Refugee Love

In 1920 a popular novel was published in Antwerp, Refugeeliefde. Een volksroman uit het leven der Belgische Vluchtelingen in Engeland (‘Refugee love. A romance from the lives of the Belgian Refugees in England’). The author, Paul Van Opstal, used an alias and was in fact Floris Prims (1882-1954), who became the main archivist of the port city of Antwerp in 1925. Prior tot he war he was deeply involved in the development of christian socialism (along with friar Rutten for instance). During the war, he had become one of the most prominent proponents of the Catholic Belgian community in exile, along with Mgr. Dewachter and fellow priests or canons such as Rutten, Michiels, Ingelbeen and Callewaert. Prims had been close to Catholic circles around the figure of Mgr. De Wachter – who was the head of the Belgian Catholic community in exile – and Frans Van Cauwelaert, the mayor of Antwerp. Van Cauwelaert established the first Dutch newspaper in Flanders right before the war, but this appeared only after the war. An important financial backer of that newspaper was Dr. Alfons Van de Perre, who was the main funder of a Dutch newspaper for Belgian refugees, produced, printed and distributed in Britain, the Stem Uit België (‘the voice from Belgium’), a weekly (more or less) that initially appeared in two languages (as in: a mixture of, not in parallel). Floris Prims was its editor-in-chief. The editorial offices of the Stem Uit België -mostly on Russell Square, London – became a hub for finding one another in a strange land (a temporary lodging place even), for financial transactions and for booklets and leaflets alike.



Floris Prims


The above description of a network that found a temporary translation in exile in Britain is the setting in which the tireless Prims managed to write and publish a serial, called Refugeeliefde. Its serial publication is a bit of an enigma as the first real episode, in the issue of 17 January 1917, was chapter five already. The main language of Refugeeliefde was Dutch, in both varieties. The dialogue was mostly mimicking a more regional dialect, whereas the narrative attempted to be more proper Dutch. The first episode contained the sentence “Nurse, somebody is asking for you downstairs” which appeared to be a trick by a Belgian who pretended to be British. The English utterance is part of the overall plot there. The seventh instalment slightly moves away from that device of including an English sentence and Prims slowly moves to code switching at a smaller level: “Chère Hélène, Dommage dat ge gisteren niet hier waart! De bijoux zijn teruggevonden”, “entre paranthèse” and “ineens werd ze gewaar que la fixais”. Latin was used to denote the gravity of a situation, such as the last rites: “Domine, non sum dignus…”. If Prims found his voice by mixing French into the Dutch/Flemish, it as only going to be a matter of time before he would start building dialogue on English snippets. On 16 February 1917 this next level happened: “Moi ici, if you please, moi malade, if you please, tout est rempli. If you please… Doe maar open…”, a first occurrence of both languages of the community in exile and the host community. Despite the war dragging on and Belgian refugees no longer being the heroes they were in 1914, Prims still tied in the English hosts with their ‘hourrah’ feeling when they spotted a Belgian. Whether this perception triggered his next action is a bit uncertain, but he printed a request alongside the episode, seeking inspiration from stories by refugees themselves. The subsequent issue of the Stem Uit België printed the conclusion of the episode. With the next chapter of the serial appearing 23 February, ‘verpleegsters’ turned into ‘nursen’, an amalgamation of the English plural word and the Dutch plural ending. Another English bit of dialogue appeared ‘Next, please’. Peculiarly the story now had a translator running around, but one who never actually showed any work being done as all he relayed to his fellow refugees was printed in Dutch already. An element from daily refugee life for sure, but not fairly presented. Increasingly double code switching was included (‘de tea party par Mrs Dining’) or outright borrowing, either with quotation marks (een nieuwe “bracelet esclave”) or without (‘terug komend van den Registrar’). Latin was presented in conjunction with the main stages of Catholic patrimony (birth, confirmation, marriage, death): ‘Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium’.


The episode of 1 March 1917 concluded with an announcement that the “Bracelet Esclave” would become a serial in its own right from the subsequent week. Refugeeliefde itself continued well for another year (1 March 1918), and eventually got published in Belgium in 1920. “Bracelet Esclave” did not start until a fortnight after that, packed with code switching, much more so than its predecessor. Most of it being English. The friction along the linguistic divide that also ran through the Belgian community in exile in Britain (Flemish vs. Walloon) was omitted, instead focus lay with the language of the host community, like Dutch a Germanic language as well.



