World War 1 began in August 1914 as a result of assassination of Archduke Ferdinand the heir of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian politician. The war lasted four years and was seen to be a complete War where all the modern society was involved. This paper will highlight how life was for the participants of the war in both home and front lines.
Life for Soldiers
Life for Soldiers at the front lines was unbearable and can generally be termed as hard. Soldiers were forced to fight in big holes in the ground which had numerous inhospitable elements. These elements included: Parasites and Rodents; lack of food; poor hygiene; threat of poison gases; extreme weather conditions; boredom; and health risks.
In the case of parasites and rodents, they prospered very well in the confined spaces which that made them extremely hard to rid. Lice for instance caused ‘Trench fever’ which was similar to influenza and could only be treated in a proper hospital not in the front lines; this killed many soldiers. Other rodents such as rats which ate corpses would also help themselves with fresh flesh of soldiers with some waking up without a toe. Food and water was also rare with the few that existed being unhygienic. Soldiers depended on dry biscuits and corned beef in tins with some instances the chief hunting rodents for food. This was proved in a statement by Captain Blackadder in the front lines (Mackaman & Mays 34): “one thing that puzzled me was how much we managed to get so much custard out of a small cat.”
Hygiene was also wanting with many soldiers fearing to go relieve themselves in buckets at the side of trenches due to fear of an attack by the enemy. The result was that many of them helped themselves nearby resulting to outbreaks such as dysentery. Weather conditions were also abysmal characterised with bitter cold that caused frost bites and floods that made soil thick with mud in the trenches. In rainy seasons, water filled up to the waist of soldiers where their feet in constant water resulted in ‘Trench Foot’ a fungal infection that led to feet of soldiers being amputated.
There were also threats of poison gas where when it was first used in 1917, it caused panic in the trenches.
Furthermore, the many litters of dead bodies constantly reminded soldiers of their own mortality; this contributed in affecting soldiers psychologically. To top all of the problems in the front lines, there was boredom which really demoralised soldiers. Apart from mending damaged trenches, there was really no work to do making soldiers see the war as an unforgettable process. Generally, life for soldiers at the frontlines was very bad and can be summarised by Wilfred Owen, a poet and Soldier who wrote (BBC 2):
“My arms have mutinied against me – brutes!
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats
My back’s been stiff for hours, damned hours
Death never gives his squad a ‘stand-at-ease”
Effect of War to Civilians on Home Fronts
The home front refers to countries that participated in the World War 1 and they were 32 in total with 28 being the allied forces and the rest being central forces. Britain led the allied forces and Germany the central forces. In the war there was a massive change in the roles of women, rationing of utilities and food, strikes by discontent workers, and loss of lives due to bombings.
Women’s role at the home fronts changed vastly into: manning factories, harvesting crops, investing in war bonds, and caring for troops on leave. This era saw many women enlisting as soldiers, as was the case of approximately 80,000 women joining the British army (Hazen 67). Women in Britain were also allowed to vote during this time, with campaigns such as ‘Votes for Women’ and ‘Women Bear Armies’ as responses to the concept that they could not vote because they could not bear arms to go to war.
As a result of the war there was also massive inflation at the home fronts that resulted to increase in food prices that made poor families not access them. According to Mackaman & Mays, “the German U-Boat campaign also contributed to food shortages (78)”. This made governments ration utilities and food all in the hope of channelling them to war soldiers. Fuel was also in short supply and was rationed, hence also contributing to the high cost of living at the home fronts.
The bombing of home fronts by enemy soldiers also contributed to creating alarm among civilians at home fronts. This panic interrupted the social systems at the home front like many children could not go to school or even the society to engage in sporting activities. For instance, the attack by the Germans to Britain in 1915 resulted in damages worth £18,000. Furthermore, demands of ammunitions, food, and other amenities for soldiers made workers at home fronts to be overworked. This resulted to poor morale of workers and in turn they were discontent hence forcing them to strike.
BBC. Life in the Trenches of World War 1. (13th April 2007). Available at:
Hazen, Walten, A.. World War 1. Massachusetts: Good Year Books, 2006. Print. : 4+
Mackaman, Doughlas, & Michael, Mays. World War 1 and the Cultures of Modernity. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Print. : 13-105