Daily Life in the Trenches & The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1262

Daily Life in the Trenches

The events described in chapter 5 take place between early October, 1915, and April, 1916. As yet there is still no major battle taking place, but as before, there is constant carnage, with men killed and wounded on a daily basis by sniper fire from the British lines and by artillery fire. Jünger gives a sample of the entries from his diary. The impression the entries convey is one of the randomness of injury and death. On 7 October, a bullet rips through a sentry’s forage cap “without harming a hair on his head.” But then the left-flank sentry is shot through both cheekbones. A Lt. Von Ewald is killed by a bullet that shatters the back of his skull. On 9 November a bullet ricochets off the bayonet of a man named Wiegmann and wounds him in the groin. The British, it appears, are using “dum-dum” or soft-nosed bullets, which at times have been declared illegal in warfare. The bright side of this period of the war, if one can call it that, is the availability of game, namely the numerous pheasants the men shoot for food. And again, there are references to rats, which the men catch in steel traps.

The men go about collecting unexploded shells. In a town called Queant, Jünger and others are invited to drinking sessions by the local commanders. There are, as before, hijinks. One captain declares himself the “King of Queant” and punishes “breaches of etiquette” by ordering the men to have a round of drinks. Rain makes a mess of things, turning the trenches into mud. The men are forced constantly to rebuild the dugouts that serve as their shelter. 

There is an apparently friendly meeting between German and British soldiers from across the barbed-wire lines. Jünger reproaches a British officer because of a “treacherous shot” that was fired which killed one of his men. The British officer responds that it was a man from another company who fired the shot that “there are pigs on your side too.” After this period of “negotiation” between enemies is finished, the Germans let loose some rounds of artillery fire, but then discontinue the firing when they see the British carrying men on stretchers across the field. Jünger makes the point that he feels no personal enmity against the British. 

On Christmas Eve the Germans sing hymns, and the British answer with machine-gun fire. Men continue to be wounded and killed by rifle fire and the explosion of shells. Survival is a matter of chance. At times, in particular on the first of February, the firing from the British side becomes more intense and is directed against the communication trenches of the Germans. All through the winter the rain, which turns everything in the trenches to mud, seems as much an enemy as the British, but by March things begin to dry out. 

Jünger describes his friendship with the other officers, including the harmony in which they communicate, drink coffee, and have supper together. Jünger exchanges shots with a British “daredevil” sharpshooter in what he calls a “duel.” Planes fly overhead and strafe the German positions. There are incidents of friendly fire which Jünger seems to regard as almost comical, as when a soldier on patrol is shot by his comrades because he cannot get the password out in time due to his stammering. All of this, as Jünger tells it, is actually a relatively calm phase of the war, preceding the great Battle of the Somme which is to follow.

The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme

(This entire section contains 1262 words.)

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The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme

In April 1916 Jünger is sent for further training at a town called Croisilles. He relates an anecdote about his friendship with a young French girl, whom he dubs “Joan of Arc” and who calls him “Gibraltar.” In June, it becomes evident that a major battle is about to take place, given that the British are carrying out a large-scale movement of their forces against the German front. This, Jünger indicates, is the start of a new phase of the war, differing from the first nearly two years in which an older style of fighting predominated. It will now be what he calls a huge conflict of materiel, which itself will give way in the final phase to “mechanized warfare.”

Jünger is sent on a patrol to “eavesdrop” on the British movements, along with his comrades Wohlgemut, Schmidt, and Parthenfelder. The men narrowly escape being detected by the British. The following night they similarly “prowl” in the vicinity of the British line with the intention of taking a prisoner, but the men become disoriented and narrowly escape being captured themselves. They get back to their trenches, which now begin to be subjected to constant mortar fire. The Germans reply with their own “hundred-weight” bombs, which silence the British shelling temporarily. When the firing resumes, the Germans are being attacked with what Jünger refers to as “cylindrical bombs,” a new type of weapon. Jünger’s trench and dugouts are heavily damaged. The bombardments seem to worsen each successive night, though for the moment the casualties in Jünger’s unit are minimal. They then march back to Monchy to be relieved by reserves. Machine gun and shrapnel fire continue, followed by a gas attack.

Often the gas attack is depicted as the most dreaded and deadly aspect of the war. But although Jünger himself is enveloped in a cloud of gas, he and others in his company escape without serious injury. The level of bombardment worsens and numerous types of bombs are leveled against the German line, some of which are new weapons with a different kind of explosive effect from what the men have seen before. Many of the troops are suffering the more serious effects of the chlorine gas and are groaning and retching with their eyes watering. Jünger indicates that a slow death is often the result, as the gas has a gradual, corrosive effect on the lungs. Jünger’s platoon takes cover in a quarry, from which they can see the huge clouds of gas lit up by flares. 

In the morning the devastating results of the gas clouds are seen on plant and animal life in Monchy. The following night phosgene gas is used by the British, in contrast to the chlorine with which they had attacked up to this point. A lieutenant named Brecht gives Jünger an account of the appearance of British raiding parties taking prisoners. Brecht himself has captured a British soldier and brought him to German headquarters in the western sector of Monchy. A huge number of wounded are brought to the dressing-station there. Yet Jünger sees his own side as having “won” this engagement. The gas attack has not had the devastating result the British intended, though German losses have been considerable.

On the first of July, Jünger’s unit retires to the village of Douchy for a few days and bury their dead. Two days later, they are back at the front lines. The British resume their attacks, with planes strafing the German positions. There is a continuation of these brief “expeditions” by Jünger’s men, which he describes in minute detail. The Germans build new trenches across the center of the village of Monchy as they take more casualties every day. On August twelfth, Jünger gets a home furlough, but he then almost immediately receives a telegram that he is to return to the front.


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