World War 1 Infantryman

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Jordo, Dec 28, 2010.

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  1. Just finished watching the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (must be the 100th time!) and it got me thinking about your average Infantryman in the first world war.

    My first world war knowledge isn't what it could be, but I was wondering about the day to day fighting that took place and just how often your average tommy would be expected to go 'over the top'. It's hard to imagine how anyone could have survived the entire war if this was a regular occurence, from what I know the majority of these kind of assaults ended miserably.

    I'd be gratefully if anyone who knows their stuff could fill me in on the sort of action the average tom would face each day in the trenches.


  2. Well that would depend on what part of the front you are on........
  3. See I don't know enough about the western front, or about most of the war to be fair, to be able to comment properly. I was jus looking for a general idea.
  4. To the best of my knowledge, the majority of day-to-day activity would have been fairly routine i.e. cleaning weapons, sentry duty, works parties, that type of thing. Groups of men often did go into No Man's Land, for example on trench raids, but this was invariably under cover of darkness. The kind of "going over the top" associated with The Western Front was limited to large scale actions for example the First day of the Somme.
  5. Great book if you can get hold of it is:

    The War the Infantry Knew 1914 - 1919

    by Captain J C Dunn D.S.O, M.C. and Bar, D.C.M.

    Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon also wrote very good books on life in the trenches and Dunn is mentioned in both books.

    For the opposition view Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger is highly regarded.

    Gordon Corrigan re-examines WW1 in his excellent work: Mud, Blood and Poppycock.

    And finally the series by Lyn Macdonald covering the war by way of collections of original accounts is a very good way to get a feel of the whole war.
  6. Thanks for that, I'll try and get hold of a couple and have a read.
  7. My grandfather survived the entire 1st World War as a Pioneer. His specific units job was to dig new trenches in front of the current ones. Apparently one of the highest attrition rates of any unit (understandably so.) The humbling and sad thing was I never found out about this until the 90's as he told the family he was an officers batman and never saw any action.

    Sorry to side track but thought it was worth sharing, as there are others in front of the infantry sometimes!
  8. Not trying to be funny bud, it varied dpending on location, ie Ypres was quite a depressing place to be during WW1 as well as for the french Verdun was a slaughter house for over the entire period of 1916. I will have a look through my books and give you a few ideas of books to read.. if you are not bothered which Army then I suggest you read The Price of Glory which covers the French in Verdun or the War Walks which covers the western front from Belguim all the way to the Alps, although it is primarily about the fighting they can give you a good idea.

    If you are seriously interested why not go on the ARRSE battlefield tours, there is one in April, trust me the guide is awesome and it is all mainly ex serving and serving soldiers... A cracking weekend and cheqper than booking with ledger.....
  9. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Richard Holmes' Tommy is a good book as well
  10. A Good one I was give as a presnt about the day today today world of an infantry company in and out of the line up to 1915 is Captain Staniland's Journey The North Midland Territorials Go To War by Martin Middlebrook
    Another Book about day to day life in the trenches is the book that acompanied the BBC 2 Series The Trench by Richard Van Emden
    I also recomend Myths and Legends of the First World War by James Hayward and Tommy by Richard Holmes
    I Havent got Mud Blood and Popycock I think I may have to get myself a copy
  11. I have read a little on the first war, and as said, most of the day to day would have been regular maintenance, weapons and trench work. The trenches were constantly having to be repaired and improved. Its worth remembering the vast majority were not professional soldiers, but civies recruited on the promise of a 'jolly adventure'. By 'jolly' they meant being shredded by artillery or HMG's.
  12. Another recommended read is My Bit.

    My Bit: A Lancashire Fusilier at War 1914-18: George Ashurst, Richard Holmes: Books

    My paternal grandfather was a regular at the outbreak, he survived the whole of the Gallipoli campaign and the assault on Hawthorn Redoubt on the first day of the Somme. His version of events was that listening patrols and trench raids were far more terrifying than the (relatively) few times that 'over the top' type assaults were engaged-in.

    The first day of the Somme, has to some degree, skewed the perception. At Neuve Chapelle (1915), the assault was largely successful, the failure to take the objectives was down to bad communications rather than losses. Arras 1917 (including the assault on Vimy Ridge) was successful and the proportionally higher casualties than both the Somme and Paschendaele, was down to the fact that the battle went on too long (morphing into the Battle of the Scarp). Messines Ridge in the Ypres sector, July 1917 actually incurred many fewer losses in the assault than was planned-for (resulting in higher casualties due to over-crowding of the objectives when Fritz got his act together enough to shell the high ground taken).

    The popular idea that it was 'over-the-top to certain death' is a misconception at best.
  13. I think Cpl clot has hit a lot of nails on the head. Also after the first morning of any major offensive if enemy trenches had been captured further attacks might have been by bombing along a trench rather than going over the top. No less, possible more, dangerous but not conforming to the stereotype that Blackadder helps to perpetuate.
  14. A relative of mine served with the Cameronians in France from May 1915 until the end of the war. I had been under the impression that this was less than common. Was there then alot of troops that saw years of service on the Western Front?