Call for papers, September 2018

The organisers are pleased to announce the second Languages and the First World War conference for 10 and 12 September 2018.

The 2018 conference will be held at Europe House, Westminster, London (10 September) and Leuven University campus in Brussels, Belgium (12 September).

The 2014 conference opened up to an international audience the idea of approaching the conflict from a language viewpoint; while we imagined this falling into two main areas – developments within languages, and influences between languages – the papers delivered and subsequent essays in the volumes widened the scope considerably, to include the rise of interpreting as a profession, the ideas of reticence and withheld communication in soldiers’ letters, the role of soldiers’ publications in the management of dialect, the racial, ethnic, gender and political dynamics of languages, dialects and rhetorics, and the collecting of linguistic data during and after the war.

We hope that the papers offered in the 2018 conference will widen still further the scope of the subject. While 2018 as a centennial suggests a concentration on the end of the war, we do not wish to limit ourselves to the Armistice and the aftermath, as the period 2014-2018 has given the opportunity for so much in-depth exploration of topics that have arisen from the wealth of conferences, books, papers, symposiums and the opening up of archives and collections.


Papers are invited that discuss the causes, progress and aftermath of the war from a language point of view – dialect, slang, swearing, officialese, the language of mourning, the language of international post-war negotiation, interpreting, multilinguism, propaganda, popular media, correspondence, graffiti, the language of regimental diaries, memoirs and phrasebooks, the Stockholm Conference, wartime jokes, all will be considered. We would particularly welcome contributions on the Balkan languages, Turkish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Portuguese, Arabic, Indian languages, African languages, Chinese, and Japanese; on the linguistic aspects of the Versailles Conference; and the language of pilgrimages, battlefield guides, commemorations and memories; on how post-war literature of war reflected wartime language. The organisers are equally interested in proposals for panels.


As with the first conference the organisers aim to publish at least one volume stemming from conference contributions. The first conference papers were published by Palgrave-MacMillan, who have expressed interest in publishing further texts.

Deadline for abstracts: 1 March, 2018.

Confirmation of acceptance: 21 March, 2018.


Our scientific panel currently comprises:

Professor Odile Roynette, Université de Franch-Comté

Jonathon Robinson, British Library

Jane Potter, Oxford Brookes University 

Hilary Footitt, Uinversity of Reading 

Katya Rogatchevskaya, British Library

Peter Doyle, London Southbank University

Tamara Scheer, University of Vienna


For early interest or questions, please contact

Julian Walker, Christophe Declercq


The language of the new year and utopian resolutions

In January 1918, Belgium was a broken nation and a fragmented one too. Most Belgians lived in occupied Belgium but many other fragments abounded, not least the Belgian communities in exile. France, the Netherlands and Great Britain had provided shelter for Belgian refugees ever since the outbreak of hostilities, 4 August 1914. With the First World War entering its fifth calendar year, was there any language of resolution left for those who were not able to return and for those who endured the hardship of occupation?

Sampling from the number of occurrences of Nieuwjaar remained pretty much the same throughout the war years. True, the peak of wishing well and hope for an early end to the conflict drove most instances to occur by the end of 1914, but for the following four years this figure stayed within a 232-269 band. Typically, over one third of new year related stories were published in January.

Like the nation it served, the Belgian press was fragmented and scattered. Under German occupation not much newsworthy was printed in Belgium itself. Most newspapers appeared in exile though. Arguably the most popular Belgian newspaper in exile, read across the various exile communities in the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, as well as by the Belgian soldiers at the front, was Vrij België. It printed a poem by Johannes De Maegt about a carillon and how its elderly master was killed and how a younger one stood firm in the face of adversity and how the continued music made everyone happy. The main exile newspaper in Britain, De Stem Uit België joined in and printed a telegram from King Albert to Field Marshal Haig, reassuring the latter that Belgian troops were still standing strong in the new year. Het Vaderland, which appeared in Le Havre, added a telegram by Lloyd George, who acknowledged the support of Belgium and who confirmed once again the determination of the British to stand with the Belgians. It was, however, interesting to see that no reference was made any longer to the many thousands of Belgians on British soil.

The main newspaper printed in unoccupied Belgium was De Belgische Standaard. The new year issue (1 and 2 January 1918) was very hopeful in its intentions and resolutions for the new year: the end of the conflict was nigh and all those in exile were to return very soon! Although the first page listed the names of the editors typically contributing, the near utopian ‘Zalig Nieuwjaar’ of that issues remained anonymous. The local journal Herenthals seconded the sentiment, extending the hope of the return beyond soldiers and refugees to the prisoners of war.



Herenthals, 1 January 1918, p.1.


Of all the Belgian newspapers perhaps Het Vlaamsche nieuws struck the new year note wrong the most. The newspaper, appearing in occupied Flanders and with the support of the German authorities, seemed blissfully unaware of all the trauma the conflict had caused and was still causing. Moreover, not only was the Flemish flag ready to comfort those who needed support, the old Germanic tradition of ‘Heil! Heil! Heil!’ surely was to remind readers of the celebratory mood of the time of the year.



The Gazet van Brussel was published in Dutch only and had the Flemish poet René De Clercq[i] as its editor-in-chief. Its issue of Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 January hit the new year with substantial contemplations on Flemish nationalism, called flamingantisme, which was haunted by the German and their occupation, as many Flemish nationalists actively sought support from the Germans in obtaining further Flemish independence (activists). Only a few days earlier, on 22 December 1917, had the Raad van Vlaanderen (Council of Flanders, a gathering of Flemish activists) proclaimed the independence of Flanders.[ii] René was one of the main administrators behind the Raad, so his leading piece in his own newspaper attracted quite some readership. De Clercq called for action, for deeds, not words, so that the Flemish nationalism that he adhered to would be understood by both the people of Belgium and many other nations. In his essay De Clercq refers to Greece and Italy and how nations had been forged in the past. De Clercq continued and dwelled into the past and the poetry produced by the lantern people of Ixelles, Brussels, using a poem produced well before the war to ponder about how the trauma of the day had dried up all poetry. Peculiarly, the poem De Clercq used to relate to the new year was written in French.


