World War I was possible because of the soldiers, and so it should be because of them we are here today. However, it was not only the soldiers that had caused us to succeed but also many other factors that have also contributed to us being who we are now, it is just that the soldiers are the main cause of our survival today. When the war began, the males were forced to depart from their beloved families to fight for their country. While it may all seem heroic and patriotic, unless being put into a position of a militant, life can be very harsh and cold.
Mental breakdowns and psychological problems are rife among the fighters, many also suffer from homesickness. The living conditions weren’t very entertaining either, the trenches were always alive with corpses and rats. However, there wasn’t a second option for a veteran, especially when your country was at stake. World War I was famously known was the trench war because the war was bogged down in trenches across numerous nations. Trenches were long, narrow ditches dug into the ground where soldiers lived and fought all day and night. Because there was no roof over their heads, the weather was constantly affecting the well-being of the troopers, it could be hot as the desert now and cold as snow the next. On the western and eastern front, where the fight took place, soldiers would often experience devastatingly cold temperatures that contributed to frostbites.
This phenomenon severely delayed the progress of the war due to the inefficiency of the army and its men. In addition, intense heat faced on the Middle Eastern front could also cause dehydration or overheating which can be fatal to the soldiers. Most of the time, the downpour of rain meant that the soldiers were bound to knee-deep mud for days and many of them had wasted flesh below their knees because of being underwater for a long period of time. Plus, it got unbearably smelly after the rain when the weather was scorching hot, causing the wet mud and waste to dehumidify and let out a bad stench. The landscape that the soldiers could see was treeless and full of rubble after artillery destroyed the nature of the place. Not to mention, many horrible creatures lived amongst the veterans during the war; rats and lice were as abundant as the stars in the sky when corpses were piled everywhere. Soldiers were tormented with lice-infested clothes and the overflowing of the latrines into the trenches only made things worse. In the midst of having to live in this terrible circumstance, they still had to fight. The fight could only result in 2 scenarios: life or death. If a charge commenced, the militants would have to get out of the trench and charge alongside their friends and comrades, all doomed to die if they weren’t lucky. Some died in No Man’s land (a place between two fronts where nothing was present and nobody dared to cross) but if they were rescued, they are either sent away due to injuries, or are returned to the trenches. After healing from the injuries, the victims would still return to the front. When not engaged in battle soldiers were often assigned manual labour roles. It’s not only fighting that occupies much of a soldier’s life — it’s also work.
The troops were rotated so that some men were on the frontline in combat; some men were doing labour to keep the front supplied; some men were resting in the army camps. Despite resting, soldiers would still be exhausted because there was always a lack of labour and support at the front so they were obligated to work and fight to make the good lack. Communal baths that were considered to help steam lice infested clothes were pointless. While work and fighting was definite, some soldiers found it surprisingly boring as to doing the same job over and over again. They turn to entertainment. Many veterans had smoked and cigarettes or pipes because the great shortage of sleep they were getting could not rid of the ecstasy. Puffing the smoke provided a great satisfaction that could be enjoyed in any circumstance. Also, the troopers did not get much sleep; it was either in the morning with the sun shouting at their faces or at night, which only an hour was permitted. They had to endure different wake hours, completely unpredictive, either to complete their daily chores or to fight. However, some preferred the classic way of killing time — letter writing. The soldiers would write lovely letters to home, hoping the war would end soon and they could return to their peaceful past. The communication between the man and his family had often boost their morale and had kept them going, day by day, striving to get closer to the day where the faces of their wives and children could still be seen. But, some chose to reward themselves with card games and football. If quite literal, some went for sex. When not participating in any of these activities, soldiers could nap for hours in a YMCA hut. The huts provided a quiet space in the daytime to catch up on reading and writing.
The patriotic fighters had to watch their comrades get mowed down by dangerous machine guns, and still continue to fight on for their beloved country. A soldier was forced to continue this cycle of anxiety by taking another life from the opposition, it was to kill or be killed. The tanks and bombs did not make anything easier. Many of the times, the soldiers were shellshock and they would stand or sit still, their ears ringing non-stop. One shot at the standing soldier could mean another one down. It was during this period of time that shell shock and what we now understand as post-traumatic stress disorder were first described and diagnosed. These deaths impacted a lot of lives. A lot of soldiers would breakdown and cry as they recall their fellow friends die before their eyes in the fight they did not know would be so cruel. A lot of soldiers thought it would be an adventure. A lot of soldiers thought wrong. There was medical proof that the rates of psychological breakdown after returning to the field, suggested that those who temporarily left their post (that is, were convicted of the charge of ‘Absence without Leave’) were suffering from the mental effects of war. This lead to only one solution – suicide. Suicide offered a way out. It was much underreported, as at least 3,828 German soldiers killed themselves; a figure that does not include the numbers who simply walked into enemy fire or whose death was ambiguous.
The cause of the numerous deaths were the technological advancements made in the late 19th century. Machine guns and artillery changed the scope of the war. It was faster and better, more bullets meant more kills. Soldiers and labourers were ordered to dig trenches and machine gun placements, which protected them from possible enemy shelling and enabled them to fire back at the enemy without exposing themselves to danger. But, the war took a whole new turn when poison gas was introduced. It made war even more unpredictable. The air could be an enemy or an ally. These newly-introduced weapons resulted in an even deadlier war. Almost half of the men in the world served in the First World War, fighting in various locations from France to Iraq, Greece to China, the North Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and experiencing different kinds of combat. Yet wherever they fought, the impact of modern technologies combined with the political circumstances of the war made World War One a unique and terrible experience. As a soldier, there was no guarantee of safety. One can be captured from the enemy in the battlefield and labelled as a prisoner of war. Prisoners of war who were transported to Germany in 1914 were forced to sleep in the fields, without shelter. It was either they had to wait for the completion of their camps or they themselves had to build the camps. In 1915, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia, the camps for the prisoners of war were horrifyingly unhygienic causing a typhus epidemic, killing thousands of prisoners.
Evidently, in the winter of 1915-1916, The Totskoe camp in Russia contained 10,000 prisoners that were killed by the severe disease. Due to the huge amount of death rates, the camps were made more hygienic with modern latrines, bath houses and disinfection vats (lice from clothing were removed). Whilst this may sound like an improvement, many prisoners were ill-treated in camps. Reprisals caused a lot of torment for prisoners. In 1916, Germany forced the French and British prisoners to execute labour in reprisal action to France and Britain using the German prisoners as workers. The working conditions were very dangerous but the prisoners had no choice but to do what was told. The prisoners often starved and most died because they could not handle the severe weather condition. Some German prisoners were forced into labour amongst the shellfire on the Verdun battlefield. They had to work there for months, enduring all sorts of hard work and battlefield horrors. It is almost impossible for a human to go through mental breakdowns while living in areas crawling with corpses and filthy animals. Added to that, meals were not appetising and baths were only available once in a blue moon. Safety was a risk whenever a soldier was in a battlefield, it became riskier as weapons advanced. All these factors made a soldiers’ life very laborious and depressing. All of the difficulties could be avoided if wars were to not happen, but wars are unpredictable and inevitable. As it is, plenty of wars had already happened and many soldiers have laid down their lives for those as such. The soldiers have suffered so much physically, mentally and emotionally; proving that life as a soldier is without a doubt, not an adventure but rather a demanding challenge as it takes over one’s entire life.
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