Veteran’s Day is almost here. Also referred to as Armistice Day, this important national holiday commemorates the end of World War I in 1918. And for many soldiers this brought an end to the horrors of trench warfare. In addition to the blood, mud and terrible hygiene conditions, the soldiers were fighting a loosing battle against a hidden enemy – rats.
Trench conditions were ideal for rats – they rapidly bred in their millions and swarmed through No-Mans Land and the trenches of both sides, attracted by food, the wet conditions and shelter. There was no proper disposal system for food scraps, and empty food cans were heaved over the top on a daily basis. At night the cans would rattle as the rats scurried to feast off the waste. The rats grew bigger and bolder and would even steal food from a soldier’s hand. Rats would also scamper across the face of sleeping men.
Even more horrific was the fact that the rats would attack soldiers, lying injured or dead in No Man’s Land. In their hundreds they would steadily work their way through the remainder of the body in a short space of time.
To preserve ammunition, shooting at rats was prohibited. Attacking rats with bayonets became an important pastime to avoid the prevention of infections such as Wiel’s Disease. Experience the horrors of the rats first hand by listening to this short BBC vodcast by veteran Harry Holman.
Here in America, Veteran’s day is a national holiday. The streets are filled with parades and wreath laying ceremonies to recognize the great sacrifices of the heroes who served to protect our country and people, both past and present. This year I will be thinking about just how tough those soldiers had it, even from the so-called safety of the rat-infested trenches.