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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. 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. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Friday, 17 April 2015

More First World War fag-ends


Some more smoking material.

In Aubrey Smith’s Four Years on the Western Front (1922), an incident occurs where a convent building which is being garrisoned by the Lancashire regiment is being shelled. There is a calculation, born of experience, of when and where the next shells with land, and how much damage they will do – ‘they just turn out, stand behind the wall and put on a pipe’. (p23)

How much evidence is there for the idea that officers smoked pipes, while other ranks smoked cigarettes? Not a lot. Occasional occurrences like this, from Verse and Prose in Peace and War, by Lt William Noel Hodgson (1917): Cheery little cigarette-ends gleam in the darkness, and the subaltern is smoking what was once a fine specimen of Fribourg and Treyer’s art in pipes.’ (pp61-2). Fribourg and Treyer were very upmarket tobacconists, with shops in Haymarket and Cornhill, London.

Bert Thomas reprised the ‘Arf a mo’ image in 1939 for the Second World War, in a poster for National Service recruiting; a fire-fighter is seen with a tin hat and a breathing apparatus tank on his back. He is lighting a pipe. The caption is ‘Arf a mo’ ‘National Service needs you. Learn now! – Be ready!’

It seems that the original ‘Arf a mo’ postcards were as sought after in 1915 as they are now – witness the text on the back of this one, sent from Derby to Newcastle on 24 January 1915:



Dear W,
Was at Birmingham y’day & saw this in a window. N has wanted me to get you one for a long time, but couldn’t get it in N/c. Thanks for your card which made me feel quite Scottish – I didn’t say skittish! My, you would like to see some of the Birmingham shops! Glorified market (?)! Guess the name of someone I saw here today & ask N for the answer. No prize offered. Having a fine time. Britannia (?) Theatre or Bed  every night after work!
Love to all, Tom

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