Weird History

15 Photos From The Trenches Of WWI That Show What They Were Really Like 

Brenden Donnelly
Updated November 11, 2019 9.3k views 15 items

Between 1914 and 1918, the trenches along the borders of Germany, France, Russia, and many other countries were the inadvertent homes of 65 million young men fought one of the worst wars in history. World War I took a terrible tole on the people of the early 20th century, but it was the infantry who fought on the frontline who experienced the very worst. When they were not risking their lives running through 'No Man's Land' the soldiers stayed in the trenches and laid in wait for their turn. With bullets and toxic gas threatening those above ground the trenches provided some refuge, but quite often it was not much better.

The deep manmade ditches ran across miles of devastated terrain, but the majority were infested with rats and other vermin while the ground was often drenched with mud and water. The smell of cadavers and gunpowder permeated the air, and diseases like dysentry, cholera, and trench foot were rampant due to close proximites. But despite squalid conditions, soldiers tried their best to make life tolerable.

Photos from the trenches of WWI show us a world near impossible for many today to comprehend; among the many millions of lives lost, disease, and the destruction of a countryside that used to be considered home, those who fought in the trenches continued to transcend terrors of "the Great War" and enjoy the company of others thrust in the same situation. Photos show us what living in the trenches of WWI was really like. 

French Soldiers At Verdun, 1916
French Soldiers At Verdu... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 15 Photos From The Trenches Of WWI That Show What They Were Really Like
Photo:  u/AFWUSA/Reddit

The Battle of Verdun claimed more than 600,000 French and German lives. Hoping to seize Verdun, chief of German general staff Erich von Falkenhayn ordered his troops to advance onto French territory "without regard to casualties," prompting the Germans to open fire with more than 1,220 arms. 

German troops claimed Fort Douaumont with almost no resistance in February 1916, and two months later they took Fort Vaux as well, bringing them closer to their ultimate goal. By Autumn the French were ready to fight back, and managed to regain possession of both Douaumont and Vaux.

In A Trench Bunker In Galicia, 1917
In A Trench Bunker In Ga... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 15 Photos From The Trenches Of WWI That Show What They Were Really Like
Photo:  u/Edge767/Reddit

According to Redditor /u/Edge767, Zimits Ferenc - who later changed his name to Bontay Ferenc - sits on the left in the trench bunker. Ferenc "served with distinction" for both the Italian and Eastern fronts in Galicia during WWI, and came away from the war decorated for his bravery. He managed to survive, and made it home to begin his family, whom Edge767 was later born into. 

Ferenc became a regular member of Hungary's National Forestry Association in 1930. 

A British Infantryman On Sentry, 1916
A British Infantryman On... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 15 Photos From The Trenches Of WWI That Show What They Were Really Like
Photo:  u/KapitanKurt/Reddit

In a trench in Ovillers-la-Boisselle on the Somme, July 1916, British troops attempt to rest while one soldier guards their position. A typical day in the trenches didn't allow for much sleep, and according to the BBC, what downtime soldiers could manage was often in the afternoon or an hour at a time after the sun went down.

Around 5 am, troops would stand on high alert for enemy attacks, and at 6 am they would stand down for half an hour before breakfast at 7. They would clean the trench at 8 am and at noon they would have dinner. There was room for letter writing, card games, and sleeping, until 5 pm when they would have evening tea. At 6 pm, troops stood on high alert once again and from 6:30 until dawn they would patrol, dig, put up barbed wire, and more general work. 

50 Yards Away From German Line Repairing A Trench After A Bomb Explosion, 1917 
50 Yards Away From Germa... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 15 Photos From The Trenches Of WWI That Show What They Were Really Like
Photo:  The U.S. National Archives/Flickr/No Known Copyright Restrictions

Filmmaker D.W. Griffith stands in civilian clothing alongside American soldiers as they repair a recently attacked trench. German troops are positioned 50 yards away while Griffith films his 1917 motion picture Hearts of the World.  

Hearts of the World is the first major motion picture to capture a world war on film, though most of the frontline scenes are staged. The movie follows a young American couple living in a peaceful French village with their families. The boy is sent into service before the couple can marry. Both the girl and the boy's family end up as casualties when enemy troops attack their village. Griffith's film serves as heavy propaganda and was released just after the US joined WWI.