Gazet van Brussel, 1 January 2018, p.2 (via


Regained Flemish identity garnered pace even in exile. Het soete Waesland printed a notification of how the ‘Vlaamsch Verbond’ of Birtley-Elisabethville had organised an end of year party and how the journal had received nearly two pounds from the proceeds thanks to the efforts of several people from St Niklaas, which is the main city of the Waasland region.


Local wishes

During the war many journals and periodicals appeared, including soldiers’ pamphlets, aiming for the readership of a particular village, town or small region, wherever they were (in occupied Belgium, at the front or in exile). Bree aan den Yzer wished all the best to its readership, which would consist of people from the Bree area, Limburg, only. Among the tidings the two-page stencil brought were notifications of people from Bree passing away in exile in Paris and Weert, the Netherlands. In the Hobooksch frontblaadje, by and for soldiers from Hoboken, south of Antwerp, the local tidings are concluded by a happy new year to all those people from Hoboken who had married recently. In De Diestenaar, for people of a town in Brabant, the message is clear: this really ought to be the very last time soldiers at the front should be wished a happy new year. This resonated in De payot der taalgrens:

Eerst en vooral een woord van dank om de goede wenschen die ge my zoo talryk stuurdet ter gelegenheid van het vernieuwen des jaars! Aan U allen ook een goed, zalig en gelukkig nieuwjaar!

‘t Is de wensch die in de geezegenden vredestyd aller lippen ontvlood by het doodgaan van het oude jaar. De vader en de moeder wenschten het hun kinderen, de kinderen hun ouders, de echtgenooten en vrienden aan elkaar, de broer zyn zuster, de knecht z’n meester. Er was feest en vreugde gejubel en gejoel! Het was vrede!

En nu verre van ‘t lieve dorpje, van ouder, familie en vrienden blyft er ons enkel van dit alles nog de zielige herinnering over! ‘t Is Oorlog!

Droevig nieuwjaar!

Gelukkig dat alles on zegt dat het de laatste maal zyn zal dat wy het verre van alles wat ons duurbaar is zullen moeten doorbrengen.

Daarom jongens, geenen moed verloren, ginds wacht men moedig en ongeduldig op ons allen; in stilte wordt er geleden en gebeden; ginds ook is men overtuigd dat het jaar 1918 het laatste zal wezen van dezen gruwelyken oorlog.

Nogmaals, aan U allen een goed en zalig nieuwjaar! Harten hoog!


First of all, a word of thanks for the many good wishes that you sent me on the occasion of the renewing of the year! To all of you a good, blissful and happy New Year as well!

It is the wish that in the blessed time of peace upon the death of the old year was set free from all lips. Fathers and mothers wished it for their children, the children for their parents, the spouses and friends, the brother his sister, the servant his master. There was celebration and joy and cheer! There was peace!

And now far from this lovely village, from parents, family and friends, all that we have left of this is a sad memory! There is War!

Sad New Year!

Fortunately, all signs are telling us that this will be the last time we will have to spend the new year far from anything that is dear to us.

That is why, boys, no courage should be lost, at home all are awaiting us courageously and impatiently, in silence there is suffering and there are prayers; but above all there is the firm conviction that the year 1918 will be the last one of this horrible war.

Again, to You all a happy and blissful New Year! Hearts high!


However, of all local papers and soldiers’ stencils, the De Poperingsche keikop perhaps nicely caught the mood of realism of the time: how sad it was the even by uttering ‘a happy new year’ one would both dream of returning to one’s own home but also fully realise that any happy tiding is a vain one, if not a sad mockery. This was echoed in the Onze Temschenaars for soldiers and civilians of Temse, southeast of Antwerp, alike: despite all the warm wishes, many a thought would go to a black cross somewhere along the river Yser where a beloved member of the family died a hero’s death and now lay slain and buried.



Bree aan den Yzer, 1 January 1918, p.1.

De Belgische Standaard, 1 January 1918, p.1.

De Diestenaar: maandblad der soldaten van het kanton Diest, 1 January 1918, p.1.

De payot der taalgrens, 1 January 1918, p.1.

De Poperingsche keikop: bladje der Poperingnaars in ‘t leger, 1 January 1918, p.1.

De stem uit België, 4 January 1918, p.4.

Gazet van Brussel: nieuwsblad voor het Vlaamsche volk, 1 January 1918, pp.1-2.

Herenthals: wordt verspreid en verzonden aan al de Herenthalsenaren die hun adres opgeven, 1 January 1918, p.1.

Het soete Waesland: kosteloos oorlogsblad voor de soldaten van het Land van Waes, 1 January 1918, p.1.

Het vaderland: Belgisch dagblad te Havre verschijnend, 3 January 1918, p.3.

Het Vlaamsche nieuws, 1 January 1918, p.1.

Hobooksch frontblaadje, 1 January 1918, p.1.

Onze Temschenaars, 1 January 1918, p.1.

Vrij België, 1 January 1918, p.6.


[i] René De Clercq (1877 – 1932) was a Flemish political activist, writer, poet, and composer. After studying at the University of Gent he became a contributor and editor for the magazine Van Nu en Straks. During World War I he fled to the Netherlands. There he taught at the Belgian school in Amsterdam, while editing and contributing (mostly poetry) to the expat magazine “De Vlaamsche Stem” (The Flemish Voice), which (with German funding) slowly became an organ for Flemish activism. After the magazine was discontinued in 1916, he wrote a now famous poem directed at the Belgian government in exile in Le Havre, “Aan die van Havere” (To the Havrians). In 1917 he wrote the song “Daar is maar één Vlaanderen” (There is only one Flanders) that became the national anthem of the Flemish separatists. On December 22, 1917, the Raad van Vlaanderen, to which De Clercq belonged, declared its independence from Belgium. Upon the instigation of the German occupying administration De Clercq became curator of a museum in Brussels. After the war De Clercq fled to the Netherlands again, where he received the news of the death sentence pronounced upon him by the Belgian government in 1920. De Clercq was able to returned to Belgium after amnesty in 1929, but eventually died in the Netherlands.

