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.

Easy Serbian


Captain Keyworth was a talented linguist, contributing as joint or sole author, mostly sole, to at least six phrasebooks published during the First World War; lest anyone suspect that his was an invented name, J S Keyworth contributed after the war to a series of language books for travellers: Dutch, Spanish, Danish and Italian for the Traveller, which were also translated into the recipient languages. We would like to hear more of Captain Keyworth, as the Dictionary of National Biography does not have an entry on him. Clearly one of those successfully supplying the need for phrasebooks, he was rewarded with two editions each of his Easy French  and Easy German For Our Men Abroad … in 1914.




The title Easy … for our men abroad and How to Pronounce it was applied across all six titles shown on the back cover, though we have yet to check if the same set of words was translated each time (more on this later) – the food list does have plum brandy and paprika and mince, which might be harder to find in France. Most noticeable is the instant entrance into the tumult of conflict – Where are our men? Over there. Up there. Down there. Here. I don’t know. Impressive too is the addressing of the reality of war: He is wounded, dead, unconscious, killed. And the sense of a meaningful and useful conversation: Have you seen the woman? That is my mother. The military terms include an extended list of the national groupings to be found in the Balkan theatre of war – Bosnians, Montenegrins, Roumanians [contemporary spelling], Greeks, but the all-important ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Speak slowly’ and ‘I don’t speak Serbian’ are quite hard to find – why are these phrases not right at the beginning?


Keyworth was also smart in using the quote from the Daily Mail, also appearing on the French edition, so presumably across all titles; the mention of the Red Cross would have appealed to VADs and others serving abroad. I am going to take the liberty here of pasting in a quote from another blog, which discusses the French version, https://variblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/easy-french-for-our-men-abroad-and-how-to-pronounce-it/


“The need for supplementing the average Briton’s extremely fragmentary knowledge of French and German- has led to the formation of language classes for recruits of the new army, and many pocket dictionaries and conversation manuals have been published from time to time for the use of the men already in the field. Amongst the latter it would be difficult to find anything better than Captain Keyworth’s Easy French and Easy German. Small enough to be carried inside an ordinary pocket-book, these leaflets contain phrases and words most likely to be required by the soldier…” – The British Medical Journal, February 13, 1915.


The source of this review also merits exploration. Next blog. Nevill Forbes was one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated Russian language scholars in Britain; his Russian Grammar, first published in 1914, was edited for its third edition in 1990.


Sadly, as a result of a suddenly changing work situation, we are not currently able to create a new blog every week. For the present we will be changing to a bi-monthly blog, on the first and third Monday of each month; doing this will mean being able to publish a meaningful and useful rather than a holding blog.


With best wishes to all our followers and readers.


Arf a mo cards copy


Having a go

In his book A Minstrel in France in which he describes his time in France giving concerts to the troops, the Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder freely discusses his emotional response to the death of his son Captain John Lauder. John Lauder is a constant presence in the book, leading his father onward to support the troops, not just Scottish ones, but Canadians, English, and others. Lauder reports conversations with his son about the fighting, he quotes from his letters and tells stories of John’s childhood. The Lauder family were as distressed as any other family by the news of their son’s death, but Lauder is something of a rarity in putting into print his emotions and the possibility of expressing them in action.


    And when I thought of the Germans who had killed my boy a terrible and savage hatred swept me, and I longed to go out there and kill with my bare hands until I had avenged him or they had killed me too. (Chapter 8)

    It was all I could do, I tell you, to restrain myself – to check that wild, almost ungovernable impulse to rush to the guns and grapple with them myself – myself fire them at the men who had killed my boy. I wanted to fight! I wanted to fight with my two hands – to tear and rend, and have the consciousness that I flash back like a telegraph message from my satiated hands to my eager brain that was spurring me on. (Chapter 15

And following lunch on a visit to a Canadian gun emplacement there comes the opportunity to actually realise the deep desire for revenge:


   And so we sat and talked, as we smoked, after the meal, until the Major rose, at last, and invited me to walk around the battery again with him. I could ask questions now, having seen the men at work, and he explained many things I wanted to know – and which Fritz would like to know, too, to this day! But above all I was fascinated by the work of the gunners. I kept trying, in my mind’s eye, to follow the course of the shells that were dispatched so calmly upon their errands of destruction. My imagination played with the thought of what they were doing at the other end of their swift voyage through the air. I pictured the havoc that must be wrought when one made a clean hit.

   And, suddenly, I was swept by that same almost irresistible desire to be fighting myself that had come over me when I had seen the other battery. If I could only play my part! If I could fire even a single shot – if I, with my own hands, could do that much against those who had killed my boy! And then, incredulously, I heard the words in my ear. It was the Major.

   “Would you like to try a shot, Harry?” he asked me.

   Would I? I stared at him. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was as if he had read my thoughts. I gasped out some sort of an affirmative. My blood was boiling at the very thought, and the sweat started from my pores.

   “All right – nothing easier!” said the Major, smiling. “I had an idea you were wanting to take a hand, Harry.”

   He led me toward one of the guns, where the sweating crew was especially active, as it seemed to me. They grinned at me as they saw me coming.

   “Here’s old Harry Lauder come to take a crack at them himself,” I heard one man say to another.

   “Good for him! The more the merrier!” answered his mate. He was an American – would ye no’ know it from his speech?

   I was trembling with eagerness. I wondered if my shot would tell. I tried to visualize its consequences. It might strike some vital spot. It might kill some man whose life was of the utmost value to the enemy.

   It might – it might do anything! And I knew that my shot would be watched; Normabell, sitting up there on the Pimple in his little observatory, would watch it, as he did all of that battery’s shots. Would he make a report?

   Everything was made ready. The gun recoiled from the previous shot; swiftly it was swabbed out. A new shell was handed up; I looked it over tenderly. That was my shell! I watched the men as they placed it and saw it disappear with a jerk. Then came the swift sighting of the gun, the almost imperceptible corrections of elevation and position.

   They showed me my place. After all, it was the simplest of matters to fire even the biggest of guns. I had but to pull a lever. All morning I had been watching men do that. I knew it was but a perfunctory act. But I could not feel that! I was thrilled and excited as I had never been in all my life before.

   “All ready! Fire!”

   The order rang in my ears. And I pulled the lever, as hard as I could. The great gun sprang into life as I moved the lever. I heard the roar of the explosion, and it seemed to me that it was a louder bark than any gun I had heard had given! It was not, of course, and so, down in my heart, I knew. There was no shade of variation between that shot and all the others that had been fired. But it pleased me to think so – it pleases me, sometimes, to think so even now. Just as it pleases me to think that that long snouted engine of war propelled that shell, under my guiding hand, with unwonted accuracy and effectiveness! Perhaps I was childish, to feel as I did; indeed, I have no doubt that that was so. But I dinna care!

   There was no report by telephone from Normabell [Major Normabell, his previous guide] about that particular shot; I hung about a while, by the telephone listeners, hoping one would come. And it disappointed me that no attention was paid to that shot.

   “Probably simply means it went home,” said Godfrey. “A shot that acts just as it should doesn’t get reported.”

   But I was disappointed, just the same. And yet the sensation is one I shall never forget, and I shall never cease to be glad that the major gave me my chance. The most thrilling moment was that of the recoil of the great gun. I felt exactly as one does when one dives into deep water from a considerable height.

   “Good work, Harry!” said the Major, warmly, when I had stepped down. “I’ll wager you wiped out a bit of the German trenches with that shot! I think I’ll draft you and keep you here as a gunner!”

   And the officers and men all spoke in the same way, smiling as they did so. But I hae me doots! I’d like to think I did real damage with my one shot, but I’m afraid my shell was just one of those that turned up a bit of dirt and made one of those small brown eruptions I had seen rising on all sides along the German lines as I had sat and smoked my pipe with Normabell earlier in the day.

  “Well, anyway,” I said, exultingly, “that’s that! I hope I got two for my one, at least!”

   But my exultation did not last long. I reflected upon the inscrutability of war and of this deadly fighting that was going on all about me. How casual a matter was this sending out of a shell that could, in a flash of time, obliterate all that lived in a wide circle about where it chanced to strike! The pulling of a lever – that was all that I had done! And at any moment a shell some German gunner had sent winging its way through the air in precisely that same, casual fashion might come tearing into this quiet nook, guided by some chance, lucky for him, and wipe out the Major, and all the pleasant boys with whom I had broken bread just now, and the sweating gunners who had cheered me on as I fired my shot!

(Chapter 17)


And with that Harry proceeds to give a concert, using an enormous shell crater as a theatre. It was a gruelling tour, with as many as six concerts a day, and up to 1,200 in the audience; and it included a trip to his son’s grave.


It is interesting to compare this with the poem by Apollinaire Peu de Chose, discussed in a blog in April 2016, describing the distancing effect of the artillery war and the randomness and ‘inscrutability’ of this kind of conflict, the breakdown of cause and effect. And interesting also to see Lauder teetering on the edge of the idea of the futility of it all and the realisation that the intended victims of his shot would be so similar to his son; though this is perhaps the wishful thinking of a modern reader – there is some frustration that his reaction is not that what he has done is the same kind of thing that some one has done to his son, but a reversal of that direction, that what he has just done might have a response from the German guns, that someone might do the same to him. The tit-for-tat becomes a source of fear rather than reflection.


There are many ways this story, this action, could be read: as artillery franc-tireur activity, or artillery warfare as part of total war in which civilian munitions workers were as much part of the conflict as a civilian firing a gun (is there something mocking in the soldier’s comment on civilian involvement in ‘“Here’s old Harry Lauder come to take a crack at them himself,” I heard one man say to another.’?), as the privileging of the socially powerful, as part of Lauder’s war effort as a metonym for the revenge desire felt by so many bereaved families (Lauder’s book was published in 1918). It can be compared with two other texts about civilian involvement in artillery firing.


This from Arnold Bennett’s Over There: War Scenes on the Western Front (1915), in which Bennett writes as a journalist embedded with the French Army; in this section he and his party are being shown ‘the illustrious “seventy-five”’:


   He is perfectly easy to see when you approach him from behind, but get twenty yards in front of him and he is absolutely undiscoverable. Viewed from the sky he is part of the forest. Viewed from behind, he is perceived to be in a wooden hut with rafters, in which you can just stand upright. We beheld the working of the gun, by two men, and we beheld the different sorts of shell in their delved compartments. But this was not enough for us. We ventured to suggest that it would be proper to try to kill a few Germans for our amusement. The request was instantly granted.

   “Time for 4,300 metres,” said the Lieutenant quickly and sternly, and a soldier manipulated the obus.

   It was done. It was done with disconcerting rapidity. The shell was put into its place. A soldier pulled a string. Bang! A neat, clean, not too loud bang! The messenger had gone invisibly forth. The prettiest part of the affair was the recoil and automatic swinging back of the gun. Lest the first shell should have failed in its mission, the Commandant ordered a second one to be sent, and this time the two artillerymen sat in seats attached on either side to the gun itself. The “seventy-five” was enthusiastically praised by every officer present. He is beloved like a favourite sporting dog, and with cause. (pp45-6)


Well, certain phrases jump out: ‘this was not enough for us’, ‘to try to kill a few Germans for our amusement’, ‘The prettiest part of the affair’. But also how the process is likened to hunting, with the analogy of the gun as sporting dog.


Finally, an anonymous diary by a nurse on the retreat eastwards from Antwerp in 1914; at one point in November she finds herself near a gun emplacement: ‘The Major looked down at me and said, “Would you like to have a shot at the Boches?” and I said “Rather!”’

(A War Nurse’s Diary, (1918), p. 59)





Mutiny. Or not

Ahead of William Butler’s presentation at the East London branch of the Western Front Association (18 May), on ‘The British Army, Discipline, and the Demobilisation strikes of 1919’, we offer this on the use or avoidance of the term ‘mutiny’, from Words and the First World War.


