27 Vintage Photographs That Show How Soldiers Made Their Homes in Dugouts and Trenches During World War I

Dugouts were protective holes dug out of the sides of trenches. The size of dugouts varied a great deal and sometimes could house over ten men. A manual published by the British Army recommended dugouts that were between 2 ft. and 4 ft. 6 in. wide, roofed with corrugated iron or brushwood and then covered with a minimum of 9 inches of earth.

They were used as a form of underground shelter and rest for both troops and officers. Occupants of dugouts would eat their meals, arrange meetings and often make their bed there.

Dugouts were considered much safer than resting or lying in the open since they afforded some form of protection against not only the weather but, far more critically, from enemy shell-fire. However it was not unusual for direct shell hits to burrow through to dugouts, killing or maiming all occupants.

As the war went on dugouts grew in size. By 1917 dugouts at Messines could hold two battalions of soldiers at a time. Large dugouts were also built into the side of communication trenches so that they were not directly in line of fire from enemy guns. These often served as the battalion headquarters and provided sleeping accommodation for the officers.

World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War and contemporaneously known as the Great War and by other names, was an international conflict that began on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918. It involved much of Europe, as well as Russia, the United States and Turkey, and was also fought in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. One of the deadliest conflicts in history, an estimated 9 million were killed in combat, while over 5 million civilians died from occupation, bombardment, hunger or disease. The genocides perpetrated by the Ottomans and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic spread by the movement of combatants during the war caused many millions of additional deaths worldwide.

In 1914, the Great Powers were divided into two opposing alliances: the Triple Entente, consisting of France, Russia, and Britain, and the Triple Alliance, made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Tensions in the Balkans came to a head on 28 June 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia and the interlocking alliances involved the Powers in a series of diplomatic exchanges known as the July Crisis. On 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Russia came to Serbia’s defence and by 4 August, the conflict had expanded to include Germany, France and Britain, along with their respective colonial empires. In November, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Austria formed the Central Powers, while in April 1915, Italy joined Britain, France, Russia and Serbia as the Allied Powers.

Facing a war on two fronts, German strategy in 1914 was to defeat France, then shift its forces to the East and knock out Russia, commonly known as the Schlieffen Plan. This failed when their advance into France was halted at the Marne; by the end of 1914, the two sides faced each other along the Western Front, a continuous series of trench lines stretching from the Channel to Switzerland that changed little until 1917. By contrast, the Eastern Front was far more fluid, with Austria-Hungary and Russia gaining, then losing large swathes of territory. Other significant theatres included the Middle East, the Alpine Front and the Balkans, bringing Bulgaria, Romania and Greece into the war.

Shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade led Germany to initiate unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917, bringing the previously neutral United States into the war on 6 April 1917. In Russia, the Bolsheviks seized power in the 1917 October Revolution and made peace in the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, freeing up large numbers of German troops. By transferring these to the Western Front, the German General Staff hoped to win a decisive victory before American reinforcements could impact the war, and launched the March 1918 German spring offensive. Despite initial success, it was soon halted by heavy casualties and ferocious defence; in August, the Allies launched the Hundred Days Offensive and although the German army continued to fight hard, it could no longer halt their advance.[8]

Towards the end of 1918, the Central Powers began to collapse; Bulgaria signed an Armistice on 29 September, followed by the Ottomans on 31 October, then Austria-Hungary on 3 November. Isolated, facing revolution at home and an army on the verge of mutiny, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on 9 November and the new German government signed the Armistice of 11 November 1918, bringing the fighting to a close. The 1919 Paris Peace Conference imposed various settlements on the defeated powers, the best known being the Treaty of Versailles. The dissolution of the Russian, German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires led to numerous uprisings and the creation of independent states, including Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. For reasons that are still debated, failure to manage the instability that resulted from this upheaval during the interwar period ended with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. (Wikipedia)

