Monday, 7 April 2014

First World War - Life in Dug-Out


This article was first published in ‘The Sphere’ in February 1916 and gives the readers at home an idea of what life was like in a front line dug-out and trench.

It all rather ‘nice’ and doesn’t convey any of the horror of the war to those at home, but it is still an interesting piece.

"'Life in Dug-Out and Trench' within the British Lines

All the Comforts of Home

In the course of a letter which accompanied the above sketch the writer says: "Here is our gun emplacement! This is the place in which we live, sleep, and operate against the enemy. I wonder if the picture explains itself? It was drawn under difficulties with ordinary lead pencil and the common paper of my writing pad. On the left are our sleeping apartments. Here we lie when asleep with our feet projecting, so that when the gunner, sitting in front of those ammunition boxes to the rear of the hut, requires to wake someone up he can just reach our feet and kick. The little round bag hanging outside the 'Tamboo,' as the sleeping apartment is called, is our tea bag, which comes in for much hard use, and is then put up out of the way. The sandbags are numerous, so that we are fairly well protected. You will have spotted the gun in the background. We call this part 'the Kinema,' and, of course, our belt of bullets represents a kinema film. The front of the 'Tamboo' faces the German trenches. The table is one I knocked together. I am going to put another up opposite shortly. The bottle (no, it is not what you might think) contains the solution for our respirators. We have regular duties, and someone has always to be in readiness. Just before we came here we were sitting in our garden at Mt. Neverest when a shell dropped about 15 yards in front and to the left. It threw up about 20 ft. of corduroy road quite 15 ft. in the air, knocking branches off trees and leaving a fair hole in the ground. Thank goodness it wasn't shrapnel or I fancy we should have got it. I forgot to tell you the sketches we've put up in the hut are to be increased in number from the three you can see. We intend shortly having a picture gallery!"
An officer at the front, who is familiar with the caves of the Mendip country, sends us the following interesting account of life in a dug-out in France. He writes: " During all these months of strenuous trench warfare I have often vividly remembered our cave-work miles away in old Mendip. Sometimes when wandering around at night I have dropped into one of the dug-outs to smoke a cigarette with the infantry officer in charge. It is then that I have obtained an impression of the interior, just a little earth passage or chamber where our party stopped for a meal or to smoke; at times, in fact, it almost seems as if we were back to the old cave life.

"The accompanying sketch will give you some idea of a typical trench dug-out; every trench is, of course, in telephonic communication with battalion headquarters a little behind, and with brigade headquarters right to the rear of the lines.

"The wires are frequently cut by shell fire during the day and have to be repaired at night. Here the telegraphist is seen handing to the officer a message which has just been received, perhaps to ask if all is well or to say that a relief or ration party is on its way up. The little recesses cut in the side of the trench hold his belongings and the lighted candle; the wires also can be seen, one going to the earth the other out at the roof. With the receiver strapped to his head he receives every message; there is usually a buzzer as well, which he has by his side.

Another officer is making a brew of cocoa in his mess tin over a little spirit stove. On many cold and rainy nights I have been invited to have a cup, and have found it very good.

" With a waterproof sheet on the ground and a blanket round him he can make himself very comfortable, and even get a good sleep, whilst off duty. He always has a Very pistol handy in case of emergency. This is a fat brass instrument used for shooting up flares which are intended to illuminate the ground between one's own trenches and the enemy's. (A Very pistol might be very well used in some of the larger chambers or high rifts of Mendip.)

“In the trenches one often sees newspapers only three or four days old, and even novels too; these help to pass the time until a relief comes along.

"The far side is revetted with sandbags, which make a strong and secure wall, easily repaired if knocked about by shell-fire. The roof is supported by boughs from a neighboring wood, and is usually made of boards, brushwood, and even old timber or doors from a ruined village — if there is one near by — all covered with from 6 in. to 1 ft. of earth. If a shell comes right into your dug-out nothing, of course, will stop it, but this protection is sufficient to stop shrapnel bullets or splinters of high-explosive shells.

"Dug-outs such as these are for men to rest in whilst off duty, i.e., when not posted as look-outs, or to take shelter in during heavy firing. Sometimes the colonel has rather a luxurious dug-out in the rear, quite large enough to stand up in, with a table, chairs, bunks, even a gramophone, perhaps.

"At this stage, when one is always near the enemy's lines, all the work of the Engineers, such as putting up barbed wire; digging trenches, or building dug-outs, has to be carried out during darkness, so that for some time past we have been like night birds — coming out at dusk and returning to rest in the early morning." "

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