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

WW1 Lives: The Experience of War

Although photographs of men in trenches are the most enduring image of World War 1, trench life was only part of a soldier’s experience on active duty. Soldiers also resided at the main military headquarters (HQ) and in training camps where they also played sports to keep themselves occupied and fit for action. Rest periods might be spent using the facilities of local towns.

The Allies and their enemy had a different approach to the use of trenches – the German trenches built defensive trenches designed to hold ground against the Allies on two fronts - West and East.

The Allied trenches developed from individual fox holes that were then joined together to form temporary trenches. These were used to prepare for attack while being protected from the shells of enemy artillery fire. Temporary trenches evolved to become permanent placements for frontline troops with reserve trenches to house troops rotated to and from the frontline. Private William Tapp of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment called one of these the ‘Starvation Trench’ due to the poor supply of provisions. Communication trenches were used to bring supplies including food to the frontline.

A soldier’s basic kit apart from their uniform was a Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE or ‘Smelly’) Rifle, an entrenching tool to dig or maintain trenches, a gas mask, a water canteen, and a spoon and a mess tin for eating. Troops were required to supply their own soap because army soap was of such poor quality, and also toilet paper and foot powder to keep feet dry and prevent sores.

Food rations were basic. Most food was eaten cold and tinned food such as corn beef and potatoes or Maconochie (‘trench stew’), made up of carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, and beans, were a standard ration.  There were also whole wheat biscuits so hard that they had to be broken with stone and put in hot water to make porridge or an addition to stews. The main British producer of these was Huntley & Palmers, then the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world and still in business today. Bread, jam (usually plum and apple) and local vegetables broke the monotony of the daily diet.

This uninspiring food was washed down with cups of tea if you were lucky enough to have a ‘Tommy cooker’ which was a folding stove that used wood or meths fuel. Water for the tea was often stored in reused petrol cans which gave a petrol taste which was thinly disguised by the tea.

A private soldier was paid just a shilling a day (£5.45 today), a Sergeant 2 shillings and 4 pence (£12.70), a Second Lieutenant 7 shillings and 6 pence (£40.90), a Lieutenant 8 shillings and six pence (£46.30) and a Captain 12 shillings and 6 pence (£68.10).  

Artefacts on display in the museum

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

View more artefacts relating to the theme of "The Experience of War".

Battalion sign

Painting of regimental antelope on black ground with '1' in top left hand corner. Hung outside Headquarters (HQ)  of 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, France 1916.  The Commanding Officer of the battalion at the time was Lieutenant Colonel  G.N.B. Forster D.S.O who was later Bridgadier General C.M.G. D.S.O. He died near Amiens in 1918. 

My Dream for Years to Come

Bruce Bairnsfather drawing: My Dream for Years to Come. Published in Fragments from France. This subject was used in more cartoons by Bairnsfather as the war went on more men suffered from shell shock due to the constant bombardments. 

First Field dressing pack

This item is a one of two bandages which were packed into a soldiers field dressing pack along with two metal safety pins, these packs were issued as part of a soldiers kit. Soldiers who were caught without the dressing were charged under Military law Their intention was that men could have their wounds dressed & attended to quickly if no medical assistance was close by. The field dressing was stored in an inside pocket of their tunic under the outer right hand side flap. This one is part of the field dressing manufactured by Cuxon, Gerrard & Co Ltd  Birmingham & Oldbury & dated August 1918

View more artefacts relating to the theme of "The Experience of War".