From The Archives

From the archive: A day in the trenches

An average day in a soldier’s life, April 1916

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

From ‘Observing: an average day’, The Spectator, 15 April 1916:

5.10 a.m. The signaller on duty at the telephone has just said cheerfully, ‘5.30, Sir.’ I agree, and ask him if the wires are all right. They are!

5.50 a.m. Unroll the mufflers round my head and the blankets and kick off the sandbags. Then get off the bed sideways into the water.


8.30 a.m. They have begun. Four ‘whizz-bangs’ have just burst very prettily over a communication trench to our right. Then silence again.

10.25 a.m. We have just had a little excitement. I suddenly saw a German — a rare thing — through the telescope.

2.15 p.m. They are shelling a trench on our left rather persistently, and the batteries behind have begun to retaliate. It is quite a ‘strafe’, so I ring up the battery and suggest joining in, and in about a minute the guns are reported ready on a wood which we know has enemy trenches in it and ought to be full of Germans.

3.30 p.m. One of those ‘crumps’ landed on a dug-out with eight men in it. A fluke shot of course. It is quite near, just a heap of wood and earth in the dull light. The signaller notices an arm and points it out, and I try to see and not to see at the same time. That must have been the scream we heard… We go off into the trench again.

5 p.m. It is pouring and the water is rising. We pretend not to notice. Have a pipe.

5.30 p.m. Deadly cold. Have another pipe.

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  • eoanthropus

    They’re British troops in the trenches.

    • Jabez Foodbotham

      They are certainly wearing British style helmets and puttees so they might be British or Commonwealth troops.

  • Father Todd Unctious

    Those are not German troops in the picture. Germans were better dug in. This looks like Canadians at Vimy

  • Ingmar Blessing

    What a terrible war. If it just never happened (or at least Germany fought on and won it at the end on the continent). Today the world would be looking so much better.

    No Versailles, no great depression, no ww2, no Holocaust, no cold war, no political Islam (the Ottoman reform generals would have stayed in charge of Arabia), the Shah today would be running a bikini empire, the whole decolonization might have gone more smoothly and Mao would have never gotten through in China. And also no hideous EU. We’d call it Habsburg and Wien is much nicer than Brussels anyway.

    The only war that definitively would have happened is the one between the Sowjet Union which was already in the making and Germany ending with a quick defeat for the Communists. Today Russia would have a reformed Zar.

    And that’s just the negatives that wouldn’t have happened. For example I don’t think the Prussians would have left the moon again, once entered. The place would be colonized by now.

    • Jack Rocks

      Don’t be silly.

    • Chamber Pot

      Perhaps as a work of fiction it could be really interesting and slightly better than Hitler winning WW2.

    • Stu

      Your simplistic view of what ‘wouldn’t happen’, or perhaps what wouldn’t have happened, makes no mention of the post WW2 need, or indeed greed for oil.

      The first coup d’état for the control of oil, Operation Ajax, instigated by Churchill and executed by the CIA set a precedent, and western need for oil is still the main reason for our ‘intervenions’ today – as I heard someone say in a documentary, “Do you think we’d have been in Iraq if their main export was broccoli?”

      Certainly there might have been some tragic conflicts avoided, but nothing was ever going to stand in the way of the United States need for oil, let alone our own.

      • Ingmar Blessing

        Some say, a reason for an Anglo-American interest in ww1 was the Bagdadbahn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baghdad_Railway

        The Reich intended to build a continuous rail-track from Berlin to Bagdad. This would have cut out quite a bite from the British sea supremacy. And since the German-Ottoman relations were good and the upcoming Diesel technology was mainly in German hands, it would have been a gigantic winner for the continent. But not so for Standard Oil and some interests in London, of course.

        • Stu

          Interesting, and with Germany’s ultimate goal in WW2 being the oil fields of Azerbaijan, that would have put them in a commanding position around Iran.

          • Ingmar Blessing

            The region was the go-to place, too back then. And not just for the oil, but also for theoretic Geo-strategic reasons: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/image/7125690-3×2-700×467.jpg

            Oil just made it more urgent.

            I wonder how things would have turned out in terms of strategic interests (both, ww1 and ww2) if they had known about Albania’s oil recourses, which are still hardly tapped. Apparently it’s ~3bn barrel, of which maybe 20% are easy to get to.

            Given a production of 300k barrel per day, that could have fueled the war machinery (or alternatively the civilian economy) for a whole 5 years.

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