About Me

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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Friday, 27 March 2015

'Arf a mo, Kaiser

'Smokes for our soldiers at the front'

The Weekly Dispatch scheme to send tobacco to the soldiers at the front began in September 1914, with a promise that every packet sent would carry the name and address of the sender, thereby ensuring a link with home for the soldier and a link with the place of combat for the contributor. But what was it a packet of?

The first notice in the paper, on 13 September, announced the setting up of the scheme ‘to send them tobacco and cigarettes’, a scheme ‘whereby every reader may gladden the heart of a hero in khaki by filling his pipe and giving him the cigarette he so dearly loves’. Perhaps it is an effect of the song ‘Pack up your troubles’ that we have the over-riding idea that soldiers smoked cigarettes (‘while you’ve a lucifer to light your fag’); it is hard to find advertisements in newspapers for pipe tobacco amid the vast number of adverts for cigarettes – Army Club, Waverley, Players, and several brands which seemed to vanish with little trace (Mufti and Life Ray, for example, though Woodbine seemed not to need to advertise).

But there is ample evidence for pipe-smoking in the background. Charles Douie in The Weary Road (1929) describes (p170) meeting three men in a shell-hole in no-man’s-land; observing that they are in a position of extreme danger, he gets the reply from the Dorset lance-corporal that ‘he would be all right so long as he did not lose his pipe’.

The most famous image to come from the Weekly Dispatch campaign is the drawing by Bert Thomas of a soldier lighting his pipe, with the caption ‘‘Arf a mo, Kaiser’. That, however, is not the first caption, which appears above the figure -  ‘Wait till my pipe’s lit’. This was seen on the first occasion that the cartoon was used, 9 November. There had by then been several cartoons used in the campaign. The first, on 4 October, showed ‘Tommies enjoying Weekly Dispatch tobacco at the front’: pipe-smokers outnumber cigarette-smokers by 5:2, possibly 6:1. In the next issue there is a handwritten letter expressing gratitude for ‘a packet of good English Mixture’, saying that ‘not one of the English Tommies here in France can enjoy the French Tobacco nor the cigarettes’, and only used them in the absence of ‘good English baccy’. The next issue (16 October) shows ‘a few of our sailors enjoying “Weekly Dispatch” cigarettes and tobacco’ – the drawing has four pipe-smokers and two cigarette-smokers. There is a big change the following week with John Hassall’s cartoon of a soldier and a sailor lighting each other’s cigarettes (the humour is that it is impossible to tell who is lighting whose). The next cartoon is Bert Thomas’s famous image (for more on Bert Thomas, who donated the image as a contribution to the campaign while he was serving in the Artists’ Rifles, see http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/arf-a-mo.php ). All the three subsequent cartoons feature cigarettes only – it seems the tide was turning against pipes. From 29 November you could buy a postcard reproduction of Bert Thomas’s cartoon, and by 3 January 1915 you could buy ‘Striking Souvenir Plates’ at a shilling, signed artist’s copies at ten shillings and sixpence, or postcards for a penny. For every shilling reproduction sold, the Weekly Dispatch promised to send a sixpenny parcel of ‘Tobacco and Cigarettes … to a brave soldier at the front – in the purchaser’s name’. But, headlined as ‘’Arf a mo, Kaiser’, there was no longer any mention of ‘Wait till my pipe’s lit’.

By 7 February 1915, pipe tobacco’s popularity seemed to be receding in favour of cigarettes. ‘Soldiers’ Tributes to “Weekly Dispatch” Cigarettes’ was the sub-headline. The text beneath contains many letters of thanks, which mention both cigarettes and tobacco, but overwhelmingly cigarettes. A week later the paper announced figures of the amount that had been dispatched – 2 million ‘packets of cigarettes and tobacco’, and/or 45 million cigarettes. The headline was ‘45,000,000 cigarettes’; you could still buy a copy of Bert Thomas’s picture. By 11 July though even the slogan ‘’Arf a mo, Kaiser’ had disappeared from the fund’s announcements.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Plonk, the one that got away


This is a reorganising and reposting of the blogs on 'plonk' that I first posted on the Languages and the First World War blog.

In all the excitement about words which became widespread in English during the First World War it is worth sparing a few moments for the words which infuriatingly did not get used. Given all the time that English-speaking soldiers spent in French estaminets drinking ‘vin blanc’ how on earth did they not get round to calling it ‘plonk’?

There is a wide range of military usages for ‘plonk’ during the war:

The noise of a bullet - ‘the plink-plonk of a bullet’, Nottingham Evening Post, 19 May 1915.

