Many soldiers fighting in the First World War suffered from trench foot, an infection of the feet caused by cold, wet and insanitary conditions. In the trenches men stood for hours on end in waterlogged trenches without being able to remove wet socks or boots. The feet would gradually go numb and the skin would turn red or blue.
During the winter of 1914-15 over 20,000 men in the British Army were treated for trench foot. Arthur Savage recalls his memories, “My memories are of sheer terror and the horror of seeing men sobbing because they had trench foot that had turned gangrenous”.
The only remedy for trench foot was for the soldiers to dry their feet and change their socks several times a day. Soldiers were also told to cover their feet with a grease made from whale-oil. It has been estimated that a battalion at the front would use ten gallons of whale-oil every day.