Easter quiz

The answers to last week’s quiz:

1. A. The First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay

B. The Patriot’s Progress by Henry Williamson

C. In Parenthesis by David Jones

2. Aeroplanes dropped eggs, mine-layers laid them.

3. HMS Achilles. He would have been very cross, but it’s not a bad description of his temper.

4. A First World War linguistic urban myth, widely repeated: a Scottish soldier in France asks for ‘twa oofs’, and is pleasantly surprised when he is given three; until he has to pay for them.

5. It’s a grenade.

6. ‘Les bombes jetées au temps de Pâques’ (René Delcourt, Expressions d’Argot Allemand et Autrichien).

7. In early 1918 there was a tank battle tactic that involved tanks being hidden and brought to bear on the flank or rear of the enemy. This strategy was described by tank commander as tanks emerging ‘from their holes like savage rabbits’.

8. The ‘Herbaceous Borders’ were a group of Royal Navy sloops named after flowers: Fraser and Gibbons give :HMS Aster, Begonia, Candytuft, Carnation, Geranium, Lobelia, Lupin, Penstemon, and Foxglove; but Wikipedia prefers Azalea, Begonia, Camellia, Carnation, Clematis, Heliotrope, Jessamine, Myrtle, Narcissus, Peony, Snowdrop and Zinnia, noting they were also called the Cabbage Class.

9. The eagle on the cap-badge.

10. It seems to be a large gun/egg handled by rabbits, blowing out German Easter wishes. Honest.


Easter card a

Easter card b



Easter Egg Hunt

The eggs are here, and we award a virtual egg for our Easter quiz. Answers next week.

1. Where you can find these signs for estaminets?






B             20190415_160725

C                    20190415_160921


2. According to Brophy and Partridge, what was the difference between ‘dropping eggs’ and ‘laying eggs’?

3. ‘Egg Shells’ was the name of which Royal Navy ship, which took part in the sinking of the German auxiliary cruiser Leopard?

4. Why was the Scottish soldier delighted when he tried to buy two eggs?

5. According to Brophy and Partridge, an ‘egg’ was not a grenade, but a bomb; but what was an ‘egg bomb’?

6. What were ‘Ostereier’?

7. What were ‘savage rabbits’?

8. What were the ‘Herbaceous Borders’?

9. What did American soldiers call by the name ‘the chicken’?

10. Can you make out what is going on here?



Who am I talking to? And what is he saying?

Heimburger and Horne’s introduction to the reprint of F Sulzberger’s Deutsch-Französischer Soldaten-Sprachfuhrer (1916), excitably titled Si vous mentez vous serez fusillé after one of its more notable translated statements, gives an important reference to Eugène Plumon’s 1914 phrasebook Vade-Mecum for the use of Officers and Interpreters in the Present Campaign. The title alone should alert us to the range of its burden, immediately referencing Latin as a lingua franca, a term which itself calls up many questions. Heimburger and Horne state ‘Eugène Plumon, officier interprète français auprès du corps expéditionnaire britannique en France, a publié une liste de termes équivalents concernant les aspects militaire et technique de la guerre et le fonctionnement des deux armées alliées dès l’automne 1914. Les sujets traités touchent aux besoins quotidiens d’une armée en campagne don’t la satisfaction depend d’une population civile présumée bienveillante (lodgement, transports, ravitaillement) et à l’impératif d’une collaboration opérationelle avec une armée amie.’  [Eugène Plumon, French interpreter with the British Expeditionary Force in France, published a list of equivalent terms concerning the military and technical aspects of the war and the operation of the two allied armies in the autumn of 1914. The subjects dealt with the day-to-day operations of an army in the field in which satisfactory outcomes depend on a civil population presumed to be benevolent (accommodation, transport, supplies) and on the imperative of operational collaboration with a friendly army.]


Vade Mecum


The assumption then is that this is a book for French interpreters working with British forces, in which the French-speaker would need to be able to speak to the Anglophone, and to be able to understand what the Anglophone is saying. Thus we would expect to see a pattern of statements and questions being presented first in French and then in English, while the expected answers (rarely presented in phrasebooks at this time) would follow the reverse pattern.  By the time of the third edition (with 12,000 copies printed to date), whose prefatory note is dated 15 March 1915, the scope of the book had widened considerably. The advertising text preceding the title page is presented in French, and advertises an English-Flemish Military Guide for the Present Campaign, and Guide des Armées Alliées en Allemagne. The preface to the second edition states that the expressions given ‘follow the order in which they will be needed by the Interpreter, from the landing of the troops to which he is attached to the end of the campaign’. Interesting then that the book, targeted at the French interpreter, should have an English title. The preface to the third edition, building on the success of the first two editions, proposes that the text ‘will be useful, not only to the Interpreters, but even to the Officers of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces’.


VdMc pref

VdMc 07, 08


VdMc 10.11

On the assumption that the French Interpreter will have a very good command of English, the first pages of information, concerning badges and marks of rank in the BEF, are given in English, until the third page, when there is a heading in French, and the fourth page, concerning Indian soldiers, again with headings in French. This is followed by several pages of abbreviations, with a heading in English.

