Share This Article

Dear Mr. History, 

I have three questions about World War I that I am hoping you can answer.

  1. What were the worst conditions soldiers in WWI went through?
  2. How long did it take to dig up the trenches soldiers fought in?
  3. Are countries still upset with one another because of WWI?

I hope you have the time to read my questions and answer them, if so I’m looking forward to reading your answers. 






Dear Angelina,

In regard to living conditions during World War I, there were probably as many answers as fighting men. Arguably the most miserable were the British trenches, which were generally the least well-prepared and with the poorest facilities (the Germans, who adopted a defensive stance early on, were more inclined to put more thought into fortifying their trenches and preparing them to sustain their defenders for a long time; a down side was the static mentality it bred, which psychologically affected them to a significant extent when they took to the offensive again in March 1918). Besides the mud, the rats, the lice and the disease, four years of trench warfare sapped morale by its very impression of hopelessness and the notion that the soldiers might never change their situation.

How long it took to dig those trenches is impossible to generalize. The best answer may lie in imagining that you are a private in a company attached to any of the warring armies, being ordered by your sergeant to dig. How long would it take you to dig that first stretch of hole seven or eight feet down? Now imagine yourself hearing the sound of artillery fire coming from the other side of the lines. Might that get some adrenalin up, might you be digging a bit faster? How about that sound growing louder as the enemy starts walking his shellfire toward you. Are you really glancing at your pocket watch to gauge how much faster you are digging now? The only answer is: I’m digging as fast as I can—for dear life. And maybe, at that point, looking up to see an airplane flying over and wishing you could transfer to the air service to get out of this, even if it does risk its own interesting forms of death.

As to whether there are still bitter feelings between combatants in World War I, the general answer is no, at least among the major powers. Exceptions include the Armenians, who are still angry at the Turks for atrocities committed on them during the war, but that may be more for Turkey’s continuing policy of denial than for the acts themselves.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

More Questions at Ask Mr. History


Don’t miss the next Ask Mr. History question! To receive notification whenever any new item is published on HistoryNet, just scroll down the column on the right and sign up for our RSS feed.