The Trench

Life in the Trench:

How can we describe the image below? Consider the shape of the lines, the negative and positive spaces, the pock-marked surfaces.

Writers and Art from the Trench

How was it built?

A day in the trenches:

4:30 am The day began an hour before first light for the ritual “Stand to Arms.”

At full light, Stand down

Breakfast (rations were tea, bread, bacon, and often 2 tbsp of rum, to be consumed with tea, or straight)

Activity during the day: clean weapons, repair trench, write letters (of condolence and otherwise), delouse, sleep, deal with official inquiries from the runners, avoid being seen above the trench

Sunset : Evening stand-to

Wiring Parties, Digging parties, Carrying parties, Night patrols, Raiding parties (in No-Man’s land), Filling sandbags, Fortifying trenches.

By sunrise the next morning ,”nothing human was visible above ground anywhere, but everyday each side scrutinized the look of the other’s line for significant changes wrought by the night.”

What kind of impact did this have on twentieth century culture?

One of the more interesting arguments I’ve read about the cultural impact of WWI is Paul Fussell’s. He says:

I am saying that there seems to be one dominating form of modern understanding; that it is essentially ironic; and that it originates largely in the application of mind and memory to the events of the Great War. (35)



Blog Assignment (Due Wed, Dec. 8, 2010)

Find a single quotation from the textbook that addresses either the social, economic, artistic, religious, and political history of one of the following buildings:

20th Century: The Trench

Submit it below in a comment.

How it should look:

Title: The Trench, Political

“Quote from Big textbook” (McKay et al 555).


17 thoughts on “The Trench

  1. “For days and even weeks, ceaseless shelling by heavy artillery supposedly ‘softened up’ the enemy in a given area ( and also signaled the coming attack). Then Young draftees and their junior officers went ‘over the top’ of the trenches in frontal attacks on the enemy line.
    The cost of lives of this trench warfare was staggering, the gains in territory minuscule.” (McKay et al 703-704)

  2. The Trench: Political/Social

    “The cost in lives of trench warfare was staggering, the gains in territory minuscule. The massive French and British offensives during 1915 never gained more than 3 miles of blood-soaked earth from the enemy. In the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916, the British and French gained an insignificant 125 square miles at the cost of 600,000 dead or wounded, while the Germans lost 500,000 men. In that same year the unsuccessful German campaign against Verdun cost 700,000 lives on both sides. British poet poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) wrote of the Somme offensive, ‘I am staring at a sunlit picture of hell.'” (McKay et al 704)

    This is testament to the slow and dreadful nature in attrition warfare. This was caused by the superior advancement in firepower compared to the slow advancement in mobility. Such were the origins of trenches, that both sides would be dug in, unable to move and so fortified their positions to repel oncoming waves of enemies. Night raids to cut barbed wire, steal enemy supplies and capture prisoners were common but the main army moved very little from their “homes” known as trenches. Even the soldiers themselves saw little movement during the day (especially shell-shocked veterans) and it was extremely grim. The First World War had one of the highest chance of death out of all wars. This was because no-man’s land was a valley of death that shredded most who entered. Landmines, barbed wire coupled with machine guns and artillery did short work of the infantrymen before they could move far. Thus, every ounce of earth was paid in blood. Once an enemy position had been captured, it had to be held or months of warring would be vain. This made the officers very persistent in holding the line. Soon, people realized the cause of trench warfare and sought for ways to break the stalemate. This led to the invention of the tank. The “tank” was a massive mobile box of fortified plates, often armed with machine guns, which could move like a car due to its treads. This wasn’t much, but it was the start of mechanized warfare.

    This seems extremely comical when one compares it to the Second World War. This is because Adolf Hitler, having fought as an infantryman himself during WWI, frowned upon its atrocities (mainly the attrition and gasses, although mustard gas was still used for execution purposes). Thus, the German dictator focused on mecanized warfare and created the “Blitzkrieg”.

    P.S.: The British would find it rather funny if trenches were to be called “buildings” =P

  3. The Trench, Social

    Soldiers charge across a scarred battlefield and overrun an enemy trench. The dead defender on the right will fire no more. But this is only another futile charge that will yield much blood and little land. A whole generation is being decimated by the slaughter (McKay et al 704).

  4. The Trench- Political
    “In September 1918 British armies and their Arab allies rolled into Syria. This offensive culminated in the triumphal entry of Hussien’s son Fiasal into Damascus. Throught Syria and Iraq there was wild Arab rejoicing. Many patriots expected a large, unified Arab nation-state to rise from the dust of the Ottoman collapse” (705)

  5. The Trench, Social

    “When the Germans invaded Belgium in August 1914, everyone believed that their side would secure a swift victory: “The boys will be home by Christmas”. But German forces had been slowed by Belgian and British troops….by the end of August they were still making their way to Paris.” (McKay et al 703)

  6. The trench, Social

    ” Trench warfare shattered an entire generation of young men. Millions who could have provided political creativity and leadership after the war were forever missing. Moreover, those who lived through the slaughter were maimed, shellshoked, embittered, and profoundly disillusioned. The young soldiers went to war beliving in the world of their leaders and elders- the pre-1914 world of order, progress, and patriotism.” (Mackay 705)

  7. The Trench, Social

    ” We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off…. Still the little piece of convulsed earth in which we lie is held. We have yielded no more than a few hundred yards of it as a prize to the enemy. But on every yard there lies a dead man” (McKay et al 703)

  8. Trench Warfare, Economic

    “On September 6 the French attacked a gap in the German line at the Battle of the Marne. For three days, France threw everything into the attack. At one point, the French government desperately requisitioned all the taxis of Paris to rush reserves to the troops at the front. Finally, the Germans fell back. Paris and France had been saved.” (McKay et al 703)

  9. Miss Parr, I am confused because I do not know what pages in the mckay textbook we can find the information on the Trenches.

    • This is why textbooks have indexes. You can look under “trench” or “trench warfare” and it will tell you a series of pages where the textbook comments on this issue.

  10. The Trench, Social

    “Trench warfare shattered an entire generation of young men… Moreover, those who lived through the slaughter were maimed, shellshocked, embittered, and profoundly disillusioned. The young soldiers went to war believing in the world of their leaders and elders- the pre- 1914 world of order, progress, and patriotism. Then, in Remarque’s words, the ‘first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces’ ” (McKay 705).

    • A well-chosen quotation. The author would be better expressed as McKay et al since there are, I believe, five authors of the text. The et al is Latin for “and all the others.”

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