Wakefield Family History Sharing
The Tommies during WW1 and also WW2 developed a language of their own. Many ex-servicemen still use words from this language in their civvie lives and children of these servicemen and woman are also familiar with many of the terms.
I must thank Paul Hinkley© for allowing me to use these terms on my website, with additions from the following associations
who still keep informing me of some that are missed.
I also acknowledge encouragement, help and additions from many ex-servicemen's Associations, including the Normandy Veteran's Association Leeds 61 branch, R.E's, Combined Services Association and the 8th Army Association,Wakefield – Thank you gentleman and ladies for giving your time.
Turk, individual or collective.
Hébuterne. French village in the Pas de Calais .
Shelter or dugout. From the French.
Gas. British term applied to cylinder-discharged gas, used in orders and other communications in an effort to keep its use secret.
Anti-aircraft (AA) fire. From the military phonetic alphabet in use at the time
Morning. AM (ante meridiem), before noon . (2) Air Mechanic (RFC/RAF). From the phonetic alphabet.
At once, hurry up. From Hindustani.
Go! Clear out! Run away! From French allez.
German soldier. From French Allemagne. "If you want to see your dear Fatherland, Keep your head down, Alleyman" - popular trench song of 1916.
ALL OLD CROCKS
Army Ordnance Corps (AOC).
ALLY SLOPER'S CAVALRY
Army Service Corps (ASC). From Ally Sloper, a character in pre-war papers. The ASC, due to their good pay, comfortable conditions and comparative saftey, were regarded by the infantry as not proper soldiers. This also gave rise to their other sarcastic nickname, the Army Safety Corps. Also known as Aunt Sally's Cavalry. When the ASC acquired their well-earned Royal prefix in 1918, to become the RASC, their nickname was changed to Run Away, Someone's Coming!
Hob nailed boots. From ammunition boots, regulation issue.
ANY MORE FOR ANY MORE?
An invitation shouted out by the orderly in charge of serving meals, indicating that extra portions were available to those who wanted them. Also used at the start of a gambling game such as Crown and Anchor, inviting others to join in before the start of proceedings.
Anti-aircraft fire or artillery piece. From a music hall character. "This morning our Archie battery reported that a machine came down last night out of control..." - 2Lt Gerard Robin, 41 Squadron, RFC.
ARMY SAFETY CORPS
Army Service Corps (ASC). See Ally Sloper's Cavalry.
The villages of Le Hout Audrie and Le Bas Audrie were called Audrey's Top and Audrey's Bottom in the WW2
Ration truck. From one of the nicknames of the Army Service Corps (ASC
Meat pudding. Part of the British army field ration.
Bailleul. French town near the Belgian border, 20km south-west of Ypres .
Spade, entrenching tool (Australian). From the shape.
Fire-step. The step incorporated into the base of a trench which enabled it's occupants to fire over the parapet.
Member of a battalion made up of men between the heights of 5'1" and 5'4", normally deemed as too short to have previously enlisted.
A pistol. From barking iron, early 19th C. From the noise a pistol makes when fired. (2) A sausage. From the uncertainty surrounding the meat content.
A soldier perpetually at the base, therefore maintaining comfort and safety. Also known as a base wallah.
Steel helmet, first introduced in numbers to British troops in February 1916. Named after the civillian hat. Term used mainly by officers.
Armed military police patrols deployed in the trenches following an attack to deal with (often by summary execution) stragglers and men who had refused to go over the top.
An inexperienced person; a poor flyer. RFC/RAF expression, possibly derived from the phoenetic alphabet.
BEFORE YOUR NUMBER WAS DRY
Expression used by more experienced soldiers to rookies as a form of put-down: "I was killing Germans before your number was dry" - i.e. before the ink on the junior soldier's enlistment papers was dry also, I was cutting barbed wire while you was cutting your milk teeth.
The Lewis gun, a .303" calibre light machine gun.
Ledge on a trench parapet sometimes used for storing ammunition and other equipment.
Albert. Large town in the Somme region of France . Well-known for the 'Leaning Virgin' on the tower of the Basilica.
The Armstrong Whitworth FK8, a general-purpose British aeroplane.
An Australian. A composite word formed from two popular Australian forenames of the time.
A young woman. From Arabic bint, daughter.
Small, hard mattresses, 2ft 6in square. Three made a bed for one man in a barracks.
Bivouac. A form of temporary shelter. To bivvy up - to set up shelter, usually for the night.
BLACK HAND GANG
Trench raiding party.
Heavy German high-explosive shell, so-named because of the black smoke it produced when exploding.
Block used to whiten full-dress webbing. Khaki blanco was used on service equipment. (2) Nickname for person with the surname White.
England, home. From Hindustani Bilayati, foreign land.
A wound serious enough to require the recipient to be sent home (to England ). The German equivalent of the time was a Heimschuss, and Australian troops in Gallipoli referred to the same as an Aussie. Interestingly, the Americans had a comparable term during Viet Nam : the USA was known as the world, and a Blighty one was know to US soldiers as a ticket to the world.
RAF slang for the small, white, dirigible airships used chiefly for submarine reconaissance over the English Channel .
A popular proprietary brand of metal polish. It was often said in jest that the motto of the Brigade of Guards - 'honi soit qui mal y pense' - could be freely translated as 'after you with the Bluebell, Rupert', due to their excessive use of bull.
The Royal Dublin Fusiliers. From the regiment's time in India , at a time when the blue cap was the symbol of an elite force, much as maroon or green berets are today.
German respiratory irritant gases. From the marking painted on the delivery shell casing.
German. From French tete de boche, obstinate person.
Stretcher bearer. (2) Member of a trench raiding party, often tasked to bring in prisoners for intelligence purposes.
Much, plenty. From French beaucoup.
Potatoes. From the French, pommes de terre.
