The daily routine of front line service varied from the mundane to the dramatic. A typical day would begin with 'stand to arms' at dawn, with all men manning the front line trench. Weapons would be cleaned, a tot of rum and breakfast consumed. Day sentries would be posted, with other men allowed to sleep until lunchtime. Meals would often consist of tinned food, sometimes served cold. In the afternoon trenches would be repaired before 'stand to' again at dusk. Activity intensified at night. Men would leave the trenches to repair parapets and barbed wire, to go on patrol across no man’s land and sometimes to raid German positions. Sentries would be on guard throughout.
 
This routine varied and was punctuated by danger. In active sectors both sides would engage in aggressive raiding and the fire of artillery, machine guns and snipers would be more prevalent. By contrast, some sectors were quiet and relatively passive, with a 'live and let live' mentality. A soldier’s experience depended on this variety. It also depended on the theatre in which a soldier served, with differences in the weather, terrain and nature of combat all affecting day-to-day experience.
 
A unit would spend a few days in the front line, followed by periods in reserve and rest. Away from the line men were engaged in training and labour. They would benefit from a bath and a full night’s sleep, regular hot meals and even some time to themselves. Another of a soldier’s pleasures was post from home, helping maintain a connection with loved ones. Leave was usually granted once a year.

Here are 14 objects from life at the front.

Souvenirs and ephemera

1. Food rations

Souvenirs and ephemera

1. Food rations

Food rations were an essential part of a soldier’s daily life and the amount and quality of food could have serious implications for morale. This tinned beef and vegetable stew, known as ‘Maconochie’ after the company that made it, was a familiar aspect of the British soldier’s diet. It was largely detested by soldiers, particularly when it could not be heated up. Soldiers often had complaints about the monotony of their front line rations.

Empty tin of Maconochie's 'beef and vegetables' ration.
This tinned beef and vegetable stew was a familiar part of a British soldier's diet.
Souvenirs and ephemera

2. Cigarettes

Souvenirs and ephemera

2. Cigarettes

Smoking was a widespread habit during the First World War and cigarettes were issued as part of standard rations. Cigarettes were seen as a simple and familiar pleasure that helped calm the nerves and boost morale, making life at the front more tolerable. This tin of cigarettes belonged to Private Albert Tattersall, who served with 20th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment (5th City Pals). Tattersall died on 3 July 1916 of wounds sustained during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

1 tin plain rectangular tin (L 148mm x W 74mm x D 19mm) with hinged lid, painted grey all over, containing a total of eighteen cigarettes including 14 'Gold Flake' cigarettes and 4 'Wild Woodbine' cigarettes, both manufactured by W.D. & H.O. Wills. The tin is rusty with patches of active corrosion.
Smoking was a widespread habit during the First World War and cigarettes were issued as part of standard rations.
Souvenirs and ephemera

3. Army biscuit picture frame

Souvenirs and ephemera

3. Army biscuit picture frame

Sergeant M Herring of the Army Service Corps made this picture frame from a British Army issue biscuit, a key component of front line rations. The notoriously hard biscuits were frequently carved to create souvenirs or mementoes. These keepsakes were of great personal value to servicemen, reminding them of the loved ones they left behind when they volunteered or were conscripted. This frame holds a photograph of Herring, his wife and twin children, Barbara and Lawrence.

Square hard tack 'army biscuit' with central section recessed to accommodate a family portrait photograph, a length of pink cotton thread is threaded through two of the perforations at the top of the biscuit to hang the 'picture'.
Notoriously hard British Army issue biscuits were a key component of front line rations and often carved to create mementoes.
Souvenirs and ephemera

4. Writing case

Souvenirs and ephemera

4. Writing case

During the First World War, the British Army Postal Service despatched over two billion letters. Receiving letters from loved ones kept soldiers connected to their homes and was vital in maintaining morale. For soldiers, writing letters could be therapeutic and an important leisure activity that prevented boredom. However, some men did not share all of the realities of their war experiences with loved ones they thought might worry. This writing case belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Heneker, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.

