Hygiene and war are words that don’t often go together for understandable reasons. A soldier, for instance, would choose his life and safety over smelling fresh and clean or having a newly-shaved mustache and beard. Even so, it’s still essential to keep oneself as clean as possible, even when in the most gruesome and cruelest situation if your health is already at risk. So if you ever wondered what hygiene was like for World War I soldiers, if there’s any at all, then let’s explore them.

Buckets Or Deeper Holes As Latrines

Soldiers had to improvise and make the best of the trench situation to relieve themselves. They did so by designating specific areas to serve as their restrooms that were not meant to be permanent. They would dig four to six feet deep pits used as-is. The horrifying smell would attract flies, so some troops tried to keep them away by building wood boxes around these pits. They also tried to mask the odor by covering their excrement with chloride of lime.

Alternatively, they used buckets, biscuit tines, and even shell holes in place of the pits. These “toilets” were emptied daily. Each company would assign two men to perform the sanitary duties, a task that was understandably despised by people and was often given to those who broke the army regulations. It was also a courtesy rule that the outgoing unit would dig a new latrine for the new arrivals and fill in the ones they used.

Despite the not-so-enjoyable trip to what they considered their toilets, they couldn’t always walk out for pee or poo breaks, regardless if one has diarrhea from contaminated water. As a British lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment who fought in Passchendaele in 1917 recalled,

“If, for instance, you wanted to urinate and otherwise, there was an empty bully beef tin kept on the side of the hole, so you had to do it in front of all your men [and] then chuck the contents, but not the tin, over the back.”