Second Lieutenant Tolkien lifted France battlefield topography into his novels. There is conjecture that he visited the Bouzincourt caves near the Battle of Somme, but no one is sure as his autograph was not found among the 800 there. What we do know is that he wrote charming tales for his friends of the battlefield and that friendship and courage became predominate threads running through TLOTR. In those months Death was omnipresent. Bodies of British and German soldiers lay unburied, stinking and rotting, around him in No Mans Land. Writing became his way to deal with the brutality and barbarity around him. He wrote "in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even down in dugouts under shell fire" upon his notebook and used its unfinished work as the basis for The Silmarillon.
In a letter to his son Christopher, many years later, he explained :
"I took to 'escapism': or really transforming experience into another form and symbol with Morgoth and Orcs and the Eldalië (representing beauty and grace of life and artefact) and so on; and it has stood me in good stead in many hard years since, and I still draw on the conceptions then hammered out."'Some of the characters also originate directly from the war. Tolkien, discussing the principal characters in his novel, wrote: "My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself".
The lice in the trenches assaulted the men and Tolkien contracted trench fever which the lice carried. He was released from duty in November 1916, returning home, weak and emancipated, to his soul-mate, Edith.
Simon Tolkien, grandson and author of No Man's Land, based his novel on many of the insights of his grandfather. [I] "realised how much his grand conception had to have been informed by the horrors of the trenches. Evil in Middle Earth is above all industrialised. Sauron’s orcs are brutalised workers; Saruman has ‘a mind of metal and wheels’; and the desolate moonscapes of Mordor and Isengard are eerily reminiscent of the no man’s land of 1916." He further points out that Frodo "shares the fate of so many veterans who remain scarred by invisible wounds when they return home."
Tolkien stated in the foreword of TLOTR:
"One has personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead."