During the Great War, an advertisement appeared with the text "BE IN THE FASHION. Why have Cats, Dogs, Canaries etc… LICE, Every Conceivable Shade Supplied... most clinging, and will Iive anywhere. Once you have them you will never be without.” A joke perhaps, but it was no laughing matter for the troops in the trenches who had to live with them.
Body lice were commonly known to the British soldier as
Chatts, which may have been derived from Chattel - "Something personal, carried
around". Lice were a constant companion
on almost every man who served in the trenches during the Great War.
Neither side was immune from them. Eric Partridge, a British infantryman and a famous academic said, ”Chatts were not fleas or bugs; they did not jump but crept.” Usually they were pale fawn in coIour and would leave red blotchy marks where they had bitten - but it was the itching, caused by their crawling, which drove men mad.
Once the Chatts had found a ‘host’, they rapidly increased. A French soldier wrote, "The lice feared solitude and had a profound sense of family…lice have a very warm, very soft bedroom, where the table is always laid. There, in their numerous moments of leisure, they followed the counsels of their creator: they multiplied. "
Partridge said that one way of getting rid of the parasites was by "searching uniforms and underwear, especially along the seams, and treatment meant cracking the lice between the thumb-nails. They squelched blood, not their own!" The only real effective remedy after living in the same clothes days on end, however, was a bath and a change of clothes at a Delousing Station, but opportunities to do this did not happen very frequently. So Chatting became a normal routine during quite and rest periods in the line. When the weather was good ”groups of men could be seen with their shirts or trousers or tunics laid over their knees,” said Partridge, “cracking lice and jokes together”
Lice infestation caused not only frenzied scratching, but also a disease called “trench fever.” It started with shooting pains in the legs, followed by a high fever, It was not fatal, but a course of treatment meant between six to 12 weeks of duty. In 1917, trench fever accounted for 15% of sickness cases in the British Army.
The card on the left was released by the THE REGENT PUBLISHING Co., Ltd., London and was number 3161. At the bottom of the card is printed "Designed in a Dug-Out in Flanders" The artist initialed the picture ''V.W.S'. The card on the right was released by the 'Inter-Art Company' and was number 2032 in its "COMIQUE" Series. Again, it was signed by 'V.W.S' but this card was "Designed in a Dug-Out in France." The card in the centre was released by THE REGENT PUBLISHING Co. Ltd., and the ever popular Reg Maurice was the artist. A message on the reverse reads, "I am having a lovely time and sometimes it is lively to."