The trenches of World War I were a series of deep ditches where the infantryman morbidly whiled away his existance for four long years. Dug by the fighting troops themselves, they were approximately 600-km-long on the Western Front, running in a winding or zig-zag pattern, from the Swiss border, through Northeastern France, to the North Sea coast in Belgium. The trench lines were reinforced by concrete fortresses and pillboxes, in which artillery pieces and machine guns were implaced. There were also underground shelters the troops scrambled into when the enemy began pouring down on them heavy artillery shells, which were usually the harbingers of a massive infantry attack across no-man’s land in another futile attempt to breach the enemy lines and outflank their positions. Contained in shells, sometimes poisonous gases would also be fired by the artillery.
WWI trenches had not been planned beforehand as a war tactic, but they were the consequences; something that the soldiers on both sides were forced to dig under the fighting circumstances after the initial German offensive, established in the Schlieffen Plan, had failed. What forced them to dig these deep ditches of hell, where life was snuffed out and limbs blown away? the WWI machine guns and the new breech-loading howitzers, which cropped up in the battlefield as the lethal spin-offs of the Second Industrial Revolution. These new weapons put up a high volume of fire that wiped out the cavalry from the battlefield. Thus, the initial, dynamic, German offensive turned into a static, stalemate warfare. The digging of the trenches began immediately after the First Battle of the Marne, in which the German advance was stopped by the French-British forces, to protect the infantry from the artillery and machine gun fire. After this battle, they began to grow in length and complexity to become a protective system, from which attacks on the enemy lines were launched.
The most famous trenches of WWI were located at Verdun, at the Somme River, and at Ypres, in France and Belgium, respectively. It was in these three places that the longest and most ferocious battles of the war were fought as millions of soldiers were killed and wounded. If no-man’s land was the place where the infantryman had a rendez-vous with death, being cut down by machine gun fire, it was in the trenches that the foot soldier led a life of misery, living in the mud with rats, among corpses, and limbs, suffering from louse body infestation, trenchfoot infection, influenza, diarrhea, starvation, and psychological trauma of all kind. The trench was a protective place, a temporary home, but also a permanent grave, where thousands of corpses of soldiers got buried forever to remain in oblivion.