils are not suitable for digging trenches as their water table is high. Instead, breastworks were constructed in such places with wood and sandbags.
Trenches which are usually about 18 inches deep and 6 inches wide were used in Russian-Japanese war and US civil war before the First World War. The trench battles of the Great War started in September 1914 and lasted for four years. Prior to this period, the armies fought wars of movement.
To hold their ground and protect themselves the armies dug the furrows. These trenches stretched about 400 miles from Switzerland and end at the North Sea. Trenches built in France ran through villages, towns, coal mines, industrial areas, farms, woods fields and even across rivers.
Though World War 1 was fought in almost all the continents, the trenches in Europe hosted most of the fierce battles. Besides the threat of sniper attacks and shelling, soldiers suffered from the weather conditions. The trenches are often filled with water when it rains. The water level can rise as high as waist-deep which can make navigation through the trench difficult. The mud baths formed were infested with insects and rodents which resulted in disease conditions.
Trench foot was the most popular ailment during the First World War. This condition was caused by prolonged exposure to cold air and moisture. The feet of the victims became red as a result of poor blood supply and swollen. They developed blisters and open sores. The infected feet when untreated produced an odor when they decay and this can lead to amputation.
The introduction of waterproof footwear and better drainage system improved the wet conditions in those trenches.
The weather still affected the trenches, even after the impact of rain has been alleviated. The winter months produced the most miserable conditions.
Many soldiers died as a result of exposure to extreme cold while some lost their toes and fingers. The trench temperature is usually below zero in winter and even worse at night when blankets and clothes also froze. Even water and food were not spared. The vehicles were also affected and the soldiers used heated water to revive them.
The 1916-17 winter season was regarded as the coldest. NCO Clifford Lane, that the soldiers at the front line suffered most during this period. They were not allowed to brew tea due to the proximity of their enemies. Even the tea sent to them from the communication trench became cold before it reaches their destination.
The summer season was better than the freezing winter. It came with heat and rain. Though it may get hot but it was preferred to the cold season.
Still, the troops had challenges in the muddy trenches. The dead bodies and the excreta produced a horrible stench within the trenches. Also, the soldiers suffered from lice infestation.