Though grousing was seen as a safety-valve against a breakdown in discipline, major difficulties did arise, and required a renegotiation of language. ‘Mutiny’ was what happened in Russia, Germany or Austria; it did not happen to allies on whom you were totally dependent, even the French. ‘Riots’ and ‘disturbances’ happened, but were explainable, if not excusable, on the grounds that they were about the living conditions of ‘our boys’ (and the Etaples incidents were ultimately blamed on the MPs and the ‘canaries’); during the war ‘mutiny’ existed only as a potential, for example in the form of words used to prosecute and fine Sylvia Pankhurst in November 1918, for ‘attempting to cause mutiny, sedition or dissatisfaction’ (Grantham Journal, 2 November 1918, p. 7). The actions at Etaples and Boulogne in September 1917 and at Le Havre in December 1918 were conspicuously under-reported, though major disturbances which took place on home territory could not be ignored. In March 1919 Canadian soldiers at Kinmel Camp, near Rhyl, awaiting demobilisation rioted, resulting in the deaths of five men, with injuries to a further twenty-one (Lancashire Daily Post, 7 March 1919, p. 5) – newspaper reports gave varying figures for the casualties. The activities here were reported as ‘disturbances’ (Western Times, 7 March 1919, p. 12), ‘Camp Riot’ (Lancashire Daily Post, 8 March 1919, p. 2) and ‘Rioting’ (Essex Newsman, 8 March 1919, p. 1). The Lancashire Daily Post reported that, according to the camp commandant Col M. A. Colquhun, one man had ‘raised the red flag in an attempt to introduce Bolshevism’, while the Western Timesreported that ‘a cry, “Come on Bolsheviks” was raised by Canadian soldiers, said to be Russian’. Yet the headlines for the Western Times article include the innocuous sounding ‘Canadian Troops Get Out of Hand’.

The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that when the offenders were brought to court martial ‘the charges were mutiny and failure to suppress mutiny’ (Derby Daily Telegraph, 16 April 1919, p. 3). It appears that ‘mutiny’ could be used when suppressing and punishing this kind of action, but there was an effort not to raise the importance of protest while it was happening by giving it the title of ‘mutiny’. But at the same time such a loaded term could be treated light- heartedly: in November 1918 the Yorkshire Evening Post reported the story of a Canadian battalion mascot that had been sold for beer-money, provoking a strike by some of the men. The article reports: ‘It caused the only mutiny in the story of the battalion’ (Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 November 1918, p. 4). Mild though this might be, this incident did involve an action taken against authority; in ‘Another Camp Riot’, an article in the Sunderland Daily Echo reported on fighting between black soldiers and white soldiers awaiting travel to America and the Caribbean, following an outbreak of insults and retaliation, which had been largely controlled by fellow-soldiers (Sunderland Daily Echo, 17 April 1920, p. 6). The newspaper reported that ‘nothing very serious happened’, though the word ‘riot’ was used, just at it had been for the incident at Kinmel Camp.

Over the past hundred years some debate has taken place, not explicitly, as to whether the incidents at Etaples in September 1917 should be called ‘mutinies’, ‘riots’ or ‘disturbances’; in this case protests about an arrest in the training camp led to a fight with military police, an accidental death, a large-scale breakout from the camp, drunkenness, fighting, a court martial and one execution. In 1930 the Manchester Guardian carried an article about ‘The Mutiny at Etaples’ (Manchester Guardian, 13 February 1930), while in 1982 Lt Col C. E. Carrington had no hesitation in referring to ‘the Etaples mutiny’ (Letter to e Times, 11 March 1982). For Jay Winter the incident ‘that has been described as a mutiny was nothing of the sort’, and it is ‘stretching the term considerably to call this set of events a mutiny at all’ (Winter, J, The Experience of World War I, (Oxford: Equinox, 1988), p. 159); for Dan Todman in his discussion of the 1986 BBC production of The Monocled Mutineer, based on the events, the word ‘mutiny’ appears both within quotation marks and with none (Todman, D, The Great War, pp. 336, 114).

While strikers during the war were seen as working against the war effort, and were deeply resented by soldiers, terms of mutiny were not applied to them, nor to striking workers a er the war. For these situations metaphors of conflict were applied: one union compared an employers’ federation pamphlet to ‘the most dangerous of the poison gases used in the late war’ (Amalgamated Engineering Union quoted in B. Waites, A Class Society at War, (Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987), p. 72), while Lloyd George’s secretary Philip Kerr called for ‘a manifestation of the trench spirit’ in requiring trades unions to accept lower pay (Ibid., p. 73). ‘Mutiny’ seems to have been a taboo word, something that could not exist within the British forces: its seriousness was debased in the Navy, where the word was used as a slang term for rum or grog.