Chips, a favourite estaminet meal when accompanied by egg. From the French, pommes de terre frites.
One trained in the use of hand grenades; known as grenadier early in the war. The Grenadier Guards, however, protested to the War Office about the use of the term grenadier, claiming that the title was exclusively theirs. In May 1916 it was officially announced that it was His Majesty's 'express wish' that the description 'bomber' should be substituted for that of grenadier.
Good, fine. When off duty, men would often be found having a 'bon time' at the local estaminet. The opposite was no bon(!). From French.
High-ranking staff officer. From the gold decoration on the peaked cap.
Variation of Wind-Up.
An overcoat, knee-length and close fitting at the waist, worn by mouted troops and officers.
Night bombardment. After the well-known firework manufacturer.
British steel helmet, introduced (originally for snipers only) in February 1916. Early examples of the helmet were officers' private purchases and differed slightly from the regulation pattern. The design can be traced back to the type of helmet worn by English archers at Agincourt in 1415. Named after the inventor, John L Brodie.
Free, spare. From Arabic/Hindustani baksheesh gratuity.
Small trench dugout.
British army training establishment such as those base camps at Rouen , Harfleur, Havre and Etaples. Men were posted here from the front line for refresher training, and to "inculcate the offensive spirit". The Bull Ring at Etaples was infamous for its severe discipline.
Tinned corned beef. The principal protein ration of the British army. From French boeuf bouilli - boiled beef - but in popular useage long before the Great War.
Toilet paper, or newspaper used for that purpose. Later on came to mean any excessive official documentaion. From bum fodder, an 18th Century expression.
Rifle. From Arabic/Hindustani for firearm, originally a crossbow. Native Egyptians once called Venice 'Bundookia', place of the big guns.
Porridge. From Arabic/Turkish/Hindustani burghul, oatmeal porridge.
Royal Air Force expression (affectionate and facetious) for aeroplane. From the abbreviated form of omnibus.
Electric device used in signalling to tap out and transmit Morse code.
Low grade, worthless. From the lowest British Army classification of fitness - those fit only for base duty.
Prisoner of war camp.
Instructor, from the yellow armband worn. Often seen at the Bull Ring.
Beer or food stains down the front of a tunic.
Narrow pathway, ofthe only one brick (9 inches) wide, between fields on French and Belgian farms.
Tea. A nice cup of char. From Hindustani char or Chinese ch'a. ‘Cha walla' – one who made the tea
Bed. From Hindustani.
Louse. Possibly derived from chattell, personal belonging.
Beer. From Hindustani.
CHEVEUX DE FRISE
Defensive barbed wire entanglement, sometimes with sharpened stakes. From French for 'frizzy hair'.
Tired, exhausted. From the sense that a man could be so tired he was held upright only by the chinstrap of his cap or helmet. Generally speaking, chin straps were employed only by mounted troops, other soldiers believing that if a bullet or piece of shrapnel were to strike their helmet, the chinstrap may cause choking or break their jaw.
Quiet, shut up. From Hindustani chuprao.
Note or receipt. To be excused duties, a soldier had to be in posession of a sick chit. From Hindustani cittha, a note, originally derived from Sanskrit citra, marked.
Jail. From Hindustani cauki, a lockup.
CHRISTMAS TREE ORDER
To parade in full equipment with all kit. It was often said that the definition of a soldier was 'somebody to hang things on'.
Very bad. The correct meaning of this word is long lasting, although seldom used in this way except perhaps by Medical Officers.
Abbreviated form of chipperow.
Civilian. To be in civvies was to be dressed in civilian clothing rather than uniform.
To make acquaintance with (usually a member of the opposite sex). One could also click a leave or a guard duty.
(1) Clothing and equipment. (2) To hit. Origin unknown.
Heavy German shell, usually a 5.9. From the black smoke of the shell-burst.
German steel helmet, or Stahlhelm introduced at Verdun in January 1916. From the similar appearance to domestic fireside coal container.
Cowardice. To have cold feet was to shirk a duty because of fear.
COLD MEAT TICKET
Identity disc. Men were issued with metal or, more usually, red and green composite material identity discs. These gave the name, number, unit and religion of the holder. One disc remained with the body (the cold meat) in the event of death.
Corps Intelligence Summary.
Do you understand? From French compris.
Generic name for anything. From French comme ça.
Conscientious objector. One who refused military service on the grounds of moral or religious beliefs. Such objections were considered by tribunals and some objectors were given total exemption; others were given the option of partaking in work of importance to the war effort, or serving in a non-combatant corps (such as the RAMC at that time). Those who refused these terms were either imprisoned or drafted into military service and court-martialled. Sometimes abbreviated to C.O., which occasionally led to confusion with Commanding Officer.
Louse. Pre-war term, said to be derived from a titled lady who had suffered this misfortune.
Looped steel post, or picket, for staking barbed wire. The corkscrew shape at the end enabled the stake to be twisted quietly into the ground by wiring parties. Previously, the noise of hammering stakes in had attracted enemy fire.
Corporal. Familiar term used by lower ranks.
Slag heap of mining spoil, such as those prominent on the battlefield around Loos and exploited to such great effect by German observers and snipers. See also Fosse. From the French, who originally produced the trench maps of these areas.
British Number 15 hand grenade, a spherical bomb. Used with good effect in the Gallipoli campaign, this grenade went on to be spectacularly unsuccessful at the battle of Loos in September 1915, where wet conditions rendered useless the external friction fuse igniter. Superceded by the Mills bomb in late 1915.
To be put on a charge.
CROWN AND ANCHOR
A popular gambling game.
Caltrop, a four-spiked metal device used in battle since ancient times to disable men and horses. Whichever way the caltrop landed on the ground, one spike was always pointing upwards.
To be itchy because of louse-bites.
