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Junctions were marked by signposts, some of which made directional sense (Sword Trench ran into Scabbard Trench), some of which encapsulated trench history; Hellfire Corner told its own story. Home was a “funk hole” or a dug-out excavated in the side of the trench, which doubled up as bomb shelter when German shells thundered down.
To navigate the trenches troops were issued with maps. During a big-time German “hate”, the crowded dug-out, never fragrant anyway, gained another distinctive odour; the smell of fear.
Lieutenant Alexander Gillespie made a little flower garden at the back of his Ypres trench and lay there enjoying the blooms. For days there might be quiet on the Western Front, save for a lazy shell or two.
Private Harry Drinkwater, a former shop assistant, reckoned on “approximately an hour’s sleep a day” in December 1915, what with the cold as well: “It’s not the Germans we’re fighting it’s the weather.”Sanitary arrangements could be primitive.Alas, the geology of Flanders was imperfect: The high water-table led to trenches disconcertingly filling up with water.Paradoxically, many a Flanders “trench” was built on the surface of the earth, as a bemused Private WG Birley found on arriving at Ypres: “The trenches were not literal trenches at all but were in reality sandbag fortifications all above ground.”However constructed, the frontline trench had, behind it, a support trench and a reserve trench, each of them “kinked” into separate bays so that a bomb blast or an incursion by the “Boche” could be contained in a small area.Connecting the frontline, support and reserve trenches to the rear, where there were billets and stores and HQs, were communications trenches.Trenchland was a maze of semi-underground channels.