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18 photos that show how great-grandpa got ready for WWI

Basic training sucks, but it follows a predictable pattern. A bunch of kids show up, someone shaves their heads, and they learn to shoot rifles.


But it turns out that training can be so, so much better than that. In World War I, it included mascots, tarantulas, and snowmen. Check out these 18 photos to learn about what it was like to prepare for war 100 years ago:

1. If the old photos in the National Archives are any indication, almost no one made it to a training camp without a train ride.

New York recruits heading to training write messages on the sides of their train. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

2. Inprocessing and uniform issue would look about the same as in the modern military. Everyone learns to wear the uniform properly and how to shave well enough to satisfy the cadre.

A soldier gets some assistance with shaving his "strong" beard at the Plattsburg, New York, training camp. Note that in World War I, the brown rounds weren't restricted to training cadre. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

3. Training camps were often tent cities or rushed construction, so pests and sanitation problems were constant.

A U.S. Marine at Marine Corps Training Activity San Juan, Cuba, shows off the tarantula he found. Tarantulas commonly crawled into the Marines' boots at night. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

4. Unsurprisingly, training camps included a lot of trench warfare. America was a late entrant to the war and knew the kind of combat it would face.

Soldiers make their way through training trenches in Camp Fuston at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

5. Somehow, even training units had mascots in the Great War. This small monkey was commonly fed from a bottle.

A World War I soldier plays with the unit mascot at Camp Wadsworth near Spartansburg, South Carolina. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

6. Seriously. Unit mascots were everywhere. One training company even boasted three mascots including a bear and a monkey.

A World War I soldier lets the regimental mascot climb on him. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

7. Troops in camp built a snowman of the German kaiser in New York.

Troops at Camp Upton on Long Island, New York, pose with their snowman of the kaiser. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

8. A lot of things were named for the enemy in the camps, including these batonet targets.

Soldiers training at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, stand with their bayonet targets helpfully named things like "Kaiser Bill" and "Hindenburg." (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

9. This grave is for another dummy named kaiser. He was interred after the unit dug trenches in training.

Soldiers in a training camp at Plattsburg, New York, show off the grave they created for a dummy of the German kaiser during training on trench construction. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

10. Bayonet training was important for men headed into the trenches. These Marine bayonet instructors adopted the motto, "If you don't know, you get killed."

The Marine Corps bayonet instructors at a school pose for a group photo. The instructors' motto is "If you don't know, you get killed." (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

11. World War I saw a deluge of new technologies that affected warfare. These shavers were preparing for a class in aerial photography.

Soldiers training at the U.S. Army School of Aerial Photography in New York shave before their class. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

12. Uniform maintenance was often up to the individual soldier, so learning to mend shirts was as important as learning to shoot photos from planes.

Soldiers from the 56th Infantry Regiment mend their own clothes at Camp McArthur near Waco, Texas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

13. Local organizations showed their support for the troops through donations and morale events.

Soldiers training at Camp Lewis, Washington, grab apples from the Seattle Auto-Mobile Club of Seattle. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

14. Some were better than others. Free apples are fine, but free tobacco is divine.

A thirty-car train carrying 11 million sacks of tobacco leaves Durham, North Carolina, en route to France where it will be rationed to troops. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

15. Nothing is better than payday, even if the pay is a couple of dollars.

Troops are paid at Camp Devens, Massachusetts. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

16. Someone get these men some smart phones or something. Three-person newspaper reading is not suitable entertainment for our troops.

A father, son, and uncle share a newspaper on a visitor's day during training camp. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

17. Once the troops were properly trained, they were shipped off to England and France. Their bags, on the other hand, were shipped home.

Soldiers finished with stateside training pose next to the large pile of luggage destined for their homes as they ship overseas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

18. Again, trains everywhere back then. Everywhere.

Engineers ready to ship out write motivational messages on the side of their train car just before they leave the Atlanta, Georgia, area for France. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

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