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Because the reality was quickly one of horror as the initially fast-moving battle on the Western Front turned in a few months to stalemate and attrition. The bare fact of more than 10million dead in four years cannot be glossed over.

Tales from the Trench - Episode Fifteen

The reality of the terrible slaughter that took place on the front line is almost impossible for us to comprehend today. As armies numbered in hundreds of thousands faced each other, human life was the cheapest of commodities. Precisely what artillery could do to human flesh and bones was described by Jack Dorgan, a sergeant in the Northumberland Fusiliers, when his position took a direct hit from a German shell. He was unhurt, but two of his comrades were flung out of the trench by the blast.

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Stalemate and attrition: British soldiers above hold a trench in front of Neuve-Chapelle, France, in I will always remember their white thigh bones. The rest of their legs were gone. So Reedy came and stood looking at his brother, lying there with no legs, and a few minutes later he watched him die.

I touched the bones and that satisfied him. I took it out and put it in his hands. This death on an industrial scale was bad enough, but even worse for sheer horror was the detritus it left behind. Stuart Cloete, a writer from South Africa, was a British public schoolboy commissioned, aged 17, at the start of the war and, two years later, witnessed sights on the Somme no teenager should ever see. Burial was often impossible. Then, when the gas escaped, the bodies dried up like mummies and were frozen in their death positions These rats were very large and quite fearless, their familiarity with the dead having made them contemptuous of the living.

One night one fell on my face in a dugout and bit me. Under fire: Troops learned to put up with constant bombardment, and unrelenting experience of death. I once fell and put my hand right through the belly of a man.

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It was days before I got the smell out of my nails. As you lifted a body by the arms and leg, the torso detached. Everyone lent a hand in this gruesome task. I was not particularly afraid of being killed.

Tales of hell in WWI trenches: Caring nurse collected heroes' stories

There seems to be a natural instinct when fighting to lean forward, to protect them. And yet there were also times when he escaped the trenches for a short spell of leave and rode his horse over green fields a few miles behind the lines. It was a period of summer hayfields, singing birds and flowers on the one hand, and of mud, blood and the stink of dead bodies on the other, with nothing to separate these two worlds but a few hours of marching time In the field: A memorial statue in Ypres, Belgium, the scene of much fighting, is lit by the sunset.

He was astonished by the quiet courage around him. Word would be passed on, echoing down the line. Men with stomach wounds moaned. Otherwise there was silence. Human dignity was often shattered as the wounds and sicknesses of war took their terrible toll. So I took him by one arm and another pal got hold of him by the other, and we dragged him to the latrine.

We tried to keep the flies off him and to turn him round - put his backside towards the trench. But he simply rolled into the trench, half-sideways, head first in the slime. He drowned in his own excrement. In my company there are only 10 men left. The distance was shrouded by rain and mist, from out of which the boom of gunfire came distant and muffled.

It was the sounds of the battlefield that stuck in the memory of novelist Ford Madox Ford. Home: Soldiers spent months - if not years - mostly hunkered down in trenches like these.

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The war, he was discovering, made him impervious to normal emotions. When he saw a thousand casualties on stretchers coming away from the front line he felt depressed - not for them but for himself, because he would have to go back into the hell from which they had come. Nurse Sarah MacNaughton saw similar lines of wounded arriving at her field hospital.

They fall asleep even while their wounds are being dressed. Others lie very stiff and straight, and all look very thin and haggard. Leslie Holden was one such casualty, lying in a hospital bed in France and writing home to his family in Australia. Mill Street Books. Millennia Books. Misty River Books. Mosaic Books. Mulberry Bush Books. Munro's Books. Novel Idea. Odyssey Books.

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