This section is taken from "World War 1 Army Ancestry" by Norman Holding (ISBN 1-872094-16-3) published by the Federation of Family History Societies.
After enlistment, training began and took several months although at times of great need it was made shorter. No leave would be granted for a period of at least 10 to 15 weeks although an evening pass to visit a nearby town and could be obtained. After that men were released in turn to go on leave every 20-odd weeks. In most cases this meant no leave before the time came to sail for France. It was then usual to grant 48 or 72 hours leave to the whole unit. Upon return from leave, four days were spent packing etc. and by the fifth day the unit was on its way to the port.
A man could go to France as part of a complete unit, i.e. a battalion or an ASC Company, or as part of a draft, which was a group of men who would be allocated to another units, or units, once in France. On the other side of the channel a short stay would be made at a large transit camp. Here the completed units could wait until all the men and vehicles had crossed before proceeding further. The drafts would wait until their final destination was determined, then they would be given the appropriate cap badges and also sent up to the line to join the unit.
Transport to the front line would be by train and finally by marching. Men stationed behind the line, such as transport, medical and supply units, would live in barns or tents. Officers would be billeted in a house. Beds or bunks were unknown, the men sleeping on the ground or on straw. Within a short time everyone was covered with lice and fleas which could not be got rid of before return to England.
When one was stationed nearer the front, shellfire forced the men into dugouts in the ground or into cellars of ruined houses. Gun crews were often subject to enemy fire and hence they also lived in dugouts. In certain areas movement on the roads, if any were left, brought in an immediate hail of shells. Hence, all work tended to be done at night.
For the fighting men in the front line, the situation was much worse. Each unit would spend a period in the front line trench. This entailed leaving most of their kit behind at the transport area perhaps 2 to 3 miles behind the front. Then, encumbered with extra ammunition, hand grenades, entrenching tools and other items for survival, often weighing 60 to 70 pounds, they would march forward at night to take over the trench within 50 to 300 yards of the German Lines. The last mile or more of the approach might itself be along communication trenchs, knee deep in water. Once in the front line trench they would have to stay there day and night till relieved in 4 to 15 days. At times they had to 'stand to' i.e. stand up on a raised shelf called the firing step, in the trench, ready to shoot over no man’s land. At other times they could 'stand down' or in other words stay at the bottom of the trench, often in deep mud. To sleep they took it in turns to crawl into narrow recesses scooped out of the sides of the trench. When relieved they retired to a second line perhaps 100 to 200 yards to the rear where living conditions were a little better. Here they were often called upon at night to come forward, past the front line, into No Man’s Land to put up barbed wire defences, or to help rebuild trenches damaged by shellfire. Food for both lines would be brought up by fatigue parties from the cook's station near the transport. This often took 2 to 3 hours due to the mud and shell fire.
Their turn of duty in the trenches finished, the unit would retire to the rear area and try to relax. Here they still had to sleep in dugouts and cellers as they were within shelling range. Nights were spent moving supplies to the front line from rearward depots, or providing working parties to repair or make roads and railways. After a week or 10 days the cycle would repeat itself. With luck they might be able to get to a bathhouse during this time. Here they got a hot bath or shower and a change of underwear, however the fleas always survived the cleaning!
After one or two months, the whole unit with would withdraw several miles, usually beyond shelling range. Here they could rest, train and help with transport and repairs. With luck they could live in barns etc. above ground and move freely at all times. The whole cycle would repeat itself again after about a month.
At less frequent intervals, the Division and then the Corps would be withdrawn into reserve so that all units contained within them could enjoy a period well away from the front. The time was spent in training or in rehearsing new attacks.
Most of the time in the front line trench was spent watching; occasionally a small raid would be made on the enemy to capture a prisoner. Artillery was often under shellfire from the opposing side. Royal Engineers Signals Sections would frequently have to lay or repair telephone cables in sight of the enemy and companies of Royal Engineers would work no man’s land laying wire. However, during their non-working periods they could retire to the comparative safety of a dugout or a billet or celler or a mile or two behind the line.
Life would continue like this seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, until home leave was granted. This would be about 10 or 14 days, including travelling time, every 12 months or so.