The arrival of a shell - ‘a shell plonks on top of the [dugout]’; and the noise of a shell - ‘whirra whirra came the travel of of the shell, then came the final plonk as it burst’, Liverpool Echo, 3 August 1915.

Grenades - ‘… by this time the German flares are falling all around, and along the trenches the ‘bang-bang,’ ‘zip-zip,’ ‘plonk-plonk’ and the more familiar sounds of rifle fire and grenade begin to tickle our ears’, Evening Despatch, 4 September 1915.

The impact of a bullet - ‘Just as I got to the second trench I felt a “plonk” in my leg. “Oh!” I said, “I’ve got it.” I looked down and saw a hole in my leg.’ West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 17 April 1917.

Jonathon Green points out that there are similar words for being drunk and being wounded, but that there’s no evidence to suggest that these were connected via the word ‘plonk’.

Unfortunately while the word ‘plonk’ was used variously to describe the sound or effects of different kinds of projectile, there has been found, so far, no published documentation of any English-speaking soldier, or civilian, using ‘plonk’ to mean wine, blanc or otherwise, until 1929. Jonathon Green cites the following:

1929 Register News-Pictorial (Adelaide) 31 Oct. 26/2: Coffin varnish and plonk were two of the names which Mr Collins […] referred to some of the cheaper wines.

There is the tantalisingly close 1919 citation in W.H. Downing’s Digger Dialects: ‘Vin blank, white wine.’ And ‘Von blink, a humorous corruption of vin blanc.’

Green’s 1919-33 citations are Australian, but we should bear in mind the history of wine-making in Australia: over 30 years before the First World War Australian wines had been competing successfully in international exhibitions in France. And according to http://www.rareaustralianwine.com/wineRegions/wineHistory.asp ‘After the First World War, vines were planted in various soldier settlements which temporarily increased production. Overproduction though, and consequently lower prices for some grape varieties, meant that some vineyards couldn’t compete economically and many vineyards collapsed.’ This wine, as it collapsed economically, might have called forth some wartime descriptions – see below for the documented wartime usage of ‘plonk’. Now begins the search for pre-war citations of ‘vin blanc’ in an Australian wine-making context.

So while we could say it ‘probably’ came from WW1 France, we cannot be certain.

The paper given at the LFWW conference (British Library, June 2014) by Véronique Duché and Diane de St Léger from the University of Melbourne described the progression of ‘bad French’ in Australian linguistic culture, from the evidence of trench journals. The Aussie in particular (which carried articles showing an interest in language) moved at the end of the war to being a veterans’ publication and then a national magazine, still retaining ‘bad French’ as an anti-authoritarian gesture.

By 1943 ‘plonk’ meant Australian wine: S J Baker’s A Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang, 1943 (3rd edn.) gives ‘plonk’ as ‘Cheap Australian wine, often laced with methylated spirits’; and ‘plink’ is ‘described as “a cheap form of plonk” ’ [which must have been pretty lethal]. Downing’s Digger Dialects, 1919 nearly gets there, but not quite. We may suggest, but no more, that it comes from ‘vin blanc’ as the most likely source, but not necessarily as a result of war-zone linguistic contact.

Are there any words which were used for both alcohol and projectiles and/or their effects? Green cites:

 ‘We’ll ’ave a drink to ’elp us,’ said Bill, and a cork went plonk!   1916 P. MacGill The Great Push 57:

Maybe there was an avoidance of linking something you liked, or at least could pretend to like, with something you wanted to avoid; perhaps wine ‘plonk’ did not come into ‘reality’ as spoken out loud until after the metal ‘plonk’ stopped killing.

One possibility (no more than that) is that the long history of wine-making in Australia would have made Australians so familiar with the term ‘vin blanc’ that it was unnecessary to create a slang version; as an already common term, pronounced phonetically for English-speakers, it would not have come within the remit of the need to create the deliberately ‘bad French’ that was a mark of Aussie ‘bloke’ attitudes (and which created so much wonderfully cynical slang during the period).

A search through Australian postwar newspapers reveals the term ‘vin blanc’ in use certainly up until 1939, in linguistic environments where slang terms were being used, and where ‘plonk’ might be expected.

For example:

(In a veteran’s narrative)

“Just one , Madame, only one vin blank!”
“Non, non, Monsieur, finish vin blanc, finish! Gendarme come tout de suite: finish!”
“Orright, then Madame, I can be a nurk too! I know where there’s a nice, clean waterhole full up to its grassy edge with fat, juicy frogs, and you won’t get one off ‘em!”

