When war was declared in 1914
Canadian were excited. Thousands
of men volunteered eagerly while
proclaiming “Home for Christmas”.
Outside the Toronto Star
building midnight August 4,
1914. Many were excited at
the prospect of being a
hero, having a chance to
visit Europe and not have to
worry about unemployment.
Volunteers were first sent for training at the
new facility of Valcartier in Quebec.
From Valcartier the troops took
a train to Halifax and then a
ship to Britain.
Upon arrival in Europe many of
the soldiers were transported
to the battlefields and trenches
Trenches were usually about seven
feet deep and six feet wide and often
included underground dugouts to
house reserve soldiers.
The Germans were the first to decide that
the trench system was necessary and
therefore were able to choose the better,
higher ground on which to build their
Many of the Allies were forced to build
their trenches in areas that were only a
few feet above sea level. As a result most
of the trenches usually a foot or two of
water in them.
As a result issues such as
“trench foot” were common
in the early months of the
Soon it became mandatory for
soldiers to change their socks every
day, rub their feet with whale oil and
receive regular foot inspections.
Other conditions of the trenches
include lice, rats, and dysentery.
Often when a soldier was killed in the
trench their bodies remained where
they fell. Eventually bodies at various
stages of decay would surround the
trenches attracting rats and resulting in
Body lice also spread quickly
throughout the trenches. This left the
soldiers with itchy red bites on their
bodies and sometimes resulted in the
spread of disease which became known
as trench fever.
Trying to rid clothing of lice.
Both the quality and quantity of food
was also quite poor. Bully beef and
biscuits was most common and many
found the food bland and
The rotation in the trenches was on a 16
day timetable. Soldiers would spend 8
days in the front line, four in the
reserve trench and four in a rest camp
away from the front.
Sometimes quite active
Sometimes quite idle
Bodies of fallen soldiers were
everywhere. Sometimes when new
trenches or dugouts were needed
dead bodies would be found just
below the surface.
Trenches were protected by thick
barbed-wire. Usually it was placed
far enough from the trench to
prevent the enemy from lobbing
grenades into the trench.
No Man’s Land was the ground
between two opposing trenches. It
varied in size but was often about
200-250 meters wide.
Heavy artillery was often used to
penetrate through the barbed wire
protection. This type of weapon
would also account for 7 out of 10
deaths on the Western Front.
British Howitzers used at the Battle of the Somme
Poison gas also became a threat to
both sides. In all approximately
91,000 men were killed as a result
of poison gas.
A rare aerial view of a gas attack.
Shell shock (today known as
PTSD) was first noticed by
doctors treading soldiers in
By the end of war more than
908,000 soldiers of the British
Empire were killed and 2,000,000
were seriously wounded.
In all more than 9 million were dead and 20 million wounded.