Doughboys and Sammies

Jonathon Green, ever generous in passing on information relevant to this project, alerts us to a column by Damon Runyon in the Pittsburgh Daily Post, 25 July 1917, concerning the origin and validity of the various nicknames given to American soldiers in the First World War These included ‘Sammies’, ‘Doughboys’, and ‘Teddies’, the last deriving from Theodore Roosevelt. Runyon’s historical perspective points out that in 1898, when the US was engaged in a colonial war against Spain, one name used was ‘Jonny Green’, though he did not know why; ‘the fact that the average reader probably never heard of the title as applied to our soldiers shows how successful was the attempt, yet it was frequently used in many newspapers for a spell’, a trope that applied equally during the First World War. The newspapers themselves were certainly aware of what was happening: the Scottish Daily Record for 12 June 1917 carried a syndicated story that stated ‘Our own troops arebound give their Transatlantic colleagues a nickname; but whether the one suggested will meet with their approval remains to seen.’ Other syndicated articles around the time reckoned that ‘it was generally agreed that the old name of the Regular infantryman, Doughboy, would fail to carry any conviction’. The journalists were said to be ‘casting around’ for a name, and ‘Sammy’, presumably from Uncle Sam, was their choice.‘Sammy’ is described by Runyon as a name that ‘evolved after profound thought’, noting that names that tend to stick are ‘extemporaneous’ – Runyon himself in The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown (1933), the basis of Guys and Dolls had some good ones: ‘The Sky’ (later Sky Masterson), Brandy Bottle Bates, Dobber. Punch on 13 June 1917 claimed to be proposing the name ‘Sammy’, though the Sheffield Evening Telegraph (12 March 1918) reckoned that ‘They [the soldiers] do not know what the word means’;  E. T. Cook in Literary Recreations, (1918),  noted that the New York Sun urged that the American soldier’s nickname ‘must be Teddy’. For Runyon the name ‘doughboy’ was the obvious name, and one that he believed was in wide use, and not resented. He had heard of the use of the term ‘wagon soldier’ for field artillerymen, and ‘flapper’ for aviators. ‘Doughboys’ is supposed to come from the shape of the buttons on the soldiers’ uniforms, or connected ideas – see Notes and Queries November 1918 carried a letter from ‘ATM’ supporting the idea of ‘doughboy’ as a name given by American cavalrymen to the infantry.


‘Tommy’ was resented by many British soldiers, as pointed out in Words and the First World War, who were more likely to address each other as ‘Bill’ or ‘chum’ (‘chum’ rather than ‘mate’); the lengthy article and glossary compiled by A Forbes Sieveking in Notes and Queries published on 29 October 1921 included ‘Erb. Substitute used when a man’s Christian name is not known’. Now more or less ignored in First World War mythology, ‘Erb appears frequently in wartime memoirs; Ian Hay has an ‘Erb who is killed while playing cards in the trenches (Carrying On – After the First Hundred Thousand, 1917); Ward Muir in Observations of an Orderly (1917) has “Same ol’ ‘Erb”; and Songs & Sonnets for England in War Time (1914) has both ‘Erbert and ‘Erb in the poem ‘The Vindication’ by Philip Bussy, which ends:


So, ‘Erb, my hero, march along and win :

The God of Wars stand by you !


The long influence of the trench journal

The influence of the First World War trench journal carried on into the Second World War, though regimental examples are less well-known. This example was created by an unlikely group – in FWW terms that is – conscientious objectors.


Flowery cover


Noticeable is the continuation of the word ‘conchie’, and apart from the introduction by Fenner Brockway, its contributions are anonymous, though Brockway identifies some contributors. Another similarity is the anti-authoritarian stance, The Flowery being a compilation from a total of 17 individual handmade magazines, one copy per issue, made secretly, each issue/copy being handwritten and bound using the thread issued to conchies in prison for the purpose of sewing mailbags. In this they echo some of the most precious FWW trench journals, those written by hand, just as much as they echo the barely-known ‘conchie trench journals’ of 1914-1919.

Brockway describes the making process, the writers and artists preparing their handwritten and hand-drawn copy out of sight, the sheets then being bound either in cells or inside a mailbag as it was supposed to be being worked on. It was as secretive as the comparable processes had been in the First World War.





Other similarities are the wordplay of the title, explained by Brockway; and the alphabet, familiar to all who have looked at trench journals for 1914-18.


Flowery alphabet


Borderlands and crossovers


Figure. Memorial stone at the entrance of Aquileia’s war cemetery.


