Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source3
Letter written by a British soldier in August 1916
(Catalogue ref: RAIL 253/516)
  • This letter is dated 13 August 1916 and comes from an ordinary soldier, rather than an officer. The letter has been censored to remove any information about where exactly the soldier was stationed.
  • Both sides sent patrols and raiding parties into no man's land to try to bomb enemy trenches or capture prisoners to get information.
  • A sap was a trench dug out into no man's land near to the enemy, with the sap-head often used as a listening post.
  • British commanders were very aware of how hard life was in the front line trenches. They tried to shuffle their troops to lessen the strain on them. Most British soldiers spent 4-5 days per month in the firing line (usually 2 days at any one stretch), before being replaced by other soldiers from their battalion who were held in reserve. This treatment was far better than the treatment of German or French troops.
  • Soldiers were recruited from local areas to help keep up morale and loyalty. The British Army was deliberately organised into small units (platoons) which helped to build up this loyalty. Most soldiers knew your survival depended on you and your mates looking after each other.
  • British troops had the best uniforms of all troops in the war. They were also well fed. They had plenty of access to tobacco and alcohol.
  • On average, soldiers spent about 60% of their time in or near the front lines, the rest of it well behind the lines. Football became a highly organised obsession for many of the units!
  • All of these factors help to explain why the British Army generally had very good morale, despite the war conditions, and suffered very little from mutiny.
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