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Pest Control in the trenches in WWI

My little Terrier “Max” here he is kissing his brother our cat TK.

ANZAC Day (Australian War Memorial Day) was yesterday and it got me thinking about the issues that our soldiers faced during World War I. One of those problems was RATS! I hate rats! I’m blaming Stephen King and his book which was turned into a movie that I unfortunately saw as a teenager..many a nightmare was had due to that!

During WWI the problem of Rats in the trenches was a big problem. The rats were drawn to the battlefield due to the scraps of food that littered the trenches, the sewage and the many bodies that were buried almost where they fell.. often in quite shallow graves.

The rats feasted on the dead bodies, which there was a plethora of.. and not surprisingly they grew in size and numbers! The rats carried lice which was another issue the humans had to deal with. There were also reports of these rats biting the soldiers.

By 1918 Doctors identified lice as the cause of trench fever, which plagued the troops with headaches, fevers and muscle pain. This plague had reached considerable proportions before a concerted effort was organised to deal with it.

We slept in our clothes and cut our hair short so that it would tuck inside our caps. Dressing simply meant putting on our boots. There were times when we had to scrape the lice off with the blunt edge of a knife and our underclothes stuck to us.” (Elizabeth de T’Serclaes – a nurse on the front line)

The water in the trenches through which we waded was alive with a multitude of swimming frogs. Red slugs crawled up the side of the trenches and strange beetles with dangerous looking horns wriggled along dry ledges and invaded the dugouts, in search of the lice that infested them.” (unknown journalist)

So how did they deal with this problem? Well Terriers! So my little dog Max (above photo) might have been confisgated to aid in the war effort! Trains full of dogs were despatched to the front! The dogs along with poisons and the instigation of a competition. A reward was offered for every dead rat bought in by men in the trenches. In a single fortnight one army corps captured/killed around eight thousand rats. The men were rewarded with a halfpenny a rat compensation. You can see photos online of men with their haul of dead rats they were presenting to get paid for.

I’m extremely grateful that isn’t an issue we need to deal with anymore… First sign of a rodent at my place and I call for one of our operators quick smart!