The language of maps and their organisation of nations and regions over time can be very challenging to understand when touring the very areas or visiting specific sites that have had several cartographic adherences and different constitutional belongings in the past. If maps really help constitute the world they represent, then this is most certainly true for the larger area that gives onto the Gulf of Trieste: east of the Tagliamento river, south of the Friulian pre-Alps and west of current-day Postojna.

Some of it was part of Austria-Hungary, not least the maritime port of Trieste, whereas other parts belonged to Italy. But most areas shifted several times in the past 200/300 years. By 1920, however, large parts became Italian. Subsequently, thousands of Slavs, mainly Slovenes, had to endure forced Italianisation. Or simply left. The area’s history of the 1920s and 1930s is quite complicated in terms of fascist influences, Slovenian unrest, anti-fascist terrorism and anti-Semitic campaigns. The Second World War, British and American occupying forces along the Morgan Line after the war and the emergence of the nation state of Yugoslavia continued a much complicated understanding of this Adriatic corner of Europe.


Figure. The areas around the Gulf of Trieste and the Morgan Line (1945-1947). Zone A was managed by western forces, zone B by Yugoslav ones. (source: the dreaded W)


The area which was the most complicated after the Second World War (the tiny part of Zone B included in Zone A, the orange and yellow parts) coincide with the pre-First World War Austrian Littoral, a crown land of the Austrian Empire. It had previously belonged to the Republic of Venice. In this entire region the population nearly always consisted of the same main ethnic groups, even though prominence and presence shifted considerably between 1849, when the Austrian Littoral was established, and 1947, when a treaty sealed the border between Italy and Yugoslavia.

Part of the area are cities like Udine and Pordenone. Pordenone, in fact located beyond the Tagliamento, was an Austrian enclave until it was acquired by the Republic of Venice and after the Napoleonic period included in the Austrian possessions in Italy, only to become Italian again in 1866. Further to the east, Udine was the seat of the Italian High Command during the First World War and even called “Capitale della Guerra”. The city is now more aptly referred to as the Capital of War and Peace, the latter addition because resistance was strong after Germany had taken the city in 1917 (and also because the war-related title passed on to Padova in 1918).

Just south of Udine lies Comune di Santa Maria la Longa. Referred to as a resting place for troops during the First World War, the municipality also remembers the war in a more poetic manner: the renowned Italian war poet Guiseppe Ungaretti wrote three war poems while at la Longa. Still, as ever with claims to fame, Udine believes it is the prime location where Ungaretti’s war poetry started.[1] Slightly more to the east, north of Monfalcone, lies the Parco Ungaretti, in Sagrado. Il Parco Più Bello includes a villa, where soldiers produced graffiti on the walls between June and August 1916.[2] The memorial parc is itself very near to Redipuglia Memorial, the largest military memorial in Italy, housing the remains of over 100,000 Italians.


Figure. Monumento alla poesia “M’illumino d’immenso” (Giuseppe Ungaretti) di Santa Maria la Longa (source Tourism FVG)[3].


Further south of Udine is the fortified town of Palmanova (currently UNESCO World Heritage), which had been Austrian between 1815 and 1866, when it was returned to Italy. During the First World War, however, it became one of the most eastern outposts of Austria-Hungary. Just south of Palmanova lies Aquileia, a small city with a proud past as one of the main cities of the Roman Empire. Aquileia is one of the main archaeological sites in Italy and still attracts the crowds, although much less so that Rome, Ostia or Pompei. Just behind the Aquileia Cathedral, behind a 9th century campanile and apse, many soldiers of the First World War lie buried alongside the town’s saint, Hermagoras (who actually hails from Carinthia). The Cemetery of Heroes of Aquileia is noted site for several reasons, not least because it has maintained its original shape since 1915.


Figure. A cemetery of heroes, Aquileia.


The cemetery also holds the very first casualties of the wider region. Also, the Unknown Soldier buried at the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome left this cemetery in 1921. It was Don Celso Costantini, a local priest, who took care of providing a resting place to the fallen soldiers. A number of trees and plants were sent from Florence. Each modest tomb features an iron cross that is decorated with laurel and oak leaves. The crosses were created by sculptor Alberto Calligaris and donated by the association “Dante Alighieri”.


Figure. Oak and laurel leaves, Dulce et Decorum. Aquileia cemetery.


Each cross carries the name of the deceased and the words Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori. [4] Much has been written on Owen’s inclusion of the phrase in his war poetry and how the old lie had indeed been exposed in his drafts (end of 1917 / early 1918), but the line is above all one from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes. At Aquileia no critique can be sensed, this is the ancient ode to the fallen.

