Western Front Bear
Listen to Lieutenant Murray’s Story
One things for sure, life on the Western Front is very different to Gallipoli. First thing is we’re up against the German Army and there’s a lot of them. And it’s really big. If you joined up all the trenches – the front line and support trenches – I reckon they’d easily stretch between Sydney and Melbourne. We zig zag the front line trenches that face out to the enemy just in case they get in – we don’t want them shooting straight down a long line.
Most trenches are deep enough that a bloke can stand without getting his head shot at, but they aren’t much chop against incoming shells. All along the front shelling from big guns has blown away most of the trees and covered the ground in deep holes. We make covered shelters in the trenches but there’s no protection if one comes down on top of you.
When we go into the trenches we swap our slouch hats for metal Brodie helmets and carry gasmask hoods in bags on our chests. The gas is a shocker. Instead of putting explosives in the shells they use poisonous gas that makes a deadly cloud. If someone sees gas they ring a bell and we all get our masks on in a flash.
There’s not much distance between us and the enemy. The Germans have trenches opposite and the land between theirs and ours is called ‘No Man’s Land’. Sometimes at night you can hear blokes talking in German. We sneak across and try and capture a prisoner or two or throw a few hand bombs. They do the same. It keeps us all on our toes.
Luckily we don’t have to stay in the front trenches all the time. Usually after a week we go back to another line of trenches called the support line and stay there for few days doing odd jobs about the place to keep things in order but always ready to help if there’s an attack. Then, if it’s all quiet, we go back to our camp or even to local villages, and new men take our place.
One of the worst things about life in the trenches is when it rains they fill with water and mud. You could drown if you’re not careful. Some clever spark came up with the idea of ‘duckboards’. These are like wooden paths set above the water. Blokes still get wet feet though, and lots end up in hospital with horrible cases of trench foot. Regular foot inspections are an important but smelly job.
One thing that many diggers enjoyed was “Blighty Leave”. Blighty was a slang word for England and diggers would fill the streets and shops of London whenever they could. Leave was a relief from the hardships and dangers of the trenches.