Life as a Tommy

During the war the British infantrymen, colloquially known as Tommies spent time on the frontline and behind the lines, where they rested and trained. Ordinarily they did not spend more than eight to ten days in the trenches. Naturally this was not always the case, for example during an offensive. Death and danger were everywhere in the trenches. The risk of being injured or killed in action was quite significant. The shelling also caused many casualties. But their psychological impact was equally destructive. The soldiers in the trenches also had to contend with another enemy: the climate. The weather conditions greatly complicated life in the trenches. The cold and the humidity in particular were a source of concern.

Behind the lines the Tommies stayed in the quartering areas. Many a farm, from the Somme to Flanders, was requisitioned for this purpose. Here soldiers rested without being exempted from physical exercise. But the Tommies did enjoy a few fleeting moments of leisure here and there. Many a soldier hugely enjoyed the atmosphere of the French cafés, although their access to these establishments was regulated. Others practiced sports, like football or boxing.

Loading, please wait...
  • The baking of English bread at Saint-Gilles, first quarter of the 20th century, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    The British built several infrastructures in their cantonment areas, including ammunition depots, canteens or outdoor bakeries. This photo shows a series of ovens about to be lit for baking bread at Saint-Gilles in the Somme. Soldiers are chopping wood and are waiting to place the dough in the oven.

  • 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

    Tommies posing in front of a barracks, which has been converted into a cinema. The woman in the photo is Iso Rae, an Australian artist who frequently drew the camp at Etaples (Pas-de-Calais). She was a member of the British Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. Many women signed up as nurses thanks to this organization.

  • Boulogne-sur-Mer. English soldiers on their leave embarking, first quarter of the 20th century, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    The British and French soldiers received permission to visit their families for a few days. Unfortunately those soldiers who came from the other side of the world were unable to visit their families. Nevertheless they also received leave and took advantage of this to do some sightseeing.

the baking of bread at Saint-Gilles (Somme)British soldiers in front of a cinema in EtaplesBoulogne-sur-Mer. English soldiers on their leave embarking