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Home > What was it really like to fight in the First World War? > Recreation


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There is a popular misconception that the ordinary soldier spent much of the First World War knee-deep in mud, in rat-infested, poorly-constructed trenches simply waiting for orders to go over the top - orders that were given by stupid and callous generals who had no regard for the lives of their men. This is only part of the picture however. Certainly conditions in the trenches were awful, as countless testimonies recall, but there is also evidence to suggest that life was not just unrelenting misery.


Photograph of a concert party.

Photograph of a concert party. (DUL ref: Misc Photo Album 2)


Sport was another way of relieving the tension. Football, as might be expected, was very popular with both formal and impromptu games taking place. Other sports such as boxing and cricket were also played. Some soldiers remember making their own sports equipment out of objects close to hand. Tennis could be played with entrenching tools, cricket bats could be made out of old tins and pieces of wood. For units with access to horses, there were divisional horse shows, point to points and competitions for the best turned-out horse or team of horses.



Photograph of the 142 Heavy Battery football team.

Photograph of the 142 Heavy Battery football team. (DUL ref: Add Mss 1584)

The ability of soldiers to find the most macabre of things funny is a common theme in many of the accounts left by soldiers. Shaking hands with a partly buried corpse may seem awful to us but not to the men in the trenches. Humour, albeit very black, was a way of coping. This same kind of humour can be found in the popular satirical trench newspaper, The Wipers Times, which was published for nearly three years. Concerts put on for the troops, often featuring men in drag, were also designed to bring out the humour of the situation.

Photograph of a fencing team.

Photograph of a fencing team. (DUL ref: Misc Photo Album 2)


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