Signal Corps #153409. Written on back in pencil: “Interdivision football of 1918-1919”

War is months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

As near as anyone can figure, this saying came out of the endless trench warfare of World War I, for good reason. But what to do about the boredom? And how to distract from the moments of terror? Soldiers of all nations and militaries turned to a wide variety of entertainment: from sports, gambling and card games, to music, food and drink, to organized performances and dances.

Entertaining the Troops gives a peek into the life of a WWI soldier beyond the battlefield, whether they were waiting for the enemies’ next move or partying in Paris.

Tooled Leather Writing Kit

“Everything is Peaches in Georgia.” Watercolor by Curtiney George Foote

Troops facing long hours in the trenches might read, draw, write a letter — or play a game of cards (gambling optional). When away from the front lines and the chances of enemy assault, they might organize a game of soccer, football or baseball, play in a band or attend a theater show (and they might be in the show if professional entertainment was scarce).

Did you know that shortly after the Armistice, the first iteration of the National Football League was formed in 1920? Or that the inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, served as a volunteer chaplain during WWI and personally helped spread its popularity during the Great War? The National WWI Museum and Memorial’s Online Collections Database is also full of letters, poetry and stories written by the troops during their downtime.

Camp canteens were also popular — offering food and drinks that weren’t available on the battlefield. Plus, there was always the opportunity to travel to nearby towns and cities, for a variety of both respectable and illicit entertainment.

Keeping troops entertained was important for keeping morale high. When knee-deep in the muck, soldiers needed something to occupy their minds and spirits and have more to look forward to. Comradery, rest, reflection, reminders of who (and what) they were fighting for — entertainment was serious business in the Great War.

–National WWI Museum and Memorial

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