How did life for a typical soldier serving in a trench on the western front during the First World War compare with serving in the English Civil War? Essay

The typical soldier serving in a trench on the western front during the First World War compared with a parliamentary infantryman serving in the English Civil War was very different compared to the typical soldier serving on the western front during the First World War mainly because the two wars were both at different times and settings. The English civil war took place during the 1640’s and the First World War took between 1914-1918, 270 years between the two conflicts. The World War was widely based and the English civil war was only in England.

But what were the other differences between the two wars? The reasons for fighting were very different. The English Civil War started with an argument between King Charles I and the members of Parliament which were often called parliamentarians. The Parliament thought they should have their own rights and freedom from the king and Charles claimed to rule by divine rights. The king refused to compromise with the Puritans who wanted their own privileges and more power for themselves. Charles I dissolved Parliament and locked out the members for 11 years from 1629-1640.

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It then led to a war between the supporters of the King and supporters of the Parliament. Those who supported the King were often the lords, and those who supported parliament were often country gentlemen and merchants. The First World War started with a murder. In June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited the Austrian-Hungarian province of Bosnia. On June 28, they were shot in the streets of the capital Sarajevo which was what triggered the whole event. He was shot by a Serbian terrorist who was protesting about Austrian-Hungarian rule in Bosnia.

This caused Austria-Hungry to declare war on Serbia July 28. Counties backed up other countries and it ended up spreading until British soldiers were fighting all over Europe, in Syria, East Africa, in the mountains of the Alps and the Caucasus. The British volunteers went to fight for what they thought was a good cause, that they were fighting for King and Country. In some ways the recruitment was similar in both wars, they depended a lot on volunteers but recruitment was also needed. In the Civil War, many men didn’t want to fight against other British men.

Some families disagreed and so were fighting against each other. Religion was another reason for choosing a side to fight on. Many soldiers stayed to fight near their homes, often defending the country estates of their employers. Parliament had more professional soldiers and more money, they paid two shillings a day to cavalry troopers, so many soldiers changed sides and left the king’s army to join the Parliamentarians. In 1914 Great Britain had 80,000 trained troops ready for war. Parliament called for extra soldiers. Recruiting stations were opened, and over three million men volunteered.

The government used all sorts of methods to encourage enlistment. They used posters, public meetings, stories of German atrocities and the threat of shame. The woman’s suffrage movement asked their members to give white feathers to men who had not enlisted. The Derby Scheme used door-to-door visits. Lord Kitchener was on posters saying “Your country needs you! ” Many institutions helped to recruit for the war. Groups of friends from factories, football teams, banks etc were encouraged to enlist together and called the “Pals Battalions”.

A problem arose when a whole town lost its military-aged men in a day. So many skilled tradesmen joined the forces that there was then a shortage of men to make munitions for the battles. So many soldiers were killed that in May 1916 a Military Service Act was passed making all men, up to the age of 41, liable to serve as a soldier. There were however, many exemptions to this law and many men felt it was very unfair. At the end of the war in 1918 there were about 8 million men and 1 million women serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and munitions.

Almost a million British soldiers had died. Overall, People in the civil war expected to hear about the news and just sign up and in the World War they had a number of ways of persuading the soldiers to enlist. The uniforms were very different. During the Civil War soldiers on both sides usually had to pay for their own uniforms, and often their own weapons too, because land owners didn’t have enough money for everyone’s equipment. Soldiers wore a jerkin of buffalo hide –known as a buff coat- over their clothing, to protect them against a glancing blow of a sword.

Pikemen had a set of armour made up of a corselet and tassets, and wore a pot helmet. Those who commanded the soldiers chose their colours, which were shown by a sash worn around their body. Because red was a reasonably cheap die it was often worn on both sides at the same battle, and it was very difficult to tell who was on your side. Even if two different coloured sashes were used, the bulk of a uniform would have been so similar that it would have been difficult for someone to make a one second decision on whether to shoot a person or not.

Lord Brooke’s foot unit wore purple and stood out as an individual unit. The New Model Army changed to this approach and they all wore Venice red uniforms. In the First World War soldiers were given their uniforms and weapons, though at the beginning there were shortages, many soldiers didn’t have enough bullets for their guns. The British infantryman had a khaki uniform made of a fabric of twilled wool, webbing and a Lee Enfield rifle with a bayonet. He wore knee length boots and a hard metal helmet. Officers had flat caps and carried pistols.

So overall the uniforms were better in the World war because they had more protection and they didn’t have to rely on soldiers to get their own uniforms. They knew who was on their team or not even if they didn’t know each other because of their hats. The weapons they used were very different. In the English Civil War they had soldiers called Pikemen. Pikemen carried a 5m long ash staff pike and a short bladed sword known as a “Hanger” for hand to hand fighting. Pikes were heavy and unwieldy and it required a strong man to use one correctly.

