Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

Smile, Smile, Smile – The Daily Life of a WW1 Soldier

“Smile, Smile, Smile” is a bitter anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen.  The title of the poem is derived from a popular if Orwellian-logic military marching song.  Certainly, there was little to smile about when it comes to a World War 1 soldier’s day to day life.

Becoming a soldier was an admirable and honoured undertaking. Though tales of bravery and epic fights would be told to encourage enlisting, most men could not comprehend the change in lifestyle that was headed their way.

Life on the Front Lines

From these pictures it is obvious that marching and machinery were the common elements of life. Trudging through mud and walking until feet were blistered while trying to remain in something resembling a formation was a daily occurrence. Formations were important because they maintained order in the unit while also offering a level of protection.

With the imminent threat of being ordered to go over the top (the frightening prospect of pushing into ‘no man’s land’ to move toward the enemy), soldiers were sure to carry necessary weapons at all times. Soldiers also lived in fear of gas attacks so in addition to their weapons they would never be without their trusty gas masks.

Daily Dangers of The Great War

Mornings began with a stand to arms. Both allies and enemies alike knew the most advantageous time of day to attempt an attack would be in the morning. Because of this, both sides were extra cautious in the early morning hours, ensuring they had soldiers covering the camp during the early dawn. A similar requirement was in place for the blue hours of dusk. As snipers were utilized by both sides, the wrong movement could spell death. It would show the enemy where you were and would also jeopardize those in your immediate vicinity. Soldiers had to stay down below the trench line and this sometimes meant not stretching beyond a crouch. This sort of confinement, while causing physical limitations, also contributed to the severe boredom suffered by soldiers. If one were beside a friend or someone they could tell stories with it could help pass the day, but those who were less fortunate found that much of what they did was think about, and mourn, their home life.

Unwelcome Guests For The Germans and Allies Alike

Soldiers had to live in conditions most of us cannot fully comprehend. Not only would they have to worry about rats, but frogs were also a problem. Lice were rampant; though chemicals were used to kill them, eggs could remain in the folds of clothing or survive washing. Even when they thought eradication had been successful, new eggs would hatch and soldiers would continue to suffer severe itching and swelling. Lice also had the unfortunate effect of causing trench fever, an illness so severe that it would require recovery away from the front, often taking up to three months.

The stench of the trenches is something that those who survived would say was indescribable. There could be thousands of bodies decomposing in the immediate vicinity. The soldiers who were fortunate enough to not have met this fate were unwashed and their body excretions continued. Clothes were dirty, people remained unclean, and feet continued to be a large problem. Trench foot, a fungal infection caused by cold and wet feet, not only had the ability to debilitate a soldier but it also created a smell that was unmatched. The chloride of lime used to disinfect had the added benefit of causing negative smells as well.

The Best Medicine

If you look at the pictures, though, it can be seen that not all of trench life was about the suffering. There were moments where soldiers could pause, laugh and relax. Pictures were taken that would later be sent home, and soldiers would do their best to look happy and safe. The post came surprisingly often, allowing soldiers a means of connecting with their loved ones. In a bizarre twist, having chores to do such as cleaning weapons and machinery, cleaning dishes or participating in improving the camp life, could be a welcome reprieve.

Soldiers were not expected to be at the front continuously. The stress of remaining there for too long would make them ineffective. Because of this, there would be cycles of service where soldiers would spend time on the front, then switch to support, and then move into reserve. Soldiers would eagerly await these transfers and could expect up to two weeks off to visit family and friends during the year.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

A surprising reprieve from battle was the moments where tension between the allies and the enemies would decline. Armies are made of men and there was an understanding that the other side was not so different. When food was being brought in to either side, there were unspoken agreements to allow transport through. The same went for medics and for body collection. One of the most publicized impromptu ceasefires was the Christmas display on the Western Front, where soldiers from both sides put down their weapons for an unofficial ceasefire, sang for a number of hours, and shared drinks and cigarettes. Those same soldiers would begin fighting one another the following day.


World War 1 Daily Life of a Soldier Pictures