So it’s a bit wet and miserable outside at the moment and we’re all a little bit fed up of the relentless rain. But, imagine what life was like for World War One soldiers in the sopping wet and cold of the trenches...
Heavy rainfall caused trenches to flood and created horrendous muddy and unsanitary conditions, which gave rise to rats, lice, disease and infection including trench foot and during the winter of 1914-1915, over 20,000 men in the British Army were treated for the condition.
This infection was caused by the damp, low temperatures, and unhygenic conditions of the trenches. Soldiers would stand for hours in these conditions without being able to remove wet socks and boots and feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn red or blue. If left untreated then the condition would turn gangrene and the foot would then have to be amputated.
The only remedy was to try and dry the feet as much as possible and British soldiers had three pairs of socks and were under orders to change them at least twice a day. Covering the feet with grease made from whale-oil was also meant to help. Trench foot was apparently first noted in Napoleon's army in 1812.
Your ancestor may have suffered with trench foot, or another illness or injury. Constant shelling, firing and gas attacks meant that there were plenty of soldiers who were killed or wounded. As well as battle injuries the First World War saw the first recognition of 'shell shock’ - psychological trauma.
Medical care during the Great War
Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) were responsible for medical care throughout the First World War to maintain the health and strength of the forces in the field — treating the sick and the injured.
Every battalion had a medical officer who was tasked with establishing a Regimental Aid Post near the front line. From here the wounded were evacuated and cared for by men of a Field Ambulance in an Advanced Dressing Station. Then they would be transported to a Casualty Clearing Station, which were basic hospitals and were the closet point to the front where female nurses were allowed to serve.
For further treatment patients were usually transferred to a stationary or general hospital at a base for further treatment. A network of ambulance trains and hospital barges provided transport between these facilities, while hospital ships carried casualties evacuated back home to ‘Blighty’.
And new recent research by an academic proposes that the number of soldiers killed in the great War has been greatly underestimated. Antoine Prost, a French historian, has argued that the figure is over ten million - half a million more than other estimates.
The Telegraph reported that the academic, who is Professor Emeritus of History at the Universite de Paris, comes up with the new figure of 10 million in an article in the final volume of a new, three part study into the war, published by Cambridge University Press.
No precise death toll for the conflict has ever been established. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission currently honours 1,117,091 soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth, although that figure is gradually rising, as ongoing projects identify those left off the official records.
Find out more with Forces War Records…
Do you know enough about your ancestors who fought in the First World War?
Delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting War diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Discover interesting facts about your ancestors, become more knowledgeable about history, and reveal some of the fantastic characters involved in war…What are you waiting for?
Join Forces War Records at the Who Do You Think You Are Live exhibition
The ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live’ event will be held from Thursday 20th – Saturday 22 February, at the Olympia Centre in West Kensington, London.
Of course the special focus for this year’s show will be the World War One Centenary, and the 2014 show’s Military History Area, located in the upstairs gallery, will be much bigger than in previous years. This section is sure to be a hive of activity and that’s where you’ll find the Forces War Records stand. Expect to chat to experts and learn how to use the site to make the most out of your genealogy research.
Bring your ancestor’s old photos, military memorabilia and medals to the stand at 'Who Do You Think You Are Live' and our team will endeavour to tell you more about them, which could answer some pressing questions or even help send you off in a new direction in your family research. Maybe you are unsure what regiment your ancestor served with, what certain rank slides mean or perhaps what sort of aircraft or military vehicle they were using in a photograph? There could be clues that you’ve not recognised or were even aware of unless you were extremely knowledgeable about military genealogy – let us help you add more colour to your research.