German 5.9 inch shell or the burst thereof. The last crump referred to the end of the war. Onomatopoeic.
Small dug-out or shelter in the side wall of a trench. A funk hole. Possibly derived from cupboard.
Easy, pleasant. (2) A minor wound necessitating some time away from the front line; perhaps a Blighty one. From Hindustani khush, pleasant. "A bloke in the Munsters once wanted a cushy, so he waves his hand above the parapet to catch Fritz's attention" - Pte Fry, Royal Welch Fusiliers. From Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves.
Someone who remained at home in a cushy job, usually an officer posted to the War Office.
Boots. From Cockney rhyming slang - daisy roots.
Shell with an impact fuse (graze fuse) designed to explode immediately on contact with the ground. Used in the clearance of barbed wire defences.
Men recruited under a voluntary scheme instituted, before conscription became law, by Lord Derby. Young and unmarried men were called for service before the others.
Look, observe. From Hindustani dekho, look, and dekhna, to see.
DEVIL'S OWN, THE
The Connaught Rangers.
DICK SHOT OFF
D.S.O. - the Distinguished Service Order, an 'officers only' award. Ordinary soldiers substituted this phrase when these post-nominal letters were used.
Rum. Origin unknown.
The Middlesex Regiment.
Australian soldier. (2) (Less commonly) Friend, chum. Originally from the miners of the Australian gold fields.
Mad, insane. From the French dingot.
(Australian) Genuine, right. Something proper was said to be fair dinkum. Among the Australian troops, those who had served at Gallipoli were known as The Dinkums.
DIRTY SHIRTS, THE
The Royal Munster Fusiliers. The name is derived from the time that the regiment stormed a fort in India . As a consequence, their shirts were covered in blood, sweat and dirt.
DIVISIONAL COMIC CUTS
DCC - reports from Divisional Headquarters (Corps Intelligence Summaries) containing morale-boosting (and often false) information. Comic Cuts was a humourous paper of the time for children.
Large oval-shaped metal pot with lid and carrying-handle for cooking. The lid was often used for baking (e.g. bacon and biscuit pudding) whilst the pot itself was employed to brew tea, heat porridge, stew, rice etc. From Hindustani degchi, small pot.
Hospital. To be in dock was to be confined to hospital due to wounds or sickness. From the nautical expression for ship repairs.
DODGING THE COLUMN
Shirking. The art of avoiding particularly dangerous or unpleasant duties. The expression originated in India and South Africa , a column being a body of troops sent forward into hostile territory.
DOG AND MAGGOT
Bread and cheese.
In hiding and keeping quiet. Probably from dog. "All day we lie doggo in the dugout, partly because of the machine gun trained on the door, and partly because no good was to be got by going outside
DON C EMMA
Distinguished Conduct Medal. From the phonetic alphabet for DCM.
British cavalryman, especially a member of the Household Cavalry. The expression originated amongst the regiments of British Foot Guards, the longstanding rivals of the Household Cavalry.
Insane, mad. From Deolali, a place in India .
U S soldier. Originally an American flour dumpling.
To attract enemy artillery fire.
Ribbon to the British Military Medal, awarded for bravery in the field. The striped design of the ribbon resembled the wooden slats of duckboards, used as walkways in the trenches and across muddy ground.
Runner, messenger. From the term for a cross-country runner, originally derived from hare.
A shell that has failed to explode; anything of dubious value (particularly a person, especially an officer).
Not up to the required standard. (2) Pudding, especially boiled suet pudding.
(1) An underground shelter. (2) An officer who has been 'dug out' from retirement (in the reserve) and recalled to active duty, usually much to his displeasure and the displeasure of those under him.
Facetious term for fear, which kept those thus affected (and whose rank permitted a choice) within the safety of their dug-outs.
(1) Pudding, especially boiled suet pudding. (2) To perform incompetently. (3) To beat up someone.
A split or soft-nosed rifle round (bullet). The tip would open out on impact, causing horrific wounds. From the arsenal at Dum-Dum, a town near Calcutta .
Etaples. French town between Calais and Boulogne , site of many base depots and hospitals, and, of course, the most notorious Bull Ring. Conditions within the town were said to be so repressive that, in 1917, a mutiny (provoked by Military Police) broke out amongst British troops stationed there.
Hand grenade. From the spherical shape.
Small dug-out reinforced with semicircular sheets of corrugated iron.
Machine gun. From the phonetic alphabet of the time for the letters MG.
New Zealander. From the initials 'NZ', often worn as a shoulder title.
Eggs. From French oeufs.
Substitute, artificial, substandard. From German ersetzen, to substitute.
Building found in villages and minor towns for the purpose of eating, drinking and general entertainment of troops. A typical estaminet would have a low roof, an open iron stove and wooden benches and tables. The proprietress would serve wine, cognac, thin beer, coffee, soup, omelettes and the most popular of all French dishes of the time - egg and chips.
Cigarette. From an old English verb meaning to droop (from the corner of the mouth?)
Mad, insane. From Hindustani.
Angry. From French fâché.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers. The name is derived from their use of the war cry 'faugh a ballagh' (clear the way) during the Peninsular War.
Gone, finished, napoo. From French finis and German kaputt (done for).
Night bombardment. Also known as Brock's Benefit, after the well-known firework manufacturer.
German 5.9 inch artillery shell. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind - Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918).
A charge (disciplinary).
Anti-aircraft fire. From German Flieger abwehr kanone, aircraft defence gun.
British 9.45" trench mortar bomb.
Trench mortar bomb. From the shape.
British infantryman. Eighteenth century term originally used by cavalrymen. Foot slogging is marching.
