Mud, Mud Glorious Mud?

Trench Warfare and mud appear to go hand-in-hand when World War One appears in books, on film and in photographs which lead me to wonder what the weather was like during the first year of the war.  Was it really extraordinarily wet?

A working party in the rain.

A working party in the rain.

Weather forecasting as a science was very much in its infancy during the war, although it did improve rapidly as advance knowledge of the weather proved to be essential when planning aerial or gas attacks.  However detailed records of the daily temperature, pressure, rainfall and hours of sunshine were recorded all over the UK.

These detailed UK records have been made available thanks to the Met Office and I have found it fascinating to read through the monthly reports for the first year of the war to see what the weather was like.

Walking the trenches

Walking the trenches

Below is a very simple table of the month, the weather in the South East of England and also major events on the Western Front.

Month and Year Weather report Western Front Activity
August 1914

 

After the first 8 days of the month it was warmer and drier than average, some thunderstorms but little rain.

 

BEF arrive in France

Battle of Mons

September 1914

 

 

Windy, slightly warmer than normal but much wetter than average.

 

Battle of the Marne

Trench network started

October 1914

 

Rainfall much below average and temperatures above normal.

 

Trench network continued

Start of 1st Battle of Ypres

November 1914

 

 

Above average rainfall, often occurring in torrential downpours. As a whole temperatures above average.

 

Trenches reach the coast

1st Battle of Ypres continues

December 1914

 

Wettest December since 1876. Mainly mild for first half of the month then cold.

 

 

Isolated skirmishes but no major battles.

Both sides digging in to trench system

January 1915 Rain fell on every day of the month and it was also windy. Generally mild but the worst frosts were in the South of East of England. Battles in the Champagne area of France
February 1915

 

Wetter and windier than average with isolated heavy snow showers. Temperatures around normal.

 

Battles in the Champagne area continue
March 1915

 

Rainfall was below average, the month ended colder than it started. Battle of Neuve Chapelle
April 1915

 

 

A mostly dry and sunny month although cooler than average. 1st use of poison gas

2nd Battle of Ypres

May 1915

 

Heavy downpours at the start of the month make the month wetter than average overall but the second half of the month dry and warm.

 

2nd Battle of Ypres
June 1915

 

Exceptionally dry (no rain is recorded in Dover for 37 consecutive days in May/June). Heavy thunderstorms at the end of the month. Temperatures average but not much sun recorded.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place
July 1915

 

Windy, heavy and thundery downpours push the rainfall figures above average, not very warm or sunny for the time of year.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

 

August 1915 Again heavy isolated storms push up the average rainfall totals but the month is not consistently wet. Temperatures and hours of sunshine around or just above normal. No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

Although this is a highly unscientific and rudimentary comparison of the weather it can be seen that during the autumn and early winter of 1914, when the initial battles were being fought and the trench network on the Western Front was being dug, the weather reports do show that it was wetter than average. This analysis is backed up by reports given by members of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1915 and thus perhaps the iconic image of a muddy trench is accurate and not an over used trope.

Knee deep in mud

Knee deep in mud

A disclaimer to all of this: relying on weather reports from England to make comparisons with conditions on the continent may not give an accurate representation at all.  However close Dover maybe to France the weather patterns that affect the two areas can be very different.  The British weather is controlled by a maritime climate pattern  whereas just across the channel the weather is influenced by the continental pattern .

It must also be noted that the soil in Northern France and Belgium also played a role in the creation of the muddy trenches as it was it often drained poorly and quickly became waterlogged. Being churned up by the constant movement of men and equipment also worsened the muddy conditions.

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One thought on “Mud, Mud Glorious Mud?

  1. Pingback: Snow in the trenches, the harsh winter of 1916/1917 – Norfolk in World War One

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