Peoples, Nations, Events

Memories from the trenches

Memories from the trenches

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The memories of soldiers who fought in the trenches in World War One are a fascinating source about life in the war. Primary source memories from World War One have given historians a vast resource to use.

“Whilst asleep during the night, we were frequently awakened by rats running over us. When this happened too often for my liking, I would lie on my back and wait for a rat to linger on my legs; then violently heave my legs upwards, throwing the rat into the air. Occasionally, I would hear a grunt when the rat landed on a fellow victim.” (R L Venables)

“If you have never had trench foot described to you, I will explain. Your feet swell to two to three times their normal size and go completely dead. You can stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are lucky enough not to lose your feet and the swelling starts to go down, it is then that the most indescribable agony begins. I have heard men cry and scream with pain and many have had to have their feet and legs amputated. I was one of the lucky ones, but one more day in that trench and it may have been too late.” (Harry Roberts)

“The water in the trenches through which we waded was alive with a multitude of swimming frogs. Red slugs crawled up the side of the trenches and strange beetles with dangerous looking horns wriggled along dry ledges and invaded the dugouts, in search of the lice that infested them.” (unknown journalist)

“To get a 'cushy' one is all the old hands think about. A bloke in the Camerons wanted a 'cushy' bad! Fed up and far from home he was. He puts his finger over the top and gets his trigger finger taken off and two more besides. “I'm off to bonny Scotland!” he says laughing. But on the way down to the dressing station, he forgets to stoop low where an old sniper is working. He gets it through the head.” (Robert Graves)

“We slept in our clothes and cut our hair short so that it would tuck inside our caps. Dressing simply meant putting on our boots. There were times when we had to scrape the lice off with the blunt edge of a knife and our underclothes stuck to us. “ (Elizabeth de T'Serclaes - a nurse on the front line)

“No 1… 2 Private A B; the Battalion (Pioneers) South Staffordshire Regiment was tried by FGCM on the following charges: “Misbehaving in such a manner as to show cowardice”. The accused, when proceeding with a party for work in the trenches, ran away owing to the bursting of a shell and did not rejoin the party. The sentence of the court was to suffer death by being shot.”

“We must looked out for our bread. The rats have become much more numerous lately because the trenches are no longer in good condition. The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat - the kind we call corpse-rats. They have shocking, evil, naked faces, and it is nauseating to see their long, nude tails.”Erich Maria Remarque