Life in the trenches of the First World War was far from a pleasant experience. Aside from rampant disease and an unholy infestation of lice, soldiers lived in constant jeopardy of being blown to little pieces. What is more, on the occasions when they were ordered to ‘go over the top’ (better known as state sponsored suicide) thousands of men faced the probability of being caught in barbed wire, shot at with machine guns and obliterated by artillery fire. If they ever made it back to the safety – and I use that term loosely – of the trenches, God only knows the mental injuries these poor soldiers were forced to endure as a result of the horrors that they had witnessed.
Forget the cosy world of the trenches depicted by the award winning 2014 Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, the reality is that for four years hundreds of thousands of innocent men either suffered from disease, were severely injured or died in what was effectively a network of muddy ditches. This so called ‘Great War’ left its mark on so many lives in ways that you or I cannot even begin to imagine. Therefore, regardless of whether you’re a history buff, read on to discover seven grisly medical conditions from the trenches of World War One.
7. Barbed Wire and Shrapnel Wounds
Some of the most common but equally grisly medical conditions suffered by soldiers of the First World War were the severe lacerations caused by barbed wire. Barbed wire was used by both sides of the Western Front as a crude but effective buffer in preventing key trenches from being captured.
Unfortunately for soldiers, when they were given the order to climb out of their trenches, advance across ‘No Man’s Land’ and capture an enemy trench, barbed wire would make the task almost impossible. For example, men would often fall into the wire and be cut to shreds, making them easy pickings for sniper fire. If they ever managed to free themselves they were usually heavily mutilated; as the wire often tore through muscles and ligaments, rendering them utterly useless.
If the wire was not enough to contend with, soldiers would also suffer from exploding artillery fire and mines that could literally destroy a man’s body instantaneously – or at best maim him. With all the exploding shells, shrapnel would also prove to be problematic to soldiers, who apart from being preoccupied with dodging bullets, had little to no time to react to thousands of pieces of metal impacting their body at high speed. As such shrapnel would often cut through men’s arteries leaving them to bleed out before a field medic could do anything to save them from, what must have seemed, the sanctuary of death.