French Soldiers Resting in a Deep Underground Shelter
As the war developed into a relative stalemate, each side dug extensive networks of trenches. Initially the trenches were just crude ditches, but as time went on they became permanent living quarters as well as defensive positions. Deep underground shelters were dug to provide protection to troops from enemy artillery. Sometimes the trenches ran through areas of naturally occurring cave systems and soldiers took advantage of the existing formations and became cave dwellers.
Here in the damp darkness the men could rest, write letters and enjoy a little respite from the horrors on the surface. This photo shows French soldiers resting an underground cave. Most of them are sleeping or lying down on cots lining the walls of the cave; one of the men is writing a letter home by the dim light of this cave. As bleak as this home was at least it afforded relative safety.
The Tools of Death
Pictures above is a large allied ammunition dump, with thousands of artillery shells piled up and waiting to be fired against the enemy during the Battle of Verdun. Verdun was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Total casualties amounted to almost a million men on both sides. Undoubtedly many of the shells in this photo found their mark and were responsible for some of the dead and wounded.
Belgian Soldiers Firing on German Troops, 1914
In this photograph, a squad of Belgian soldiers have taken cover in a shallow ditch or depression and are firing at a German patrol near a windmill. This scene was photographed in 1914 near the start of the war, when both sides were still employing tactics of movement and maneuver. The front was still fairly fluid and involved in many areas skirmishes between relatively small groups of soldiers, who would hold or yield positions as necessary. As the war developed, the fighting bogged down into relatively static trench warfare involving hundreds of thousands of men facing each other across a no man’s land between the opposing trench systems.
Belgium, a small and relatively unarmed country, has expected to remain neutral during the War. But it was invaded by the Germans who hoped to march quickly through Belgium in order to outflank the French frontier defences, and rapidly capture Paris and bring the war to a quick end. The German mistreatment of Belgium galvanized world opinion against Germany. And the heroic and stubborn resistance of the small Belgian army slowed the German advance, throwing their schedule of invasion off schedule. One has to wonder how the history of the world might have been different if the Belgian army had collapsed more quickly, and the Germans had been able to score a quick knock out blow against France as they had done in 1870. While one cannot help but sympathize with the Belgians, the world might have been better off if the world war had never really developed into a world war, and remained basically a conflict between Germany and France and Russia. A quick end would have saved the lives of millions of people and prevented the second world war, at least in the form that it took in our timeline.
German Prisoners Western Front
Set of photographs showing groups of German prisoners of war being escorted through a French village. These men were captured during the Battle in Champagne which was a French attempt to counter attack the invading German armies and push them back. The battle lasted from September 25, 1915 until November 6, 1915.
The French outnumbered the Germans in the area almost two to one, and the offensive met with initial success. But the Germans had anticipated the French attack and had dug in. The French met with determined German resistance and resulted in the French suffering heavy losses.
Of the 450,000 French soldiers that participated in the battle, 150,000 became casualties. The Germans had 220,000 men and suffered 72,500 casualties, including 25,000 who were taken prisoners.
A group of German POWS Captured During the Battle in Champagne
Closeup View of the German POWs
Here is an unusual picture of German soldiers in a trench in 1914 taking time out from killing and being killed to decorate a thread bare Charlie Brown Christmas tree with some tinsel and other xmas decorations.
What I find interesting is the symbolism, probably lost on these soldiers, of what they are doing. There is something very ironic about the scene of these warriors taking time to celebrate the King of Peace in a war zone. In fact, peace and goodwill to one’s fellow man are in short supply here. Even while some of the soldiers decorate the tree, the others have to stand guard, scanning the approaches to the trenches, ready to kill any French or British soldiers they might see.
Zooming in on the Christmas tree, we can see that it is a sorry looking thing adorned with just a few strands of tinsel. The men are no doubt trying to find a little respite from the horrors of war by decorating the tree, as a reminder of the comforts of home and Christmases before the War. But I find that there is also an intended connection between this Christmas tree, really a dead tree, and the blasted landscape around the trenches. Dead trees and vineyards can be seen in the background and in front of the trenches. Just as these men have cut down the Christmas tree, they have felled the natural life of the land, rendering it bleak and ruined. In the course of the war, millions of acres of farmland in France and Belgium would be destroyed and scarred by trenches and shell craters.A
Above is a closeup of the men at the bottom of the trench as they take out their precious Christmas decorations from a box.
Even at Christmas time death and danger are ever present companions. While some of their comrades decorate the tree, the rest of the soldiers in the trench must stand guard, their rifles ready to shoot at any enemy soldier that they spot. The physical signs and decorations of Christmas were to be found in this trench but the true spirit of Christmas had been overshadowed by the din of artillery. I wonder how many of these men lived to celebrate any more Christmases.