What was life like in a World War One trench?

On the Western Front, the war was fought by soldiers in trenches.

Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers lived.

They were very muddy, uncomfortable and the toilets overflowed. These conditions caused some soldiers to develop medical problems such as trench foot.

There were many lines of German trenches on one side and many lines of Allied trenches on the other.

In the middle was no man's land, which soldiers crossed to attack the other side.

A soldier with a rifle in a trench in World War One
Soldiers were encouraged to wash their feet regularly and often had their feet inspected.

What things were in a trench?

Explore our interactive trench scene and click on different objects to find out more about them.

There are ten different objects to find. You can use the question mark button to highlight them all.

A typical day in the trenches

  • 5am 'Stand-to' (short for 'Stand-to-Arms', meaning to be on high-alert for enemy attack) half an hour before daylight
  • 5.30am Rum ration
  • 6am Stand-down half an hour after daylight
  • 7am Breakfast (usually bacon and tea)
  • After 8am Clean selves and weapons, tidy trench
  • Noon Dinner
  • After dinner Sleep and downtime
  • 5pm Tea
  • 6pm Stand-to half an hour before dusk
  • 6.30pm Stand-down half an hour after dusk
  • 6.30pm onwards Work all night with some time for rest (patrols, digging trenches, putting up barbed wire, getting stores)

Soldiers only got to sleep in the afternoon during daylight and at night for an hour at a time. During rest time they wrote letters and played card games.

Canadian soldiers sleeping and writing letters in a World War One trench.
Soldiers sleeping and writing letters.
Watch our video to learn more about life in the trenches.

What items did soldiers keep in the trenches?

A World War One poster advertising British military uniform

Soldiers carried lots of equipment

This included a gas mask; weapons and ammunition; protective clothes like boots and a helmet; ‘webbing equipment’ which contained personal items like shaving kits and water bottles; and a shovel.

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The Christmas Truce

During the first Christmas of the war, something unique happened in some parts of the Western front.

On Christmas Eve, soldiers from both sides put down their weapons and met in no man's land. They sang carols like 'Silent Night' ('Stille Nacht' in German).

Men from both sides gave gifts to each other. The Germans gave sausages to the British and the British gave the Germans chocolates.

A colour postcard possibly produced to send Christmas greetings from the front line during World War One
A colour postcard possibly produced to send Christmas greetings from the front line.
Colour illustration of a British army officer scoring a goal against a German officer, circa 1914
Illustration of a British army officer scoring a goal against a German officer, circa 1914.

On Christmas Day, a British soldier kicked a football out of his trench and the Germans joined in. It was reported that Germany won the match 3-2.

The British High Command did not agree with the truce. They even suggested the Germans were planning an attack. They were ignored and no guns were fired on Christmas Day 1914.

The truce lasted until the New Year in some parts of the Western Front. But it wasn't long before soldiers on both sides returned to life in the trenches.

Two British soldiers standing in a flooded communication trench during World War One

Where next?

What did men do on the front line in World War One?
What was medicine like during World War One?
Which new weapons were used in World War One?
World War One