Sunday Times (Perth) 5 January 1919

Returned Soldiers’ League
Smoke Social
Diggers should join up and help their comrades

… Where two or three diggers are gathered together there is sure to be some fun and many reminiscences, and withal an atmosphere of camaraderie which impregnates the gathering with such a spirit of goodwill that the mere fact of being present is a privilege. … The President (Dr Steele) was in the chair, and there was a glint in that gentleman’s eye from the jump that prophesied that so far as he was concerned proceedings were not going to lag. However, not much urging was required, for, in the words of the invitation cards, the comrades rallied to their “Beera Quicekateer, boo-koo, vin blanc and mungey” and made the night the event of the year, and so as to avoid misunderstanding it might be said that when the fun was over they were each and every one as clearheaded as when the evening started.

Burra Record 22 Sept 1922

What did Omar Mean – Wine?
Corp William F Sherman
[this includes the term ‘parleying’]

A lot of licker is hard to take, but has a rebound like a French 75. But Vin Ordinaire, as they call it for short, is an insult to the taste without being a spur to the ambition. Vin Blanc, the pale variety, isn’t even good to look at, and it resembles vinegar in taste, appearance and smell. Vin Rouge has a beautiful vin rouge colour that is very deceptive. It tastes, however, even worse than its sister Blanche.

The Gungadai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser 22 Aug 1922

Christmas at the War
“A Nineteen-Fourteener” has a few recollections of Christmas while abroad with the A.I.F.

In those days we were never short of “felloose” – the Gyppo term for cash. …
Vin blanc and French Biere spun out about 9 pm with the majority still sitting up on their blankets.

Sunday Times (Perth) 20 Dec 1925

The Great War – according to Hoyle

Do that puttee up.
Yes, sergeant.
Don’t answer me back.
No, Sergeant.
P-a-r-r-ade, S’hun!
Stand-at –Eas-s-se.
P-a-r-r-ade, S’hun!
Fall in.
Your leave is cancelled.
 ? ? ? ! ! ! x x x ! ! ! Sergeant.
What did you say?
Nothing, Sergeant.
Well, don’t say it again.
Fall in.
Your rifle is dirty.
D’you call these socks.
You’ve got blanco on your face.
Don’t answer me back.
So this is France.
Vin blanc.
Vin blanc.
Vin blanc.
It’s a long way to Tipperary.
Stop singing.
Put that _ light out.
Put that LIGHT OUT.
So this is the front line.
Look at that pretty cornflower.
Things seem pretty quiet here.
Things seem —-
Wallop. Whe-e-e-e-e!
Yes, nurse.
Is this Blighty?
Yes, doctor, I fell worse than ever.
When this ta-ra-ra war is over.
Good-night, sister.
Oh, yes, I saw a bit of fighting.

Western Mail (Perth) 1 May 1930

Report of The Diggers’ Ball
One of Narromine’s Biggest Social Functions

List of dances includes No 4 fox trot the Chat’s Parade (by De Louzer); No 5 waltz Tosti’s San Fairy Ann; No 6 one step, In a Vin Blanc Boozer.

Narromine News and Trangie Advocate 16 June 1933

From The Last Word’(short story)

Over the usual round of drinks Boon volunteered that he had been in France during the war, and had run across Smith in one of the English foot regiments.
“We had a binge together,” he said. “You know that vin blanc stuff. We swapped stories and hats; he took my slouch hat and I had his cap. Got Hell roared out of me next morning on parade. Never saw him again …”

The World’s News (Sydney) 29 April 1936

An article in The World’s News (Sydney) 4 November 1936 is fairly regular in its lexis but contains a few slang phrases such as ‘well bushed’ (tired) and ‘stiff luck’. In a story about a dog being used for smuggling there is the sentence ‘How many bottles of vin blanc (Australianised into “plonk”) he carried into the lines would be impossible to calculate, but they were many.’ But this is long after the first documented usage of 'plonk' as wine.

