Encyclopedia - Trench Foot

Water-filled trench at Passchendaele, 1917 Initially believed to be a symptom of poor morale by military authorities, 'trench foot' was in fact a fungal infection of the feet brought on by prolonged exposure to damp, cold conditions allied to poor environmental hygiene.

Its effects on armies - of all sides - during the early stages of trench warfare, before trench conditions were much improved, could be severe.

Some 20,000 casualties resulting from trench foot were reputed to have been suffered by the British Army alone during the close of 1914.  Patients sometimes had to have toes amputated (following gangrene) such were the effects of the condition.

Improved trench drainage and conditions in general led to a rapid diminishment of cases; local commanders were also held accountable for such outbreaks, which consequently encouraged the provision of better trench conditions, along with regular feet inspections, greasing of toes and changes of socks.  Waterproof footwear also greatly helped.

Nevertheless reports of individual cases continued throughout the war but were not considered especially serious.

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was the first ever delivered by telegram.

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