Routine of Trench Warfare

Routine of Trench Warfare

A letter from Sergeant G. E. Miller, of the High School section of the 5th Black Watch, to a friend in Arbroath. Published in the Arbroath Herald on 7 May 1915.

When our brigade and consequently our battalion is in reserve, that is to say some six miles back, we have our three parades a day – 7 a.m., 9.30 a.m., and 2p.m., and these are stiff. Every other night after these parades we have to go digging. That means a walk of six miles – 2½ or 3 hours work, and we have to walk back again. After that we simply flop down on our bed and in a few minutes we are fast asleep. We have four hours sleep and then we are at it again. You see that it becomes pretty hard, especially as most of us have more or less touches of rheumatics. When "standing to" for three days in the advance billet we have nothing to do but keep the place clean; rise at 8 for breakfast and lie back again and so on. It is, you may guess, dangerous to wander about on account of so many aeroplanes scouting.

Then again when in the trenches for three days or longer we generally go in at night, and having got the relief battalion, we carry on as follows:- So many sentries on the parapet and an equal number of reliefs standing down but ready for action, a certain fraction remaining in bed. The first thing to be done is to send out a party of men for water and rations, and if required to bring in sandbags to fill up the parapet, or trench boards to keep our feet out of the water in the trench. All the carrying work is done by night. The reason is obvious. The nights are very short now. Daylight comes in at 3.30. While everybody stands to at 3am until 4am or thereabout ready for an attack. During the day those who have been sleeping at night do the work of filling sandbags and other odd jobs. Sometimes we have quite a lazy time in the trenches. At others we are kept busy with little sleep. Great fun is caused during the night by some section or platoon getting "wound up". That is an expression used for getting up rapid fire and nothing doing. They blaze away and it is an exciting time, but there is a sound that will never be forgotten. At the same time the enemy throws up his star shells which are really magnificent lights.

It is comparatively safe in the trenches when the parapet is bullet proof, but when the trenches were shelled we got a scare. We had to get down and quickly too. The billet is full of mice and last night […] saw one calmly sitting on my head. They run about in dozens hunting for rations. This part of the country has been almost completely destroyed by shell fire but from my conversation with some Belgian soldiers some nights ago, Belgium is much worse.

The British Army is being very well cared for both as regards food and clothing…The fine weather has come in but we had some very cold snaps…I am sorry to say it, but I was ashamed to think that so many of the young men at home had not volunteered for active service. It is only those who are out here who knew how badly they are needed.

The Black Watch, by Snaffles, from A History of the Black Watch in the Great War.