(based on, but edited)

Note on Van Nu en Straks: Van Nu en Straks (Of Now and Later / Today and Tomorrow) was a Flemish literary and cultural magazine founded in 1893 by August Vermeylen. The magazine, with a cover by Henry van de Velde (who stayed in Britain during most of the war years and whose wife Lalla became intimately involved with W.B. Yeats on the one hand and the Omega Workshops on the other), served as a vehicle for a Flemish literary revival. The heterogeneous group of writers and artists associated with the journal was devoted to art for art’s sake and did not hold further or strong dogmatic views on aesthetics or adherence to schools of art. (based on, but edited).

Note on the Raad van Vlaanderen: The Raad van Vlaanderen (Council of Flanders) was a group of Flemish notorieties who aimed to establish a quasi-independent Flemish government during the German occupation of Belgium. The Raad was created on 4 February 1917 by members of the “activist” (or “maximalist”) faction of the Flemish Movement. Its founders, who included Pieter Tack and August Borms, wanted to realize the independence of Flanders from Belgium using German support provided as part of the Flamenpolitik. The Council originally included 46 members, but eventually expanded to include 93. Despite hopes that the Council would be allowed full legislative powers, it never became more than a consultative body. It also suffered from internal factionalism and infighting. On 22 December 1917, the council proclaimed the autonomy and independence of Flanders. The Armistice in November 1918 led to the end of the Council. In the aftermath of the war, many of the members of the RVV were arrested and imprisoned as collaborators. (based on, but edited).

[ii] In Flemish nationalist literature references are made to the independence of Finland (6 December 1917) which virtually coincided with the Raad van Vlaanderen’s proclamation. However, in November 1917 a change of leadership in German occupying administration had become less favourable to the Flemish activists and is more likely to have been the trigger.

Esperanto and the First World War

To open the memorable centenary year, we are very pleased to host Javier Alcalde’s post on Esperanto, a language which belonged to all nations and none, and which thus embraces our subject thoroughly.



At the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of nationalism among European powers on the one hand and the need for the internationalization of scientific research on the other had situated the debate about the auxiliary language among the main issues of the international agenda. It was a debate related to the intellectual dilemmas of the time that went from scientific to spiritual issues, from national or ethnic identity to the so-called Jewish problem and, especially, the possibility of peace in international relations.

But war broke out and Esperantists had to adapt to the new situation and perform various tasks either through the press, through humanitarian actions or in pacifist organizations. Additionally, many of them were conscripted and many died in the conflict. In fact, the war dealt a severe blow to universalist ideals such as those of Esperanto, although it also presented multiple opportunities for new people to learn the language in the front or in prison, where a number of its passionate advocates diffused it and its values. Subsequently, the interwar period will provide new prosperity to them.


The World Esperanto Congress planned for 1914. Because of the war, it never took place, although when the war began most of the participants, more than 3,000, were already in Paris.


Most of these issues are tackled in a collective book that has just been published: Antaŭ unu jarcento. Esperanto kaj la granda milito [One century ago. Esperanto and the Great War], which I have had the pleasure to coordinate, together with José Salguero Rodríguez. This collection of texts reproduces contemporary documents and articles, unpublished diaries and familiar memories related to the war, but it also offers original essays covering different countries and different perspectives. Written in the so-called international language Esperanto, it shows the potential of addressing issues of history and memory from a transnational way.

In agreement with its author Brigid O’Keeffe, we include in this post the English version of the book’s prologue, probably one of the best texts that the reader will find in the whole book.

Antaŭ unu jarcento. Esperanto kaj la granda milito – Prologue

Brigid O’Keeffe

A deafening clamor, a violent convulsion of the earth below one’s feet, a world ceasing to make any reassuring sense – the reader of Antaŭ unu jarcento:  La granda milito kaj Esperanto cannot help but feel transported to the grim realities of day-to-day life during the earth-shattering and faith-shattering years of World War I.  Throughout these pages, soldiers trudge in disorientation and even in awe, marching through villages that are not their own, among people who do not speak their tongue or wave the same flag.  Reading this volume’s accounts, one better appreciates the small mercies of a bed of straw on which to lay one’s aching body and to fall into a mercifully numbing sleep.  One imagines the smell of burning villages and the unrelenting violence of bullets raining down in the night.  The sludge and varied miseries of rat-infested trench life are vividly brought to life.  One can almost feel the shocking vibrations of bombardment, the nausea in the face of shrapnel’s carnage, and the dizzying euphoria of surviving yet another stunning close call on the battlefield.  One empathizes with the soldier who greedily consumes decaying food scraps in the feral conditions of his prisoner-of-war camp.  The many-hued humanity of wartime experience shows through these pages.  So, too, does the deadly pallor of millions of lives wasted, the dull blinker of young men’s futures squandered in the name of the emptied slogans of nation and empire.

“Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected.  Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends,” writes Paul Fussell in his classic study, The Great War and Modern Memory.  “But the Great War was more ironic than any before or since.  It was a hideous embarrassment to the prevailing Meliorist myth which had dominated the public consciousness for a century.  It reversed the idea of Progress.”[1]  The war shattered the lives of a generation.  It brought down empires that had been presumed unshakeable and permanent.  And – for many of its participants and observers – it violently destroyed their faith in humankind’s capacity for reason, progress, and common commitment to a shared pursuit of the good.

For some, however, the so-called Great War served nonetheless to reinvigorate a search for solutions to humankind’s ongoing dilemmas of a palpably felt modernity.  These men and women lived in a world that felt to them both dangerously large and intractable, but also small and tightly bound by international networks of commerce, communication, ideas, and geopolitics.  Theirs was a world that reeled from the horrors that human hands had wrought.  Yet they variously sought a sober, yet still hopeful path toward a better, more humane global future.

In all of these ways, World War I and its aftermath profoundly impacted the trajectory of Esperanto and Esperantism in world history.  Although this is a rather banal statement on its own, it deserves historical explication.  After all, the world that made possible the hubris, the carnage, and the disillusionment of World War I was the very same that gave rise to Esperantism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Among the globally minded seekers of creative, yet varied paths forward for humanity in the interwar period, Esperantists occupy both a prominent and vibrant place.

