The Western Front was the name the Germans gave to a series of trenches that ran more than 700 kilometres from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. To imagine this, think of a ditch deep enough to stand in zigzagging its way alongside the 401 Highway from Toronto to Quebec City, or along the interstates from Boston to Washington DC. Here, where sometimes the trenches were only metres apart, machine-gun and shellfire caused terrible casualties.
Death was a constant companion to those serving in the line, even when no raid or attack was launched or defended against. In busy sectors the constant shellfire directed by the enemy brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench or lying in a dugout (many men were buried as a consequence of such large shell-bursts).
Similarly, novices were cautioned against their natural inclination to peer over the parapet of the trench into No Man’s Land. Many men died on their first day in the trenches as a consequence of a precisely aimed sniper’s bullet. Up to one third of Allied casualties on the Western Front were actually sustained in the trenches. Aside from enemy injuries, disease wrought a heavy toll.
The video that follows provides a glimpse of the Hell that was the Western Front and the memorials, cemeteries and museums that Sonya and I saw as part of the Canadian Battlefields tour in the summer of 2014.