Monday, September 07, 2020

Death and Rats in the Trenches

A Prussian Landwehrmann tanning rat skins in a dugout, WWI.

Disgusted and often feeling a horror of their presence, soldiers would devise various means of dealing with the rat problem. Although shooting at rats was strictly prohibited – being regarded as a pointless waste of ammunition – many soldiers nevertheless took pot shots at nearby rats in this manner. Attacking them with bayonets was also common, but efforts to eliminate them proved futile. A single rat couple could produce up to 900 offspring a year. Cats and terriers were kept by soldiers in the frontline trenches to help free them of disease-carrying rats. The Terriers were actually very effective.

Robert Graves remarked in his book ‘Goodbye to All That’: ‘Rats came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. While I stayed here with the Welch, a new officer joined the company and, in token of welcome, was given a dugout containing a spring-bed. When he turned in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.

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