War is hell.
As a kid, I thought war was cool (as most boys do). Films like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ gave me a much needed education. We need to be reminded occasionally about what the former generations endured for our freedom. The following is a little disturbing, so please don't read on if you're squeamish.
During the trench warfare of World War 1, many of the dead were buried almost where they fell. These corpses, along with food scraps (there was no proper system of waste disposal) attracted rats, and the trenches became infested by millions of them.
Soldiers tried to kill the rats with bullets, shovels or anything else they had at hand, but they were fighting a losing battle, as a single rat couple could produce up to 900 offspring in a year. Veteran soldiers swore that the rats sensed impending heavy enemy shellfire, as they inconsequently disappeared before an impending attack. The trench-rats remained a constant nightmare for the entire duration of the war, spreading infection, contaminating food… and eating people. Cat sized, telepathic, man-eating, trench rats. I’ll let the eye-witness accounts speak for themselves…
"The stench of the dead bodies now is awful as they have been exposed to the sun for several days, many have swollen and burst. The trench is full of other occupants, things with lots of legs, also swarms of rats." Sergeant A. Vine, diary entry (8th August, 1915)
"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." Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929)
"I saw some rats running from under the dead man’s greatcoat, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies... the skull was bare, stripped of flesh, the eyes devoured and from the yawning mouth leapt a rat." Original sourse unknown
Hard to believe? Initially yes, but when we consider that rats are insatiable breeders and that a constant food supply almost always equals ‘rat plague’, we realize once again that truth is stranger (and more frightening) than fiction.
Eventually the rats became so vivacious that as well as feeding off the dead, they began to feed off the living. One soldier wrote, “The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a wounded man if he couldn’t defend himself.”