Life as a soldier

What was life like for the millions of professional, conscripted or recruited soldiers, who fought in the various European and international theatres of war? The trench experience involved the terror of mud, slime and disease and the constant threat of shellfire. Heavy artillery and new weapons such as poison gas threatened death from afar; but hand to hand combat with clubs and knives killed many during the grisly business of trench raids. When troops were not fighting, they were locked into trench deadlock, at which point boredom also became a serious issue.

A photograph of soldiers operating as a ‘listening post’, dating from 1914-15. It is likely this is a training exercise.

Training to be a soldier

Article by:
Jonathan Boff

How were soldiers prepared for World War One? Dr Jonathan Boff examines the stages of training undertaken by the millions of soldiers across the British, German and French armies.

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Alpine barber in the trenches of Cerna (detail)

The daily life of soldiers

Article by:
Paul Cornish

With focus on the routines of work, rest and recreation, Senior Curator Paul Cornish describes the typical daily life experienced by soldiers in World War One.

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British soldier washing in the stagnant water that has collected in a shell crater, 1917.

Sensuous life in the trenches

Article by:
Santanu Das

From smell and sound to touch and perception, Dr Santanu Das draws on soldiers' records to consider the sensory experiences within the trenches of World War One.

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The Great Patriotic War of 1914

Combat and the soldier's experience in World War One

Article by:
Vanda Wilcox

In a war that saw new weaponry technology and great numbers of casualties, Assistant Professor Vanda Wilcox considers the common experiences of soldiers in active combat.

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The Dome Hospital  (detail)

Wounding in World War One

Article by:
Julie Anderson

World War One created thousands of casualties from physical wounds, illness, and emotional trauma. Dr Julie Anderson reflects on the subsequent impact on the role of doctors and nurses, and the medical treatment, organisation and new technologies that they employed.

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Working party at 3000 metres (detail)

Mountain warfare in the Italian theatre of war

Article by:
Vanda Wilcox

Assistant Professor Vanda Wilcox examines mountain warfare in World War One, experienced by 80% of the Italian Front, where the harsh weather and uneven terrain made warfare extremely challenging.

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Prêtre italien donnant la communion à des soldats anglais

Faith, belief and superstition

Article by:
Matthew Shaw

From organised religion to visions of angels on the battlefield, Curator Dr Matthew Shaw explores the profound impact of World War One on religion, belief and superstition for individuals and communities around the world.

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Concentration camp for prisoners (detail)

Prisoners of War

Article by:
Heather Jones

What was the reality for prisoners of war in World War One? Dr Heather Jones looks beyond the propaganda to consider the facts around prisoner mistreatment, labour and death rates across Europe.

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Photograph, 1915, showing a group of Highland Territorial soldiers in a trench, armed with bayonets. Also in the trench is a small dog: many battalions had dogs as mascots.

Swearing

Article by:
Julian Walker

Julian Walker considers the presence and variety of swearing within World War One ranks and how its use bonded or divided soldiers.

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Serbian officer in an observation point near Kajmakcalan Hill (detail)

How did soldiers cope with war?

Article by:
Matthew Shaw

Curator Dr Matthew Shaw, explores notions of patriotism, social cohesion, routine and propaganda, to ask how soldiers of World War One were able to psychologically cope with the realities of combat.

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Photograph showing a group of soldiers, Highlander and Indian Dogras, sitting in a trench. Each man has a rifle in front of him, to which a bayonet could be fixed for close combat, 1915.

Slang and World War One

Article by:
Julian Walker

With the war bringing together soldiers from different countries and social classes, Julian Walker examines how sharing slang helped soldiers to describe their experiences.

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Digger dialects: a collection of slang phrases used by Australian soldiers on active service

Slang terms at the Front

Article by:
Julian Walker

Julian Walker explores the growth of slang used by soldiers in the trenches from describing food to alternate names for allies and enemies.

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Further themes

Origins, outbreak and conclusions

How did World War One begin? Why did it escalate and what was the impact of both war and peace on the countries involved?

The war machine

How were the 65 million men who fought in WWI recruited, armed and organised?

Race, empire and colonial troops

Over four million non-white men served in WWI. Explore more about their lives and responsibilities.

Civilians

What was life like for civilians, women, children and those displaced by the fighting?

Propaganda

How was propaganda used to inspire patriotism, dehumanise the enemy and change opinions?

Representation and memory

In addition to poetry, what were the other creative responses to the War? How have these affected our memory and understanding?

Historical debates

How have the views of historians and our understanding of World War One changed over time?

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Image of Trench Talk book cover

Trench Talk: Words of the First World War

This book looks at how the experience of the First World War changed the English language.

£9.99

Image of Lingo of No Man's Land book cover

Lingo of No Mans Land: A World War I Slang Dictionary

A dictionary of slang bringing unparallelled insight into life on the front line.

£10.00