Excerpted from "Trench Warfare; A Manual for Officers and Men," by J.S. Smith, Second Lieutenant with the British Expeditionary Force, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1917.
Prevention of Frost Bite and Trench Feet
The Communication Trench; Problem—Whether to walk along the top and risk it, or do another mile of this. A cartoon by Capt Bruce Bairnsfather, from More Fragments From France, published by The Bystander.
These conditions are generally caused by long standing in cold water and mud, or the continuous wearing of wet socks, boots and puttees, and the conditions are accelerated when the blood circulation in the feet and legs is interfered with by the use of tight puttees, or anything calculated to cause constriction of the lower limbs. They can be prevented or diminished by constant improvement of trenches.
They can be prevented or diminished by constant improvement of trenches and reducing the time spent in the trenches as far as the general situation will permit by battalion arrangements; by insuring that men entering the trenches are warmly clad in dry boots, socks, trousers and puttees, and that before entering, the men's legs and feet are thoroughly rubbed with whale oil. Provisions ar e made for the men on coming out of the trenches to get warm shelters, hot foods and facilities for washing the feet and drying wet clothes, and all along the line just behind the trenches soup kitchens are kept where the men may stop on the way to billet and get hot soup, etc.
The arrangements made when a battalion is going into the trenches are roughly as follows:
The men's feet and legs are washed and dried and then thoroughly rubbed with whale oil and dry socks put on. A second pair of dry socks is carried by each man, and when it is possible, battalion arrangements are made for wet socks to be brought down from the trenches one night and dry ones exchanged, this taking place every night. This is generally managed by the men changing in the early morning, the relief party for that night taking down the wet socks and bringing in the dry for the next morning.
Hot water must never be used, nor the feet held near a fire. Where necessary, and circumstances permit, long gum boots are put on on entering the trench, while the men's feet are still dry, and taken off as soon as they prepare to leave and handed over as trench stores.
In some parts of the line, where conditions are very favorable, battalion rest posts are formed as close to the firing line as permissible, and men showing signs of suffering from exposure are frequently attended to.
Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Geeat War, 191419
The Medical Servces
By: Sir Andrew Mcphail (Pub by F.A. Acland, 1925)
TRENCH FOOT (pp. 269-270)
The condition known as "trench foot" caused great distress to the soldiers, and embarrassment to the medical service on account of its novelty and resistance to treatment. In the winter of 1914-15 the disease was common; in the following winter, the first spent by the Canadians in the line, it was of only occasional occurrence. What was once a disease had now become a "crime"; but it was the unit as a whole that was penalized by stoppage of leave, and not the man. Measures had been discovered for preventing the conditions, and they were rigidly enforced.
By the English "frost bite" was applied as the cause; but it was hard for Canadians to understand how feet could be frost-bitten in a temperature that showed only a few degrees of frost. Continued cold wetness was the principal element in the case, with added secondary infection from the soil. The appearance of the foot was startling. A mild case showed a brawny swelling; but as the condition advanced the foot became dusky; the toes dropped off by a process of gangrene, and even the whole foot might be destroyed in a very few days.
Trench foot was proved by Lorrain Smith and his colleagues, working experimentally upon the rabbit, to be a condition due to cold which stopped short of death of the tissues, differing from frost-bite only in degree, although it also may end in gangrene. The primary lesion is vascular, followed by a secondary reaction when the element of cold is removed.
Cure was difficult, but prevention sure. Boots must be well oiled and large, the puttees loose. Feet and legs were rubbed with whale oil or other animal fat, and dry socks put on. The period for a battalion in the trenches was reduced to 48 hours, and wet trenches were lightly held by about 48 men of the company, the remainder being dry in close reserve. After 12 hours in the outposts the men were relieved and marched back to a warm rest station, where they were stripped, rubbed down, and wrapped each in three blankets. They were given a hot meal and allowed to sleep or rest for 24 hours, when they rejoined their unit. If feet or hands did become "chilled," the circulation was to be restored by rubbing with oil, never by fire or hot water. This elaborate procedure was not necessary when the trenches could be kept reasonably dry, and was only employed in situations where the very nature of the soil prevented rapid movement or surprise by the enemy. This condition accounted for 246 casualties amongst officers, 4,741 in other ranks, with only two deaths.
Joseph Shuter Smith
Joseph Shuter Smith was an American author born in Philadelphia in 1893. He spent his childhood in Alaska during the Gold Rush and spent his years before the Great War as a lumberjack, miner, surveyor and cowboy. In 1914, continuing his adventurous streak, he went to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, declaring his birthplace to be Port Hope, Ontario (with next of kin in Oakland, California). Smith enlisted with the 29th Canadian Infantry Battalion at Vancouver. He served in France and Belgium as a soldier in the CEF and, after being commissioned in August, 1916, as an officer of the British Army with The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment). He resigned his Imperial commission after a year to return to the US and enlist in the American Army. Joseph Smith also wrote the memoir: Over There and Back in Three Uniforms; Being the Experiences of an American Boy in the Canadian, British and American Armies at the Front and through No Man's Land.