Daily life in the trenches

Daily life in the trenches

  • The vaguemaster.

    JEANNIOT Pierre Georges (1848 - 1934)

  • The hairy dream.

    BLOTTIERE

  • Manila.

    BRONET

© Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmoun

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Title: The hairy dream.

Author : BLOTTIERE (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 32.3 - Width 50

Technique and other indications: lithography

Storage place: Historial of the Great War of Péronne website

Contact copyright: © Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmounsite web

Picture reference: 266

© Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmoun

To close

Title: Manila.

Author : BRONET (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 32.6 - Width 26

Technique and other indications: lithography

Storage place: Historial of the Great War of Péronne website

Contact copyright: © Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmounsite web

Picture reference: 274

© Historial de la Grande Guerre - Péronne (Somme) - Photo Yazid Medmoun

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

By its duration and its violence, the Great War was an unprecedented historical experience for the eight million French people mobilized between 1914 and 1918.

Trench warfare is burying in the earth and defending it foot by foot. These few aspects of the daily life of the trench fighters help to understand some of the elements that may have contributed to the consent of these millions of men to what was imposed on them.

Image Analysis

These three representations reveal some aspects of daily life in the trenches. Combat, danger, fear constitute a discontinuous experience in the life of the combatants in the trenches. Life here is made up of idleness, boredom, long empty and unoccupied days.

The lithograph entitled Manila shows four soldiers in a trench. One of them is standing with his back to the parapet. The other three are gathered around a small improvised table, on which the card game takes place. If a lull in the fighting allows a shackle, the conditions of the game remain precarious. Is this why one of the participants remains standing, ready to accomplish their task?

The scene described in The Vaguemestre takes place in the middle of a narrow trench. In the foreground, a seated soldier, bayonet on his knees and the butt of his rifle resting on the ground, reads a letter. An officer wearing his cap is installed at his side, immersed in an attentive reading of his barely delivered mail. The vaguemaster, standing, sorts the mail ready for delivery in his bag. In front of him, a periscope and the rifle abandoned by the lookout placed in a niche facing the enemy trench. In the background, fighters wait for their names to be called and a mail or package to be delivered.

Another concern of everyday life: women, who find themselves at the confluence of fighting aspirations. The Dream of the Hairy shows a young woman seated, her face raised to the sky, her elbows resting on her knees. Beside her, a soldier gazes benevolently on her. The image emphasizes affectivity much more than sensuality. The absence of women raises serious frustrations among the combatants, both physical and sexual frustrations, which Blottière's lithograph attempts to represent almost allegorically.

Interpretation

The few men grouped around their game of cards suggest the importance assumed by the primary combatant groups, the small nuclei of men that made up the fabric of the armies of the Great War. Among them are reestablishing peacetime norms: sharing of food and drink, music, games. Thus the anomie of war is never total, even on the front lines.

Sends between the front and rear play a comparable role. For soldiers, permissions, parcels, letters (on average one per day per fighter in a lull!) Help maintain a very close bond with those they have left behind. A kind of uninterrupted dialogue takes place, not only emotional but also material and even professional. The combatants therefore remain civilians in uniform. In this sense, the epistolary pact is inscribed as a ritual of interaction between the civilian community and the fighting community. The letters represent almost magical objects, instruments of time and space travel that partly abolish the feeling of oppression associated with the present moment. If in the front-line sectors scriptural activity is restricted, once the line of fire has been left, letter writing resumes. The correspondence testifies to the regularity, quality and strength of the bond between the rear and the front. It also constitutes a bridge launched between civilians and soldiers, between life and death, between past, present and future, a guarantee against daily suffering and the anguish of estrangement and oblivion. The written evocation of the daily also served as an outlet for the soldiers, as a substitute for the expression of the unspeakable. Writing also helped to regain a dignity lost in the trenches.

The rear fascinates the lone soldiers in the depths of their trenches, in whose minds women and family occupy a considerable place. The woman symbolizes at the same time peace, life before the war, freedom, moments of sweetness and beauty in the ugliness of everyday existence, she is the principle of life itself. His prolonged absence is compensated by the photographs which circulate in abundance in the trenches, testimony of the sexual frustration of a community of men in a situation of forced abstinence.

All in all, what is striking is the solidity of the links between these two worlds from the beginning to the end of the conflict. Combatant insularity is a myth: indeed, combatants were never excluded from a national community that remained deeply united.

  • army
  • War of 14-18
  • hairy
  • trenches

Bibliography

Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

Stéphane AUDOUIN-ROUZEAU, 14-18, the fighters of the trenches, Paris, Armand Colin, 1986.

Stéphane AUDOUIN-ROUZEAU, Combat, Amiens, CRDP, Historial de la Grande Guerre, 1995.

To cite this article

Sophie DELAPORTE, "Daily life in the trenches"


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