Among students of Esperanto, few origins stories are as well known as the one L.L. Zamenhof used to explain his inspiration for devising his ingenious international auxiliary language.  Zamenhof was born and raised into an inescapably multiethnic, multiconfessional, and multilingual milieu.  Coming of age in imperial Russia’s pogrom-ridden Pale of Settlement, Zamenhof came to the conclusion that language diversity was “one of the great misfortunes of humanity.”[2]  Nearly twenty years after the Unua Libro’s publication, he reflected on his childhood and lamented, “I was taught that all people were brothers, and, meanwhile, in the street, in the square, everything at every step made me feel that people did not exist, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews, and so on.”  As Esther Schor has recently argued in her book, Bridge of Words, Zamenhof’s experience of his own Jewishness was pivotal to the creation of Esperanto and the movement Zamenhof launched.  In an age of anguished “Jewish questions” and shocking anti-Semitic violence, Zamenhof agonized over the precarity and indignities suffered by his fellow Jews.  While searching for a solution to European Jews’ plight, Zamenhof ended up pursuing a linguistic vehicle of achieving international brotherhood most broadly defined.[3]

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Esperanto ignited the imagination of pacifists, Catholics, occultists, engineers, freethinkers, vegetarians, scientists, businesspeople, feminists, ramblers, teachers, anti-nationalists, nationalists, and all manner of socialists.[4] These diverse Esperantists were not alone in their global-mindedness. Whether they were drawn to Esperanto or not, so-called “ordinary people” increasingly felt themselves to be citizens of the world in all manner of ways.  The variety of global encounters these “ordinary” internationalists experienced inevitably ran the gamut from traumatic to awkward to mundane to euphoric.  No doubt, these encounters shaped an array of globally-minded worldviews and lifestyles – some of them quite novel and many of which have been overlooked by historians.

The first “total war” of the twentieth century, World War I drove home for its contemporaries the realities of global interconnectedness ever more tangibly and painfully.  The pursuit of a universal science had resulted in novel technologies and commodities – among them the machine gun and the gas mask.  Young men who had never dreamed of leaving their native villages found themselves marching, and often dying, in foreign lands.  Generations of exploitative and violent empire-building gave rise, for example, to an army of French and Senegalese soldiers alike.  Marx’s ideas didn’t merely circulate the globe in multiple translations; in 1917 they inspired the Bolsheviks to seize power in what they would subsequently glorify as the Great October Socialist Revolution.  The international proletariat dreamed of making “Worldwide October” a reality. Meanwhile, more traditional statesmen would embark in 1920 on the new League of Nations, an international endeavor designed, ostensibly, to guarantee a peaceful future.  While plans for this new League of Nations were still being drafted in the immediate shadow of the war itself, the 1918 influenza pandemic felled ordinary people all over the world.  The conditions of global warfare proved quite conducive to the rapid and diffuse transmission of deadly virus.  All combined, the miles upon miles of trenches dug in the war were, in the end, enough to circle the globe at the equator.

And while Zamenhof himself died of heart failure in Warsaw in April 1917, Esperanto and Esperantism in some ways enjoyed a renewed life in the postwar period.  Antaŭ unu jarcento:  La granda milito kaj Esperanto drives home in ways both implicit and explicit why the war served to breathe new life into Esperanto.  The diary of Marius Paulet tells how he confronted the cries of women, children, and enemy combatants alike.  Paulet walked past countless dead bodies and was left, like so many of his generation, to contemplate the humanity of the manifold suffering that was being endured on all sides of the conflict – and for what purpose, to what end?   Robert Murray, meanwhile, managed not only to survive military service in the war, but also to later reflect on some of his wartime travels as days of beauty and pleasure, of horizons broadened and even enjoyed.  One finds in Murray’s descriptions of his “adventures in the Great War” a seemingly natural-born globalist – a young man who finds pleasure in travel and coin collecting and who is driven by a curiosity about other cultures, climates, and landscapes.

Picture2Internacia Bulteno, an official bulletin produced by the German government. At the time many governments used the language for propaganda purposes; the Germans’ efforts are the most well-known.


For those who survived the war, there was much to be learned from it.  As Humphrey Tonkin reminds us, war and revolution were the circumstances from which Tivadar Soros first fashioned himself into a plucky “moderna Robinzono.”  Fatefully, Soros emerged from his travails as a prisoner of war in Siberia as a man profoundly shaped by the survival instincts he honed under the desperate conditions of the Great War’s chaos and his personal triumph over it.  These survival instincts would make it possible not only for Soros to attend the founding meeting of the Union of Soviet Esperantists in Petrograd in 1921 and to support the flourishing of a new Esperanto literature in the interwar period, but also to survive the Nazi occupation of Hungary in World War II.

For many, the inequities of wartime service and wartime suffering only drove home more sharply the class hierarchies and class antagonisms that had already been deeply resented before the war.  The war inspired disillusionment not only with Enlightenment-inspired conceits about human rationality and History’s realization as Progress, but also with the capacity of monarchs, markets, or parliaments to protect, let alone uplift humanity in all its shapes, sizes, classes, and races. Many of those disillusioned by the war were thus at one and the same time compelled to give up on the “old world” and to embrace a new one – a different future for humankind that promised to dignify all men (and women), and not just the privileged few.

Fatefully, Eugene Lanti – then still Eugene Adam – would spend four years during the war serving as an ambulance driver and learning Esperanto.  As Ed Borsboom explains in his biography of Lanti, excerpted in this volume:  “Revenante de la fronto fine de novembro 1918, Eŭgeno Adam kunportis en sia valizo ankaŭ novajn spiritajn akiraĵojn.”[5]  Lanti was but one of millions worldwide whose faiths had been shaken during the war and who, in the face of the war’s shocking cataclysms, traded in their old beliefs and replaced them with new ones.  In writing the history of Esperanto, one cannot overestimate the importance of Lanti’s experience during the war. It inspired his relatively short-lived sympathy for the Bolsheviks, his much more enduring anti-nationalism, and ultimately the establishment, in 1921, of the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda under his lead.


An ambulance donated by the British esperantists to the Belgian Red Cross. It shows the close and intense relationships between the Esperanto movement and the Red Cross during the war.


