So I was watching the Trench Warfare video we’re supposed to view before next class and while I thought it was super interesting, it left out one piece of information I wanted to know most.

How did the soldiers actually build the trenches?

There’s no way (at least in my mind) they could’ve just dug straight into the ground. Wouldn’t that be too dangerous? But how else could they have done it?

I did a little *ahem* digging and found out from this children’s website (hey, I’ll take the information where I can get it) that there were three ways people went about constructing the trenches. The first way being exactly what I thought couldn’t possibly work–the soldiers dug right into the ground (a process called entrenching). According to the same website,

“Another method was to extend a trench on one end. It was called sapping and was a safer method but took a lot longer. Tunneling – which is digging a tunnel and then removing the roof to make a trench when it is complete…”

I feel like there’s more information out there that could probably way better explain how these trenches were built but I couldn’t find much else. If anyone else can please post it! I think this is super interesting.




FYI, the anniversary of the first official trenches being dug on the Western Front is coming up on September 15th (here’s the link to the neat article I found that nugget of information in)!

250 thoughts on “But…like…how?

  1. I did some searching for instruction manuals on how to dig a trench for World War 1 military. The great thing about any military is they will have some sort of documentation covering all official activities so it can be done in a uniform and safe manner. This was a good gloss of how it was done by a historian. https://dianaoverbey.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/trench-construction-in-world-war-i/

    And this is a good description posted by Petersburg National Battleground. https://www.nps.gov/articles/training-for-trench-warfare.htm

    • I just finished the first link you provided, since I was also interested in how they were able to build the trenches. What really struck me was the conditions they had to do it in; obviously, they could not simply work in the daylight (which reminded me just how much they had to do under the cover of darkness, like attempting to find the wounded and the dead). Another thing was the soldier’s recollection about he was actively destroying a farmer’s field.

  2. I am glad I am not the only one who was wondering about the actual development of the trenches. We are always told that WW1 is all about trench warfare and life in the trenches but never really talked about the construction of the trenches. Thank you for sharing this information! I’m also curious about what all happened during the construction when it comes to the actual fighting. I’m sure the tension and the fighting didn’t stop so each side could build their trenches. I wonder how much preventative measures were taken to try to keep the other side from continuing their construction, how many trenches were ruined while being built or even how many trenches, during the tunneling process like Alison mentioned, actually did cave in and collapse on the men?

  3. Of course, then we also to think about those trenches that were lined with the dead. How did they manage to keep them in place? And, the rats.. oh god, the rats. I’m not one to dance on a chair, or get all disgusted/scared of mice. Even seeing rats in the pet stores don’t bother me, but I just.. I just think about trying to sleep and being gnawed on. Or seeing a fellow soldier, now dead, being eaten until a stretcher could take them away.
    I realize this was about construction but… that prolonged stay in the trenches, once built, makes me wonder how the men were able to cope. I mean.. I get claustrophobic thinking about it.

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