First World War trench environment

PAIU2007.077.18 Communications in the First World War trench environment in the Discovery ZonePAIU2007.077.18

This environment represents the Western Front in France, where Australian soldiers served from 1916 to 1918. This area was cold, wet and muddy. There was little or no privacy to sleep or wash. Food was not very nutritious and was prepared amid flies in summer, or rain and mud in winter. Food rations were usually salted tinned beef, hard tack biscuits, jam and tea. Water would pool in the base of the trenches and mud was everywhere, often hiding dead bodies for many years.

Conditions

Living in the trenches was unsafe and unsanitary, the conditions were cold, wet and muddy, common problems affecting men included ‘trench foot’ and lice infestations. Men would often have pests, such as rats, living in cramped trenches with them, and the men would not have any privacy.

E00455 An Australian soldier sleeping in his trench shelter. France, 1917 E00455
E00081 Australian ambulance men assisting their comrades, who are suffering from trench feet, France 1916. E00081

Food

Each man was given daily rations, rations lacked nutrition and were not the nicest food. Tinned “bully’ beef, hard tack biscuits, jam and tea were among the main rations issued to the men.

E00232Australian soldiers enjoying a hot meal in the trenches. To carry the hot stew and tea, petrol tins and hot food containers were used, France 1917. E00232

Uniform

Australians wore tunics and trousers made of wool, the uniforms looked the same as the uniforms the British soldiers wore. The helmet worn was a British issue helmet. To keep the men warm in the cold conditions men were also issued a great coat (similar to a large woollen trench coat)

EZ0051An Australian soldier models the type of gas mask used in the trenches, France 1916. EZ0051

Technology

During the war many new weapons and techniques were being developed. Machine guns and artillery were widely used on the Western Front, as was gas and barbed wire. Periscope rifles were used to fire on the enemy but avoid return fire. Tanks were being used to push down barbed wire fences. Animals such as horses served to carry men and supplies into battle. Pigeons and dogs were widely used for communication.

EZ0007 The soldier in the forground is looking through a periscope; the man to his left is holding a Lewis machine gun, France 1916. EZ0007