For still others, the horrors of the war painfully underscored why they had been ideologically attracted to Esperanto long before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.  International solidarity and fraternity – not to mention an avowed commitment to pacifism – had inspired many Esperantists in the decades prior to the launch of the Great War.  While many Esperantists themselves were sent to the front, the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) in Geneva quickly stepped in to provide practical services in the aid of the worldwide Esperantist community.  As Miroslav Malovec shows, the UEA energetically managed the transfer of letters and parcels during the war.  In this way, it sought in the wartime context to uphold the humanitarian ideals of Esperanto that had attracted many to the movement in the first place.  Likewise, Javier Alcalde’s research highlights the wide range of ways that Esperantist associations – of all ideological stripes – sought to make practical humanitarian use of the international auxiliary language during the war.  Alcalde reminds us of Esperantists who deserve far more historical attention than has been afforded them so far – the feminist Esperantists in particular.  He also reminds us that many pacifist Esperantists struggled all throughout the war to continue their campaigns for peace.  They remained ideologically faithful to their cause even, in the early months of the war especially, when this was a cause that earned them society’s condemnation or, in the case of Esperantist conscientious objectors, jail terms.

As several of the contributors to Antaŭ unu jarcento:  La granda milito kaj Esperanto explicitly note, Esperantism enjoyed a renewed energy – or to be more precise, renewed energies – after the astonishingly senseless bloodshed of the Great War was brought to a close.  A historian could be forgiven for being tempted to ask, “how could this not be so?” instead of the more professional query, “why was this so?”  While reading this collection of essays and testimonies, I was reminded of a simple poster I found in the archives of the former Soviet Union.  Dated September 1919, the austere poster – all text and printed on cheap paper – declared:

“CITIZENS!  Study the international language ‘Esperanto.’ Every person must know the auxiliary international language ‘Esperanto’ in addition to his native language….. [Esperanto] will lead humanity to brotherhood and peace.  Having studied Esperanto, you will be able to communicate… with the whole world! …All hail Esperanto, the path to brotherhood and peace!”[6]

No doubt this document gives us an entrée for thinking about Esperanto’s new horizons in revolutionary Russia.  Yet it is also a part of the history of the aftermath of World War I, which more than a century ago ravaged millions of lives and revolutionized empires, nations, and the everyday people who lived, struggled, and hoped within (and across) their borders.


A meeting at the League of Nations to discuss the teaching of Esperanto at schools. The interwar period is often presented as the Golden Age of Esperanto.


Brigid O’Keeffe is an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College (CUNY) where she teaches modern Russian and Soviet history. She is the author of New Soviet Gypsies: Nationality, Performance, and Selfhood in the Early Soviet Union (University of Toronto Press, 2013). O’Keeffe is currently at work on a second book, Comrades Without Borders.  This book project explores Esperanto and internationalism in late imperial Russia and the interwar Soviet Union.  Its primary focus is on how, in an era of simultaneously anguished and hopeful globalization, ordinary people in tsarist Russia and the early Soviet Union used Esperanto to participate in global communities of varied ideological stripes.

[1] Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1975), 7-8.

[2] Ulrich Lins, Dangerous Language – Esperanto Under Hitler and Stalin, translated by Humphrey Tonkin (London:  Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 6 fn 12.

[3] Esther Schor, Bridge of Words:  Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language (New York:  Metropolitan Books, 2016), quote on 63.

[4] Roberto Garvia captures well the sheer diversity of early twentieth-century Europe’s Esperanto communities in his Esperanto and its Rivals: The Struggle for an International Language (Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), esp. chapters 12-15.

[5] Page 124 of the digital file Javier gave me.

[6] Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii [State Archive of the Russian Federation] f. 9550 o. 14 d. 19 l. 1.


For the Christmas tree

Season’s greetings to our readers, visitors, followers and all. This week we give you a few bonbons, crackers, gifts, whatever, to bring, we hope, a smile.


First, Karl Bergmann’s Wie der Feldgraue Spricht (1916) includes the observation that German soldiers had the same term as the British for French soldiers; while for Brits the term was ‘parley-voo’, for the Germans it was ‘parlewuh’, different spelling but practically the same pronunciation. It is always good to get evidence of such things, and here it is, from Knetschke Nr.2 by Georg Mühlen-Schulte, a satirical book of letters written as if from a soldier to his sweetheart; published in 1917, it shows the use of the word, alongside other Germanisations of French to match English attempts at French pronunciation – ‘Pardong Mosjöh’ and ‘Bong Mosjöh’.


Next, a couple of excerpts from Words and the First World War, which will be officially available from 28th December:


A soldier sent a postcard home to M. Wilson in Peterborough on 1 October 1914 with the words ‘Au revoir mon cher maman, Bert’, his eagerness to use French not hampered by correct word-endings. John Masefield describes his voyage to France: ‘everyone was sick but myself, spuage universal, so to speak . . .’. is practice is to be found in diaries as well: Cpl R. D. Doughty writes in his diary for 11th October 1916, ‘Gun Officer all day. Nothing much doing only trying to forget London. Tres Bon, I don’t think. On duty tonight.’ Walter Shuttleworth wrote on 22 August 1917, ‘Letter from Nellie Mason makes absurd statement that I write tales of woe. Trés [sic] fâché’, and Bombardier Spires wrote, ‘Haslers and I regularly visit the ‘Au Nouveau’ estaminet as the ale is not so bad and the oeufs were certainly good.’ The Pow-Wow 26 February 1915 has a pastiche of the Arabian Nights titled ‘Un Petit More-So’; the war environment was renewing a practice of dropping French words and phrases into English that has been a regular practice for over a thousand years.

