Physical training made a soldier “well-disciplined, a good marcher, intelligent, smart, active and quick, able to surmount obstacles in the field and capable of withstanding all the strains and hardships of active service.” (1)
The individual ability to surmount obstacles was perhaps more crucial for the infantry, whose job was to charge on foot across inhospitable territory. Before the outbreak of war, the British Army Gymnastic Staff had developed the assault course as part of field PT, that is, “attempts to create situations in which units could perform physical training under conditions approximating a combat environment.” The assault course, also known as an obstacle or confidence course, was tackled by both individuals and by units. In 1915, a frequent feature of such courses for infantry was the addition of straw-stuffed dummies for bayonet practice. (3) Bayonets, however, were not gunners’ weapons.
The real thing
(1) Manual of Physical Training, 1908. 7-8
(2) James D. Campbell. “The Army Isn’t All Work”: Physical Culture in the Evolution of the British Army, 1860-1920. 2012. 106
(3) Campbell. 107
The first (unidentified) image is taken from the website of the National Film Board of Canada; the second (of French soldiers in the Argonne Forest, 1915) from the Atlantic’s magnificent and unsettling collection of World War One photographs.
Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”