What was life like for the woman and men on the battlefront?

WWI started in 1914 and ended in 1918. During these four years many brave people lived, breathed and died on the battlefront. These brave men and women were fighting for their countries. Even though the woman were not permitted on the battlefront, many of them were the backbone of the men. Woman worked in factories, drove trucks and ambulances and did almost everything that only the men had done before. This was very important because it made the woman achieve a new status in the eyes of society. In a sense, woman kept the nation running because they kept the soldiers equipped with ammunition and nursed the wounded. The war meant that women had to take up many roles that were previously done by men and their ability to do this led to a change in attitudes – when the war ended in November 1918 approximately 8.4 million women were granted the right to vote, this was definitely a positive impact of the war. Also, oaths led to the right for women to be elected as members of Parliament which was previously only allowed for the men. The war fought for women’s rights and by the end of the war, woman were seen as equals to the men. Some of the well-known roles of the woman in WWI include: Nurses or helpers as shown in Source F, munitions factory workers, sewing bandages, and selling war bonds, shipyards and spy’s (to report on enemies plans etc.). Women on the battle front also cleaned the soldiers’ uniform on a daily basis. Women were not permitted to fight in the war as soldiers as some (who really wanted to) had to dress up like men.

At first, woman didn’t appreciate the war but after a while they started encouraging younger men to get out and help. While the majority of woman stayed at home, more than 65 million men from all over the world were risking their lives to fight. More than 8 million were killed, approximately 2 million died of illness or disease, 21.2 million were wounded and 7.8 million disappeared/went missing. Many of these deaths appeared in local newspaper articles as seen in Source A.

At the outbreak of war, both sides on the Western Front expected to take part in massive military manoeuvres over hundreds of kilometres of territory, and to fight fast-moving battles of advance and retreat. No-one expected a static fight between two evenly matched sides. A stale mate occurred mainly because powerful long ranged weapons and rapid-fire machine guns made it dangerous for soldiers to fight in unprotected open ground. In Source D it shows the voilence of the war. Therefore the only way to survive was to dig trenches.

Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers stayed and lived all day and all night. There were many lines of German trenches on the one side and many other lines of Allied trenches on the other side. In the middle, was a No Man’s Land, so-called because the land in the middle belonged to neither army! Soldiers crossed the dangerous No Man’s Land when they wanted to attack the other side and could potentially get killed. Soldiers in the trenches did not get much sleep and when they did, it was in the afternoon during daylight and at night only for an hour. They were woken up at different times, either to complete daily chores or to fight in battle. During the rest of the time, they wrote letters and sometimes played card games. Trenches were very muddy and smelly. There were many dead bodies buried nearby and the toilets sometimes overflowed into the trenches. Millions of rats infested the trenches and some grew as big as cats. There was also a big problem with the lice that tormented the brave on a daily basis.

Because of rain, snow, and natural seepage filled the trenches with water, duckboards were laid on the ground to keep the soldiers’ feet reasonably dry. However, the mud remained a constant problem in their trench life. Conditions in the trenches were shocking. In winter, trenches flooded, and sometimes froze. As a result of wet conditions and poor hygiene, some soldiers suffered from “trench foot”. Many suffered from diseases such as Cholera and open wounds that never healed. Soldiers had to live with the constant danger of enemy shelling and snipers; the sound of artillery bombardments which sometimes resulted in soldiers suffering from a breakdown known as “shell shock”; the death or injury of close friends; the dangers of poison gas attacks; rats and lice; the boring diet of tea, biscuits and tinned beef. This was a very traumatic experience for soldiers. Many poets wrote about their terrifying experiences and hard lives, as in Source C.

Life in the trenches was not easy as many people lived in both fear and boredom.  Trenches were the front lines, the most dangerous places. This can be seen in Source E. However, only a relatively small proportion of the army actually served there. The idea of trenches was not new as it had been widely practiced in the US Civil War, The Russian-Japanese war and other fairly recent wars. A trench system consisted of a serious of trenches running roughly parallel to the enemy’s trenches. A rough sketch of the trench system in France has been shown in Source B.

Once armies realised that wearing bright colours was distracting and that enemies could notice them from a far, they changed their uniforms to Khaki colours. This meant that they would be more camouflaged.

To many soldiers’ surprise, Artillery played a major role in the war. Many expected to fight in open combat however their expectations were short-lived. Grenades, flame-throwers, field mortars, dangerous machine guns, deadly shells and gas attacks were very important and were often used to kill enemies.

For real WWI footage watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Tv5gBa9DQs 


Source A:

source a


Source A was published in 1917 and was produced in Wales in the Carmarthen Journal (which is the local newspaper in this small town). This source was used to show the amount of casualties of the men who sacrificed their lives for their country. We chose this source to explain how many people died and how selfless they really were.

Source B:

source b

This source was produced in 1917 to show the trench-system in France during WWI. This source was published in “Die Große Zeit. Illustrierte Kriegsgeschichte”, second part. Berlin 1920, p. 149. Source-declaration: “From an English journal”. It was from Germany and the reason we chose this source was because it shows how many trenches actually had to be dug for protection, shelter and a “home” for the soldiers in war.

Source C:

source c

“In Flanders Fields” was produced by Dr. John McCrae (In Canada) in 1915. This source shows how drastically peoples’ lives changed because of the war. People went from being at home and surrounded by love to being surrounded by emptiness and danger. We chose this poem because it’s interesting to see how people took the deaths of closed love ones (they were extremely upset because the war caused so many deaths).

Source D:

source d

This source was produced to show the smashing of the Hindenburg line in New York on the 29th of September 1918 by Frank Schoonover. We have chosen this source because it is interesting as it shows how violent things really were and that because of all the gunfire and factories etc. pollution increased dramatically to the point that painters actually showed this in their art as seen in this source.

Source E:

source e

Source E was produced during WWI. This source is from the website: http://www.geocities.ws/ks3history/Y9ExamSummer2007Notes.html (It does not have a date nor an illustrator). This source was made to try and get women to persuade their brothers, sons and husbands to join the war. It shows how desperate armies were for soldiers and later in the war they actually made it compulsory for men to go to war as many did not even volunteer anymore. Women handed out white feathers to men who were not involved in the war as men were considered a disgrace, as well as cowards if they did not go to war.

Source F:

source f

Source F is a photograph showing how women helped during the war as nurses and staff etc. and helped the men to be prepared for battle. This photograph was taken in 1914 and its purpose was to show the Red Cross kitchen Helpers during the war. This source does not have a photographers name on the website that we found this source from although it says the photograph is from: b16433 State Library of Victoria.