Trench Foot and Frostbite
At the beginning of war, the 2nd battalion of the KSLI had been posted in India, they were called back and re-assigned to the Western Front in December, 1914. The contrast between the heat in India and winter in the trenches was extreme.
An excerpt from the Wellington Journal 27 Feb 1915 [p7] reads:
SHROPSHIRE SOLDIER`S SUFFERINGS.
Some idea as to the sufferings from frost bite of our gallant soldiers who came over from India with the 2nd Shropshires may be gathered from the experience related of Private P.V.C. Cummings. During the operations round La Bassee he was lost for three days. He was subsequently found in a barn with eight others. They were practically starving, and Cummings had both feet badly frost-bitten. At the outbreak of war he was in India, and he was sent to the front in December. On one occasion the rifle he was carrying was smashed by a piece of shell.
This soldier from the 2nd Battalion wrote a diary and recorded these awful conditions
Pencilled diary of an unknown soldier: 6005/SHYKS/10/0266 (transcript below)
The diary begins with a description of travelling from India to France – they had had no home leave, and hadn’t been issued with new kit – and arrived near the front on 21st December in frosty weather, though this was the first time they’d been billeted in a dry building since leaving India – the dry conditions didn’t last long! Every soldier received a Christmas card, and a gift of tobacco and cigarettes from Princess Mary. After Christmas they began digging. On January 1st the battalion were inspected by Field Marshall Sir John French
Jan 1915 1st Bn (Battalion) was inspected by Field Marshall, Sir J French. Digging in the morning.
2nd Rain – digging – Rain.
3rd Still digging, very wet as usual.
4th Should have marched today but so short of boots, march postponed. No digging so opportunity taken of general clean up. Bn paraded quite smart in marching Order in the afternoon, with the exception of boots.
5th Bn moved out of its billets about Blaringham[?] and marched to fresh billets about Streyelle[?] distance 11 1/2 miles. Many men with no soles to their boots, the boots having rotted in the wet trenches they had been digging. In spite of this very few casualties. The men with bad boots have obtained leave to fall out, found some better boots and rejoined Bn before arriving good billets in clean farms – inhabitants very friendly
6th Bn moved from Streyelle about 3 miles. A percentage of new boots arrived from Ordnance and most of the bad cases received new boots.
7th Bn marched to KROIS-TRAPHOEK in support to the rest of the Bn who were in the trenches. It was a long and trying march and did not get to billets until late.
8th Germans commenced shelling in the morning and we had to clear out of billets and go into trenches dugouts and ditches. We were continually shelled until dusk, casualties 16. Rifle fire all night – 1 casualty
Conditions in the trenches during the first winter were very bad. Read the following newspaper extract – How did people at home respond to the stories they read?
Wellington Journal 16 Jan 1915 [p7] SA-IMG343847 C5 – SOLDIERS LIKE NAVVIES
Writing to his relatives in Church Stretton, Corporal A. Jenkins (B .E. F.) says:-
It has been raining nearly every day for about five weeks, and we are doing our duty in about a foot of mud, and no earthly chance of getting a dry pair of boots. The country nothing but a quagmire. As regards the war it seems to be at a standstill. Both armies appear to be living underground like a lot of rabbits, only coming out when it is necessary. If you were to see the infantry coming out of the trenches, you would not think that they were British soldiers, for they look more like a great gang of navvies; some of the poor fellows can hardly walk, through standing in the mud and water for days at a time with a bitter wind that seems to freeze one through to the bones. I have a good view of the firing, and can see a few miles in front; in fact, I can see the bursting shells of both armies in the far distance. At the same time some drop within a short distance of us, but not quite near enough to make things uncomfortable.
Read more details of trench foot at www.shropshireremembers.org.uk
Do you think there were practical actions people could take to feel that they were part of the war effort?
Wellington Journal 6 Feb 1915 [p7]
THE FROST BITTEN SHROPSHIRES.
This week`s casualties given below, which include men of the 1st and 2nd Shropshires, Shropshire Reservists, and Shropshire Special Reservists (3rd Shropshire) total 95, of which seven were killed in action or died of wounds, the remaining 88 being sick of wounded, and 35 of the first- named incapacitated by frost- bite. On the whole the number of sick and wounded is an improvement on last week`s return. There is yet a considerable period of wintry weather for our brave men in the trenches to face, but thanks to the promptness of friends at home Mrs. Smith, Rathcool, Sutton Road, Shrewsbury, through the wide publicity of the Journal, has been able to dispatch this week parcels of comforts to the front that will materially lessen their sufferings. The contributions from sympathisers in humble life, Mrs. Smith states, is most gratifying, also from country schools in Shropshire.