In this environment of French being the primary ‘other language’ it was natural that French should be used as a lingua franca. 2nd Lt Cyril Drummond reported that during the Christmas truce in 1914 the conversation between Irish and German soldiers was in French, and Cpl A. E. Lee had a conversation with a wounded Bavarian sergeant in no man’s land – ‘we had a good old chat in schoolboy French’. French was the standard lingua franca in communication with the Turkish army, but a French/English mix was more common for the British army’s communications in France and Flanders – R. H. Mottram describes an elderly woman in Poperinghe saying ‘Monsieur, est-ce bombarde soon finish?’ The process of French people speaking English to arriving troops began at the port towns. Donald McNair reported residents of Cherbourg picking up and shouting the appropriate response to ‘Are we downhearted?’, and Lt Cecil Down reported ‘the Franco- Belgian woman’s war cry “Chocolat, good for English soldiers”’. French and Belgian children were often noted as picking up English: Graves documented children pimping their older sisters at Cherbourg, Douie heard children at Etaples selling ‘three apples – une pennee’, and A. M. Burrage remembered a small boy near Bavincourt selling newspapers shouting ‘Bloody good news for the Ingleese!’ Frequently, as here, the documentation shows transcribed accents, usually indicating that the accented English was understood: Henry Williamson describes French boys begging in English, saying ‘biskeets and booly biff ’, and a postcard in the series ‘Sketches of Tommy’s Life’ by Fergus Mackain shows French children shouting ‘Orangeez! Ah-pools! Shock-o-la!’ Adults’ speech is transcribed too, and taboo terms were of especial interest: Bombardier Spires noted in his diary that as he had lost his cap and had to wear his helmet, the local estaminet proprietor insisted on calling him ‘“M le Pisspot”’. Harold Harvey describes a local Frenchman saying, ‘Vat your vife say if she see you in ze water?’ British advertising copywriters naturally made use of this, regularly employing ‘ze’ for ‘the’, or extending the idea into applying recognisably French syntax to English, as in the Army Club cigarette advertisement, in which the ‘Sous Lieutenant Aviateur’ says ‘But since I am arrive here . . . I essay the golden tobacco of the English’: its counterpart lies in a British nurse saying to a French soldier,‘Tasy vous toot sweet or je vous donnerai la colleek’.



In studying the record of language during the conflict it is noticeable that considerably less attention was paid to language in the Navy and the Air Force. Fewer words moved from the naval experience to the Home Front and to the Army, though naval glossaries were printed in the press. Possible reasons are the lower numbers of personnel involved, their having less contact with the civilian population, and the traditional way that naval staff tended to live in or near port towns. Much naval terminology or slang, some of it very old, stayed within the Navy, e.g. ‘bracketing’ for range-finding by firing; ‘bloke’ for captain; ‘neaters’ for rum; ‘ord’ for Ordinary Seaman’; ‘snottie’ for midshipman; or indicated exclusion of the non-naval world, e.g. ‘soldier’ for an incompetent sailor – a ‘soldier’s wind’ was, according to Fraser and Gibbons, an easy wind that anyone could sail in. In a sample from Fraser and Gibbons comprising 25 per cent of the whole (pp. 90–170,‘ever since Adam was an oakum boy’ to ‘Ally Sloper’s Cavalry’) there are 696 entries, of which seventy-one are specified as naval and twenty-two as air force terms. Few naval terms have survived to the present in general speech: among them are ‘sweet Fanny Adams’, ‘a flap’, ‘a gadget’, ‘show a leg’, and ‘do you want jam on it?’, of which only ‘a flap’ originated during the war, as one of three stages of getting ready quickly – a buzz, a flap, and a panic – and most of them are seldom documented (for example ‘gashions’, meaning ‘an excess of anything’, ‘Jimmy the One’, denoting ‘the First Lieutenant on board ship’ and ‘Monkey’s Island’, meaning ‘the upper bridge of a warship’). In contrast to army slang, a few terms from naval slang entered common civilian speech without being recognised as such – ‘pongo’ for soldier, ‘pond’ for sea – while others were taken up by soldiers and after 1918 were more thought of as soldiers’ terms: ‘bully-beef’, ‘gadget’, ‘jam on it’, ‘flag- wagging’. ‘Erk’, originally a below decks term for a navy rating, was taken up by the air force as slang for a mechanic, and was retained into the Second World War. Given the horrific nature of actual sea-warfare it is strange that fewer imaginative or cynical terms were documented: ‘survivor’s leave’ was the term used by a sailor to describe his time ashore after being torpedoed. In four wartime newspaper articles on Naval slang only the last gives terms which were specific to the experience of the war – ‘hostilities’ for men who signed up for the duration, and ‘distasters’ for Royal Naval Divisions. Boyd Cable, a soldier-writer, used the term ‘jaunties’ to describe the Royal Naval Brigade, as recorded by Eric Partridge in A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, but he stated that he had not seen it anywhere other than in Cable’s The Old Contemptibles (1919). While much slang was shared between the army and the air force – ‘sausages’, ‘archie’, ‘wind up’ (and Boyd Cable, an infantryman, was probably the first to use in print the term ‘dog- fight’ for what had previously been an ‘air fight’ or ‘air duel’) – airmen quickly developed their own slang: ‘the British airman is an adept at inventing slang terms’, wrote the Birmingham Gazette, 20 August 1918 (p. 2). Partridge noted in his Dictionary of R.A.F. Slang (1945) that the Second World War RAF was still using a few words from the period 1914 to 1918, but ‘only or mainly by the men over forty or in new senses’; but in comparing the slangs of the three forces he noted that ‘the richest of all is that of the Army . . . the Navy’s slang, not quite so extensive as that of the Army . . . [and] the Air Force had a small body of slang’. A lot of R F C and R A F slang and particularly American air force slang was imaginative, cynical and long-lasting, though less disseminated to the civilian press at the time. Ernest Baker, initiating the correspondence on slang in The Athenaeum, mentioned a few terms of ‘what may be called “air-lingo”’ – ‘bank’ (to shell), ‘zoom’, ‘huff’ (kill), and ‘hickboo’ (air-raid), with the pre-war ‘bus’ for plane; elsewhere in the correspondence only Eric Verney mentioned ‘interesting Air-Force slang’, specifically ‘quirk’ and ‘spike-bozzle’ (‘quirk’ was an inexperienced airman, and ‘spike-bozzle’ meant to destroy completely), as well as ‘bus’, ‘drome’ and ‘joy-stick’. Fraser and Gibbons dedicated considerable space to air force slang, with terms such as ‘conked out’, ‘comic business’, ‘tabloid’ (a Sopwith plane with many good points, so concentrated goodness), ‘parasol’ (a monoplane, with wings above the pilot), many of which were taken up by Brophy and Partridge; but in his Slang To-day and Yesterday Partridge dedicated less than half a page to RAF slang.