A small piece of flannelette cloth, used by a soldier to clean his rifle. From the fact that the cloth was four inches by two inches
The 2nd Battalion, The Leinster Regiment. The nickname is derived from the battalion's time in India . When forming up for a parade, each man called out the number of his position in the rank in consecutive order. After the forty-ninth man correctly called out his number, the next man, the fiftieth, shouted out 'forty-ten'.
Slag heap of mining spoil. From French.
German 4.2 inch artillery shell.
(1) Corned beef, bully beef, named after the prevalent brand. From the port in Uruguay of the same name, famous for meat-packing. (2) Very good, very well. From a corruption of the French très bien.
(1) German. From the diminutive of Friedrich. (2) Potato chips. From the French, frites.
State of nervousness, fear or depression.
Small dugout or shelter, just big enough to accommodate one or two men, usually scraped into the front wall of a trench. See cubby-hole.
Foncquevillers, French village in the Pas-de-Calais.
A rumour (Australian). The Furphy Engineering Company of Australia made water carts for the army. Soldiers would often gather around these carts and exchange gossip.
(1) The cloth bag in which the respirator was carried, or sometimes the respirator (gas helmet) itself. (2) An airship or barrage balloon.
GAS PIPE CAVALRY
Army Cyclist Corps.
British gas mask incorporating a filter. From a combination of gas and respirator.
Portuguese. See also Pork and Beans.
Staff officer. So called because of the red cap-band and collar tabs.
GIEVES, MATTHEW & SEAGROVE
Naval slang for the trio of Great War campaign medals (1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). From the well-known firm of naval outfitters. See also Pip, Squeak & Wilfred.
Prison or detention centre.
Shell passing overhead.
GOGGLE-EYED BOOGER WITH THE TIT
British gas helmet. The wearer had to breathe in through the nose from inside the helmet and breathe out through a valve held in the teeth.
Barbed wire entanglement or reel. From the prickly nature of the gooseberry bush.
Peaked canvas service cap, made sloppy in appearance by removing the wire stiffener from the crown, not usually seen until after the end of 1914; generally scruffy or sloppy. A Cockney expression, a corruption of God blind me.
To go up the line, i.e. into the trenches.
(1) To be killed, to die. The most popular euphemism of this type. (2) To go astray or be stolen.
Small anti-personnel bombs dropped from aircraft on to camps and bivouacs behind the lines. They were designed to burst on impact and scatter shrapnel balls at low-level, with the intention to kill rather than to destroy material things.
German phosgene gas, from the marking painted on the delivery shell casing.
(1) British army shirt, with sharp-edged tin buttons. From the colour. (2) A louse.
Rum jar. A grey and brown earthenware jug which contained the rum ration, usually Navy Pusser's rum.
Confidential information or warning of trouble to come. The bottom line.
Rum, usually watered down.
Spade or entrenching tool.
Rubber boots or waders sometimes worn in wet trenches.
Strong tea, usually laced with rum.
British army biscuit ration (iron rations), eaten cold, usually with bully beef. The biscuits, if kept dry, also served as useful firelighters.
Infantryman's equipment. This was of two basic types: brown leather and khaki webbing. Neither was particularly popular; although the webbing did not cut into the shoulders as much as the leather, it was considerably heavier when soaked with rain.
The RE.8 aeroplane.
Bombardment. The morning hate at dawn and the evening hate a dusk were common occurrences.
Rifle. Derived from many a drill sergeant's habit of malforming the last word of an order on the parade ground as a way of achieving a crisper, sharper delivery. 'Slope arms!' became, in some cases, 'slope hipe!'.
Itchy from louse-bites. From the chorus of a popular pre-war music hall song.
French railway carriage used for troop transportation, average speed one and a half miles per hour. From the capacity stencilled on the side of the carriage - Hommes 40, Chevaux 8 - the horses being an alternative not an additional load!
German. Kaiser Wilhelm II urged his troops to behave like the Huns of old in order to instill fear into the enemy. The name was further popularised when British soldiers discovered that Germans wore belt buckles with the words Gott Mit Uns (God is with us).
HUNTLEY & PALMER
Royal Flying Corps term for twin Lewis machine guns. Named after a well-know biscuit manufacturer.
Housewife, a small canvas roll containing needle, thread, buttons etc, used for the personal maintenance of a soldier's kit. Often used during interior economy.
Signaller. Iddy and umpty were verbal ways of expressing the dashes and dots of Morse code. IGGRY
Hurry up. From Arabic. One particular crossing in Bullecourt was named Iggry Corner by the Australians.
Go, be gone, shoo. From Arabic.
Quiet periods when men would turn their attention to personal admin - sewing on buttons, darning socks, etc.
Jack Johnson - World Heavyweight Champion
German shell bursting with black smoke. After the boxer Jack (John Arthur) Johnson (1878-1946), the first black American world heavyweight champion (1908-1915).
Latrines. Expression dating back to Elizabethan times.
Originally, home-made or improvised bombs made from jam-tins, mainly used before widespread introduction of the Mills Bomb. Later on in the war, however, jam was issued in cardboard tubes. See Tickler's. The expression was also used as a nickname for the No.8 and No.9 Double Cylinder grenades of late 1914 and early 1915 due to their resemblance to jam tins.
A minor punishment, fatigues. Usually performed whilst confined to barracks (CB). Origin unknown, but may be related to jangle, which had an archaic sense of 'to grumble'.
Bread. From French pain.
German. Expression became popular later in the war, eventually coming into it's own during World War Two.
Warning exclamation that a German aeroplane was overhead and may drop bombs. A warning to put out all lights.
Quick, hurry up. From Hindustani.
Juice or gravy, especially of bacon. Very popular at mealtimes. Also the shout given by Army Service Corps cooks to announce mealtimes.
Soldier in a Scottish regiment.
A Turk. From Johnny Turk.
Battalions (38th - 42nd) of the Royal Fusiliers, consisting of Jewish officers and men. The regiment was able to provide the necessary dietary and other religious conditions required by members of the faith.
