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A Soldiers' Life

Canadian Army Canadian Corps carvings at Vimy Remembering Vimy Ridge The Great War trench art Trench fever trenches Vimy 100th anniversary “Canadian” cave complex

Information collected from Veteran’s Affairs Canada, The Canadian War Museum , WW1 Canada and Wikipedia

Even before going into battle on the front lines, each soldier had to endure the reality of living with an army in the field.  Once assigned to the assault on Vimy Ridge, Canadian troops set up camps several kilometres behind the lines. There, though far from the front and out of the reach of enemy fire, they all learned to deal with death.  The spring of 1917 was one of inclement weather, and mud was a fact of life and soldiers frequently found themselves wading in water!  Not only was this water unhealthy, it made any getting around quite difficult especially in vehicles.

Despite the difficult conditions and the war raging all around, the soldiers had to survive. They had to eat and drink, preparing food became a surreal experience.  Personal hygiene (tending to themselves), being able to wash up and shave was the stuff of miracles on many occasions a puddle in a bomb crater was the basin.  Bathing in a shell hole, the local "pool", usually found the water cold and contaminated. 

The day-to-day struggle, punctuated with the constant rhythmic sound of shelling, became even more difficult for troops when the time came to leave the relative safety of the camps to get closer to the front.

At the front, most of their time was spent in trenches newly-built ones were pretty exceptional, but the reality was they were usually water soaked, mud filled and rat infested.They were holes dug by soldiers to protect themselves from the enemy. A trench was generally around two meters deep and two meters wide,  trench lines were never built in straight lines.  These deplorable conditions caused horrific diseases like “Trench Foot” (an infection that results when feet are cold and wet in constrictive shoes or boots, leading to a condition similar to frostbite sometimes resulting in gangrene).  The constant presence of water and filth still caused even more problems for those on the front line. Trench fever, causing high fever and painful joint numbness, was common.  Even worse, the sterility of first aid stations in the trenches was questionable.

What is surprising is that despite the horror of war and the threat of gunfire and gas attacks, the horrible weather conditions, the lack of sanitation exhaustion and illness, moral remained high.  They managed to steal quiet moments to unwind, men overcame the dehumanizing conditions by trying to retain some sense of normality and they took on hobbies to appease their soul some found pets they could care for. They carved “Trench Art” from the remnants of war such as discarded bullets and shell casings to tell their stories.  Soldiers viewed trench art as mementos of service, and brought many pieces back to Canada after the war, where they remained in family homes for decades.

In the underground caverns at Vimy, where hundreds of troops took shelter from mud and rain and shellfire in the winter before the famous Vimy offensive.The grey-white chalk corridors are adorned with the graffiti and carvings of soldiers who were either killing time or leaving permanent, poignant reminders of their wartime service, before being sent into battle. Elsewhere soldiers simply scratched their names, or the names of their wives, mothers or girlfriends.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the caves at Vimy Ridge, you will be looking at men of the time, expressing their feelings and leaving their names for the future, they are the reminders of Canadians who fought there.

 



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