What care we about the Russians and Cossacks? Our only concern was to fill our bellies, to sleep, and to open up letters or parcels from our families.
Ivan Matičič

The unbearable and often mundane army life was made tolerable through the ingenuity of soldiers. During combat or in the most difficult periods, anxiety was relieved through humour, swearing, cigarettes and alcohol, which were regularly supplied by the military authorities. On a normal day, particularly behind the front line and also in ditches, soldiers would entertain themselves with singing and music, card games and small talk. Circling or spending several days of retreat in the rear were spent resting and sleeping, thoroughly scrubbing off dirt, washing and mending torn and tattered uniforms and ridding themselves at least temporarily of annoying pests. Then having completed their critical duties, soldiers would find time for organised entertainment and relaxation.

Within individual units, proper choirs and various musical ensembles were formed which would occasionally also perform for civilians residing in the vicinity of the front lines. Under the leadership of military chaplains, military authorities would hold public masses and confessions, various sporting events and even plays. Near the front lines, military cinemas, canteens, officer’s lounges and mess halls sprung up, as well as smaller and larger chapels and churches. This was also the period of endless commendations and medals being awarded to deserving soldiers, often coinciding with the arrival of prominent high-ranking officers, political dignitaries or even members of royalty.

In every larger military region, the sexual lives of the troops were also well taken care of. Either forcibly or voluntarily, due to the food shortage or rich earnings, women selling their sexual services to the myriad of hungry soldiers would visit camps under the watchful eyes of the military health authorities. Of course, even in this area, officers were entitled to certain benefits and could perform their business away from ordinary soldiers. They would remain in their private quarters or hotels accompanied by exquisitely dressed women for days, while soldiers would queue in front of military brothels, waiting for their precisely timed opportunity of socialising with a lady assigned to them. This resulted in the spread of various sexual diseases typical to every front in World War I, and which were just as dangerous and menacing as any other infectious disease among soldiers at the time.

Military leave was eagerly anticipated by many, a rare escape from the daily military routine for the majority of troops. Although the anticipation of military leave helped alleviate some of the daily stresses, many considered the actual return to ordinary life terrifying. Civilians at a safe distance from the front lines experienced war in a manner unlike to that of the soldiers, which is why the latter were unable to speak openly, except on rare occasions, about the atrocities and horrors they had witnessed. Many soldiers whose homes had been destroyed, or were suddenly located in enemy territory, and whose families now inhabited different refugee camps, simply had no place to go during their leaves. Again others arrived home to witness the poverty, empty fields and starving children, or sickly and lethargic parents or disloyal wives, who sought the company of other men during their husbands’ absence.