Becoming a World Power
Section 3, Activity 9
Life in the Trenches

Step 1: Read the passage below. It was written by a German soldier during World War I.

We wake up in the middle of the night. The earth booms. Heavy gunfire is falling upon us. We duck into the corners of our deep dugout

Each man grabs hold of his things and looks again every minute to make sure that they are still there. The dugout rocks. The night roars and flashes. We look at each other in the quick flashes of light, and with pale faces and pressed lips shake our heads.

Every man is aware of the heavy shells hitting the top of our dugout, chewing up the earth and the upper layers of concrete.

The shelling does not stop. It is falling in the rear, too. As far as one can see, it spouts fountains of mud and iron. The attack does not come, but the shelling keeps on. Slowly, we become mo¬tionless. Hardly a man speaks.

Our trench is almost gone. At many places it is only 18 inches deep. A shell lands square in front of our post. At once it is dark. We are buried and must dig ourselves out. After an hour, the en¬trance is clear again, and we are less scared because we have some¬thing to do.

The night is unbearable. We cannot sleep. We wait and wait.

By midday what I expected happens. One of the recruits has a fit. I have been watching him for a long time, grinding his teeth and opening and shutting the fingers of his hands. These ghostly, popped eyes-we know them too well. Then, he falls like a rotten tree.

Suddenly, the attack comes. The dugout cracks in all its joints under a direct hit. Fortunately, it's only a light blow that the con¬crete blocks are able to withstand. The walls rock. Rifles, helmets, earth, mud, and dust fly everywhere.

Suddenly the explosions stop. The shelling continues, but it has lifted and falls behind us. Our trench is free. We grab the hand grenades and pile them in front of the dugout. The real attack has come.

No one would believe that in this howling waste there could still be men. But steel helmets now appear on all sides of the trench, and 50 yards from us a machine gun is already in position and barking.

We recognize the ugly faces, the smooth helmets-they are French. They have already suffered heavily when they reach the edges of the barbed-wire entanglements. A whole line of them has gone down before our machine guns.

I see one of them, his face upturned, as he falls into the barbed-wire fence. Then his body drops clean away and only his hands with the stumps of his arms, shot off, now hang in the wire.

We have lost all feeling for one another. We can hardly control ourselves when our hunted glance lights on the form of some other man. We are walking dead men, who through some trick, some dreadful magic, are still able to run and kill.

Step 2: Visit the Web sites below to learn more about "life in the trenches."

Step 3: Watch the video clip.

Step 4: Complete one of the following tasks:

  1. Create a "picture book" with a cover and a separate page and illustration for each paragraph of the reading above....4 pts.
  2. Write a "ballad" (a type of poem) about the life of soldiers in World War I. Your ballad should have at least 5 stanzas. Type and mount the final copy of your poem....4 pts.