Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

There were rats, rats, big as blooming cats

My eyes are dim

There was cheese, cheese, wafting on the breeze,
In the stores, In the stores,
There was ham, ham, mixed up with the jam,
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

There was bread, bread, just like lumps of lead,
In the stores. In the stores,
There were buns, buns, and bullets for the guns,
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

There were mice, mice, eating up the rice,
In the stores. In the stores.
There were rats, rats, big as blooming cats
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

There is meat, meat, meat you couldn’t eat,
In the stores. In the stores.
There were eggs, eggs, nearly growing legs,
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

There is beer, beer that you can’t get near,
In the stores. In the stores.
There is rum, rum, for the general’s tum,
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

There was cake, cake, cake you couldn’t break,
In the stores. In the stores.
There were flies, flies, feeding on the pies,
In the Quartermaster’s Stores.

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me,
I have not bought my specs with me.

From: Over the top, by and American Soldier who went, by Arthur Guy Empey.

“These cellars were cold, damp, and smelly, and overrun with large rats — big black fellows. Most
of the Tommies slept with their overcoats over their faces. I did not. In the middle of the night I woke up in terror. The cold, clammy feet of a rat had passed over my face. I immediately smothered myself in my overcoat, but could not sleep for the rest of that night.”

“I think the worst thing of all was to watch the rats, at night, and sometimes in the day, run over
and play about among the dead.”

“It’s the animals that suffer the most, the horses, mules, cattle, dogs, cats, and rats, they having
no helmets to save them. Tommy does not sympathize with rats in a gas attack.”

“Rats. The main inhabitants of the trenches and dugouts. Very useful for chewing up leather equipment and running over your face when asleep. A British rat resembles a bull dog, while a German one, through a course of Kultur, resembles a dachshund.”

From: Trench Rats, Sparticus Educational

Many men killed in the trenches were buried almost where they fell. If a trench subsided, or new trenches or dugouts were needed, large numbers of decomposing bodies would be found just below the surface. These corpses, as well as the food scraps that littered the trenches, attracted rats. One pair of rats can produce 880 offspring in a year and so the trenches were soon swarming with them.

Robert Graves remarked in his book, Goodbye to All That: “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.”

George Coppard gave another reason why the rats were so large: “There was no proper system of waste disposal in trench life. Empty tins of all kinds were flung away over the top on both sides of the trench. Millions of tins were thus available for all the rats in France and Belgium in hundreds of miles of trenches. During brief moments of quiet at night, one could hear a continuous rattle of tins moving against each other. The rats were turning them over.”

Some of these rats grew extremely large. Harry Patch claimed that “there were rats as big as cats”. Another soldier wrote: “The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a wounded man if he couldn’t defend himself.” These rats became very bold and would attempt to take food from the pockets of sleeping men. Two or three rats would always be found on a dead body. They usually went for the eyes first and then they burrowed their way right into the corpse.

One soldier described finding a group of dead bodies while on patrol: “I saw some rats running from under the dead men’s greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies. His helmet had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured and from the yawning mouth leapt a rat.”

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