Trench foot caused 74,000 Allied casualties in World War I

Picture this: It’s World War I, and you’re one of the soldiers on the Western Front forced to stand in trenches filled with rainwater that would later turn to creamy mud. This is the same place where you will sleep and spend most of your time fighting enemy forces. Changing clothes is not a norm and don’t even think about taking a bath. Your boots and feet are soaked in murky water all the time, and you have no choice but to stand there and endure the whole situation until your mud-soaked skin starts to peel. ride… and more.

Such was the situation for soldiers during the trench warfare of World War I, so harsh that many suffered from a disease called “trench foot”.

The muddy situation of the trench

In general, WWI trenches were dirty and dangerous, to say the least – the threat of your enemies bombarding you with heavy firepower or sneaking up in the night to silently kill you. with their melee weapons like trench knives and trench clubs. The trenches were built to shelter soldiers from enemy fire. It was a great idea until heavy rain fell in Belgium and northern France. As British officer Joseph Price, who served on the Western Front, said, the water was “always above your boots”.

“When you take off your boots, [your feet are] like a laundress’s hand, all wrinkled, cold, and all shrunken, terrible,” he added.

Case of trench feet suffered by an unidentified soldier. (LAC/BAC, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rainwater filled the trenches along the western front. Water got stuck without a proper drainage system and turned into a muddy situation. The Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele were witnesses to this.

Keeping soldiers’ feet dry was no picnic. Prolonged soaking in murky water caused the skin of the foot to break. The exposed wound would soon become infected and become painfully painful. The first symptoms felt were tingling, pain and numbness in the feet. The wound would then swell before collapsing. If left untreated, the muscles and tissues of the feet would quickly break down, making it extremely painful for the soldiers. In the worst case, the soldiers would be unable to fight and lose their toes or even the whole foot. The condition was called Trench Foot.

try to solve it

THIS IS TRENCH FOOT. PREVENT IT! KEEP FEET DRY AND CLEAN. (National Archives at College Park, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

After learning about the situation and its effect on the performance of their soldiers, officials tried different ways to prevent them from acquiring trench foot.

As mentioned earlier, dirty water soaking their feet caused the condition. Superiors encouraged their soldiers to keep their feet dry and clean by providing them with multiple socks and boots as often as possible. They also offered whale oil that they could rub on their shoes to repel water somehow.

Other than that, they would do a ‘stamping exercise’. It was an activity where they stomped and rubbed their feet in unison to get the blood to run down their feet. They also ordered the soldiers to take off their boots while they slept. However, soldiers often ignored this command because it was quite impractical to have to put on their boots first in case of enemy attack.

They also tried to dig drainage ditches and lay duckboards to prevent water from accumulating. When all else failed, there was little choice but to lose toes, feet, and even life to gangrene. Considering the state of medicine at the time, the primitive anesthesia and the absence of antibiotics, the chances of survival could be rather slim.

Wartime effect

The Surgeon General of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment conducts a foot inspection in a support trench near Roclincourt on January 9, 1918. (Thomas Keith Aitken (Second Lieutenant), Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
As many as 20,000 soldiers in the British Army are said to have suffered from trench foot during the winter of 1914 and 1915. Throughout the war, 74,000 soldiers suffered from it, particularly from the British, French, American and German armies . Due to the sheer pain caused by trench foot, soldiers had to be treated and replaced as their ability to fight was greatly hampered.

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