On the back of the Cathedral wall, facing the soldiers, there is a quote by the other key Italian war poet Gabriele d’Annunzio that equally echoes the Dulce et Decorum of early war graves.


Figure. Inscription by Gabriele d’Annunzio at the back of Aquileia Cathedral.


O Aquileia, donna di tristezza, sovrana di dolore tu serbi le primizie

della forza nei tumuli di zolle all’ombra dei cipressi pensierosi.

Custodisci nell’erba i morti primi, una vergin ità di sangue sacro

e quasi un rifiorire di martirio che rinnovella in te la melodia

La madre chiama e in te comincia ilo canto. Nel profondo di te

comincia il canto l’inno comincia degli imperituri quando il

divino calice s’inalza. Trema a tutti i viventi il cuore in petto

Il sacrificio arde fra l’alpe e il mare.

O Aquileia, woman of sadness, sovereign of pain, you keep the first traces of force

in the turf mounds in the shadow of thoughtful cypresses.

Safeguard the first dead in the grass, a virginity of sacred blood

and almost a flourishing of martyrdom that renews the melody in you.

The mother calls and in you begins singing. Deep within you begins the song,

the hymn of the everlasting begins when the sacred chalice is raised.

The heart in the chest trembles to all the living

The sacrifice burns between the Alps and the sea.[5]


However, the cemetery also had a statue of a woman-like person, clearly mourning the dead, but also looking pitying. No clear identity of the statue and its sculptor was obtained by the time of writing/publishing online, but the cemetery and the statue sensibly echoed the language that supersedes the language of maps and territorial gain.


BandC7Figure. Mourning statues, Aquileia / Vladslo.


More on La Grande Guerra in Fruili-Venezia-Guilia via an interactive map on







[5] Draft translation, with many imperfections.

DV & WP, and willy nilly

Further to the last blog, Amanda Laugesen sends in this excerpt from a humorous letter published in an Australian newspaper in 1918:

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Typical Australian linguistic inventiveness produced this the year after the Armistice, from the Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser, 17 May 1919:

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‘Deo volente’ appears from time to time in war memoirs – this is from Some War Impressions by Jeffery Farnol (1918):

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Farnol went on to become a prolific novelist, with his own turn of language, giving rise to A glossary of Farnolese : defining archaic, cant, colloquial, slang, Gypsy/Romany, Scottish/Gaelic, unusual and vernacular words used by Jeffery Farnol in his novels and short stories, compiled by William E. Forland and published in 2009.

Searches for ‘D V and WP’ under various disguises have brought nothing, but there is another Latin phrase, now more or less disappeared, which does occasionally come up – nolens volens.

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Lofty, and worthy, sentiments from William Ewing, Chaplain to the Forces, in From Gallipoli to Baghdad (1917). ‘Nolens volens’ means ‘whether you deny it or no’; actually it is usually translated backwards as ‘whether a person wants or likes something or not’ (otherwise ‘will ye or nill ye’, which became ‘willy-nilly’, now sadly changing its meaning to ‘confusedly’, not altogether unaptly). ‘Drouthy’ by the way is a Scots dialect word for ‘thirsty’, connected to ‘drought’.

Are there any other Latin tags that were in use in the war that have fallen out of use? Here is a notable use of ‘A fortiori’, used to mean ‘even more so’, in Elmer Southard’s extensive study of the medical literature on shell-shock, Shell-shock and Other Neuropsychiatric Problems, presented in five hundred and eighty-nine case histories (1919).

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Not at all out of use, but rare to see on a postcard, is the rather fatalistic dum spiro spero (while I breathe I hope) on a postcard from 1915.

Dum Spiro b

Dum Spiro a


The only possible Ed Rump recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records is Private Edward Rump, of the East Kent Regiment, died aged 20 on 28 October 1918, tragically close to the Armistice; the combination of an education level including knowledge of Latin and a marriage age of 17 would be unlikely at this time, so this Ed Rump may indeed have survived to be with his Seaside Rose again.







Sealed with a Kiss, Part 2

Chez Nos Alliés Britanniques (With our British Allies in the Field) was written by C. J. Fernand-Laurent, a French interpreter attached to the British Expeditionary Force, and published in 1917; a very useful fund of information about the logistics of serving in the field in this role, the book also carries many observations on soldiers’ language, much of it with an endearing sense of humour and irony.


The following extract considers a previously noted sealing text put on soldiers’ letters, which was questioned by La Vie Parisienne, on account of the fact that letters were actually sealed by censors; and goes on to discuss a now less well-known set of letters.


