How WWI Soldiers Enjoyed Their Time Off Compared to Soldiers Today

Published: 21 June 2024

By Jeny Celtic
Special to the Doughboy Foundation website

Time off

Soldiers need breaks to relieve the stress they experience on the battlefield.

This article explores the similarities and differences between how World War I soldiers spent their time off and the activities available to the modern infantry. We’ll look at how technology and military support have changed what our fighting men do to relax.

Card and Dice Games

Card and dice games provided the entertainment many doughboys needed while anxiously waiting for orders or relaxing. Playing cards were very popular as a small pack fit into a rucksack, they were inexpensive, and they could even be handmade by drawing numbers and faces on paper. Poker and dice games gave soldiers endless hours of socializing and, for some soldiers, an opportunity to earn extra cash to supplement low wages by gambling.

While 21st-century soldiers play similar games, technological advances bring them beyond paper cards and also include modern board games. Modern soldiers also have the option to bet online, and they won’t need cash, chocolate, or cigarettes in their pocket to place a wager as they did in 1919, as online casinos allow bettors to start playing with no money upfront.


Competitive sports were an excellent way for soldiers to build camaraderie. The military encouraged their camps to organize sports like football to help the troops maintain physical strength and endurance for the battlefield. But when soldiers went to the front line, sporting activities took a different approach using any equipment available, including wheelbarrow races, wrestling, and tug of war.

Today, our troops have many options for competitive sports. Depending on the location, a base could have skiing, boating, and hunting areas for soldiers to take a load off, as well as paintball fields that simulate the use of firearms. In the doughboy tradition, you’ll continue to find soldiers playing softball, football, and hockey on sandlots, ponds, or local hockey rinks because the military encourages everyone to stay in shape and socialize.


World War I and modern troops have had unique experiences accessing higher education. The federal government passed the G.I. Bill in 1944, allowing young men who fought in World War II to pursue a college degree for free in exchange for serving in the military. Nowadays, internet data makes college courses available to active-duty military personnel and enables them to continue their education online or in person after they serve.

World War I soldiers could prepare for a future trade job by learning skills essential to the war effort, like vehicle mechanics and maintenance. Since technology during the war didn’t allow for remote learning and college educations were less common, some colleges closed due to declining enrollment as young men went overseas.

Reading and Writing

Reading books remains a common way for our active-duty military to relax. Soldiers in 1918 could have access to a library, though their reading material was more likely related to learning about skills for the war effort. A member of the modern infantry has access to paper books and can also obtain reading material through the bases’ internet or by exchanging an electronic storage device with a friend.

Communicating with people outside the base has changed. The modern military offers secure email for personnel and their loved ones, while paper letters are an option. Soldiers in the 1910s hand-wrote letters using pen or pencil and experienced much slower delivery systems by comparison.

With plenty of downtime in the trenches and at the base, soldiers in the First World War produced plenty of art. Their drawings and paintings are frequently displayed as historical museum pieces. Today’s soldiers will have their creative abilities memorialized as well.

Music and Theatre

Music and entertainment remain vital to keeping morale up during wartime. Instruments, singing, and acting are talents shared by today’s soldiers and those who fought over a hundred years ago. Brass bands were a common way for musicians to connect and entertain their fellow troops, while impromptu plays and comedy acts helped to pass the time. Not much has changed for modern soldiers, though jam sessions might be louder with the presence of electric guitars and amplifiers.

The key difference is that the modern military has more access to live entertainment through the United Service Organizations, which formed in 1941. Musicians, professional athletes, and movie stars (Robin Williams being a notable example) have traveled to bases to perform and express support for our fighting men and women.

Movie theaters were available but less common during the First World War because motion pictures were only beginning to be available in the United States and Europe. A modern military base, in contrast, might have a movie theater or a nearby location for soldiers to visit.


Soldiers who fought in the First World War and modern soldiers are creative in their use of free time. Enlisted men and women from both eras have loved playing card games as social activities that could put a few extra dollars in their pockets, while exercising their musical and artistic talents helped take their minds off the pressures of war. Much has changed over the last century, and modern soldiers have more access to education and faster communication compared to their predecessors.

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