What were the opinions of both the soldiers and the public on trench warfare?
Many people had many different opinions on the war, specifically on the trenches at the western front. Due to the high amount of death and terrible stories coming home from soldiers, the general public knew fairly well what was going on over the seas. So how did they feel about it? Was it a negative attitude, or simply an insouciant disposition? Well, at the start of the war, nobody really knew what they were up against. All of the young men volunteering simply wanted to ‘Have a crack at the Hun’ and make a bit of money out of it. Very little considered what they were up against, and all thought that the Turkish soldiers were untrained and in small numbers. Many Australians showed the ‘Typical Aussie Spirit’, disregarded most training and were poorly disciplined. While the Australians were still eager soldiers, they were nowhere near as effective (In training) as the British or New Zealand soldiers, as they played around too much and did not listen. However, when push came to shove and trench warfare broke out, the Australians were certainly a force to be reckoned with. They just kept going and going, never giving up. But what did they think of their environment? Did they really want to be there?
The soldiers in the trenches at the Western Front were really pushed. Hunger, thirst, disease, trench foot and dead bodies everywhere really lowered the morale levels of many soldiers. Over 12 million letters were sent to the western front every week, and soldiers were encouraged to write back. Unfortunately for us, the soldiers were also encouraged to disclude information about the trenches and war in their letters to families. Therefore, to find out opinions from the whole AIF, empathy must be used. So picture it, being trapped in a confined space with loud gunshots going off everywhere, with a constant threat of being blown up by artillery. Not to mention, the countless amount of blood and pieces of people everywhere. The smell would be terrible, and they would not only have to eat in it but live in it, breath it. If they were injured or caught a disease, there would be no hospital bed, no clean white sheets, just a blood covered towel and a young underequipped surgeon. But possibly the worst thing about living in the trenches would be seeing you friends die. And not just one friend, but many. Having to see them bleed out in no-man’s land while you stayed helpless, of seeing them taken out by an enemy sniper while they were standing where you were 20 seconds ago would have easily been the most confronting thing that they would witness in their lifetime. There was no escape.
There was no psychiatrist or Mum or Dad or Wife, and so they had to keep pulling along. And when you think about it, that would be the hardest part. So, by putting yourself in the shoes of the soldiers on the Western Front, you can begin to find their opinion on the trenches. Of course, in the first couple of days, the eager soldiers would have been fine with it. They would not have considered the long term events, and how long they may have to live like they had been living. By the second week at the most, I’m sure many soldiers would have been absolutely sick of it, and would’ve rather been anywhere else in the world but in the trenches. By the first month, I’m sure there would be a few that would rather be dead than living the way they were, especially if in the first few months it had been raining/wet. It would have been the worst experience in their lives. However, it was just the start. Those that were lucky enough to return to their home country after the war had only seen the start of their problems. Many soldiers returned from war had severe mental health problems, the most common being reoccurring night terrors. Many soldiers were always jittery and loud noises caused them panic. They hated the trenches with a passion, both while they were in them and while they weren’t.
On the other hand, civilians knew very little about what was going on. Due to the decreasing amount of volunteers going into the army, the government glorified the war as much as possible. One such act they did was censoring the letters sent by the soldiers. This meant that the real information going home was not that of the horrible life in the trenches, but that of how they miss their family. However, while they did not know the extent to which the atrocities went on within the trenches, it was not hard for one to imagine that it would not be the nicest of places, even without any prior knowledge. While the civilians and families of soldiers did not hate the trenches in a similar manner to the soldiers, they did certainly not think well of them and would’ve much rather had their men back in the country.
Overall trench warfare was looked upon negatively. While the soldiers were the main source of hatred, the civilians and townspeople would have definitely disliked the idea of their friends and family fighting in the trenches.
Written By Sean Crampton.