While the First World War produced epochal amounts of documented horrors, it also saw many fictions and legends. Smithsonian reports on one that feels like an urban legend, taking place on the Western Front, between opposing trenches.
Part Night of the Living Dead and part War Horse, like all oft-told tales, it had several variants, but the basic kernel warned of scar-faced and fearless deserters banding together from nearly all sides—Australian, Austrian, British, Canadian, French, German, and Italian (though none from the United States)—and living deep beneath the abandoned trenches and dugouts.
So far so non-horror. It's even sane, this mode of resisting the horrors of war. It's a kind of secession from both sides, like the 17th-century Clubmen.
Don't worry. There's Gothic a-plenty:
According to some versions, the deserters scavenged corpses for clothing, food and weapons. And in at least one version, the deserters emerged nightly as ghoulish beasts, to feast upon the dead and dying, waging epic battles over the choicest portions.
There we go. What a combination of fears and myths. How potent a story for soldiers!
It's also a story that appealed to veterans and other people after the war ended in 1918. The Smithsonian points to several novels, like this one from 1920, which take the inter-trench soldier story onwards.
the area “was peopled with wild men, British, French, Australian, German deserters, who lived there underground, like ghouls among the mouldering dead, and who came out at nights to plunder and to kill. In the night, an officer told him, mingled with the snarling of carrion dogs, they often heard inhuman cries and rifle shots coming from that awful wilderness as though the bestial denizens were fighting among themselves.”
Have any such stories emerged from the current war on terror?
(photo from the source article)