JUMPING THE BAGS
Going over the top. Attacking over the sandbags of the trench parapet.
To begin an attack. The jumping off point was the start line of the attack in the front line trench.
K or K of K
Kitchener or Kitchener of Khartoum . Field Marshal Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum , who was appointed Minister for War at the outbreak of hostilities. He was greatly successful in recruiting volunteers for the New Armies, his finger-pointing picture on thousands of recruiting posters being one of the most famous images of the 20th century. He drowned, along with 642 other souls, when the cruiser Hampshire struck a mine off the Orkneys on 5th June 1916 .
Friend, comrade. From German. Often used facetiously by British soldiers amongst themselves as a term of surrender, perhaps when a story showed no signs of ending.
The emu feathers worn on the side of the headdress by members of the Australian Light Horse.
A soldier of a Scottish regiment.
British soldier, especially a New Army volunteer. Australian and New Zealand slang, from Kitchener .
(1) A New Zealand soldier. (2) Ground crew of the RFC or RAF - implying the meaning of a flightless bird.
Portable barbed wire entanglement, stretched on an X-shaped frame and used for stopping gaps in no-man's land.
Person (usually an officer) who took particular care over his appearance. From the popular music hall song by Arthur Wimperis (1874-1953) Gilbert the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Facetious allied propaganda term applied to uncivilised German behaviour, particulary popular following the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania by a U-Boat. Ignoring the fact that the Lusitania , although a passenger liner, was in all likelihood carrying munitions, the allies stated that the act was "proof positive that such crimes are not merely regarded favourably, but are given every opportunity in the land of Kultur ".
Not very lean bacon, with only one strip of mean running through the fat. An analogy to the one chevron worn on the sleeves by a Lance-corporal.
Lance-corporal, a junior NCO having one chevron. This was an appointment and not a rank.
Dead. To become a landowner was to be dead and buried.
The Royal Army Medical Corps.
Gap in the parapet of a fire trench enabling shooting to take place whilst providing head cover. May be constructed from sandbags, steel plates or other materials.
Larceny, a thief. From Hindustani lus, thief.
Subaltern. A one pip Loot was Second Lieutenant, from the pip or star on the shoulder or cuff. Officers below the rank of Captain were always addressed and spoken of as 'Mister ____'.
The practice of moving about the country by cadging free lifts from ASC drivers.
Small arms ammunition used in hand guns.
Listening post (LP), usually located in a sap. From the phoenetic alphabet.
Friction match. From a popular brand name, but originally from Latin 'bearer of light'. "While you've a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys, that's the style" - It's a Long Way to Tipperary , a popular marching song.
Wood. From Hindustani.
An Italian Soldier.
Tinned vegetable stew ration, named after the manufacturer.
Military Medal (MM). The inscription on the back of the MM says for bravery in the field, and some soldiers maintained that the Maconachie ration (see above) was so terrible that only a brave man would eat it and thus be awarded a medal for doing so. Alternatively, an allusion to the notion that the Military Medal was given out so often that it 'came up with the rations'
Firing off fifteen (or more) rounds of rapid fire aimed shots from a bolt action .303 Lee Enfield rifle in one minute. Many regular soldiers of the BEF were expert shots due to the incentive of extra pay for marksmen.
Nothing, all gone. From Arabic. Mafeesh was used by troops in Egypt , Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and Palestine in the same way that napoo was used by those on the Western Front.
Celebrating. From the general air of excitement that followed the relief of Mafeking during the Boer War.
Barrage balloon. From the large, phallic shape.
Sailor. From French matelot, although the exression is pre-war.
Hypothetical posting in the East, regarded by those on the Western Front to be a comparatively safe destination. The word is a composite of Mesopotamia and Salonica.
A soldier in an Irish regiment. Specifically, The Micks is the nickname of the Irish Guards.
Louse. Origin of the phrase taking the mickey, to tease.
British No. 5 grenade. Invented by William Mills (1856-1932) of Birmingham in 1915, it remained in service in a modified form with the British army until the 1960s.
German trench mortar. A variety of calibres were employed. From German Minenwerfer, mine thrower.
Shells fired from a German Minenwerfer. From the noise of flight and the name given by the British to the weapon
Battalion or other unit.
Montauban. French village in the Somme region.
Butter. From Hindustani.
Civillian clothes. From Arabic mufti, free.
A potato. From the common Irish surname.
MUTT & JEFF
The pair of Great War campaign medals (British War Medal & Victory Medal) given to those who served from 1916 onwards. Named after the cartoon characters created originally in the United States by Bud Fisher, but popular in Britain by 1920, the time when campaign medals were being sent out. (2) Deaf. From Cockney rhyming slang.
The Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, from their cap badge which shows a sheep (or lamb) with a lance.
Gone, finished. From French i'l n'y en a plus, there is no more. British troops in Russia or who had returned from German prisoner of war camps often used 'nichevo', a Russian word with the same meaning.
Nothing, no. From German nichts.
Enemy shell that has passed well overhead.
Sick. The British army's No.9 was a laxative pill. Handed out indiscriminately by the MO, but especially to those men who were classified M&D (medicine & duty) or NYD (not yet diagnosed). Also known as the Star of the Movies. Gave rise to the bingo caller's expression doctor's orders - number nine, the game itself being one of the more popular respectable pastimes amongst soldiers.
Auchonvillers, a village in the Somme region of France , just north of Albert.
ODDS AND SODS
Miscellaneous details attached to Battalion HQ performing nominal duties.
(Australian) Authentic, the truth.
Trench mortar bomb.
Member of the 1914 British Expeditionary Force (BEF) who took part in the retreat from Mons and other early battles of the war. From Kaiser Wilhelm's comment that his forces in Belgium were being held up by 'Sir John French's contemptible little army'.
