Trench Foot and Trench Rats

6 June 2017

Allied men were affected. Whale oil played a vital role in minimizing the condition but even so some 74,000 Allied troops had been afflicted by the end of the war. In Flanders and France trenches were dug in land that was often at or near to sea level and where the water table was Just beneath the soil surface. After a couple of feet of digging the soldiers inevitably hit water and the trenches became flooded.

To make matters worse, the heavy artillery barrages estroyed the agricultural land-drains and the whole landscape became a sea of mud in which men could literally drown. Conditions were arguably at their worst at the battle of Passchendaele in the Ypres salient. The photograph, taken on November 14th 1917, shows Private Reginald Le Brun and other members of the 16th Canadian Machine Gun Company in the reserve line at Passchendaele. After hours and days of standing in soaking wet socks and boots, Trench Foot would begin to set in. The men’s feet would swell and go numb and then the skin would start to turn red or lue.

Untreated feet rapidly became gangrenous and would need to be amputated. The feet in the photograph belong to an unfortunate, but unknown, Canadian soldier struck down in 1917. To minimize the chances of contacting Trench Foot, the men were ordered to change into dry socks as often as possible. Around 1916, John Logie Baird started to sell socks prepared with borax to help alleviate the problems of wet feet. These were widely used by soldiers at the front. The soldiers were also instructed to grease each others’ feet with whale oil at least once a day.

It is estimated that a battalion (1007 men and 30 officers) at the front would use up to ten gallons of whale oil every day. Trench rats Rats – brown and black – thrived literally in their millions among trenches in most Fronts of the war primarily the Western Front. Trench conditions were ideal for rats. Empty food cans were piled in their thousands throughout No Man’s Land, heaved over the top on a daily basis. Aside from feeding from rotting food littered in such cans, rats would invade dug-outs in search of food and shelter.

Most soldiers who erved on the Western Front would later recall how rats grew in boldness, stealing food that had been lain down for Just a few moments. Rats would also crawl across the face of sleeping men As they gorged themselves on food so they grew, with many rats report-edly growing to the size of cats. George Coppard, recalled the ceaseless rattling of tin cans during the night, the sound of rats constantly ferreting in No Man’s Land. However the feature which caused revulsion among soldiers was the knowledge that rats openly fed on the decaying remains of comrades killed while dvancing across No Man’s Land.

Attacking and eating the eyes of corpse first, rats would steadily work their way through the remainder of the body in a short space of various means of dealing with the rat problem. Although shooting at rats was strictly prohibited – it being regarded as a pointless waste of am-munition – many soldiers nevertheless took pot shots at nearby rats in this manner. Attacking rats with bayonets was also common. However the rat population was not noticeably diminished by such techniques – a pair of rats was capable of producing some 800 offspring within a single year.

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