To sum up, at this stage:

  • In Australian and New Zealand war reportage during and after the First World War the word ‘plonk’ was used to describe a variety of projectiles, their sounds or their effects.
  • ‘Vin blanc’ and a number of variations including ‘Von Blink’, ‘vin blank’, ‘vim blong’, ‘plinketty-ponk’, ‘point blank’ and ‘Jim Blonk’, were used, but apparently not ‘plonk’, to describe white wine, during the war and in reminiscences afterwards.
  • Australians were familiar with the term ‘vin blanc’ and it was used widely. Not so much in New Zealand newspapers: from currently available OCR (high quality) in the NZ newspapers archive I can find only 3 citations of ‘vin blanc’ 1914-18.
  • In several situations in postwar Australian newspapers, where one might expect to see a slang term, the straightforward ‘vin blanc’ is used. Some of these appear after the documentation of ‘plonk’ for cheap wine (1927).

Anglophone soldiers appeared to not enjoy French white wine, at least in their memory:

    “Sauntering over to a French canteen, we were initiated into the mysteries of “Jim Blonk” [vin blanc], and “Vin Rouge”, neither of which appealed to our English palates.”     Strange, J D. The Price of Victory, 1930, quoted in Hiddemann, H. Untersuchungen zum Slang des Englischen Heeres im Weltkrieg, 1938

Does the term ‘Von Blink’ indicate any semantic link between vin blanc and the enemy? Probably not, given the existence of ‘Jim Blonk’ and others, which seem to indicate that this was more a case of playing around with the sounds,  either to make a nonsensical term (‘plinketty-plonk’), or to create something more recognisable (‘point blank’) – it could be compared to the way place-names were changed (‘Ypres’ being morphed into ‘Wipers’).

These then are examples of the use of ‘plonk’ and the non-use of 'plonk':

1. Firstly, the earliest example of ‘plonk’ meaning cheap wine I have been able to find in the Australian press:

    Welter of Taxation

    A characteristic contribution to the debate was made by Mr Collins. He objected to the Government “plonking on” the taxation.

    “Give us a definition of ‘plonk’?” asked Mr McMillan.

    “Yes, I can do that.” Replied the obliging Mr Collins.

    “It is a cheap wine produced in Mr Crosby’s district.” Loud laughter greeted the sally.

    News (Adelaide) 8 December 1927

2. Alternative forms for ‘vin blanc’, the first three spotted and supplied by @hugovk via twitter, and my thanks to him:


    Cable – “A wine ship with free samples will shortly leave France for America and Australia”.

    Sing hey for the good ship Claretcup,

    Sing ho for the cargo carried;

    Her anchor’s weighed and her peter’s up,

    Too long she’s tacked and tarried.

    Her bulkheads burst with bonza booze,

    Van blong, van rouge and sherry,…

    Sunday Times  (Perth) 26 March 1922


    Fish Oh!

    Van blong and van rouge at a French café came along as a top-off and two hours later Ted S- and his mate got aboard the rattler for Perth, Ted having a large parcel of fish under his arm.


    Sunday Times  (Perth) 20 July 1924


    Reminiscences of France

    The Australians, partly through irony and partly for practical reasons, deformed many French terms, and substituted either an English word or syllable at the end of a phrase. Thus instead of the French “Comment allez-vous!” (How are you?) the Australian said – “Comment allez plonk?”  The same thing was done by the French themselves, and the French word for German, “allemand”, was altered to “alleboche”, the final syllable of which became in time an independent and universally used word. Proper names were mutilated in the same fashion, and instead of “Marguerite” one heard “Margarine”, and “Simone” became “Cinnamon”. In Flanders people drank beer, and on the Somme white wine. This was first called “vim blong”, then “vim blank”, and afterwards “Point blank”. It would be interesting, the lecturer said, to revisit this district later and see how many of these words had remained in the dialect.

    Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 16 July 1923


But ‘vin blanc’ was also used without difficulty:

    Behind the Lines

    You can get French beer at 1d a glass – very second-rate stuff – while “special” at 2d a glass and “Boche” at 1 franc  per bottle are better, but are all very light. Spirits are, of course, practically “taboo”, but vin rouge and vin blanc (red and white wine respectively) are popular drinks, but the quality is doubtful. Champagne may be had everywhere, and at varying prices.

    Press 28 July 1917 (NZ)


3. Uses of the word ‘plonk’, to do with hitting/projectiles, from Australian and NZ newspapers. Clearly the sound is being imitated in many cases:

    Hill time after time thwarted Edward’s good intentions by plonking a left to the face.

    Truth (Melbourne) 25 Dec 1915


    [A woman gives her husband] a resounding smack in the face . Plonk!