The most common weapon used by a musketeer was a Matchlock Musket. A good well-trained musketeer could fire three rounds a minute unless his gunpowder became damp. He had a wooden ramrod to ram down the charge and the bullet made of cast lead which he usually made himself, a powder horn made from a cows horn used for carrying priming powder, and a fuse of slow-burning cord that had been boiled in vinegar then dried, kept lit at both ends during battle. The horsemen were armed with a heavy sword and one or two pistols.

Some artillery was used in the English civil war with smaller guns following the army, but the heavier guns couldn’t be moved easily so were used in siege warfare. The weapons used in World War 1 were more advanced in design and easier to use. New weapons were invented and defensive battle formations developed using trenches, machine guns, grenades, and barbed wire. Soldiers in trenches used a rifle which could fire 15 rounds a minute from 1400 metres away, and had a bayonet to fasten on it. The machine guns they used needed 4-6 men but had the fire power of 100 guns, firing shells which exploded on impact.

Flame Throwers were also used. The first tank was called ‘Little Willie’ and needed 3 soldiers. It had a maximum speed of 3mph and could not cross the trenches. By 1918 more modern tanks could carry up to 10 men and reach a speed of 4mph. Aeroplanes were used in battle for the first time, they delivered bombs to the battle areas. Battles between aeroplanes in the sky became known as ‘dogfights’. The Germans had better weapons and greater numbers of heavy guns. At Ypres in 1915 Germans used poison gas that spread across the positions of the soldiers.

The Germans also had Zeppelin airships known as blimps. The Weapons in world war one were more up to date compared to the English civil war as the years went on, including more danger involved in battles. The fighting strategies in the two wars were different because of the of the differences in the weapons used. In the Civil war gentlemen went into battle on horseback other soldiers had to walk. Horse regiments should have had 600 men divided into 6 equal troops but it was so expensive to maintain a horse regiment that often there were no more than 100.

Prince Rupert developed the tactic of charging at the gallop into the enemy’s front rank to create confusion. The Pikemen held their pikes at an angle of 30 degrees presenting a horse attack with a dangerous obstacle, so Rupert changed to attacking the flanks of the enemy to protect the horses. The musketeers stood in the centre with the Pikemen and the heavy artillery was behind them all. The First World War was known for its trench warfare. The western front stretched for 400 miles though France and Belgium, from the English Channel all the way to Switzerland. There were miles and miles of trenches dug in the mud.

Trenches were lined with sandbags and protected by rolls of barbed wire which lay in the area between the two sets of trenches known as “No Man’s Land” (See the basic formation of the trenches on the right ->) Trenches were dug in Britain to train the soldiers to move around in them before they were sent into battle. It is still possible to see the remains of these training trenches at Penally in Pembrokeshire. The men in the front trench waited for the signal to go ‘over the top’ and charge into battle after the initial bombardment by the heavy guns behind them had stopped.

The men were fired at by the enemy in their trenches and thousands of men were killed by the gunfire. Neither side gained much new ground but many men died. The tanks that were used were unable to drive over the trenches. The use of aeroplanes to fly over the battle areas meant there couldn’t be surprise attacks. At sea mines fields were laid and submarines used to sink passenger and merchant ships which were needed to move the troops and the supplies. The conditions were bad in both wars but it was the worst for the World war because of the Germans introducing the gas which could kill people very easily.

The fighting strategy was better in World War 1 because they were more organised. The trenches were so big in World war 1 that men in battle would name rows of trenches by their street names at home not only making it easier for them to remember where each trench row is but also to make them feel more at home. The English civil war fighting strategy was unorganised and the other side could easily kill them in shooting range and if a soldier was to be riding on a horse they could shoot the horse and the soldier would be an easy target.

So overall, life for a typical soldier in the First World War was nothing like that of a soldier in then English Civil War. In the First World War they had a lot more travelling to do and were fighting far from home, while in the English Civil War the soldiers stayed to fight in their own counties near their homes. Many of the soldiers were defending the country houses and castles. When the weather was poor some would even go home and others left the fighting all together.

The soldiers in World War 1 were in trenches where the conditions were bad, they had no proper sanitation and suffered from dysentery, trench foot and trench fever caused by lice, and they lost more British soldiers in 1918 The victory year, than the whole of the world war 2 because of the men running into bullets when they had to go ‘over the top’ causing a big bombardment. During the winters the weather in Europe was bad and the men had to move through the deep snow with their weapons and heavy guns. There was more danger involved with more and better weapons and the heavy guns of the First World War, also the over head danger from planes.

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