A Day in the Trenches

On Saturday 7th September the military historian, Tim Lynch, was the guest speaker. He opened by delivering some statistics about the kind of person and background the average Tommy Atkins came from. Housing was often poor and unsanitary. He would have probably have been unemployed or in low paid work. Conditions were often dangerous particularly in the coal mines, steelworks and railways. There was every chance he might die from some contagious disease such as scarlet fever. One in four of the population would not reach maturity. So, when he enlisted, he switched from one harsh environment to another in the trenches. Tim then introduced his son, who was dressed in the uniform of a WW1 soldier. From cap to khaki serge and from boots and puttees to an assortment of webbing pouches, bags and tools. The latter consisted of a gas mask, ammunition, a ‘French nail’ ie a knife attached to a knuckle duster and a metal implement that could be converted to a spade for ‘digging in’ for use in cooking or removing body waste! There was also his Lee Enfield rifle and bayonet and perhaps a hand grenade. The total amount carried could weigh as much as 60 lbs.

Her would spend no more than 10 days a month in a trench before he was relieved and retired to the rear for a period of rest. Here he might enjoy a French beverage such as vin blanc or as it became known as ‘plonk’ or his ration of rum!
Food rations were often better than he received at home. A bag made of sacking might contain bread, biscuits and tinned meat. Then to pass the time when not involved in action he might play different board games including bingo or even knit. Then there would be opportunities to send and receive mail from home. Home leave was sporadic and then perhaps only for 72 hours at a time.

Tim had on display an array of weapons and equipment such as bayonets, hand grenades, bullets and respirators. The latter to give protection from the various lethal gases employed by Germans. His chance of surviving death or injury might mean he returned home a fitter person than when he first entered the army due to exercise and better food received.
Tim’s talk was extremely informative and delivered in an entertaining manner. He certainly produced some aspects of a soldier’s life in the trenches which many in attendance had not heard of before.