VdMc 16,17.jpg

‘Field Service Expressions’ on page 16 has a preceding heading in French, but works from English to French (the model here being to aid the French-speaker); after pages describing the structure of the British Army, entirely in English, there are pages with corresponding terms for map-reading, working from French to English – this presumably for English-speaking officers. This is followed by 70 pages of corresponding terms thematically arranged, translated from French into English: here the model is for the French-speaker to speak English, or for the English-speaker to understand French. The terms in this section are very specific, and cover such terms as ‘honneurs funèbres / funeral honours’, ‘un combat animé / a brisk fight’, ‘capoter / turn turtle’, and ‘effacer les indications à la craie / to obliterate chalk marks’. Notable here is the appearance of slang terms in English, ‘fleabag’ and ‘in mufti’, for the standard French ‘sac de couchage’ and ‘en civil’.

VdMc 58,59

This section is followed by five pages of corresponding terms in English and German, covering ‘Summons to surrender / Aufforderungen zur übergabe’ and ‘Questions to be put to prisoners or wounded’ (no German given); these are not given in French at all. Then a page of information regarding the structure of medical personnel and the logistics of treating the wounded is given in English only, followed by three pages of corresponding terms to do with medical and surgical treatment. The guide then moves on to matters of religion, wonderfully headed with the single word ‘cult’.

VdMc 116,7

VdMc 106,7


The final conversational section deals with ‘Expressions et termes divers pour l’examen d’un suspect / Various terms & expressions for the examination of a suspect’ (2.5 pages), ‘Mots utiles a connâitre pour un signalement / Words to describe a man’ (5.5 pages, so covering all eventualities, such as tattooing, dimples, a ‘full of hatred’ look, and a ‘gone through a university’ standard of education), a single page of ‘Interrogatoire d’un individu suspect / Examination of a suspect’, and a single page of a specimen report, in English only.

VdMc 126,7

VdMc 128,9

Who is being suspected here, and who is doing the suspecting and interrogating? This would function for a French-speaker suspecting and interrogating an English-speaker, but this would be unlikely, in France, to include the question ‘Where is your family, are they in this neighbourhood?’, and the structure would imply an English-speaking non-combatant, possibly working for the enemy. But the specimen report proposes that the results of such an examination might reveal the suspect to be an Alsatian with a German name.  Was the third edition rushed out without an editor standing back to ensure that the guide offered a clear methodology? Was there a sense that it had to be got out quickly and that the interpreters and officers who got their hands on a copy would work out their own best way of dipping into the material? And did it ever occur to writers of phrasebooks that the questioning part of a conversation is rather useless without some idea of what the answers might be? It is a fairly common experience while traveling in areas where we struggle with the language to learn how to word a question, but to be immediately baffled by the answer; and pre-war phrasebooks did equip travelers with answers as well as questions, this being a major benefit offered by example conversations. Pulmon’s Vade-Mecum might show you how ask a suspect (‘sanguin / full-blooded’, with a ‘strabisme divergent / right or left sqrint (sic)’, with ‘danse de St-Guy / St-Vitus dance’ – and ‘vicieux / vicious’) ‘Pourquoi cherchiez-vous à vous dissimuler à notre approche / why did you endeavor to hide on our approach?’, but offers no help in interpreting his full-blooded and vicious reply.


And, in passing, we see on the first page enabling the examination of a suspect a variation on the term ‘si vous mentez vous serez fusillé’, which supposedly typifies the belligerence of the German army of invasion: ‘Si vous essayez de fuir, je ferai usage de mes armes! / In the event of your trying to escape, I shall make use of my arms!’


With a little bit of luck

A few thoughts today about luck and language. Good luck could be attached to objects, words, ideas, and many of them seem to carry references to childhood or immaturity, such as the misspellings of ‘fums up’ or ‘touch wud’ – the ‘fums up’ continues this in the image of the androgynous baby, with what seem to be blue ankle-wings.



The naming of guns or tanks carried some sense of good luck, but this image from La Vie Parisienne in November 1917 shows a rarely portrayed fixing of a doll mascot to the wing-strut of a French aeroplane.

LVP 1917 Nov Fr plane with mascot


The porte-bonheur card shows the poilu well equipped as regards luck tokens, and yes, that is a louse on the right.


Porte-Bonheur pc


However, the most intriguing act of fate-management was a non-act, a refusal to manifest by speaking the enemy; witholding the name, as has been seen recently in the widespread and much-lauded refusal to speak the name of a mass-murderer in New Zealand, is a potent weapon. During the First World War, on the Anglophone side, it was a common occurrence.

