Animals during the war

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Soldiers living in trenches encountered millions of pests during the war. These made living conditions rather uncomfortable in the trenches.

Trench rats caught by a small terrier dog A little terrier dog shows off its catch after a 15 minute rat hunt in French trenches, September 1916
German soldiers display Three German soldiers display the rats that were killed in their trench the previous night in 1916


Rat catchers

Rat catching terrier dog

As well as making excellent company for soldiers, dogs on the front line were also given various jobs. Many made excellent rat catchers.

Rats loved the conditions of the trenches for all the reasons humans hated them. They fed on rotting food because there was no proper way of getting rid of rubbish in the trenches.

Rats could grow huge; some were even reported to have reached the size of cats! They could have up to 900 babies every year and many people said the rats got braver as the war went on because they got used to humans. Sometimes they stole food from right under the soldiers' noses and would even run over the soldiers as they slept. They made the trenches very dirty and smelly and they spread diseases as they went.

The soldiers were desperate to get rid of rats and tried to kill them in many ways. Some used their guns even though this was a waste of ammunition. Others used their bayonets or clubbed them with anything they could find. Some soldiers even tried to batter them with their bare hands

Despite all this, rats were sometimes helpful too. Many soldiers reported how rats sensed an oncoming attack from the enemy. They noticed that rats always ran away when this was about to happen. Therefore, rats would sometimes warn and prepare the soldiers of enemy advances.

Body lice

Infesting their clothes and bodies, lice made soldiers itchy and extremely uncomfortable. They were very difficult to get rid of because the men could not wash properly in the trenches. Lots of infections were caused by the dirty conditions, especially when soldiers already had cuts and wounds. This turned into trench fever when it became more serious.

French soldiers picking lice out of their clothing French soldiers hunting for lice in their clothing

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