R H Mottram’s The Crime at Vanderlyndens (1926) starts with a misunderstanding: a wayside shrine to the Virgin Mary has been torn down to make a shelter for a unit’s pack-animals, but this is misinterpreted as ‘la violation d’une vierge’ rather than ‘une Vierge’. Puns were common and apparently enjoyed; they are found in trench journals, letters, newspaper advertisements, songs, picture postcards: an advertisement for Beecham’s Pills shows a soldier with a machine-gun under the banner ‘A Good Maxim To Remember’. Simple puns like this required little invention, but the increasing awareness of other languages gave scope for more intricate intra-lingual puns, beyond the trois/twa and the inevitable oui/wee beers jokes. The Fuze carried a joke in French based on the sound similarities between femme and faim. Or mixing visual and verbal communication: the 9.45 inch trench mortar was known as the ‘quarter to ten’.
Puns could also convey popular propaganda and pathos: ‘Boche’ was always useful for downsizing the enemy by sounding the same as ‘bosh’, while Passchendaele morphed into ‘Passion Dale’, its association with heavy losses of Canadian troops giving this an official name status after the war, a remembrance which makes the some/Somme pun all the more difficult to later observers.