Billets and training

When soldiers arrived where they were to be stationed, it is often at the end of a long journey, which had taken several days. Reaching their station by train, lorry or on foot, most troops lodged with local people or in camps made up of canvas tents. The military authorities requisitioned not only civilian homes but also land. Before being sent to the front soldiers were trained to handle weapons and carry out attacks in the training camps and in firing ranges, near where they were stationed. Behind the frontline, there were also several other logistical facilities: ammunition depots, warehouses for food, hospitals….

Here soldiers returned for a rest while on leave after a short or a longer time on the frontline. Except that it was anything but rest. In fact, the men had to take part in manoeuvres, in training exercises and in military parades. Eventually, they were sent back to the trenches.

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  • British artillery school, Terdeghem, 1915, photo, Fonds photographique patrimonial Descamps – Ville de Cassel

    An artillery school in Terdeghem, in French Flanders, trained British soldiers to use canons.

  • Gehlsen Max (1881-1960), The brigade’s staff at a café table, 1914-1917, watercolour on paper, Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais – mark 47 Fi 109/1

    For the ordinary soldiers being billeted meant sleeping under a tent or in a barn, without too much comfort. By contrast the officers were generally stationed with the locals or in a house which they requisitioned. Here German officers are relaxing in a comfortable interior.

  • Caron Achille (1888-1947), British soldiers in front of a cinema in Etaples, first quarter of the 20th century, glass plate, © Musée Quentovic – Ville d’Etaples-sur-Mer

    The soldiers in the camps behind the front were also entitled to some moments of leisure and could relax in various ways. Here a barracks was converted into a cinema in the British camp at Etaples (Pas-de-Calais).

British artillery school, TerdeghemDer brigadestab am KaffeetischBritish soldiers in front of a cinema in Etaples