Sandbags in War: The Unsung Heroes of Defence

Sandbags in War: The Unsung Heroes of Defence

Sandbags have played a crucial role in military defence for centuries. Their use was particularly significant during World War I, where they were employed extensively in trench warfare. These sandbags, often made from jute hessian, were instrumental in providing protection and fortification for soldiers on the front lines.

Why Jute Hessian?

Jute hessian, also known simply as hessian or burlap, was the material of choice for sandbags during World War I. This choice was not arbitrary. Jute hessian offered several advantages:

  • Durability: Hessian is a robust material that can withstand rough handling and the harsh conditions of the battlefield.
  • Breathability: Unlike synthetic materials, hessian allows air to pass through, which prevents the sand from becoming damp and heavy.
  • Availability: Jute was readily available in large quantities, making it an economical option for mass production.

How Were Sandbags Stacked?

The strategic stacking of sandbags was an art in itself. Soldiers used sandbags to build protective barriers known as parapets and parados in the trenches:

  • Parapets: These were the front-facing walls of the trenches, providing cover from enemy fire.
  • Parados: These were the rear walls, protecting soldiers from artillery fire from behind.

The sandbags were typically filled to about two-thirds of their capacity. This allowed them to mould to each other when stacked, creating a stable and impenetrable barrier. The method of stacking involved alternating the bags, much like bricks in a wall, to ensure maximum stability and strength.

Tactical Advantage: Crouching Behind Sandbags

Soldiers relied heavily on these sandbag fortifications for protection. During combat, they would crouch behind the sandbags to shield themselves from enemy gunfire and shrapnel. The sandbags absorbed and deflected bullets and fragments, significantly reducing the risk of injury or death.

The image of a soldier crouching behind a row of sandbags, rifle at the ready, is iconic. It represents the gritty reality of trench warfare, where every inch of protection could mean the difference between life and death.


Sandbags, particularly those made from jute hessian, were indispensable in World War I. Their durability, ease of use, and effectiveness in creating protective barriers made them a staple of military strategy. By understanding the historical significance and practical application of sandbags, we gain a deeper appreciation for these humble yet vital tools of war.


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