Guards division. From the symbol on the divisional sign.
OLD NAMURERS, THE
The Royal Irish Regiment. The name is derived from their participation in the storming of Namur in 1695. Consequently, they were awarded the first battle honour given to a British regiment.
An experienced soldier.
2nd Lieutenant, from the rank insignia. A two pip is a full Lieutenant.
ON THE MAT
To be called before the Commanding Officer (CO) to answer a minor charge.
ON THE PEG
Under arrest or on a charge.
ON THE WIRE
Missing or killed in action.
ON THE WORD FIX
Punctually. "I was there on the wordfix". From the command "fix bayonets".
Observation Post (OP). From the phonetic alphabet.
OVER THE TOP
Make an attack, to go over the top of the trench parapet, or over the bags (sandbags).
Wound. To cop a packet was to be wounded, often fatally.
Battalion Chaplain. From Latin pater, father.
German tank. From German Sturmpanzerkampfwagen, originally from the Old French panciere, a coat of mail. Term first used in the Great War, but did not become popular until WW2.
Water. From Hindustani.
Stone-paved roads and tracks found in Belgium and France . Very hard on the feet and ankles when marching.
Poor Bloody Infantry.
(1) Metal post used for staking out barbed wire. (2) Sentry-party or patrol.
An unknown species of meat served as food to prisoners of war by the Germans.
The wooden handle or shaft of the entrenching tool.
Reinforced concrete gun emplacement, usually German and armed with machine guns. So called because of the cylindrical shape.
Mills bomb. From the chunky shape. Also applied to a certain type of german trench mortar bomb.
Afternoon. PM (post meridiem). From the phonetic alphabet.
To be hit by a bullet.
A small calibre shell (sometimes a gas shell) or a rifle grenade.
PIP, SQUEAK & WILFRED
Trio of Great War campaign medals (1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). Named after the popular Daily Mirror cartoon characters of the time.
Wine. From French vin blanc, white wine, although the expression may also be derived from the firm of Plonques, importers of a particularly reprehensible brand of Algerian red wine.
To shoot, to plug with lead.
Ploegsteert, Belgian village north of Armentières.
Heavy trench mortar shell.
French soldier. From the French hairy one. French soldiers themselves disliked the term, instead referring to themselves as les hommes or les bonhommes.
PONTIUS PILATE'S BODYGUARD
The Royal Scots, the senior British Infantry Regiment of the Line, so named on account of their history going so far back. They were, in fact, raised in 1633.
Poperinghe, Belgian town in West Flanders . Captured from the Germans in October 1914, it remained in British hands until the end of the war.
PORK AND BEANS
Portuguese. From the observation that British army ration pork and beans contained very little, if any, pork, and therefore alluding to the fact that the Portuguese had very few troops on the Western Front. This, however, is a myth: the Portuguese (one of Britain 's oldest allies), sent 120,000 men to the Western Front, as well as having 80,000 troops serving in Portuguese East Africa at that time. Their determination and gallantry was second to none - General Ludendorf's surrender speech praised the Portuguese, stating that had Portugal been on their side, they would have won the war. Also vaguely onomatopaeic.
Smart. From obsolete English posh, a dandy, but often said to be an acronym of 'Port Out, Starboard Home', the optimum (i.e. shaded) position of a cabin in British ships sailing to and from the East.
German stick grenade. From the shape - the handle enabled the grenade to be thrown further.
Jam. Issued as part of the British army field ration, tinned plum and apple pozzy was much in abundance in the early years of the war, being supplemented later on by such exotic mixtures as gooseberry and rhubarb.
PRESS GANG, THE
The Royal Engineers. From their reputation of enforcing the services of other regiments in the building of dug outs, roads, etc.
Senior Army officer.
A tall, thin person. From pull-through, the device used to clean inside the barrel of a rifle.
Urinate. From the naval expression.
A young woman. See Square Pusher.
PUSHING UP DAISIES
Dead and buried.
Quartermaster. Officer usually commissioned from the ranks and responsible for the supply of accommodation, food, clothing and other equipment to the unit, via the Company Quartermaster Sergeants. When an issue of new kit was requested, the Quarterbloke's stock answer would usually be: "Stores is for storing things; if they was for issuing things then they would be called issues."
QUARTER TO TEN
British 9.45 inch trench mortar.
Field Service Post Card (Army Form A2042). The card consisted of a number of pre-printed sentences which could be deleted as appropriate. Nothing, except the address of the recipient, was to be written on the post card in order to alleviate the problems of censorship.
Morning sick report.
RATS AFTER MOULDY CHEESE
RAMC. Correctly, Royal Army Medical Corps.
Military policeman, said to be the most despised men on the Western Front. From the red covering to their field service caps.
Popular brand of ration cigarette. Soon came to personify any cigarette.
Brothel. Sometimes licensed and under police surveillance. From the red light outside, the recognised symbol.
British gas, a mixture of hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulphide.
Staff officer. From the red gorget patches on the collar. Also known as Red Herrings.
The Royal Irish Rifles.
ROB ALL MY COMRADES
RAMC. Correctly, Royal Army Medical Corps. From the belief that medical personnel went through the pockets of casualties.
ROB EVERY POOR SOLDIER
RE(PS). Royal Engineers (Postal Services). From the belief that they were responsible for the many missing items of soldiers' mail.
Gas cylinder. The word was originally used as a code name (see accessory), but eventually came into common useage.
A recruit or newcomer. From the corruption of recruit (and not the bird), although, interestingly, infantry recruits in the modern British army are known as the crow.
Bread. From Hindustani roti.
British army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal. From the belief that they were so easily obtained that they were brought in with the bread ration, or could be earned by eating army rations for the required number of years.