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     When Tommy has completed his letter, he does not sign it immediately. He lays down his hand for a moment, then, amorously, sets out a double row of little crosses. A kiss for each cross; there’s one for papa, one for mama, for the kiddies …


      A new pose. Then, on the back of the envelope Tommy writes these initials, in capitals and looking mysterious: S. W. A. K.  Don’t try to find out what it means.  S. W. A. K. means Sealed With A Kiss. Charming little childhood things from men who at any moment will be killed as heroes.


      Tommy, moreover, is particularly fond of these intimate abbreviations. Thus, if, in his epistle, he alludes to a possible relocation he never fails to add with wise prudence: D.V. and W.P., ​​an Anglo-Latin combination, which for the initiates means: God willing and weather permitting. Now this explanation was not I believe given by the Tommies; I really do believe that in effect these brave men use this traditional formula with no understanding of what it means.


Earlier uses of ‘DV and WP’ have proved difficult to trace, but Fernand-Laurent clearly believed it to be a traditional term by the time he heard it. Has anyone come across ‘DV and WP’ in a First World War letter?

Captain Keyworth revisited

The last blog examined Easy Serbian for our Men Abroad, published in 1915, and written by Captain J S Keyworth, who published a number of titles in this format; we are now able to compare this with three others, Easy French for our Men Abroad, Easy German for our Men Abroad and Easy Italian for our Men Abroad.


Immediately noticeable is that the Serbian phrasebook differs from the French, Italian and German ones right on page 1, adding ‘up there’, ‘down there’ and ‘here’, and later ‘railway’ and ‘latrine’ to the ‘where is the …?’ questions. The Serbian has ‘forward’ and ‘back’, which the others omit, and the Serbian generally offers more phrases – ‘very far’, ‘the garden’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, which do not appear in the others.


It, Fr Ger, p1


The differences are curious: the Serbian, French and German move from requests for wine, beer, brandy (plum-brandy for Serbian), tea and coffee, to tobacco, cigar, cigarettes, matches, pipe, cigarette papers, and then to paper, envelope, ink, etc, while the Italian phrasebook asks for these much earlier, straight after the meat foods: tyurkey, pork, butter, honey, pudding, milk, wine, brandy, tea, tobacco, and then paper, blotting paper, cotton, salt, pepper, meat, soup, jam, etc The Italian list of groceries requested later runs: eggs, potatoes, cabbages, sausages, vegetables, biscuits, matches, cigarette paper, fruit, a cauliflower, an onion, a cigar, pencil, newspaper, book, bath, glass, knife. It is all rather random.


Pages 6 and 7 in all texts runs from animals, to persons, to clothing, to ‘a few military terms’. The German, Italian and French animals (have you a …?) run – horse, mule, donkey, cow, sheep, goat, pig, dog, cat, fish, bird. The Serbian substitutes ‘donkey’ with ‘ox’, omits ‘fish’, and ends with the phrase ‘we have not got …’, a reflection of awareness of shortage in Serbia, perhaps. The ‘Persons’ section in the French and Italian books ask ‘Have you seen …?’ with a list of persons and relations, while the German gives the phrase ‘Call …’ for all persons; the Serbian text begins with ‘Have you seen …?’, which is replaced with ‘That is my …’  The German and French lists of clothes run to eight, the Italian to seven, and the Serbian to 13, including ‘knickers’, ‘drawers’, ‘handkerchief’, ‘waistcoat’ and ‘top-boots’.


The ‘few military terms’ are similar in the French, Italian and German texts, with the exception that the Italian text has ‘Italians’ instead of ‘Belgians’ in the list of five nationalities. The Serbian text differs again, in beginning with the words for ‘The war’ and ‘a soldier’, and perhaps obviously the list of nationalities runs to Poles, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, Roumanians, Montenegrins, Albanians, Turks, Bosnians, Italians, Hungarians and Austrians.


Most noticeable is that the Serbian phrasebook has three pages more than the others, though this is not due to filling out across all fields – the French has 30 terms for the ‘In hospital’ section while the Serbian has 23. Where the Serbian extends is in the ‘Simple phrases’ section, conjugating various tenses for ‘to be’ and ‘to have’, and including ‘I shall have to’, ‘it pleases me’, ‘A good journey!’, ‘without me’ and ‘what is this called?’


How to interpret these? The French and German texts were produced in 1914, the Italian possibly in early 1915, and the Serbian in 1915; was there felt to be a need for a fuller list of texts, or for phrasebooks that more accurately reflected the nature of the cultures being addressed? The presence of plum-brandy and paprika and mince would seem to argue so.