Remembrance Day is just around the corner. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, Canadians and people around the world pause to remember the end of the Great War. The First World War ended on November 11th 1918, a hundred years ago. Most Calgarians today are so fortunate to have never lived through the tragedy of a world war, and many of us have forgotten the horrors these brave soldiers endured. While most war stories, poetry, and articles focus on the battles, we thought we’d look at the more mundane challenges faced in the trenches: sanitation.
Clean Drinking Water.
People can go a long time without food, but we can only last about a week without water. Water is a basic necessity of the body. It lubricates the joints, keeps our wastes moving, helps to regulate blood pressure and sugar, and so much more. Unsafe drinking water can carry parasites and pathogens that can kill a person. During the war, clean water was carried into the trenches in old petrol containers. While the taint of gas helped prevent contamination from illness, the water tasted foul. Most soldiers made a strong tea to cover the taste, which they kept in their water bottle and drank cold.
Clean water wasn’t always readily available though. Desperate soldiers would be forced to boil the muck they found in shell holes and hope they wouldn’t become ill.
Cleaning Clothing & Body.
Away from the front lines, soldiers found simple luxuries, like a place to wash their clothing and take a bath. Washing clothes, in particular, was a blessing as the harsh soaps killed lice and granted a temporary relief from infestation. The cramped quarters of the front line made lice an inevitable annoyance. Communal baths were frequently improvised for the soldiers. It wasn’t uncommon for a nearby brewery to be transformed into a bath for the men, but few complained about a chance to wash off in the warm water. Shaving and maintaining personal hygiene were required of the men in order to boost morale and keep them feeling human.
Using the Latrines.
Latrines varied greatly in quality throughout the war. While some made do with simple pit toilets, others enjoyed the comfort of bucket latrines, which were emptied and disinfected regularly. Latrines were carefully positioned away from both the fighting and the living quarters to prevent waste-contamination and the illness that followed. Indiscriminate urination was strictly forbidden, but in desperate times, soldiers would pee into whatever container was convenient and throw it from the trenches.
As Remembrance Day approaches, we’ll be taking a moment to be thankful for all the brave soldiers who risked their lives to protect our freedoms and values. As you go about your daily life, take a moment to acknowledge the splendour of safe drinking water coming from your tap, delight in your hot shower and washing machine, appreciate your toilet. We are fortunate to live in peaceful times, and that’s something everyone can be thankful for.
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