Researching my new novel, which is set around the aftermath of World War I and involves a group of ex-servicemen excavating an abandoned bunker, I came across some curious snippets regarding life in the trenches…
During the war it wasn’t just deadly mustard gas, snipers or lethal barrages that soldiers had to contend with, there were other hazards, too. For one thing, millions of rats occupied the battlefields along with the troops – all shapes, all colours and sizes. It was reported by one soldier that he had seen thouasands of them – enormous brown ones, as big as cats from gorging on corpses. The trooper witnessed an army of them crossing the Menin Road at Hell Fire Corner, near Ypres at nighttime. Such was the prevalence of the vermin that candles, soap and food had to be put away in tins, even feet weren’t safe.
Lice – or chats as they were known – proved quite indestructible and would lay their eggs in the seams of clothing. After a rare hot bath and scrub and a disinfecting of the soldier’s uniform they would be back within a few hours, happily feeding on their unfortunate host. Attempts to stamp out the problem included running a lighted candle along the seams of clothing. It worked up to a point, but the lice always came back as some lice eggs always managed to survive the cleansing process.
See this excellent First World war site for more information