Tue-Fri 10am - 4pm / Saturday 10am - 4pm

WW1 Lives: Coping with War

The evidence of photos, letters and objects show that the key ways in which soldiers coped with both the drudgery and horrors of conflict were through friendships, trying to bring a normality to existence, treats from home to supplement the dull diet, humour to laugh away the extraordinary awfulness of the war and letters from loved ones to remind soldiers what they were fighting for.


Although officially banned by army authorities, soldiers sometimes smuggled their own cameras to the frontline. The photos these cameras took showed how important friendships were in the lives of soldiers. Passionate discussions about football teams, a break for a brew up and cigarettes and jokes between mates to keep spirits up. Letters to and from Sweethearts at home provided a necessary boost to morale for troops.


Supplies of cake and chocolate in food parcels were sent from home to boost morale. Princess Mary gift boxes were sent to every soldier for Christmas 1914 - these could contain tobacco, a small smoking pipe, chocolate, stationary and a small pencil as well as a photo of princess Mary herself. Rowntree’s of York and Sainsbury’s produced tinned chocolate.

Families also sent cakes from home. Bruce Bairnsfather, a member of The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and famous cartoonist, sent letters to a lady in Birmingham he called ‘the Erdington Wench’ who sent him cakes. It is clear that her gesture stole his heart!

Soldiers were given a daily ration of rum at breakfast time each day or just before an attack. Robert Graves described rum as the brightest moment in 24 hours. 1/16 pint was the ration each soldier received per day. French soldiers drank a pint of wine a day instead.

Everybody smoked and cigarettes could form a currency – two cigarettes, for example, could buy you a haircut. A famous chaplain called ‘Woodbine Willy’ was a chaplain who gave out free cigarettes around the trenches.

Caffeine was recognised as an important stimulant and there was a dramatic rise in instant coffee and other drugs such as morphine and cocaine. ‘Forced March’ tablets containing both coca leaf extract (cocaine) and kola nut (caffeine) were issued.

Humour & Songs

Bruce Bairnsfather and other cartoonists fed a ready market by bringing humour to the bleak lives of soldiers on the frontline. Cartoons, often with settings on the battlefield, were produced as postcards. Soldiers might also be treated to postcards of pin-ups to brighten their day. It was also the postcard industry that reproduced famous songs such as ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ to inspire the troops to sing together and dispel the horrors that surrounded them and were to come.  

Artefacts on display in the museum

The following is a selection of items that are on display in the "World War 1 Lives" exhibition in the Fusilier Museum, Warwick.

View more artefacts relating to the theme of "Coping with War".

Kodak Camera

Kodak Camera similar to those used by soldiers to take personal photos in WW1. The Vest Pocket Kodak camera, or ‘VPK’ as it was usually known, was one of the most popular and successful cameras of its day. Over 2 million were sold before the model was discontinued in 1926.Many soldiers bought cameras to record their travels and experiences. The Vest Pocket Kodak was by far a popular choice, It was widely advertised as ‘The Soldier’s Kodak’ and owners were encouraged to ‘Make your own picture record of the War’. Sales rocketed. In 1914 around 5,000 VPK's were sold in Britain. In 1915 this increased to over 28,000.

'One of the bright spots of our life'

Postcard - Sketches of Tommy's life 'One of the bright spots of our life'. This indicates the importance of the daily rum ration in the lives of soldiers on the frontline.

Trench art - RWR cap

Trench art has been described as objects made from debris & by products of war. These were mainly spent bullet & shell cases however other materials were used such as coins, wood & animal bones. This lovely brass & copper Cap was made from a British 18 pounder shell case & dated 1918. This peaked cap has a copper chinstrap made from the shell’s driving band & has the RWR antelope attached which has been cut from a cap badge.

Most trench art was made by servicemen to pass the time when not in the front line. While some were simple & amateurish some examples required metal working skills or workshop facilities. Prisoners of war also faced a constant battle with boredom & fine examples of trench art were produced. Civilians & Chinese labourers also produced items of trench art to sell to the soldiers sometimes risking their lives collecting the debris from the battlefield to transform into souvenirs. After the war the industry of making trench art continued for sale to the visitors of battlefields & cemeteries 

View more artefacts relating to the theme of "Coping with War".