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Having spent much of the past four weeks analyzing and reporting on my historical fiction survey, I thought it time to offer something different. This post originally appeared in my other blog, One Writer’s Voice. It seems to have garnered quite a lot of interest so I thought I would reproduce it here.

Military organizations went to incredible lengths to provide rules and regulations in World War I. My research constantly uncovers intriguing (and chilling) details governing the lives of soldiers. When exploring trench warfare for an understanding of living conditions, I found a copy of Canada’s trench standing orders. Put yourself in a deep, muddy trench waiting for orders to attack or merely trying to get through yet another day of your six day rotation.

  • while in the trenches, rifles will at all times be loaded and magazines charged
  • .. rifles will always be in the immediate reach of every man and bayonets will be always fixed
  • Company and Platoon commanders will insure that rifles are always clean by holding inspections frequently
  • one hundred and twenty rounds will always be carried in each man’s pouches (wonder how much that weighs)
  • … fire steps have a tendency to sink and parapets to rise (hence an instruction to check the height when taking over a trench)
  • all ranks … should not expose themselves higher than the bottom of the third sand bag from the top of the parapet (or risk getting their heads blown off)
  • constant care must be taken to prevent enemy bullets penetrating at any point through the parapet
  • forty percent of the Battalion Strength (note the capitals) … should always be on duty by night
  • no NCO or man will be permitted to leave the fire or the support trenches except by the direct order of an Officer
  • wire and listening posts are the best protection against an attack by night; listening posts, which as a rule should be in front of the wire, should consist of two men lying down; a small communication trench should be provided; also a tunnel through the parapet
  • .. all empty tins refuse and latrine excreta must be buried by night well in rear of the trenches
  • any dead animals lying about must be buried (also at night)
  • in the unlikely event of any portion of it [the fire trench] falling into the hands of enemy, on no account will the garrison or adjoining portions fall back (optimistic use of the word unlikely)
  • there should be one listening post per platoon
  • reconnoitring patrols should be sent out at intervals to ascertain if there is any movement of a part of the enemy
  • as patrols and listening posts will be out, there must be no firing by night except by order of the Company Commander
  • troops will stand to arms an hour before daylight, and remain standing to arms until daylight, also a quarter of an hour after sunset for half an hour

Clearly a difficult, deadly activity.

Documents like these add authenticity to the scenes I write in and around WWI trenches. Apologies for being unable to provide the link. Collections Canada has moved this document and I cannot find it.

Notes: photo source Wikipedia; italics in the orders were added by me