As if bullets and shells were not bad enough…

There was a shriek in our office last night: somebody saw a cockroach. I know someone else who was unable to go to work because there was a spider beside her front door. That’s nothing: I’ve seen bedbugs. Bedbugs.

But the troops of World War I would not have blinked an eye at these puny pests. After all, they had lice, which trumps cockroaches, spiders, bedbugs and even fleas.


German soldiers collecting lice.

Besides, they faced something worse.


DeBugged, the pest control blog, explains the particular horror of rats. Don’t miss the link to the video of two old chaps talking about the appalling conditions in the trenches.


The original caption suggests that the soldiers were about to cook their catch. Wasn’t the food bad enough already?

Why do these Germans look so cheerful? Because these rats are dead!

Classic headline in The Onion fake newspaper: “Corpse-Eating Rats Now Largest Military Force in Europe”

World War One Photo: Mont St. Kemmel

Look how deep the mud is — at least they could get their faces clean, however briefly. Who among us has ever been that dirty, even for a full day?

Thanks for this, Brushed With Mystery!

Brushed With Mystery

In a shell hole…

A brief respite;  return to mother earth.  Men that have seen too much bloodshed take a moment to shave.

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Look for the Silver Lining

British nurse Vera Brittain, in her classic memoir “Testament of Youth,” deplored the solders’ bad taste in music. They liked sentimental songs — she wondered how many men’s last memory was of a tinny “If You Were the Only Girl in the World.”

“Look for the Silver Lining” was written in 1919 for a failed musical, but became a hit in 1921. No doubt the soldiers would have liked that one also.

And they would have enjoyed this mawkish music in the trenches.

Gramophone in captured German dugout blog

“Downton Abbey” — 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month

The war ended last week on “Downton Abbey.”  Like many of you, I was questioned about the war with friends mostly asking, “Is that what the trenches were really like?”

Yes, sometimes they looked like this:

Waiting to go over the top.

But sometimes they looked like this:

British trench in the snow.

Or this:

Up to their knees in water.

Or this:

Rats, lice, decomposing remains — we can argue that this was PBS and not HBO, and the story mostly took place on the homefront. But here’s what they left out of the story on homefront:

One night during the time my brother was serving in Vietnam, my parents gave a dinner party. The guests had all arrived, everyone was chatting, and then the doorbell rang. My father says he could not bring himself to touch the doorknob. He is not a fanciful man, yet he says he felt so strongly that there was death on the other side, that if he opened the door, he would see a man in uniform come to tell him that his oldest boy had been killed.

British families lived with that sickening dread for 4-1/2 years. Every knock at the door, every time the phone rang, a telegram — some women never opened The Telegram. Families found them later tucked behind His Picture on the mantel.

The terrible fear, and the terrible cost. That’s what “Downtown Abbey” was missing.