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141 Days: The Battle of the Somme

No Manís Land

In the book Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918, published in 1931, ďNo Manís LandĒ is described as ďa strangely romantic name for the area between the front line trenches of the British and German armies, held by neither, but patrolled, at night, by both.Ē

No Manís Land was a terrible place; a piece of ground sometimes only a few metres wide. The ground would be turned up and cratered by the constant bombardment of shells from both sides. The shattered remains of trees mixed with wooden and iron picquets (stakes) between which barbed wire was strung. The smell of death was all around, combined with the smell of gun powder and maybe even poison gas which had sunk to the bottom of the craters.

Worse still, there could be the disturbed graves and cemeteries of soldiers killed in previous battles, but unable to rest in peace as more shells ripped the ground apart.

It was not a place to be, in daylight, but it was the only way to reach the enemy. German soldiers had easily picked out the areas where the British barbed wire had been cut in preparation for the attacks of the Somme. They could easily train their Maxim machine guns on to these positions and cut down advancing troops, with unbelievable ease and devastation.

At night time No Manís Land was a different place. Both sides sent out patrols, to listen for the enemy and obtain what ever intelligence they could. They may even be a raiding party sent to capture enemy soldiers who could be interrogated. On a dark night it was really dark, on a night with a full moon it could be far too light! Both sides would fire flares from Very pistols illuminating, the ghostly shapes of soldiers patrolling or working for a few minutes.

Working parties operated almost on a nightly basis in No Manís Land. Some of these men were killed and wounded by enemy fire. Barbed wire defences had to be laid out, repaired and renewed, as shells could easily destroy the effectiveness of the wire. Barbed wire also had to be cut and removed, in preparation for an attack, to permit our soldiers easy passage to the German lines. Special path-finder patrols would go out at night and tape Ė or mark out Ė a route to be followed by the attacking troops.

No Manís Land was the worst place a soldier could be. It was far worse than a trench, which offered a good amount of protection from enemy fire. No Manís Land was the killing zone, even on a quiet night, when little was happening. A soldier could meet his end whilst carrying out some mundane manual duty, with nothing more threatening than a pick or shovel.

No Manís Land could be peaceful too. Soldiers like Private William Hodgson, of the Kingís Own, could sit and listen to a sky lark singing high above the ground, as if all was normal and the war was a thousand miles away.


Next: Working Parties

Supported by the Sir John Fisher Foundation and the Army Museums Ogilby Trust

© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

Only a proportion of our collections are on display at anyone time.  Certain items are on loan for display in other institutions.  An appointment is required to consult any of our collections which are held in store.

© 2016 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum