The latrines was the name given to trench toilets. They were usually pits, 4 ft. to 5 ft. deep, dug at the end of a short sap. Each company had two sanitary personnel whose job it was to keep the latrines in good condition. In many units, officers gave out sanitary duty as a punishment for breaking army regulations. Before a change-over in the trenches, the out-going unit was supposed to fill in its latrines and dig a new one for the new arrivals.

Primary Sources

(1) Robert Graves described the smell of front-line trenches in his book Goodbye to All That (1929)

The smell was a compound of stagnant mud, latrine buckets, chloride of lime, unburied and half-buried corpses, rotting sandbags, stale human sweat, fumes of cordite and lyddite. Sometimes it was sweetened by cigarette smoke and the scent of bacon frying over wood fires, sometimes made sinister by the lingering odour of poison gas.

(2) Private Harold Horne, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers, interviewed in 1978.

The sanitary arrangements usually consisted of a pit, or series of pits, perhaps approached by a short trench and equipped with buckets or large biscuit tins which were emptied at night by the company 'pioneer'. The whole place was liberally treated with chloride of lime which provided a never-to-be-forgotten smell associated with trench life.

(3) Private Archie Surfleet, 13th East Yorkshire Regiment, interviewed after the war.

Latrines were always dangerous places because of the regularity with which they had to be used. Jerry soon came to spot such places, and, believe me, they were not places to linger.