And what so many children hoped for at Christmas. This comes from The Infants’ Magazine 1916.

Infants' Magazine 1917 our dear daddy from the front




A couple of knuts for the fruit bowl (our walnuts used to be dusted off and brought out every year):



And a positively frightful joke for your cracker, from the Fifth Gloucester Gazette:

  1. What is the difference between a 5th Gloucester and the Kaiser?
  2. One makes Will ill, the other ill will.

Oh dear. Happy Christmas, and may we raise a glass to readers everywhere. Cheero!





More food

As we approach the season of excess, an admonitory posting about food. Just over a year ago we published a post on the metaphor of feeding during the war, with particular reference to the idea of ‘feeding the guns’ ( ), but also noting the crossover between foodstuffs and weapons. A taster:

Certainly physical resemblance to foodstuffs made the crossover of terms a natural development: ‘pineapple’, ‘toffee-apple’, and ‘egg’ were names of bombs, with larger shells being called ‘plum puddings’ and ‘sausages’, while foods were given the names of projectiles – ‘dumdums’ (beans), ‘zeps in a cloud’ (sausages in mashed potato) & ‘hand grenades’ (meatballs). Early in the war jam tins were used for making bombs for throwing. Long after such rudimentary applications had been superseded American forces were calling German grenades ‘jam pots’; despite an apparent difference in appearance Jonathan Lighter notes (Slang of the AEF) that this referred to ‘evidently the potato masher’. Lighter’s glossary also gives ‘pepperbox’ for the machine gun and ‘shrapnel’ for grape-nuts. American soldiers became so used to soup that the field kitchen was called a ‘soup-gun’, corresponding to the German Gulaschkannone. According to Karl Bergmann in Wie der Feldgraue Spricht (1916) among the names for hand-grenades were ‘apples’ and ‘bananas’, and round French mines were called ‘Edamer Käse’ (edam cheese); and ‘wieder andere Minen sehen bei ihrem wackeligen fluge wie Wurste (Blutwurste) aus’ [other mines with their wiggly flight were called Wurst, or Blutwurst]. Bergmann gives also Knallbonbons for the fragments thrown from an exploding grenade ; Dechelette in L’Argot des Poilus (1918) has ‘bonbons’ as bombs carried by bombing planes.

Karl Bergmann, in Wie der Fedgraue Spricht (1916) also says that the names given to hand-grenades depended on their shape; these included frogs, crabs and turtles, but also bananas, and because they were made from tin, they were known as ‘Delikatessen’; and also known as ‘Knallbonbons’, not sweets but ‘Christmas crackers’. French mines, round in shape, were called Edamer Käse (Edam cheeses).

The list no doubt could be continued, as the culture of food was extensive, both for those who had liberal access to it and the many who did not. Obsession with food continued through the war as it became less available. This poem from the trench journal The Lead-Swinger was published on 18th September 1915.



This postcard, printed in Chicago, and sent from Winnetka Illinois the previous day, gets a bit frenetic; and note the non-standard spellings ‘aley’ and ‘champaigne’, and the inclusion of ‘turkey trot’ and ‘navy beans’, which would have been known to few British people.




Puns about food and the materiel and politics of war were used by all sides. The plate dates from the period before the general adoption of ‘Serbia’ rather than ‘Servia’, i.e. the autumn of 1914. The text is typical of the frivolous nature of some 1914 social propaganda.


1914 plate to cook a Geman


The German menu postcard below seems to match the frequently used caricature of the Kaiser wanting to eat the world, by offering the various countries ranged against Germany as ingredients. Compared to the French slang list, it roams between fierce and simple ‘marinated Frenchmen’ and the more conceptual ‘London worry’, with an improbable Belgian goulash in between; many ingredients are ‘gebraten’ (fried), but there’s a directness in the final statement that the bill would be paid by Nicholas, Poincaré and George, rather contrasting with the French, ‘now, if there’s anything else you want, you only have to ask’. The apportioned costs are worthy of query; what thinking lay behind pricing Engländer mit Sauerkohl lower than Gezwiebelte Russen?

2,2,2,a souvenirs fr Front

German war menu card 1915



Children’s Voices

It has become widely accepted that it is possible to help children overcome some of the trauma of war by helping them to write or draw about their experiences. During the First World War, verbal culture for adults was directed largely in the opposite direction, in finding ways to avoid talking about experiences; the treatments offered to shell-shock victims at Craiglockhart Hospital were very much swimming against the tide of ‘cure through suppression’. Just as the common experience of shell-shock symptoms was to exert control over them by ignoring them, so war slang is full of expressions used to avoid saying ‘kill’, ‘be wounded’ or ‘die’. Soldiers dreaded two direct questions: ‘what is it like?’ and ‘how many Germans have you killed?’, both of which gave little opportunity for evasion and replacement. Paul Fussell proposed famously that the war’s great contribution to English expression was irony, but a similar case could be made for the use of verbal avoidance strategies.


In the week leading up to a panel talk at the Museum of the Mind, featuring presentations by Christine Hallett, Jane Potter and Julian Walker, ‘He never Spoke About It’, the BBC series ‘Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain’ aired its second programme, on two bombs that fell in Hull in May 1941 (thoroughly recommended). Children were killed, and their deaths known and remembered by their siblings; but for one woman born after the war, there was no mention of loss to carry through life, no observance after the war of the death of three children in the bombed home that was demolished, rebuilt and reoccupied by the family. Another bombed home housed the family of Dockmaster Captain Albert Eastwood, who had survived the First World War, and who, when interviewed by a local paper about his experiences in the First World War, which included being torpedoed in the North Sea, said ‘My motto is not to talk’.


