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WW1 Trenches - An Introduction For Keystage 2 & 3

We love a good history book! And lately we've been immersing ourselves in the latest "Adventures In Time" novels from Dominic Sandbrook (we highly recommend them - you can check out details for them here).

In honour of Dominic's fantastic book on World War 1, we've put together this handy introductory article for Keystage 2 and 3, answering popular questions all about the trenches.

A Modern Day Replica of a WW1 Trench

What is a Trench?

A trench in the First World War was a long, narrow ditch dug into the ground. This is where the soldiers lived and fought during the war. These trenches were around 2-3 metres deep and 1-2 metres wide. Historians believe there were approximately 35,000 miles of trenches dug throughout World War 1.

German cavalry of the 11th Reserve Hussar Regiment in a trench, in France, in the Western Front during 1916

Where did they dig the trenches?

The trenches were dug on the Western Front. This was the front line of the war in France. The trenches stretched from the North Sea coast of Belgium through France. Both the German forces and the Allied forces dug trenches facing one another.

Why did they dig trenches?

At the start of the war, both the German and Allied forces quickly realised that they could stop their enemy from advancing by digging trenches. Once the trenches had been dug, neither side advanced very far for the next three and a half years. In some places the trenches were so close to each other that they could hear their enemy clattering pots while they had breakfast.

A Modern Day Replica of a WW1 Trench Showing a Dug Out

What happened to the space between the enemy trenches?

The gap of land between the German and Allied trenches was called “No Man’s Land”. It was a muddy, empty landscape, stripped of trees and covered with barbed wire, landmines and holes made from explosives. It was a very dangerous place to be because you were exposed to attacks from the enemy trenches.

Diagram of a Trench

What did trenches look like?

Trenches weren’t dug in straight lines – they zigzagged across the landscape. The walls of the trench were made of earth and soil and were reinforced with wooden planks. Sandbags were stacked up on either side of the trench to support the walls and protect the soldiers. These sandbags would often get damaged by the weather or enemy attacks. Soldiers would have to refill and restock the sandbags as part of their daily duties.

There was a high step at the front of the trench called a “Fire Step” where you could stand to fire your weapon over No Man’s Land. The front of the trench was also protected by barbed wire.

At the back of the trench would be a hollowed out section called a “Dug Out” where the soldiers would eat, sleep and write letters home to their loved ones. Planks of wood, called “Duckboards” were laid along the floor to walk along.

Trenches of the 11th Cheshire Regiment on the Somme, July 1916. One soldier keeps watch while the others sleep.

Was it a clean place to live?

No. Trenches were dug straight into the soil so they were very muddy and dirty. In fact the trenches were so dirty that they were filled with pests. Soldiers had to train dogs to catch the thousands of rats running around! The soldiers were given time each day to try to clean themselves – but much of this time went into trying to get rid of the lice infesting their clothing.

The dirty living conditions, cold weather and low quality food meant that soldiers often got very ill. For example, when it rained, the trenches filled with muddy water. The duckboards laid along the ground helped to keep the soldiers’ feet dry. If a soldier stood with his feet in muddy water for too long he could get a painful condition called “Trench Foot”.

Have you got a question about the Trenches in WW1? Email us to let us know at and we’ll give you an answer right here in this blog!


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