Brown leather valise with three straps and buckles to front (main strap partially missing), made to fit writing box, including hole for key, key tied to main strap buckle. Writing box of metal, black and gold enamel outer with 'FCH' monogram in white in centre of lid, some damage of enameling front centre of lid and lifting lip below. Inside box lid, a flap covering a rack of three slots for stationery, containing several sheets blue writing paper, a number of plain postcards, 1 large and three small envelo
For soldiers, writing letters could be therapeutic and an important leisure activity that prevented boredom.
Souvenirs and ephemera

5. Playing cards

Souvenirs and ephemera

5. Playing cards

Rest and relaxation were vital to maintaining the health and morale of servicemen. Games and other activities provided temporary distraction and card games were some of the most universal forms of recreation for soldiers. This pack of miniature playing cards is associated with the war service of Second Lieutenant F G Hasler of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA).

Pocket playing card set consisting of: 1 small tan leather wallet secured with a press stud and containing six loops which hold the cards in place. 52 miniature playing cards that appear to be made from printed and laminated paper.
Games and other activities provided temporary distractions and card games were a common form of recreation for soldiers.
Equipment

6. Equipment

Equipment

6. Equipment

The Mills Equipment Company produced equipment for the British Army during the First World War. They were unable to keep up with the increased demand to provide an unprecedented number of recruits with the canvas equipment set or ‘webbing’. A leather set was devised as an alternative, but kept the same basic components of the 1908 canvas pattern – waist belt, support braces, ammunition pouches, bayonet sheath, entrenching tool cover, water bottle, and haversack. The 1914 pattern pictured here was used on all fronts throughout the war. Like the earlier pattern, it was designed to form a continuous piece that could be slipped on or off like a coat.

Personal equipment comprising waistbelt, support braces (2), ammunition pouches (2), bayonet frog, entrenching tool cover and waterbottle; all fittings made of brown leather.
Equipment was issued to every soldier and used on all fronts throughout the war.
Weapons and ammunition

7. Rifle pull through

Weapons and ammunition

7. Rifle pull through

Cleaning and maintaining weapons was a daily chore for soldiers. This item is a rifle pull through made of cord weighted on one end and looped on the other. A piece of cloth was attached to the loop and pulled through the rifle barrel, cleaning any residue inside. This one belonged to Private Jack Finnigan of the 6th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who served in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) during the war.

rifle pull through, British.
Cleaning and maintaining weapons was a daily chore for soldiers. Rifle pull throughs were used to help clean inside the barrel.
Equipment

8. Entrenching tool

Equipment

8. Entrenching tool

Trenches first came into widespread use following the end of mobile warfare on the Western Front in 1914. They provided soldiers relative protection against the firepower of increasingly lethal weaponry. This entrenching tool, used for digging, was carried by all non-commissioned ranks in the British Army as part of their personal kit. It can be broken down into two parts and stored on a soldier’s equipment belt when not in use. They were sometimes used as weapons in hand-to-hand combat.

Entrenching tool head and helve. Standard entrenching tool, top of helve bound in blackened metal band; helve handle light wood painted light green.
Entrenching tools, used for digging, were carried by all non-commissioned ranks in the British Army in their personal kit.
Uniforms and insignia

9. Steel helmet

Uniforms and insignia

9. Steel helmet

The introduction of new weapons and the improved performance of existing ones forced armies to develop better protective equipment. Before steel helmets became standard issue in 1916, the British Army issued soft cloth caps that offered no protection against artillery, machine gun and rifle fire. In the relative protection of a trench, a soldier’s most vulnerable area was his head. The British steel helmet, shown here, was particularly designed to offer increased protection from shrapnel and other projectiles falling from above. Although not impenetrable, it decreased the number and severity of head injuries.

