Q: How long did soldiers spend at the front?
A: An individual soldier would spend only a few days a month at the front line with around 10-14 days in the trenches with his battalion. This was followed by a week in reserve spent in villages away from the fighting.
A: Routine inspections, sentry duty and repairing trench walls and hand pumping water were among the many tasks that soldiers carried out while in the trenches. Some passed the time singing, writing letters, keeping diaries and even creating trench art out of shell caskets. Censorship of all kinds was strictly enforced, with laws preventing soldiers from taking personal cameras to the front lines.
Yr 9-10 Activity :
1. Why do you think soldiers weren’t allowed cameras?
2. What impact might this have had on people’s perception of WW1 and the western front?
3. Do soldiers in contemporary conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq) have similar limits on their freedom of expression and why?
Q: What did soldiers do in their spare time?
was the endless rain
the ever and always mud
the dying and the dead.
sleeping upright on the fire-step
because the trench was flooded
and at daybreak
walking into the fire,
our own shells
that were to clear a path ahead
and then the snipers
picking us off
as we ducked between shell-holes
brains blasted, lungs blistered…
It was the endless rain
the ever and always mud
the dying and the dead
and the pain.
C.K. Stead, Poet Laurette (written for WW100 New Zealand)
Press play to hear the poem read
For more information about life in the trenches go to:
Damien Fenton, New Zealand and the First World War (Penguin, 2013, reprinted 2014)
Censorship: (N) The practice or policy of limiting or cutting out information in letters, books, films, etc. because it may threaten the war effort.
Desolation: (Adj) A quality of a place or situation which makes it seem empty and frightening.
Folly: (N) A way of behaving or action that is foolish.
A series of ditches hand dug into the ground to protect soldiers from enemy fire. Trenches were used from Gallipoli to the Western Front.
No man’s land was between the trenches and was described as 'the most deadly place' to be.
Lice, ticks and flies spread trench fever.
A soldier’s diet consisted of corned beef, jam, stew and hard biscuits.
Soldiers covered their faces with rags soaked in urine to protect themselves from poisonous gas.
Photo Album: Apart from the German uniform, the same sense of desolation, fear and appalling conditions are reflected in Kleinmann's photos. We sometimes forget that the effect of war is devastating on both sides.
Across No man's Land
It's often forgotten that the German Army lived and fought in exactly the same conditions as the Allies.
Yr 7-8 Activity
1. Look through this photo album of a German soldier Richard Kleinmann who fought at Passchendaele.
2. Can you find any distinguishing features that identify his photos as being from a German perspective? Read this
Click here to see more photos from Richard's extensive collection.
Life in the trenches
Trench warfare was a key tactic used in WW1. Find out more about what it was like in the trenches...
A. Read the following questions;
What is trench warfare and where did it develop?
Where were you if you were in no-man's land?
What spread trench fever?
Describe the diet of soldiers in the trenches.
Before the gas mask, how did soldiers protect themselves from poisonous gas?
B. Now watch the video and answer the questions.
C. Click here to find out if you were right.
In their boots
Yr 7 - 8 Activity
1. Using the words opposite, create a Pic Collage which expresses life in the trenches and the emotions soldiers may have felt in that environment.
2. Write a short poem (perhaps haiku or acrostic) using the themes of the words opposite. Feel free to add your own words.
Yr 9 - 10
1. Listen to the song, Hanging On The Old Barb Wire and discuss the themes behind the lyrics. Search for other songs sung during WW1... Do they have anything in common? What are soldiers' perspectives on the war?
2. Find a painting or image which illustrates CK Stead's poem Passchendaele and write an explanation about why you think it represents the themes of the poem.
Q: What was it like at night?
A: Soldiers spent sleepless nights in the trenches, as the constant noise of deafening bombs and artillery fire continued 24/7. Snipers and stray shells were deadly, especially in winter when the ground froze over and they were able to travel incredible distances. To add to this, there was the constant risk of gas attacks and random trench raids.