FRANCE: The officer in the photograph is trawling his way through knee-deep, wet mud, buried up to the top of his boots and half-way up his cane. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

By Alex Jones


MUDDY Hell: Shocking 100-year-old pictures show the quagmires which British troops in the First World War had to fight, live, and march through.

FRANCE: Soldiers doggedly making drains to clear away water from the new road – the rain lately turning everything into a quagmire. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

Sobering images from the Great War show soldiers battling free a car entrenched in deep mud; a smiling trooper putting on a brave face as he examines his flooded dugout on the Front Line; and an exhausted mule presumably drawing its last breaths as French soldiers desperately try and pull the doomed beast out of a deluged shell hole.

FRANCE: Middlesex Regiment returning from the trenches in the pouring rain. Some of the injured are carried in barrows. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

Another brutal shot, part of the National Library of Scotland’s online collection, shows a struggling soldier attempting to drag a large gun along a sodden railway track surrounded by bog.

FRANCE: Two soldiers standing knee deep in liquid mud in a trench on the Somme. They have bowl-shaped shovels with long handles, which they are using to try and scoop away some of the mud. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

Due to scientific and mechanical advancements – such as machine guns, tanks and aeroplanes – soldiers on all sides of the Great War spent much of their time between 1914 and 1918 sheltering in trenches, knowing they would face almost certain death if they went ’over the top’ into No Man’s Land. The trenches were grim during the hot weather – as they were invested with lice and rodents – but far worse when heavy rains or cold weather set in as the hastily constructed lines of defence were prone to flooding or even collapsing. Poor living conditions saw thousands of Tommies ending up with frostbite or trench foot – where soldier’s feet would become numb, blistered or even gangrenous – or struck with other illnesses as the war dragged on over several winters.

FRANCE: This photograph shows a smiling soldier stooping down outside the entrance to a flooded dugout. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

In addition, as the front line was fairly static throughout the war, millions of men and machines would frequently trundle over the same ground again and again. This would churn the already muddy ground into a sticky gloop which could readily trap animals, troops and vehicles – particularly after torrential downpours. Soldiers would often recount the unpleasant conditions in the front line trenches which they would sometimes occupy for weeks at a time, always under the shadow of death.