    Pukekohe & Waiuku Times 24 December 1915


     “Whizzy Plonk” – Metal from the Skies

    All we have heard was “whizzy plonk”  [talking about falling anti-aircraft shells]

    Auckland Star 12 May 1917


    I was coming up the sap one day conveying mails, when a Taube aeroplane flew high, over our heads. Of course our guns must fire on her, so we, being directly underneath, got the full benefit of the stray bits. I was walking along with a chap and both of us were watching her as she passed when all of a sudden – bang! And almost immediately a faint pur-r-r of falling pieces. We landed together under the shelter of a bank, and ‘plonk’ came the pieces all around us.

    Poverty Bay Herald 28 March 1916


[The sounds of projectiles]

    Zip-zip, hissing and cracking of bullets. …. plonk – only a Hun bullet which has buried itself

    Marlborough Express 21 Oct 1916


    … the dull ‘plonk’ of a gun in the enemy’s lines …

    Poverty Bay Herald 19 Oct 1916


    [Naval guns] “plonk” two or three shells in a trench [and later] “plonk” some shrapnel above them

    Evening Post 8 July 1915


    At about 11 a.m. plonk came two or three shells bursting on top of me, and burying me four or five [feet] deep. …

    Did I see the tanks? Of course I saw them, and they are absolutely out on their own, and very strange to watch, crawling along at four miles an hour.

    Press 12 Jan 1917 (NZ)


    The regular “plonk, plonk”’ of the feet of a woman swimming …

    Auckland Star 15 April 1916


And the Taranaki Daily News  for 1 July 1915 reported on a concert with a rendering of the song ‘Plink, Plonk’ – this was written in 1911 by Murphy & Lipton for George Formby, its full listing being George Formby’s Famous Guitar Song ‘Plink-Plonk!’ (The Skin of a Spanish Onion).

Outside the usage of ‘vin blanc’, the word ‘blanc’ occasionally caused problems:

    It looks as if the restaurant-keeper’s education was sadly neglected or else that they entertain a profound contempt for French. One well-known Bourke-Street restaurateur writes it “Balmonge,” while another, not far away, puts it down as “Blank manjy.”

    Truth (Melbourne) 26 June 1915

Actually I reckon the etymology still holds good for the second case.

@Fieldmeasurer kindly contributes this excerpt from Agony’s Anguish self-published in 1931 by George Barker:

    An officer emerges from a pillbox, and with a whisper tells us to make for the distant ruins of a farm. Panting with nervous fear we each make for it, and our steps are shaky as we proceed. I try to run but my limbs are like lead. Plonk za! A near shave that time. Some of us manage it, others get hit and join their unfortunate companions in death.

‘Plonk za’ seems to belong in the linguistic experiments of Futurism. Noticeable also is the phrase ‘a near shave’, not the first time this has turned up in a First World War context.

Eric Partridge's take on 'plonk' is interesting (and he was there): 'Mud, esp. that of no-man's-land: military: 1916-18. (Hence, over the plonk, 'over the top'.) B. & P. [Brophy & Partridge] Ex the noise made when one draws one's feet from the clinging mire. ... 2. Pinky, cheap port, sold by the quart : Australian [Partridge was from New Zealand] : from ca. 1926. Prob. ex plink-plonk'.

In the 1930s the term spread - Partridge notes 'plonk' as cheap brandy sold in Italy (naval slang); and a 'plonk bar', an Australian wine bar, from circa 1935; a 'plonk-dot', 'A confirmed wine-bibber' from 1953; and 'plonko', a drunkard addicted to plonk, Australian since c. 1930.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

A bit of attitude, and possibly altitude, in defining 'strafe' (1919)

In the volume of the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (later to become the OED) covering Si to St, published in 1919, there are very few quotations illustrative of usage which date from after 1910. 

One entry which had to have recent quotations was the very recent adoption of the word 'strafe'. The entry is headed: 

  ‘Strafe, v. slang. [From the Ger. phrase Gott strafe England, ‘God punish England’, a common salutation in Germany in 1914 and the following years.] trans. Used (originally by British soldiers in the war against Germany) in various senses suggested by its origin : To punish; to do damage to ; to attack fiercely ; to heap imprecations on …’ 

The citations are worth quoting as they indicate a number of concepts. Firstly amusement at, and a bit of superiority over the German language – ‘1916 Times Lit. Suppl. 10 Feb.62/1 The Germans are called the Gott-strafers, and strafe is becoming a comic English word’. How to beat your enemy - take a hate-word and turn it into a comic word; it's not far from the way the gay community seized the word 'queer' and by using it removed its barbs.

This is followed by the awesomely dismissive: '1916 Blackw. Mag. Feb. 284/1 Intermittent strafes we are used to.'

