- Day-to-day death
- Archaeology, bearing witness to unspeakable slaughter
- Burying the dead
While the military regulations of the early twentieth century laid out the general principles to be observed when burying soldiers, the mass slaughter seen on the battlefields in the summer of 1914, and the peculiar conditions of trench warfare thereafter, made the implementation of these guidelines impossible. Burying dead comrades, often in great numbers while also having to cope with equal number of enemy dead, was in most cases a challenge to be tackled with the utmost urgency, not least for reasons of hygiene. Painstaking excavation of the burial sites identified by archaeologists, and particularly of mass graves, allows us to better appreciate the difficulties encountered by troops of all nationalities, and to observe the solutions they found. Firstly, the bodies of enemy combatants were not buried with the same care afforded to the bodies of fellow soldiers. This care was greater still if the deceased was a direct comrade in arms. But such distinctions are relative, and vary considerably in response to the circumstances which prevailed at the time. If the sector was relatively calm then enemy combatants would be buried decently and the remains of fellow soldiers would be transferred to an organised cemetery behind the front line. During intense periods of fighting, on the other hand, the only priority would be to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible regardless of their nationality. The dead would thus be hastily interred below the parapet of the trench. Once again it is impossible to identify any general rules, as each body discovered by the archaeologists bears witness to a specific event, whose fate was determined by the interaction of numerous factors. For example, a number of tombs have been discovered along the front line dating from a period of particularly heavy fighting, and yet the burials reveal a great attention to detail, an astonishing example of the profound sense of camaraderie which bound together soldiers from the same combat unit.