They wrote it this week: A royal ruckus and some very Rotten language
Extracts from diaries and letters written between August 12 and August 18
1917, Passchendaele, Belgium
[On the Western Front of World War 1, under continual gas attack by the Germans] The entrances to the saps [frontline trenches] are covered at night with double gas curtains which are daily saturated with some mixture intended to neutralise the poison. They give a certain amount of protection but are not much good against persistent gas shelling. Every night when the weather has been favourable Fritz has treated us to a heavy dose of gas shells and each time the gas guard has had to wake us and we have been compelled to wear our masks for a couple of hours at a stretch. Owing to the gas curtains being kept down at night and the ventilation shaft being shut, the air in the tunnels becomes most fetid. Seventy or eighty men crowd in one of these galleries, mainly with wet clothes, and all in a filthy dirty condition, breathing the same air over and over again, their bodies stewing in the close, damp atmosphere and exuding all manner of noxious odours – this alone is sufficient to make us ill. It is positively choking to enter the tunnels in the early morning, before the curtains have been raised and a draught created. You choke and splutter and gasp for breath, but if you have slept in it you do not notice the aroma; you only realise that you have got a rotten headache and feel beastly sick. But foul air is better than poison gas, and dugouts to be preferred to shell holes...