• Trenches
  • Age 9 to 11 (KS2)
  • Age 11 to 14 (KS3)
  • Age 14-16 (KS4)

Use these sources to learn about some of the challenges faced by people serving in different parts of the world.

For ideas to help you use these sources, take a look at our Suggested Activities.

CURRICULUM LINKS AND LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  • Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world, 1901-present - KS3/4.  
  • Warfare and British society, c1250-Present - GCSE.
  • To increase understanding of life in the trenches during the First World War.
Photographs

Aerial view of a trench system

Trenches were introduced very quickly during the First World War. Trenches provided a very efficient way for soldiers to protect themselves against heavy firepower. Over time, they developed into elaborate systems like these trenches at Beaumont Hamel, photographed in 1916. Trench systems included different features, like support trenches and communication trenches, as well as the front line trenches themselves.

Equipment

British Army Shovel

Spade, G. S. : British Army.

Wooden handle metal spade.

Interview with James Pratt of the Gordon Highlanders

The average day in the ordinary bit of the trenches was just by the way doing nothing. Except, perhaps, filling a few sandbags to strengthen a bit of the parapet of the trench. But of course, there had to be always somebody on Sentry all of the time and on each section of the trench. Apart from that, trench life was extremely dull you simply slept, wrote letters, except when you were on that sort of duty.  

Art

Oppy Wood by John Nash

the lower half of the composition has a view inside a trench with duckboard paths leading to a dug-out. Two infantrymen stand to the left of the dug-out entrance, one of them on the firestep looking over the parapet into No Man's Land. There is a wood of shattered trees littered with corrugated iron and planks at ground level to the right of the composition. The sky stretches above in varying shades of blue with a spectacular cloud formation framing a clear space towards the top of the composition.
© IWM Art.IWM ART (2243)
John Nash, 'Oppy Wood, 1917. Evening,' (1918).

Trench systems included different features, like support trenches and communication trenches, as well as the front line trenches themselves. This painting of a trench also shows the area of land between enemy trench systems, known as No Man’s land.

Photographs

Trenches in Salonika

Trench systems weren’t confined to the Western Front and were established in a variety of different landscapes across different fronts. This photograph shows stretcher-bearers carrying an injured man down a narrow communication trench in Salonika.  In this area of northern Greece, extremes of climate and the threat of disease led to more casualties than the fighting.

Photographs

Anti-Mosquito Clothing

Lance Corporal Harrison, 12th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, wearing protective anti-mosquito clothing as issued to troops on night duty during the summer months. Photograph taken at Bowls Barrow, 2 June 1918.
©IWM (HU 82035)

It was essential that soldiers were equipped to deal with conditions in the trenches. These conditions were different depending on where you were fighting, what the weather was, and the time of year. This photograph shows Lance Corporal Harrison wearing protective clothing which was issued to troops on night duty during the summer months in Salonika.

Art

The Ypres Salient at Night by Paul Nash

Night time was often the busiest part of the day in the trenches, as it was easier to avoid detection by the enemy. It was the only time to repair your defences and go on patrol across no man’s land, whilst sentries would be on guard throughout the night.

Private papers

Albert Tattersall

Albert Tattersall (sitting down with his arms folded) was born in 1893.  He volunteered in 1914 with his brothers John (standing) and Norman (seated).  Albert came from Moston in Manchester and served with the Manchester Regiment (5th City Pals).

Private papers

Letter from Albert Tattersall (Page 1)

In this letter home Albert describes life in the trenches.

Private papers

Letter from Albert Tattersall (Page 2)

In this letter home Albert describes life in the trenches.

Private papers

Letter from Albert Tattersall (Page 3)

In this letter home Albert describes life in the trenches.

Souvenirs and ephemera

Cigarette Tin

These cigarettes belonged to Albert Tattersall. Cigarettes were an important part of life in the trenches, and were given to soldiers as part of their rations.  If you didn’t smoke yourself they could be swapped and traded for other goods. Albert’s cigarettes were sent home after he died of wounds received on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Souvenirs and ephemera

Army Biscuit

Food was an important part of the daily routine and Biscuits like this one were part of the rations given to soldiers in the British Army. They were infamous for being tough and hard to eat and were often crumbled or mixed with water to make them more edible.

Photographs

Dinner Rations

Hot food was not supplied to front line soldiers until late 1915, but even then kitchens could not always get close enough to provide a hot meal for all soldiers. Troops in the front line often endured a repetitive diet of cold tinned food.  A unit would spend a few days in the front line, followed by periods in reserve and rest.

Photographs

A party of WAACs marching through Etaples

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed to carry out essential non-combatant tasks, so that more soldiers could be freed up for service in the front line.  The first party of 14 women arrived on the Western Front in March 1917 and eventually, 9,000 women served with the unit in France.

Photographs

The Chinese Labour Corps

Men from China were recruited by the British Government from 1916 onwards to perform support work and manual labour as the Chinese Labour Corps. These duties included digging and maintaining trenches. In this photograph men can be seen unloading duck boards from a train.

Photographs

The British Army on the Western Front

This is one of the few photographs which shows the moment of an attack. It shows an officer of the Scottish Rifles leading his men out of a trench for a raid on German trenches near Arras on 24 March 1917.

Uniforms and insignia

Camouflaged Steel Helmet

Soldiers faced many dangers in the trenches, but most casualties on the Western Front were caused by artillery shells, explosions and shrapnel. The German army introduced this type of steel helmet in 1916 to help protect soldiers from head injuries and you can see an impact dent where this helmet has been struck.

Downloads

Explore Further

Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Stretcher bearers struggle in mud up to their knees to carry a wounded man to safety near Boesinghe, 1 August 1917.
© IWM (Q 5935)
Classroom Resource

The Western Front

Use these sources to learn about key battles and who fought on the The Western Front.

Adventures in History: Trench Tales - Part Two graphic
Home Learning

Trench Tales - Part Two

Discover the story of the nine year old with a plan, a soldier who shared his experiences with his parents and a young woman who was proud to do her bit for the war effort. 

Heavy Artillery by Colin Gill
©IWM (Art.IWM ART 2274)
Classroom Resource

Fighting in the Trenches

Use these sources to learn more about the experience of fighting in the trenches.