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.

Soldiers laying on floor with rifles

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.

Themes:
The war machine, Life as a soldier
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banner showing men receiving a hair cut and shave whilst sat in a trench. They are surrounded by sand bags.

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.

Themes:
Race, empire and colonial troops, Life as a soldier, The war machine
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Photograph of man kneeling in mud

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Print showing illustrated figures in the midst of battle. This is shown through smoke, horses fleeing and shrapnel flying from bright explosions.

Combat and the soldier's experience in the First World War

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.

Themes:
Life as a soldier, Race, empire and colonial troops
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Collage of photographs and illustrations depicting wounded soldiers in the first world war

How would it feel to be a wounded soldier?

Article by:
Emily Mayhew

Dr Emily Mayhew follows a wounded soldier from the battlefield to the hospital, explaining how stretcher-bearers, surgeons and nurses would help him recover and adjust to his new life.

Themes:
Life as a soldier, Wounding and medicine
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Photograph of ward at Brighton Dome Hospital

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.

Themes:
Life as a soldier, Wounding and medicine, Race, empire and colonial troops
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Map of East Africa showing Lake Tanganyika

The First World War in East Africa

Article by:
Edward Paice

The First World War was fought out in Africa as well as on the battlefields of Europe. Edward Paice explains how European colonialism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries determined African involvement in the war, and with a focus on the East Africa campaign describes how the fighting affected African populations.

Themes:
Civilians, Race, empire and colonial troops, Life as a soldier
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Banner for article on world war one space

America in the First World War

Article by:
Jennifer D Keene

Jennifer Keene explores the events that led up to the United States of America joining the First World War and describes the effect that participation in the war had on American social and political life.

Themes:
Race, empire and colonial troops, Life as a soldier, Civilians
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Single lines of soldiers hiking up a steep, snowy mountain laden with backpacks of supplies

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Faith article. Black and white photograph showing 5 soldiers praying with a priest in an open field.

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Photograph of crowd of Prisoners of War. Most have shaved heads.

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Photograph of men in trenches

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Lone man sat deep inside a dug-out within a trench.

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.

Themes:
Life as a soldier, Historical debates
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Photograph of men sat in a trench

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Cover of pamphlet 'digger dialects'. Shows outline of two soldiers.

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.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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Ephemera and the First World War

Ephemera and the First World War

Article by:
Ann-Marie Foster

From troops’ entertainment programmes to Christmas menus, Ann-Marie Foster explores the rich array of ephemera in circulation during the First World War.

Theme:
Life as a soldier
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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 World War One recruited, armed and organised?

Life as a soldier

What was life like for the millions of professional, conscripted or recruited soldiers?

Race, empire and colonial troops

Over four million non-white men served in World War One. 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?

Wounding and medicine

How were soldiers injured in World War One and how did doctors, nurses and scientists treat them?

Historical debates

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