A year after the air raids in Hull children in five schools in the city were asked to write about their experiences of the bombings; James Greenhalgh, writing about the essays produced at Springburn Street School, points out ( ) that ‘Although no indication is given in the text, it is almost certain that the essays were produced as part of the operational research project known as ‘The Hull and Birmingham Survey’ for the wartime government.’ The essays pick out details, often seeming gory to later and adult minds: ‘there in front of me was a girl whose legs were severed from her body’; ‘[the plane] crashed about two miles away, where I saw after the burned bodies of German airmen, and also a black burned hand of one man, who had a gold ring on’; ‘… with his chest blown …’  The children’s resilience stands out: Irene Docherty, aged 11, felt nervous when the air raids first started but wrote that she ‘soon got used to it’.


This kind of reportage of the destroyed body takes us back to soldiers’ writing of the First World War, of images that could not be suppressed or forgotten, despite the prevailing mores. It is not dissimilar to the details picked out by children a generation earlier, asked to write about the Zeppelin raids in 1915: ‘people say that lumps of flesh were found sticking to the walls and posts’; ‘in Leather Lane there were a wife and two children killed of a policeman and he has gone silly’; ‘the bomb did not go off, so I went to get it, but burned my fingers. A copper came running round the corner and he took it’; ‘a picture over mother’s bed fell on her head, and on the baby. The baby went unconscious, and my mother shook her, and then she was alright’; and ‘people were running about like mad bulls and the windows were falling out like rain’. One writer combines awkwardly formal statements such as ‘lives are to be and can be saved’ with both reflected propaganda – ‘If that raid does not touch the hearts of our young men I do not know what will’ – and a note on his brother’s attempt to loot two bibles from a bombed house (‘they would have been good relics but a policeman took them away from him’). Children’s writing in the essays of both periods is inconsistent in style and content, as one would expect, moving swiftly between the use of well-used phrases and startlingly direct reporting of primary observations. At times it creates an unintentional humour  found often in children’s writing: ‘My mother rushed up into my room and carried me bodily down into the kitchen, where I was among friends. I said, “Why all this excitement?” They said, “The Zeppelins have come,” and I said, “Good gracious! You don’t say so.” Or ‘I was coming out of a cinema with my uncle and I noticed people were rushing to and fro in the streets. I went up to a policeman and said to him, “What does all this mean?” He replied gravely, “The Zeppelins have come.” “What?” I said, “Do you mean to tell me that those terrible monsters have come at last?” And he replied, briefly, “They have.”’


It was C W Kimmins, the Chief Inspector of the Education Department of the London County Council, who set up this exercise asking children attending five London schools in areas that had experienced air raids in September and October 1915, to ‘write as much as they could about the war in fifteen minutes’. The results from the children, 96% of whom had experienced one or both of the raids, suggested that girls of ten were more ‘bellicose’, those of eleven were more depressed, and that they resumed ‘normal interests’ at the age of twelve; boys became more ‘warlike’ at the age of eleven, ‘and though a period of depression follows upon this, it is much less marked than in the case of girls’. An analysis of 945 of the essays written after the Zeppelin raids, given by Kimmins in an address to the Child Study Society, reported in The Times 10 December 1915, indicated a wide lack of fear during the raids among children under ten (‘at nine the boys thoroughly enjoyed the raid, spending as much time as possible in the streets’), an excitement with the sound of guns and bombs, a sense of antagonism towards the raiders, but even from ‘girls of 13 … a general verdict that the raids would do good because they would show the people what war really was’, a remarkably mature, possibly cynical, but politically advanced attitude. As Susan Grayzel remarks, ‘the words of children highlighted the ability of these quintessential civilians to reject the panic-stricken terror that presaged the full-blown collapse of morale that the air raid was meant to unleash’. But was this what were the essays were for? Often our fascination with the writing and the selected details in this body of texts leads us to overlook this question. What was picked up in The Times was girls’ readiness to protect, and the often uncomplimentary portrayals of men, including fathers, frequently shown as cowardly or badly in need of a drink: one child writes ‘A man came into the publichouse and said, “Give me half a pint. If I am going to die I will die drunk.”’ If Kimmins had any initial purpose or analytical observations, The Times was less interested in these than in the ‘human story’, essentially, the list of anecdotes that the material provided.


Kimmins was clearly drawn by a respect for children’s minds – his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography refers to ‘his “retiring” and “happy go lucky” manner—he researched the therapeutic benefits of child laughter’; he later wrote a book on children’s dreams, which makes several references to how war experiences were reflected in dreaming, and he seems to have been a genuine listener to children – again, during the war he asked 6,700 children to write about their favourite films. Kimmins’ methodology was governed by care and interest, but the children who were asked to write, both in the First World War and in the Hull Blitz, seemed generally to be less distressed than stimulated by what they saw. There is no sense of the exercise being affected by the early ideas of trauma treatment through verbal expression that W H Rivers proposed from 1917 as a treatment for shell-shock – the ‘talking cure’ that was used for the most well-known shell-shock victims.


If it is unlikely that the purpose of the First World War essays was primarily therapeutic, we know that the Second World War essays were directed as a way of finding out the level of morale, a pragmatic kind of ‘Mass Observation’ exercise. The essays were effectively commissioned by Solly Zuckerman, a government scientist investigating the effects of blast, as part of a survey that also included 900 adults in Hull, for the purpose of assessing the effect on civilians of a sustained bombing campaign. The resulting document, ‘Hull. Effects Of Air Raids On Mental Stability. 1941’ proposed that morale was not affected by the level of bombing suffered in Hull, a view that was used to support the case for a much higher level of retaliatory civilian bombing, eventually directed at the people of Cologne, Hamburg and Dresden; Zuckerman himself supported the view that bombing of conurbations was wasteful compared to the bombing of industry, defences and communications. It would be good to know if there was an assessment of the value differentials given to the views of children against adults in this survey, and what the team hoped to learn from children. From the examples given it becomes apparent that the details that children verbalise in conditions of war may be very different from what adults verbalise; experience teaches us what to say when and where, and as adults we censor our thoughts and words in order to ‘carry on’. We do not know how children talked about the experience of air raids in the First World War, but it seems unlikely that they did not discuss, amongst themselves, if not with adults, the details of what they had seen: a kind of group therapy through expression perhaps, that became socially permissible to adults only long after 1945.