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Rats and lice in the trenches

Imagine living in a muddy trench in the First World War (1914-18) and having to share your small space, not only with men but also with rats and lice. By 1918 doctors identified lice as the cause of trench fever, which plagued the troops with headaches, fevers and muscle pain. They would also get into clothes and cause the men to itch constantly. As there were so many dead bodies and scraps of food lying about, and the battle was static, the rats grew very fat and bold. In his book Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves described the experiences of one soldier in the trenches:

'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 dug-out 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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Bibliography

T Ashworth, Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System (London: Pan, 2004)

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