Then a languid sense of superiority, emphasised by the taking over of an enemy word – ‘1916 MS.Let. fr. Front (Feb or Mar.) There is not much Hun artillery fire, but as our guns strafe them well every day, I expect they will wake up and return the compliment.’ 

And the same sense of amusement in ‘1916 Daily Mail 1 Nov. 4/4 the word strafe is now almost universally used. Not only is an effective bombardment of the enemy’s lines or a successful trench raid described by Tommy as ‘strafing the Fritzes,’ but there are occasions when certain ‘brass hats’ … are strafed by imprecation. And quite recently the present writer heard a working-class woman … shout to one of her offspring ‘Wait till I git ‘old of yer, I’ll strarfe yer, I will!’

All of these defuse the power of the German word, and give a sense of not being impressed or disturbed by it at all – it becomes little more than a word to frighten children with. How do we read this? How does the selection of illustrations indicate how this group of lexicographers looked back at the war? It is hard not to interpret their attitude as one of amused superiority.  

Friday, 13 March 2015

Two versions of Archie, and some others

A handful of notable entries from post-First World War dictionaries. First, from Cassell's New English Dictionary 1919:
Frigo - (Soldiers' slang) Frozen or chilled meat
Huff (Airman's slang) - to kill
To Lusitania - (slang) to torpedo (esp. a large passenger-ship) 

All of these usages have disappeared I assume, though 'huffing' is still a term used in draughts (does anyone play draughts still?). The days are thankfully past when anyone would have occasion to 'Lusitania', and even gallows humour scarcely excuses it. But I did laugh out loud when I saw 'frigo' - definitely one for the slang counter at Iceland.

Cassell's also has an interesting definition for 'Archie' - actually 'Archies':

[nickname from the popular song, 'Archibald, certainly not',' with allusion to the fewness of the hits made], n.pl. (Soldiers' slang) Anti-aircraft guns or shells; the anti-aircraft force.

And in Collins' Etymological Dictionary (1922) there is:

Archies n.pl. the anti-aircraft force; also, the guns and shells. The name is said to have been given, owing to the fewness of the hits, from the song, "Archibald, certainly not." 

Rather different from the version given by Ernest Weekley in his An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921): 

Archibald, Archie: “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914, and portrayed in the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement” (Col. C H Joubert de la Ferté, I M S ret.).
A few more details and thoughts, first posted on the Languages and the First World War website last year:
Col. Charles Henry Joubert de la Ferté, of the Indian Medical Service was 68 when the war broke out, and lived in Weybridge, where Brooklands is located. Brooklands had been in use for at least 7 years by this time - A V Roe and Tommy Sopwith both tested planes there. Whether the term was picked up from the song or whether the song reinforced the chosen word is difficult to determine without more evidence, but it is not impossible that aviators, on being shot at, would express words to the effect that whatever was coming towards them was certainly not as harmless as the warm air rising from a sewage farm.

So, 'Archie' for the shellfire, and 'Archies' for those who sent it up all seems reasonable. But which way were aviators trying to comfort themselves, either by claiming the enemy were not good shots, or by claiming that they were as harmless as hot air?  Or, to put it another way, were they just crap shots, or were they just crap?

Friday, 6 March 2015

A couple of surprising Jack Johnsons

In the first months of the First World War there were references to slang terms for weapons in usages which seem at best thoughtless, and more likely shocking now, however innocent in intent may have been their use at the time; this is with hindsight, and they appeared before the horrors of trench warfare, the use of gas and the scale of the casualties were widely known. As the war progressed usages like these for recreational objects or activities became less common; the use by civilians (especially politicians) of any slang terms that had a basis in the experience of military combat, such as 'under fire' and 'over the top', were strongly condemned by G K Chesterton in the Illustrated London News 14 December 1918

The Rochdale Observer on 31 October 1914 carried an advertisement for fireworks that read: 

Fireworks! Fireworks!
Ask for “Black Maria” or “Jack Johnson” shells 
Wholesale House :- Edwards & Bryning Ltd, ...

and the Western Gazette 11 December 1914 carried an advertisement for a box of 100 toys marketed by the Allies Toy Co in Brighton, which included a scenario described thus:
 Boom! – Oom! – Om! – M! – Bang!!! 
The “Jack Johnson” great German Gun is at work. First 25 harmless shells explode with a bang, then the Red Cross Nurses and their white Tents appear on the scene to deal with the wounded. 
The term is used here for the gun rather than the shell, a late occurrence for this usage, but not an isolated incident.