Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

World War One Doughboy Training For Dummies – Lite – Abridged Edition

While the title is entirely fictional, the point is clear – Soldier’s training consisted of the bare basic minimum which kept getting further “abridged” through the course of the War and the rising need for more troops to replace casualties.

The life of a soldier has never been easy. From training to combat, being a soldier has always meant being prepared for anything. Today, we are accustomed to rigorous testing and training requirements for all of our military personnel in order for them to earn this level of preparation – this ensures that our soldiers are prepared to withstand the elements, to engage in battle, and to apply strategy to their movements. Though lengthy periods of training and preparation are a benefit, they have been a luxury that has evolved only in recent years.

Populating a War

The Great War began as a war comprised of soldiers. Those who were soldiers before the war, or those who were early recruits, would have been trained for a minimum of 12 weeks and many beyond that point. Many soldiers would train at home, whether in Canada or England, and upon arrival at their station would continue with drills and training. Training would also occur when marching orders were being carried out, from one site to the next. This kept soldiers physically, mentally, and emotionally in shape while awaiting assignment.

As the war dragged on and many lives were lost, the need for more bodies to help fight the war grew and the reliance on volunteer or conscripted soldiers increased dramatically. These soldiers would have at most 6 weeks of training before being sent overseas, and in extreme cases a week or two before departing. Limited forms of training would be offered for those shipping to overseas destinations. Because of this variability, soldiers from the different countries could have very different levels of training and experience.

You show Promise, Young Man

In the beginning of the war, there was a desperate need to have leaders with experience. Officers who had previously served were pulled from retirement and given high positions of power. Soldiers who showed exceptional promise during training were offered lower level officer positions and they were tested early on in real-life battles.

Schools started offering programs called “Officer Training Corps” which helped soldiers who showed promise to rapidly ascend through the ranks. Still others who attended basic training but showed different skills were funnelled through special training; people could be recruited for the infantry, for cooking, for communications, or to become medics or engineers. The list of possibilities was endless. Those who were not pulled into specialized positions were likely to become soldiers on the front.

The ABC’s of War Preparation

Much like the military today, one of the basic tenets of serving was the understanding that those with authority must be obeyed. Listening to superiors was a soldier’s number one job; not doing this could mean certain death. Soldiers were taught humility in ways similar to today – drills, marching, and submissive mantras of “yes, sir”. Soldiers would be given physical tasks that had to be completed. Such drills taught them to listen attentively to Officers while also keeping them physically fit for battle.

Soldiers learned basic rifle and bayonet skills. Practicing the loading and shooting of weapons was a necessary component of training. Just as important as learning to shoot the weapon with accuracy and precision was the ability to wield the bayonet end for stabbing. As there was no telling when ammunition would run out and a soldier’s only defense would be the bayonet, this was taken very seriously. Soldiers were taught the basics of trench warfare, and were told about the general hazards of mortars, grenades, and other munitions being lobbed by the enemy.

Some Things Cannot be Described with Words…

Trench warfare. How difficult life could be in the trenches was described by many a trainer over the years but words alone could not prepare soldiers for the hell that was waiting. Though soldiers were taught about digging their own trenches to avoid shells and about the importance of trying to stay dry to avoid discomfort and illness, many were not prepared for staying in trenches for days at a time. Sometimes soldiers would be pinned down by gunfire, forced to stay in the trenches to wait out the rain or danger, and sometimes, terribly, they would be hunkered down in those trenches beside the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Many survivors would say that their real training wasn’t offered by the military itself. The only training that mattered in the end was that which was learned on the front – in knee deep mud, with broken bodies strewn through the fields, soaked to the bone with rain, with shells going off in all directions, and with little visibility and an approaching enemy.


World War I Army Training Photographs