British Soldiers Digging 1918. Copyright Imperial War Museum

Cultural Differences

Did you know that British and French soldiers suffered a variety of cultural misunderstandings when they met?

Soldiers of each nation viewed the other with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. Neither side had spent much time around the other before the war and it took time to adapt.

French soldiers thought the British were obsessed with tea and shaving, British thought the French were overly laid back and ‘unsoldierly’ when sporting unkempt beards.

Particular quirks soon began to appear. Neither British nor French soldiers could master the spades used by the other. This was probably due to the differing shapes of the spade head. Both sides routinely threw away thousands of alternative spades as they couldn’t use them. Likewise British soldiers struggled to march to French military songs as the difference in rhythm disrupted their stride.

Photograph – © Imperial War Museum Archives, London