Trench Cycle

Luckily, troops were not expected to serve entirely in the front line. They would rotate between the three lines: the front line, the support line, and the reserve line, and then spend a short period in rest, before beginning the cycle again. The time spent in each section varied from sector to sector. In busier sectors of the war, soldiers would spend far longer in the front line than usual, and less time at rest than usual. In a year only around two months would be spent at rest, and not typically at leave. In a year, perhaps two weeks would be spent at leave— if a soldier is lucky.

Daily Routine

A day in the trenches would begin with the Stand-to-Arms, a process observed by both sides in the Western Front. Before dawn, the soldiers would be roused by their commanding officers, and they climbed onto the firestep to guard against raids by the other side.Afterwards, the troops would fire in front of them into the early-morning mist in a ritual dubbed the "morning hate," to doubly unsure their safety at dawn.

Sometimes, rum would then be issued, and soldiers used this time to clean their rifles, a feat in the many trenches were muddy and dirty. Officers inspected the rifles, and then breakfast would be served. In quieter sectors of the war, the two sides would have a "breakfast truce," in which breakfast could be peacably eaten.

After breakfast, the company commander inspected his men, and assined duties to each man. These may include repairing duckboards, refilling sandbags, and draining trenches using pumping equipment.

At dusk, the ritual of Stand-To-Arms is repeated again, as it was thought that enemies launched surprise attacks at dusk and dawn. Afterwards, supply and maitenance duties were undertaken, such as the fetching of rations and water, or the patrol of No Man's Land. Some soldiers were put on sentry duty: standing on the fire step of the trench and observing the enemy.

At night-time, the army might rotate their troops. This process could take several hours.


FoodUnfortunately, soldiers did not have the luxery of hot meals for much of the war. They had little variety in food, which mostly came in tins or cans. If one was lucky, a soldier would be afforded rum, or receive a food packet from the Red Cross. At most times, however, soldiers had to rely on what they had, typically stale crackers and unappetizing salted meat.


For the troops not serving on the front lines, boredom was a common ailment. Sometimes, they had many chores to keep them occupied: filling sandbags, mending barbed wires, and rebuilding trenches after explosions, for example. Although the soldiers were often bored, they would often not allow themselves to sleep, and sleep deprivation was common. They had to be on the look out for constant bombardments, and, if you were caught asleep by your commanding officer, you would be severely reprimanded. Other distractions from the tedium of troop life included the rotation of troops, cleaning your weapon, daily inspections, and mining. Many soldiers also had a bit of leisure time, in which they could play cards, read and write letters to and from home, and look at old postcards they may have received.

Letters and Writing

LettersLetters were an important part of life as a soldier. Receiving and writing them helped keep them sane, and could take them away from the horrors of trench life. Every week, an average of 12.5 million letters were sent to soldiers by family, friends, and girlfriends. In writing letters, soldiers would often conceal the horrors of trench warfare. For others, the horrors would be their inspiration, and some soldiers would write poetry and narratives in the trenches. These first-person accounts would become essential for our understanding of WWI today.

For More Information

For a better understanding of trench warfare, one should look at the writings of soldiers who underwent the war. In particular, I recommend John McCrae's famous poem, In Flander's Fields, and the haunting war poetry of Wilfred Owen.