During World War I
, No Man's Land was the term used by soldiers to describe the ground between two opposing trenches. Its width along the Western Front
could vary depending on the battlefied. The average distance in most sectors was about 250 yards. At Guillemont, it was only about 50 yard but at Cambrai, it was over 500 yards. The narrowest gap was at Zonnebeke where British
soldiers were only about seven yards apart.
No Man's Land usually contained a considerable amount of barbed wire. In the area's most likely to be attacked, there were ten belts of barbed wire just before the front line trenches. In some places, the wire was more than 100 feet thick.
If the area had seen a lot of action, No Man's Land would be full of broken and abandoned military equipment. After an attack, No Man's Land would also contain a large number of bodies. Needless to say, advancing across No Man's Land was difficult. No only did the soldiers have to avoid being shot or blown up, they had to contend with the barbed wire and water filled shell holes.
Only occassionally did soldiers have to resort to full scale attack across No Man's Land. Usually they were ordered into the area to obtain information about the enemy. When an artillery shell landed just in front of an enemy trench, soldiers were often ordered to take control of the shell hole and try and spy on the enemy.
Small patrols were also sent out to obtain information about the enemy. Usually, they would go out at night. they would have to crawl forward on their stomachs in an attempt to find out what the enemy was planning. If possible, they would try and capture and enemy sentry and bring them back for interrogation. To stop the British night patrols, the Germans used a light shell rocket that was suspended from a parachute and illuminate the area for a minute or so. This would give the defending troops a chance to kill the soliders who had advanced into No Man's Land.
A letter home from one Second Lieutenant, H. E. Cooper to his parents explained what a trip to No Man's Land was like:
"I was asked to take out a patrol of seven men: duties -get out to the position of the German listening post, wait for their patrol and 'scupper' it; also discover what work is being done in their trenches. I choose my favourite corporal and my six most intelligent and courageous men.
Bayonets are examined to se if they slip out of the scabbard noiselessly; my revolver is nicley oiled; all spare and superfluous parts of equipment are left behind.
As soon as the dusk is sufficiently dark, we get out into the front of the trenches by climbing up on to the parapet and tumbling over as rapidly as possible so as not to be silhoutted against the last traces of sunset. Every man knows that he has probably seen his last sunset, for this is the most dangerous thing in war. Out we walk through the barbed wire entanglement zone through which an approaching enemy must climb, but we have a zigzag path through the thiry yards or so of prickly unpleasantness; this path is known only to a few. The night has become horribly dark already, and the stillness of the night is broken only by the croaking of frogs, the hoot of an owl and the boom of distant guns in the south.
We all advance slowly and carefully, wriggling along through the grass for a hundred yards or so, past the two lines of willow trees and across the stream, now practically dry. There we lie and wait and listen. For an hour we lie in absolute silence. It is a weary game and extremely trying to one's nerves, for hearing and sight are strained to the utmost. Tiny noises are magnified a hundredfold - a rat nibbling at the growing corn or a rabbit scuttling along gives us the jumps until we learn to differntiate the different sounds. In the German trenches we hear the faint hum of conversation. Nothing is to be heard near us, but there is a very ominous sign - no shots are being fired from the trenches in front of us, no flares are being sent up and there is no working party out. This points to only one thing and that is that they also have a patrol out.
Suddenly quite close to the corporal and myself there is a heavy rustling in the grass on the right. Now, if never before, I know the meaning of -is it fear? My heart thumps so heavily that they surely must hear it, my face is covered with cold perspiration and my revolver hammer goes back with a sharp click and my hand trembles."