Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

What Do Soldiers Of The Great War Do When Not Fighting?

It’s tough to imagine that soldiers living through The Great War had much thought or care of relaxing or, dare it be suggested, having fun, but the reality is times of great stress often demand leisure and entertainment. Soldiers from the war, even those on the front lines, needed to find ways to break the monotony of battle in order to create a peaceful balance to offset the chaos of conflict.

Trying To Have Some “Relaxation” At the Front

As can be imagined, there was less free time when soldiers were on the front line. Priorities included keeping one’s head down and not getting shot. Still, many soldiers would spend hours being pinned down in the trenches, needing some sort of reprieve from the excruciating task of waiting for something to happen. The majority of soldiers spent time playing cards, telling jokes, or singing songs –  things that could be done in closed quarters and with few resources.

Of course duties still needed to be observed. Soldiers would clean their weapons and maintain their living areas. They would delouse themselves and each other, an important part of maintaining comfort when stuck in such close proximity to one another.

Reading, Writing, Music, And Rest For The Weary Soldier

Some soldiers on the front were fortunate enough to have families who could send them British newspapers, and many were gracious enough to share. A paper could be passed along for weeks, allowing all of the men a chance to catch up on the news back home. As the post came frequently, men would read and re-read letters from home, writing responses if they were able. These pictures show men holding notes and papers, activities that could be used to pass away the time.   They wrote and performed songs and poems to break the boredom. Joke telling was a cherished language.

Formal concerts and parties were organized by superiors and became an important element of helping to boost morale. Soldiers who were musicians within the ranks were encouraged to perform for others during periods of rest; skits and vaudeville acts were amongst some of the best-loved fare.

Away From The Front Lines = Forget All Your Troubles

Down time, and the ability to lead slightly more interesting lives, increased when soldiers would move from the front line to the reserve. Periods of time where the cycle allowed men to leave the embattled front were not wasted. As there was more space and less fear of compromising their position, soldiers could play more intricate games that required physical elements like chess and checkers.

When on reserve, even chores could be a reprieve from the previous weeks on the front. Cooking, cleaning and laundry were welcome tasks that could make a man feel human again. As there was considerably less danger, there was greater freedom. Those who were fortunate enough to be close to bodies of water whittled away the time by enjoying water sports. As can be seen in these pictures, some swam and some fished. The fishing served a double purpose of taking one’s mind off of the war while also bringing fresh food to the table.

Fishing wasn’t the only sport that was enjoyed on “down” time. The men loved to gather and play the sports of home – football, kickball and particularly baseball. Makeshift diamonds or playing fields were defined and the men played on teams. This allowed the soldiers to relax, to get some exercise, and to feel a joy that could help buffer the stress of knowing that the cycle would soon take them back to the front.

Exploring And Travelling Is Part Of The Officer’s Experience

Freedom came in other forms, as well. There were tents set in place by the YMCA to give soldiers a place where they could gather, sit at tables, and simply just relax. Soldiers were allowed to visit the ruins or sights of nearby towns when leaves were granted. Soldiers were also given up to two weeks a year in leave where they could be granted permission to, essentially, go on holiday.

Though Canadian soldiers were not able to return to Canada because of the long trek, they were able to visit Great Britain or cities such as Paris. Some men would be billeted in homes while others would stay at hotels. Many would take this free time and go see the sights, go to clubs and go out drinking.

There were many instances of sexual encounters, and more than one soldier would find love, or at least love for the night. Many men would father children out of wedlock, and some would choose to marry the partners. By the end of the war, it was estimated there were as many as 15,000 war brides and children who would later come to Canada. Such activity suggests that leisure time was very much enjoyed.