The trenches also created a common set of health
and hygiene problems. Lice and rats were constant torments. The
deep mud and slime gave rise to a crippling condition known as 'trench foot', which, in the British sector of the Western Front during
the winter of 1914, forced 20,000 men out of action. Though a cure
was eventually found for this malady, living conditions in the trenches
remained damp and filthy for the duration of the war.
Life in the trenches was not, however, an unremitting catalogue
of misery and hardship. Britain's close proximity to the front enabled
men to receive regular food and clothing parcels from their families.
Trench newspapers and games of football provided diversions from
the conflict itself. Black humour and patriotic songs helped to
foster a sense of common identity within individual units.
These were the sides of the soldier's life on the Western Front
about which the British public was told in publications such as
the Daily Mail and the Illustrated London News. However,
such sanitised accounts, as the troops themselves contemptuously
acknowledged, gave largely misleading impressions. Real life in
the trenches, as the horrendous casualty rates illustrated, was
a good deal bloodier and more dangerous.