What was life really like for a British soldier on the Western Front?

This enquiry examines how far the common picture of the First World War soldier is accurate. Students start with a closer look at trenches, how they were lived in and how the trench system was supposed to work. This information is then set in the wider context of the routine of a soldier in France and Belgium, and how he spent his time. This includes taking part in an attack ‘over the top’, but goes on to look at some of the many jobs that were necessary in order to support the fighting troops.

Stage 1

What was life in the trenches really like? (part 1)

This stage looks at an stereotypical account from a recruit and his experiences in the trenches. Students will get an impression of life in the trenches that they will explore. Students will looks at why trenches became the standard defensive technique for both sides in the war

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Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan

An extract from an ‘Mud, Blood and Poppycock’, by Gordon Corrigan, published in 2003. From this 'impression' students are asked to identify eight different unpleasant aspects of being a soldier in the First World War.

In the Trenches - main presentation

A 4 slide powerpoint presentation showing volunteers setting off for war, a British army manual diagram for trench design from 1914 and a list of parts of the trench. 

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Stage 2

What was life in the trenches really like? (part 2)

This stage develops students’ understanding of the trench system further.

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The Trenches

A presentation of trench construction and life in the trenches.

Trench System Worksheet

A single page worksheet for comparing the ideal features of the trench against the reality.

Stage 3

Was life on the Western Front always so bad?

This stage examines the accuracy or otherwise of several of the eight points from the stereotype of a First World soldier created in Lesson 1.

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Routines

Presentation of 13 slides showing the different activities involving soldiers away from the front line and suggest that life away from the front line was not too bad.

Routines worksheet

Single page worksheet uses some evidence from soldiers' own words, together with some statistics created much later, to describe the system, how it worked and the results.

Stage 4

What was everyday life really like on the Western Front?

This stage fills in a range of further aspects of the day-to-day life of soldiers on the Western Front. By the end, students will be able to add more comment on the impression lists in stage 1.

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Day-to-day support

This resource helps students think about the problem of feeding a large army living in the trenches. It also shows photographic evidence of different modes of transport, soldiers marching as well as buses and lorries transporting troops to the front.

Scenes from the Western Front

Original video footage from the Imperial War Museum archive, showing scenes from the First World War on the Western Front. 

Stage 5

What was it actually like to go ‘over the top’?

In the last stage of this enquiry students return to the most familiar aspect of the First World War on the Western Front: attacking the enemy by going ‘over the top’ towards their trenches.

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Over the top

This presentation gives examples of: fighting with bayonets, a soldier's equipment, the wire, machine guns and junior officers.

Private Harry Fellowes account of going over the top

Private Harry Fellowes of the 12th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, recalled going ‘over the top’ of the trench to attack the German line at Loos in 1915. This is his account.

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