A fight or disturbance. So-called from the type of public house where this type of behaviour could arise after drinking.
Large long-range gun.
Mortar bomb, from the shape. The rum ration was issued to the troops in earthenware jars, stamped with the initials S.R.D. (Supply Reserve Depot - not Service Rum Diluted as frequently stated), although soldiers argued that this actually stood for Seldom Reaches Destination or Soon Runs Dry.
Sap trench dug below ground so that the surface earth was not disturbed.
French barrage balloon, or 'sausage'
Good day! Greetings! From Arabic.
American soldier. From Uncle Sam.
Soup made from ground maize and water.
SAN FAIRY ANN
It doesn't matter, it makes no difference. From French ça ne fait rien.
A listening post in no man's land, connected at ninety degrees to the fire trench by a narrow communication trench. During an advance, saps were often joined together to make the new front line trench.
Equivalent to a private soldier in the Royal Engineers. Originally, a digger of saps.
Sergeant. Seen as a smarter and more soldierly form of address. However, sarge was never permitted: "There are only two bloody types of sarges in this mob - passarges and sausarges - now move yerself!"
SATURDAY NIGHT SOLDIERS
Members of the Territorial Battalions. Originally a derisory name, the term was not used much by those who had witnessed the Terriers' skillful fighting and great losses.
(1) Barrage balloon. (2) German mortar bomb. "...we pick out at once the faint plop! of the mortar that sends off a sausage, or the muffled noise when a grenade is fired" - Lt Robert Graves, Royal Welch Fusiliers.
German prison camp. To go to Sausage Hill was to be taken prisoner.
To eat. Food or rations.
A decent brew. Tea that was not devoid of milk or sugar.
It's all in the seven was a philosophical expression used by regular soldiers who had enlisted for seven years with the colours (i.e. on continuous day-to-day service).
Soup or stew made from left-overs.
Beer, or any other intoxicating drink.
The front line.
SHORT ARM INSPECTION
Medical Officer's examination of the mens' short arms (penises) to detect any signs and symptoms of venereal disease.
A shell falling near to or onto it's own lines.
Attention! Drill instructors' word of command. See hipe.
(1) Shell for anti-personnel use designed to burst in the air and eject a number of small projectiles. (2) Metal balls (usually lead) contained therein. (3) Any metal splinter from a shell. From General H Shrapnel (1761-1842), the English army officer who invented it during the Peninsular War.
Okay. From a corruption of all Sir Garnet, an earlier expression named after Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), Commander in Chief of the British army from 1895-1899.
The phonetic alphabet.
The practice of waiting quietly at night in no man's land for the advent of a German patrol. The patrol was then dispatched hand-to-hand as quickly and silently as possible by the use of trench knives. Much favoured by the Canadians.
Artillery piece firing at such long range that it could not be heard.
High-velocity artillery shell.
Thin stew, gruel.
The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Officer's informal expression for a Captain commanding a company.
Small pieces of debris thrown up by a shell ground burst. From slack, small pieces of coal with a high ash content.
SLING THE BAT
To use the vernacular. To speak in slang.
Soldier employed as a cobbler.
(1) Rifle. (2) A proprietary brand of brass polish, consisting of a pink tablet onto which one spat to produce a paste. See Bluebell.
Medal citation. A small card presented to soldiers recommended for a gallantry decoration, usually a DCM or MM, giving some details of the act.
To steal. From French souvenir, to remember.
Rifle breech. Soldiers often loaded the .303 Lee Enfield rifle with ten rounds in the magazine and one up the spout.
(1) Potato. (2) Nickname given to a person with the surname Murphy. (3) Metal shoe affixed to a tank's tracks to provide better grip in muddy conditions. From spudde, a 15th century word for digging tool.
The guard room.
Soldier. From squad, but also said to be a corruption of swaddy, an 18th century word for bumpkin.
German. From the shape of the M.1916 German steel helmet.
A young woman. To go square pushing was to walk out with a young lady, or to go out looking smart (dressed in square pushing boots and/or square pushing tunic) with the intention of finding some friendly female company.
State of alert in the trenches at dawn or dusk when enemy attack was most likely.
Badge of rank, or pip, worn by British officers on the sleeves or epaulettes of the tunic.
STAR OF THE MOVIES
The Number Nine laxative pill, so-called because of it's purgative properties.
Artillery projectile consisting of a magnesium flare and a parachute, intended to illuminate the battlefield during night operations. Coloured star shells, not always incorporating the parachute, were used for signalling purposes.
German grenade, a potato masher.
Soldier of the Royal Engineers employed on gas duties.
British army goatskin or sheepskin jerkin, first issued in winter 1914. From the smell, especially when wet.
To be hit by a bullet, shell fragment, etc.
(1) To machine gun, especially from the air. (2) General bombardment. From German Strafen, to punish. Gott Strafe England (God punish England ) was a popular song and greeting in Germany during the war years.
Any performance of outstanding skill or effectiveness, on a large or small scale.
Bombing or raiding party.
SUICIDE SQUAD, THE
The Machine Gun Corps.
Small holes dug at intervals in the base of a trench for collecting water. Sump holes made the baling out of flooded trenches somewhat easier.
SWEATING ON THE TOP LINE
Hopeful. To be expectant (of a forthcoming victory). Derived from the popular game of Bingo or House, where numbers are called out and marked off in lines on a card.
SWEET FANNY ADAMS, S.F.A.
Nothing at all. Originally nineteenth century naval slang for tinned cooked meat, from the notorious murder and dismemberment of a girl so named. The initials S.F.A. were, by the time of the Great War, also allocated to the expression Sweet F***-All, and Sweet Fanny Adams was a bowdlerised version of this phrase.
SWINGING THE BANJO
SWINGING THE LEAD
Malingering, shirking one's duty. Possibly from the lead pendulum of a clock in the sense of drawing out a task so that it takes more time.
