Life in the Trenches

The trenches of the First World War

The development of the trench system, and the soldiers’ experience.

Second Battle of Ypres

First large-scale gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

A description of the first large-scale use of poison gas in WW1 that marked the start of the Second Battle of Ypres.

Conditions for generals in WW1

Sarcastic account of conditions for generals in WW1 by a dispatch rider

This newspaper cutting from The Times on 20th November 1914 can be useful source for revealing attitudes of some regular soldiers towards their commanding officers. While not directly critical, the writer’s final sentence contains some evident sarcasm!

A Cambridge undergraduate, who is acting as a motorcycle dispatch-rider, sends home the following account of his experiences after being wounded:-

I was pushing off the next field, when four big shrapnel shells burst near by, searching for a battery, but all they found was my left foot, which got in the way of a piece. I was very annoyed about it for the moment, but by the time I had hobbled a mile and a half, and found the destination of the message I carried, I was resigned to my fate. A pal of mine cut my boot off and put a field dressing round my foot, and the kind-hearted old general let his car carry me off to a field ambulance. It’s rotten for generals out there, you know; they get worried stiff – poor old chaps, and get loads and loads of responsibility and anxiety and have to sit about all day in cold, damp ditches and splinter-proof shelters, and fume and scheme, and feed on bread and chicken and ham paste and sardines.

Download a copy of the original cutting here.

The Christmas Truce including an interview with a survivor

Christmas Football match

The Christmas Truce and Britain vs. Germany football match

The Horrible Histories account of the Christmas Truce and a fictional account of a football match in No Man’s Land.  For ideas on how to teach the Christmas Truce and the idea of WW1 football, please see this comprehension lesson outline and set of resource.

Winter in the trenches and trench food

Battle of the Somme

The end of the Battle of the Somme

On the 18th November 1916, the Battle of the Somme ended when German troops retired from the final large British attack at the Battle of the Ancre amid worsening weather. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig called a halt to the operation, claiming the Somme offensive to have been successful.

By the end of the battle the Allies had advanced more than 6 miles into German-held territory, and as well as refining their use of aircraft had also introduced the tank for the first time. In his dispatch from the front, Haig stated at the end of the battle that “Verdun had been relieved; the main German forces had been held on the Western front; and the enemy’s strength had been very considerably worn down.” He then went on to say that “any one of these three results is in itself sufficient to justify the Somme battle.”

However, the Somme offensive and its enormous number of casualties that totalled more than a million men on both sides has drawn criticism ever since. For example Lloyd George, a fierce critic of Haig, wrote in his War Diaries that “over 400,000 of our men fell in this bullheaded fight and the slaughter amongst our young officers was appalling.”

German losses were also significant, however, and some historians have since claimed that the battle left Germany unable to replace its casualties like-for-like, which contributed to their ultimate defeat through a war of attrition. However it was to be another two years before the war finally ended, after Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne on the 11th November 1918.