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Life in a First World War Trench

Heroes Remember

Life in a First World War Trench

And lice was part of our work. Lice was … you got rid of them today and they were back tomorrow. We were always full of lice. Every now and again we went in and our whole (outfit) went through some kind of pressure and got rid of all the lice, but they were back again in no time. Then the rats would run all over the place. I always wondered, why were they not killed by the gas? But they were down mostly in the trenches. Now we spent all our time in the trenches, in the trench warfare time, but also we were able to go out around the infantry, provided there was not more than two or three of us at a time. If a German plane saw us, they never fired on two people, as a rule. Now if we saw two Germans we’d fire on them, but they didn’t. But if they saw six of us, they put the guns on them you see. So, we could walk around at times even in view of their balloons, and they wouldn’t bother us. But if we went up forward and walked around ... and they had snipers. And you'd see signs, when you’re in the trenches, every now and again, ‘beware sniper.’ We were always in dugouts and we slept in dugouts. And then, you see, the guns were up above. And sometimes you would stay around the guns, but that was only if we were going to be called on. No, we had sleeping quarters down below. We got used to sleeping in trenches. Every trench connected and you had more than one entrance. You see, all the trenches had at least a double entrance. If one entrance is hit and damaged and you can’t get out, you can get out the other one. If they’re both hit you’re just out of luck. When you got into mud, it was really muddy. We had times there, oh you’re wet, it would rain and you’d not dry for a long time. Our health was very good. I never once, never once a doctor for my health. I had to report when I had to you had the automatic checks every so often. We had, once a month there’d be a check, you see. But I never once reported sick. Once I went to a dentist only. But I never once went on sickness. I never had a sickness in the army. And our food was good. It was pure, it was not, it was not maybe what you would eat everyday here, but it was all good food. And, of course, we had extra rations at times, and at times we were very short, you see. But the trench warfare used to send a lot of the stuff. They built these small railways, you know. I suppose you heard of that. Well, I rode on those quite a bit. We used to bring our ammunition up with those, you see. The horses and that were not used a lot. The drivers were back there and not doing much work. We were all up at the guns, you see. The drivers didn’t have near as much work because these little trolleys brought in all the stuff. We would have a line right near our gun and we’d bring all our ammunition right up there. We used to get, we had our rum rations sent up and when you’re up on the front they had a rum ration every night. But we never had it every night when we were on the sniping gun. You see, our wagon would go up to their battery, then from the battery, what went to the sniping gun was sent up separately on the railway, this small railway. And the rum used to come up that way. Well, when it came up to our place the lads would say, “Let’s not drink any rum tonight. We’ll save it up and we’ll drink it all in one night.” So periodically, once every so often, they’d put it into jars and hold it and then use it all in one night. And then we’d get (busy) and we’d pick the targets and shoot.

Mr. Pitcairn describes many of the inconveniences and risks involved in living in the trenches.

James Pitcairn

James Pitcairn was born in Kirkintilloch, Scotland on May 3, 1897. The second of four children, he moved to Vancouver with his widowed mother in 1911. At the age of thirteen, he was working as an elevator boy when a truancy officer sent him back to school, which he attended for five years. In Vancouver, Mr. Pitcairn was twice denied enlistment because of his small size; however, he joined friends in Kingston, Ontario and was accepted there as a member of the 50th Battery, Queens Artillery on March 7, 1916. He trained as a horse artilleryman at Petawawa. Mr. Pitcairn sailed for England aboard the SS Olympia in August, 1916. He had further training at Camp Whitley and was finally sent to France as a member of the 52nd Field Artillery, 5th Division. Mr. Pitcairn’s service saw him in action at Lens, Vimy, Hill 70, Amiens, Drocourt-Queant and Valenciennes as the layer on an 18-Pound artillery gun. One hundred and two at the time of his interview, Mr. Pitcairn’s clear voice and photographic memory offer some very informative descriptions of the Artillery’s role in the First World War.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Pitcairn
War, Conflict or Mission:
First World War
50th Battery

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