Small trench dugout.
(1) Chevron or stripe worn on the uniform sleeves by non-comissioned officers. (2) Line of tape used to indicate the starting line of an attack or the direction it should take.
German aircraft. Although a Taube was a specific make, British troops referred to all German aircraft as 'Taubes', or, more correctly, 'Tauben', during the early part of the war. From German for 'dove', so named due to the swept back wing tips.
British army goatskin jerkin, first issued in winter 1914.
Member of the British Territorial Force, a pre-war expression.
To go too far. The most popular superstition on the Western Front was that the third man to light his cigarette from the same match would inevitably be killed soon after. This was derived from the story that enemy snipers would, at night, use the flame of the match to find a target - the first light alerted the sniper, the second allowed him to aim, and the third time he fired.
THREE BLUE LIGHTS
Something highly improbable. From a story that peace would be signalled by the firing of three dark blue signal flares, which would, of course, be invisible against the night sky.
THROW A SEVEN
To be killed. From dice.
THROW ONE UP
TIC-TAC or TIC-TOC
Official discharge from the army, especially for medical reasons before the full period of service with the Colours had been completed. To work one's ticket was to scheme to get out of the army.
(1) Jam, pozzy. From the brand name of a company in Hull , Yorkshire , but synonymous with jam whatever the brand. (2) Improvised hand grenades, usually made from old jam tins packed with nails, glass and explosives. These were made and used extensively before the Mills bomb became widespread in 1915.
Regular soldier who had enlisted in the Colours for a definite period, usually seven years, as opposed to a conscript or one who had volunteered for the duration.
Steel helmet. A popular phrase of the time was: "It just about put the tin hat on it", meaning that something happened which spoiled everything or was the final straw.
A bayonet, often used for this purpose.
Trench mortar (TM). From the phonetic alphabet.
Mortar bomb with attached shaft.
British army soldier. From Tommy Atkins, a name sometimes used on specimen forms to represent a typical British army private soldier. Said to be derived from a British soldier who distinguished himself at the battle of Waterloo .
Spanner or wrench for unscrewing the base of Mills bombs (to adjust the timing fuse).
Small, portable oil-fuelled stove.
Quick. From French toute de suite. The tooter the sweeter was, of course, the sooner the better.
Staff officer (not necessarily a major) responsible for billeting arrangements in a town or village behind the lines.
Rifle or machine gun round which can be observed in flight by the (usually) red phosphorescent trail it leaves in it's wake. Used chiefly at the time by airmen. The rounds are identifiable by the red painted tip, and some soldiers and gunners loaded a tracer as the penultimate round in their magazine or ammunition belt, in order to indicate that a reload would then be necessary.
Very good. From French tres bien.
Marching order; full equipment.
Scottish troops preparing for a gas attack, 1915. One man is
holding aloft the handle of a Vermorel sprayer
To go quickly. From Spanish vamos, let us go.
Good. To be on velvet was to be in exceptionally fortunate and comfortable circumstances.
An agricultural spraying tool, used in the trenches to spray dispersal chemicals onto low-lying pockets of gas.
A flare or coloured light fired from a Very pistol for signalling at night. After the inventor, Edward W Very (1852-1910), a US naval ordnance officer.
VIN BLANC ANGLAIS
Whisky. From French, literally English white wine.
Chap. Person in charge of a particular object, duty or task. Used in conjunction with appropriate word. For exmple, the soldier unfortunate enough to be on tea duty was invariably known as the char-wallah. From Hindustani wala, man or protector.
German shell passing safely, albeit rather slowly, overhead. Expression first used in 1914, from a pre-war Comic Cuts character of the same name. The expression was also used later in Gallipoli as a term for shrapnel.
WET ONE'S STRIPES
The practice of buying a round of drinks in the mess of a newly-promoted NCO.
Specifically, the medium mark A British tank first seen in 1917, but later applied generally to any type of light tank, including the French Renault. From the breed of dog noted for its speed.
Wytschaete, Belgian village on the ridge just north of Messines.
A mixture of chlorine and phosgene gas. From the identification marking painted on the delivery shell casing.
High-velocity shell. From the noise of the rapid flight and the explosion. Usually applied to the German 77mm. I don't want to go in the trenches no more, where the whizz-bangs and shrapnel they whistle and roar. From I Don't Want To Die, popular contemporary song.
Tank. From the prototype British tank, Little Willie.
British officer's tunic with the stars worn on the shoulders instead of the sleeves, a standing order in some regiments even during the early stages of the war. The practice of wearing the badges of rank on the epaulettes was favoured by many officers as it made them less conspicuous to the enemy, and after the war the wearing of rank badges on the sleeves was discontinued. The same officers often carried the .303 Lee Enfield rifle into battle in preference to the issue service revolver for the same reason. However, some senior officers disapproved of this practice, viewing it as a case of an officer with the wind-up (see windy).
Afraid, nervous. Such a person was said to have the wind-up. More acceptable than cold feet. From the production of intestinal wind or gas due to nerves.
Ypres (Flemish Ieper), Belgian town in West Flanders . From the pronunciation of a literal 'Y' at the beginning of the word, said to have originated with Commander-in-Chief of the BEF Sir John French (later Earl of Ypres), who neither knew nor spoke any foreign language and, furthermore, had no inclination to do so.
A cheap and particularly offensive cigarette. Also an Australian nickname for a British soldier, due to his fondness of the aforementioned cigarettes.
German shrapnel shell, bursting with a cloud-like explosion.
American soldier. From Yankee.
German gas. From the identification marking painted on the delivery shell casing.
French name for mustard gas.
Z-hour; zero hour. The time that an attack or event was to happen.
Drunk, intoxicated. From the tendency to stagger back from the estaminet in a zig-zag fashion.