A Soldier's Life in World War I

By Paige Henry


Every soldier had a different training experience for World War I. Their experience depended on when they joined the army, what unit they were put in, where they were stationed, and how quickly they were able to adapt to their surroundings. First, soldiers in all armies were put through three months of basic training. Basic training built up muscle, taught people how to be disciplined, and taught them how to follow orders. A typical day usually began with a trumpet call to wake the soldiers at 5.30 a.m. They then made their beds correctly and cleaned their rooms. At 6:30 they would march for an hour and a half to work on their athleticism. After breakfast at 8:00, the morning was spent drilling formations and turns. Sometime between 12:15 and 2:00 p.m. soldiers had lunch before returning for more drill work in the afternoon until around 4:15. After a few weeks of this schedule, training became more advanced. Soldiers learned the basic movements of the battlefield, night operations, and marching. Later on, they learned how to correctly use weapons, as well as dig trenches.

Below: A picture of soldiers training to fight in World War I

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Daily Life

For the soldiers enlisted in World War I, fighting wasn't as common as someone might think. Most soldiers spent their time keeping those on the frontline supplied. The troops were often rotated to make sure that time spent on the battlefield was balanced with rest and visits home. Even when supposedly "at rest," soldiers could still find themselves doing exhausting work. In addition to dealing with general military business, they were expected to know tactical instructions, and to attend training courses. Officers were excused from manual labor but were tasked with a lot of paperwork.

Trench Warfare

One new battle tactic that was introduced in World War I was Trench Warfare. This was when soldiers were required to dig trenches that would protect them from enemy shots and allow them to fire back without putting themselves in direct danger. Men that were required to "go over the top," had to climb out of the trenches with their weapons, and move through networks of barbed wire. They wanted to reach the enemy's front line, and use rifles or bayonets to attack them directly. This strategy was often unsuccessful and caused extremely high casualty numbers. Usually, attackers suffered higher casualties than the defenders did, as they had more protection than the attackers.

Defenders were stationed in their trench and shot at the enemy that was pursuing them. It was important that all of the defending soldiers stayed down low because otherwise there was a large possibility of them getting shot.

Below: A picture of what a typical trench looked like

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New Technology

Millions of men and women were sent to fight away from home for months, or even years at a time. These soldiers also faced some of the harshest forms of warfare ever known. Because of these developments, they had to deal with a series of physically and emotionally scarring experiences. Technological advancements during the time period made machine guns remarkable weapons. Machine guns were able to fire off more rounds than ever before. The use of poison gas began in 1915, and the use of tanks in 1916. All of these tools were more effective, therefore causing mass casualties.

Things of Importance

Time away from the frontlines did offer the opportunity for soldiers to get clean. Baths would be set up and clothing that contained lice would be steam-cleaned. Something that was even more important to soldiers than cleanliness was food. Germany and Austria-Hungary made a large effort to keep their troops fed. Even if soldiers could find food, it was almost always less than desirable. If troops couldn't find food, they often starved to death. Tobacco was also a key part of most European soldier's lives. Pipes or cigarettes offered a calming comfort that people needed during battles. Communication with home was another valuable thing to the servicemen. Letters from friends and family kept soldiers in touch with the life that they used to live. Writing home could also be mentally healing for some soldiers.

Below: An example of a letter to a soldier in France from his father

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Recreational Activities

Although fighting in the War was a very serious job, many soldiers looked for any opportunity for recreation when out of the line. Card games were often played, such as the German soldier’s favorite "Skat," or gambling games like "Crown and Anchor," which was played by the British. British soldiers also enjoyed playing the game of football. Football was a very organized game that many people played when they had the chance. Soldiers were often seen holding their own competitions, some of being held to sharpen military skills. The British Tank Corps even held tank races to improve abilities.


My Reaction

I believe that soldiers in World War I had to deal with very harsh conditions that were both mentally and physically scarring. Not only were they forced to be away from home and their family members, but they risked their lives everyday to protect their countries. Soldiers faced starvation, disease, death, the loss of captains, leaders, and friends. They had to attempt to deal with new technology, such as machine guns, tanks, and poisonous gas. They were at war constantly for months, years, almost never getting a true break. I know that I definitely could not have handled this grueling job, especially under the conditions that the World War I troops were forced to survive in. I applaud their courage and bravery, and am inspired by what they did to defend their countries.

Works Cited

Ewing, Harris &. Soldiers Training for World War I. 1917. American Legacy, United States.

Jensen, Les. "WWI: Life on the Western Front." WWI: Life on the Western Front. NcPedia.org, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.

Jonathan Boff, Paul Cornish, and Vanda Wilcox. "Life as a Soldier." The British Library. British Library - the United Kingdom, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.

Letter to Fred in France from His Dad. April 1915. Frederick George Ainge, n.p.

"Life in a Trench Video." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.

"Life on the Front Line." BBC News. BBC, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.

Soldiers Fighting from a Trench. N.d. Ducksters.com, n.p.