Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source1
News film showing British soldiers digging trenches, 1915
(ITN Archive/Pathé: 1916.05)
  • This film clip shows troops training before being sent to the western front in 1915. They are all volunteers, persuaded to join up by Lord Kitchener's famous recruiting campaigns from the early stages of the war.
  • The clip shows the huge numbers of people needed to dig the trenches. It gives a clue into the manpower needed to keep the trenches in good condition. Although the trenches have a bad reputation in British history, they saved huge numbers of lives.
  • One of the most important pieces of kit the British soldier carried was his trenching tool. This could be fitted to the handle and used as a pick to break up hard ground or as a shovel to move soft earth.
  • The fact that British troops are training in digging trenches suggests that the British knew just how important it was for troops to be able to dig in quickly and safely. Most British soldiers spent a lot more time digging and repairing trenches than they did in battles, patrols or raiding parties.
  • The clip also gives a hint of the ways in which the British Army deliberately built up the feeling of being part of a team. Soldiers were recruited from the same locality or the same line of work (such as the Artists Rifles or the Football Brigade of the Middlesex Regiment). During the war, units formed strong friendships and most soldiers knew that survival depended on you and your mates looking after each other. The British Army was deliberately organised into small units (platoons), which helped to build up this loyalty.
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