A French WWI dugout called “The Chalet”
World War I. Mustard gas-proof dugout, “Bungalow for Two”
A Commander Rumpf, writing at a desk outside his WWI German-built dugout. © Drake Goodman.
Soldiers built miniature dioramas of Lilliput and Blefuscu, the two fictional island nations from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, in the front yard of their dugouts. © Drake Goodman.
German troops reading The Daily Mail in a dugout at Wieltje, East of Ypres, 1915. © Drake Goodman.
A German observation post on the Yser Front in Belgium in 1917
What war? All the comforts of home in a medical officer’s dugout. The elaborate “garden” is extraordinary, particularly the decorative snake and wicker sun chair. Location unknown, Maschinengewehr-Kompanie 1917. © Drake Goodman.
Landwehr Regiment Officers and NCOs seated around a table on which sits a portrait of a Saint Nicholas and a vase of flowers. Possibly a special occasion such as an award presentation, 1915. © Drake Goodman.
“Headquarters”, Kgl. Sächsisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 351 © Drake Goodman.
German trenches, 1916 © Drake Goodman.
Two postcards from 1. Landsturm Infanterie Bataillon ‘Rastatt’. Probably somewhere in the Vosges, circa 1917 or later. © Drake Goodman.
Men of Reserve Infanterie Regiment 31 mooch about in a small annex adjoining their dugout. Their digs have been spruced up with some items no doubt liberated from a ruined church or farmhouse. A stuffed pheasant sits on one corner of the shelter, decorated with piece of ornately carved timber, perhaps once part of the altar of a church. In the background we see a statue of the Madonna, from a graveyard? The author of the letter, Friedrich Sommer mentions a “big offensive”. He is referring to the Battle of the Somme. German-built by the 1st Company of Reserve Infantry Regiment 31. © Drake Goodman.
The company commander’s bullet-proof (“kugelsicher”) bunker or hut is called “Zur Wildsau” (the name of a pub “The Boar’s Head”) to match the stuffed wild boar’s or sow’s head above the entrance. Not sure what is stuck in the animal’s mouth. © Drake Goodman.
“Schwere Artillerie im Osten”/ Heavy artillery in the East. © Drake Goodman.
Pagliacci on the Eastern Front 1918. Landwehr infantrymen enjoying an outdoors performance by a mobile theatre company and military band. © Drake Goodman.
What looks like a German communication trench with phone wires running into the house. © Drake Goodman.
Here’s a rare photograph of Adolf Hitler and his colleagues from Bayer of the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 16 in a pleasant garden setting during WWI. He is wearing the Iron Cross Second Class which he was awarded in 1914 and would later go on to receive the Iron Cross First Class in 1918, after being recommended by a German-Jewish Leutnant, Hugo Gutmann. © Drake Goodman.
The interior of an officer’s digs at Christmas time. No doubt well appointed by comparison with the lodgings of the men under his command. © Drake Goodman.
A Field Artillery Regiment communications bunker dubbed “Villa Georg” by it’s occupants. A field telephone can be seen close to hand as an artilleryman enjoys the sun with a good book and some bread. © Drake Goodman.
A popular commercial postcard printed and published by Verlag von Gustav Liersch & Co. of Berlin, taken near Avricourt, France. © Drake Goodman.
Bavarian NCO outside his digs in a well established WWI trench system. © Drake Goodman.
This photograph of German soldiers playing cards next to a garden built in the trenches comes from a collection of over an unseen thousand photos taken from 1914-1918 by Lt. Walter Koessler.
Soldiers bring the amenities of the Parisian metro to war, 40 meters from the German trenches.
French WWI dugout
Showertime in the French trenches, 1914, 600 meters from German lines.
A young doctor who smuggled his camera onto the frontline. Fred Dickinson is pictured right with the 1st Cameronians, part of the British Expeditionary Force inside a dugout in France. According to his grandson who shared the story with the Telegraph, the snap was taken at a time when it was expressly forbidden, under Army orders, to use a camera while serving at the front.
A British officer is pictured in his hut dug into the side of a trench, 1915.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: