Because soldiers lived in such filth and were not able to maintain proper hygiene in the trenches, soldiers were ideal hosts for parasitic lice. The troops did not have such high regard for these parasites. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the author explains that the lice “caus[ed] the men to itch
unceasingly. Since there were no washing machines or cleaners at that time, the soldiers would re-wear their cloth many times. The lice would lay their eggs in the seams of the cloth. When the soldiers would wear their clothes, their body's collision with the clothes’ fabric would hatch the eggs of the lice. (Remarque & Wheen, 1929, pp.29-30). To try and rid themselves of the pests, soldiers used various tactics. In All Quiet on the Western
Front, Remarque (1929) describes his comrades saying that, “Killing each separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds. The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one's ﬁngernails very soon becomes wearisome. So Tjaden has rigged up the lid of a boot-polish tin with a piece of wire over the lighted stump of a candle. The lice are simply thrown into this little pan. Crack! And they're done for. We sit around with our shirts on our knees, our bodies naked to the warm air and our hands at work” (p. 30). There were different types of lice, including black, red, grey, white and even pink lice (Ellis, 1976, p. 55). Ellis (1976) explains of an instance when soldiers “captured a German dugout [and found]…red lice crawling all on the
walls and on blankets” (p. 56). Ellis (1976) goes further to explain how these soldiers finally received some relief from these parasites: “In 1915, organized methods of relieving troops from the lice were implemented. Men would turn their clothes in, soap themselves and the soak themselves fifteen at a time in a vat of hot water. When done they were reissued their clothes but within three or four hours the men’s body heat would hatch the eggs that had been laid in the seams of the clothing” (pp. 56-57). Ellis (1976) also explains how nits, or lice eggs, “infested the men’s hair and the medical officers forced troops to shave their heads before returning to the lines” (p. 58). Lice were impossible to get rid of in the trenches. Lice, like the rats also carried disease which “proved to continually and heavily drain on manpower. It was known as trench fever [or]…the five day fever along with other names. It started with shooting pains in the shins after which a high fever would set in. It was never fatal but took six weeks to three months of treatment time” (Ellis, 1976, p. 57).
With the stench and abundance of rotting bodies, not only did the rats and lice have a utopia, but flies also swarmed the battlefields. In the summers they were especially bad. Ellis (1976) explains the conditions by stating that “[the flies] would swarm the dugouts in their thousands, settling on exposed food. Nor were they averse to the human body. A British officer noted that upon waking up one morning he counted seventy-two flies on his…arm between the wrist and shoulder, and an additional thirty two dead ones in his shaving water his servant had just brought in” (p58). Another soldier noted in Ellis’s (1976) work, “One morning they had maggots raining down on their shoulders, which all through the night, above our heads, had mad noise like rustling silk as they gnawed through some dead man’s guts” (p. 58).