Penhallow (1916) described trench foot as “those conditions in which the soldier develops painful and swollen feet due to long immersion in the cold water” (para. 1). Because the trenches were almost constantly filled with water and mud, soldiers found it hard to keep themselves from developing this disease. Ellis (1976) described that men fighting in trenches “would have to stand in…wet conditions for hours, even days on end without removing their wet socks or boots. Just one immersion in water followed by a twenty four hour period of not taking off one’s boots was enough to cause [trench foot]” (p. 48). The infectious disease plagued many soldiers during the war: more than 20,000 British soldiers developed and received treatment for trench foot in the 1914-15 winter season (Simkin 2012). Throughout the course of the entire war, “74,711 British troops were admitted to the hospitals in France with the disease” (Ellis, 1976 p. 49). Soldiers became fearful of the infection because trench foot could lead to gangrene, possible amputation of the foot or leg, and could ultimately lead to death. When asked about trench
foot, Arthur Savage (n.d) stated, “’My memories are of sheer terror and the horror of seeing men sobbing because they had trench foot that had turned gangrenous. They knew they were going to lose a leg’” (Simkin, 2012). Sergeant Harry Roberts (n.d.) explained it as being one of the most painful experiences a person could go through when he stated, “"If you have never had trench foot described to you, I will explain. Your feet swell to two to three times their normal size and go completely dead. You can stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are lucky enough not to lose your feet and the swelling starts to go down, it is then that the most indescribable agony begins" (Simkin, 2012). The infection weakened men’s physical conditions and lessened their ability to fight. Ellis (1976) explains that “the only possible remedy was to try and ensure that the men changed their socks and dried their feet as often as possible. In 1915 men carried three pairs of socks and were ordered to change them once or twice a day along with vigorously drying them and applying a grease made of wale-oil. But this system depended entirely on the front-line officers” (p. 49). Therefore if the commanding officers did not allow soldiers to change socks and grease
their feet, the soldiers could acquire trench foot. In the heat of war and heavy shelling, officers sometimes forgot to make time to instruct the troops to change their socks. Officers like “Robert Graves felt ‘trench feet only came if the soldier did not mind getting trench feet.’ Other officers had troops take care of another troop and were responsible to wash, dry and change that man’s socks” (Ellis, 1976 p. 49). If a soldier contracted trench foot and was admitted into the hospital, doctors ordered them to be on bed rest and gave them some type of evaporating lotion like alcohol (Penhallow, 1916). Later in the treatment, doctors suggested that they infected limb be exposed to the air and massaged with oil in order to help diminish the symptoms of infection.