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Even though field telephones were widely used for the first time during World War I (1914–18), they relied on copper wire lines, which were often damaged or unreliable, or simply unavailable as troops advanced. Radio technology existed, but was generally regarded as too insecure for frontline use. Hence, most armies still made extensive use of runners.
On battlefields dominated by automatic weapons and trench warfare, as well as the first widespread use of artillery and air attacks, runners faced one of the most dangerous jobs: they had to leave the relative safety of a trench, bunker or other shelter, and carry messages to other positions. For the same reasons, officers could not be sure that their message had been delivered until a runner returned to their unit. Runners were frequently decorated for bravery: for instance Adolf Hitler, who was a runner in the Bavarian Army during World War I, was wounded twice and received both the Iron Cross first class and second class during the war.