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Badge - 'Rats des Tranchees 1914-1916' Numismatics Reg. No: NU 48553

Summary:
Alternative Name(s): Trench Rats, Rats of the Trenches

Pressed silver-coloured metal badge featuring a rat in profile, in deep relief. The badge is inscribed 'Rats des Tranchees 1914-1916'.

The badge apparently makes reference to the rats that lived in the trenches of World War I. They were regarded with particular horror as they ate the flesh of dead soldiers.

The badge would have been made in France and/or for a French market. It was probably made during World War I, as 1916 is the latest date mentioned. The reason for its manufacture is unknown.
Description:
Pressed silver-coloured metal badge featuring rat in deep relief, in left profile. It is crouched within a circular shape - perhaps a soldier's helmet. Details of the fur, ears and digits can be seen. Its tail is raised; its paws are near its mouth as if eating. A vertical banner down middle of rat with inscription, with copper finish; another banner underneath is also inscribed. The underside of the badge is in reverse relief, with a hinged pin.
Statement Of Significance:
The badge is of particular significance as it is a rare piece of material culture relating to one of the most horrifying experiences of World War I: the rats that lived in the trenches of the Western Front and fed on the bodies and body parts of soldiers. Soldiers hunted and killed rats to try to contain the problem. Many sources describe the rats; photographs show the trenches; but material culture generally does not document the rats, lice, flies and other vermin that variously tormented soldiers.

The badge can be read as a symbol of defiance, commemorating survival under the most dire conditions. It also recalls the black humour used by soldiers as a way of coping with the horrors of war. Cartoons referring to conditions in the trenches similarly use black humour to convey but also blunt the experience.

The town of Arras, in northern France, has long celebrated a feast of rats. Arras was located on the Western Front during World War I. It was the site of a major battle in 1917, after the date of this badge. From the previous October, tunnels were constructed to allow closer approaches to the German front, facilitating the placement of mines and troop and supply movements. Further research is required to determine any relevance of these developments to the badge.
Discipline: Numismatics
Dimensions: 6 mm (Height), 32 mm (Width)

More information

Tagged with: world war i 1914-1918, trenches, rodents
Themes this item is part of: Public Life & Institutions Collection
Primary Classification: MILITARY HISTORY
Secondary Classification: Service
Tertiary Classification: souvenirs
DateEra: circa 1916
Obverse Description: A vertical banner down middle of rat is inscribed '1914-1916'. A banner underneath is inscribed 'RATS DES TRANCHEES'.
Inscriptions: A vertical banner down middle of rat is inscribed '1914-1916'. A banner underneath is inscribed 'RATS DES TRANCHEES'.
Place & Date Made: France, 1916

Probable place and date made.

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