Helmet: bowl-shaped steel helmet, painted in a textured matte olive colour and has a hand-applied insignia to the left side featuring a stylised plume in yellow. The helmet has a steel rim, lapped and welded at the rear. Inside only the asbestos pad to the crown and the oilskin (or American cloth) headband is present, the padded cloth crownpiece missing. Only 90% of the leather chinstrap is present.
The British steel helmet was designed to offer increased protection from shrapnel and other projectiles falling from above.
Equipment

10. Mosquito net

Equipment

10. Mosquito net

The First World War was the first major conflict in which British deaths in battle outnumbered deaths caused by disease. This net was issued to British troops to protect them from mosquitos and other insects that could spread diseases such as malaria. This danger was more common in fighting theatres in Gallipoli, East Africa and the Middle East, where the proportion of non-battle casualties was generally higher than on the Western Front.

Net metal-hooped mosquito net (for wearing over the head).
Mosquito nets were issued to British troops to protect them from mosquitos and other insects that spread disease.
Equipment

11. Gas mask

Equipment

11. Gas mask

Chemical weapons were first used on a major scale by the Germans in 1915. Early gas masks were nothing more than cotton pads soaked in chemicals or canvas hoods with glass eyepieces and a rubber tube through which a soldier could breathe. But as chemical weapons developed, so did protective equipment. The Small Box Respirator mask pictured here was first introduced in August 1916 and became standard issue the following year. On the Western Front, death rates from gas were relatively low – about 3 per cent – but the physical effects were highly unpleasant and it remained a pervasive psychological weapon.

Respirator & haversack The respirator mask consists of a face mask with glass circular eye-pieces set in metal frames, with a flexible ribbed connector hose that is fitted to the metal 'small box' filter. When not in use the whole are neatly packed into the light khaki haversack.
As chemical weapons developed, so did protective equipment. The Small Box Respirator mask was first introduced in August 1916.
Weapons and ammunition

12. Lee-Enfield Rifle

Weapons and ammunition

12. Lee-Enfield Rifle

The iconic Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle (SMLE) Mark III was introduced in 1907. It was standard issue to British and Empire forces during the First World War and continued to be used throughout much of the twentieth century. It proved to be an effective weapon, especially as it could withstand the wet and muddy conditions of the Western Front. A sword bayonet could be attached to the barrel for close quarter combat.

Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield, .303 inch, Mk 3, rifle & sling & oiler sling is WW2 period, added for display purposes.
The Lee-Enfield rifle Mark III was introduced in 1907 and was standard issue to Britain and Empire forces in the First World War.
Weapons and ammunition

13. 13-pounder shrapnel round

Weapons and ammunition

13. 13-pounder shrapnel round

This cross-section shows the interior of a British 13-pounder shrapnel anti-personnel round. When the shells exploded, lead balls were propelled at a high velocity, causing serious or fatal injuries. During the First World War, modern weaponry was used on an unprecedented scale. Fighting on the Western Front was dominated by artillery, which caused more casualties than any other weapon and was central in the development of trench warfare. Soldiers, seeking some protection from the bombardment, dug in as a defensive measure. The use of shrapnel declined following the onset of trench warfare, as high explosive shells were increasingly used to try and break the stalemate on the Western Front.

shell, cartridge case, fuze sectioned 13-pounder shrapnel round (L 21.25in x diameter 3in) with No 80 Fuze. Cordite propellant simulated by bundle of cord. The shell has stamped markings: 'QF 13PR' and '19 3 17'. The cartridge is stamped '1916' and '13PRII'.
This cross-section shows the interior of a British 13-pounder shrapnel anti-personnel round.
Equipment

14. Field dressing

Equipment

14. Field dressing

This British First Field Dressing pack was issued as part of a soldier's kit. Containing two field dressings, it gave men the means to provide limited medical care to themselves or others when medical personnel were not close by. Soldiers were given instruction on how to apply these dressings to limit blood loss. This would help keep men alive until they could be treated by trained medical staff.

First field dressing pack in brown fabric wrapper containing two dressings and two metal safety pins, the front of the pack is printed as follows 'WAR OFFICE MEDICAL DIVISION FIRST FIELD DRESSING' and with the name of the manufacturer 'THE DARTON GIBBS CO. OLDBURY APRIL 1915'.
British First Field Dressing packs were issued as part of a soldier's kit and could save lives when no medics were present.

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