As early as January 1915 it was noted:

When talking to French people the British soldier does not usually say ‘Boches’; he prefers to be more correct, and so makes a sound which must be spelt Ollermon. And, to be perfectly accurate, most British soldiers do not find it necessary to use anything more descriptive than ‘they’ or ‘them’. (Manchester Guardian 13 January 1915)

This quite powerful acknowledgement of the enemy as the counterpart of the self was picked up by writers: in In Parenthesis David Jones writes ‘they were at breakfast and were as cold as he, they too made their dole’ and ‘Mr Rhys and the new sergeant were left on his wire; you could see them plainly . . .; but on the second night after, Mr Jenkins’s patrol watched his bearers lift them beyond their parapets’,‘they’, ‘his’ and ‘their’ referring to the Germans. Sassoon also used ‘They’ as the title of a poem about ‘the other’, but here it is the wounded and altered British soldiers who are a challenge. A variation appears in Sydney de Loghe’s The Straits Impregnable where the Turkish soldiers at Gallipoli are described as ‘the other blokes’. The form ‘they’ is seen in other languages, for example in Jean Rogissart’s autobiographical novel Les Retranchés (1955), in which Gavin Bowd notes that ‘ILS’, used to describe the German occupying forces in the Ardennes, is the only fully capitalised word in the book.

There was a curious paradox in this, in that refusing a name, and replacing it by ‘him’ or ‘them’ made the enemy both less frightening, and more ‘like us’; in the process, the removal of fear meant its replacement with familiarity.


On 8 September 1917 La Vie Parisienne, that most admired of French magazines, admired at least by many junior officers in the BEF, carried a small editorial observation:


Les Tommies ont trouvé un moyen que presque tous emploient, de donner une idée à leur famille ou à leur sweetheart du nombre de baisers que “le présente” leur transmet. Ils inscrivent, sur la dernière page de leur letter, un croix par baiser. Certaines lettres finissent  par despages entieres de croix; ells entourent le texte, le serrent, l’embrassent. C’est gentil, et émouvant. Car toutes les lettres finissent, ou presque toutes, par la formule touchante des poilus de toutes les nations: Ne trouvant plus rien à vous dire, je termine … Alors, les petites croix remplacent tout ce qu’on ne sait pas dire. Autrefois, sur l’enveloppe, les Tommies ajoutaient : S. W. A. K. (sealed with a kiss). Cela voulait dire “Scellée avec un baiser”. Seulement, ce n’était pas vrai. Car les lettres sont remises ouvertes à l’administration postale par tout soldat anglais; ce sont les officiers qui les lisent et les collent. Et alors, peut-on croire que le censeur scellait vraiment chaque letter avec un baiser tender? Non, n’est-ce pas … Voilà pourquoi la mode gallante du S. W. A. K. a disparu …


The Tommies have found a method that almost everyone employs to give an idea to their family or to their sweetheart of the number of kisses that “the sender” sends them. They write on the last page of their letter, a cross by way of kiss. Some letters end with entire pages of crosses; they surround the text, squeeze it, kiss it. It’s nice, and moving. For all the letters, or almost all, end with the touching formula of poilus of all nations: Finding nothing more to say to you, I finish … And so, the small crosses replace all that one does not know how to say. Formerly, on the envelope, Tommies added: S. W. A. ​​K. (sealed with a kiss). It meant “sealed with a kiss”. Only, it was not true. For letters are delivered open to the postal administration by every English soldier; it is the officers who read them and stick them down. And then, can we believe that the censor really sealed each letter with a tender kiss? No, is not it … That’s why the gallant fashion of S. W. A. ​​K. has disappeared …




No cheeky SWAK on these postcards, though the soldier signs himself ‘Cheeky’. Writing to his wife, Ella Warren, in Boyd Street, Glasgow, he includes his children’s names within the four arms of the X; given that his home was in Scotland, it’s fitting that it is also a St Andrews cross. The five cards are dated between September 1917 and April 1918. The website ‘A Street Near You’ (highly recommended) records no casualties from Boyd Street, Glasgow – which uncannily, is crossed by Warren Street, twice, making two Xs https://astreetnearyou.org/#=undefined&lat=55.83371465548997&lon=-4.252385600000009&zoom=17&surname=warren

Whose Chamberlain? And ‘unser Shakespeare’

To balance last week’s blog about English replacing German, we attempt a little balancing act. On 11 December 1915 T.P.’s Weekly, a popular literary journal, published a small editorial comment on Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s views that German, rather than English, was the real language of culture, and that its survival in place of English was in jeopardy.



Houston Stewart Chamberlain was a complex figure, who seems to have dropped out of general awareness, but who had a strong personal effect on events and individual drivers of twentieth-century history. Born British, he rejected British culture and identity, embraced Germany and German culture, and through several volumes of essays promoted anti-Semitism, pan-Germanism, racial hierarchies, Wagner, Aryanism, monarchic rule, and anti-democratic thinking. His most famous work, much admired by Wilhelm II, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts(The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 1899) proposed that the concept of the “Aryan race” was the presiding genius of world progress in culture and technology; Germany, as the epicentre of Aryanism, had a destiny to annex the Old World, preserve culture, and keep in subjection any supposed non-Aryan races. The cherry-picking of fact and fantasy, backed up by subjective and unscientific theorising, was useful support for the racial ideas circling around Wilhelm II, and Chamberlain supported German political, military and colonial expansionism. A close relationship with Wagner’s widow, Cosima, and many of Germany’s more authoritarian figures gave Chamberlain immense influence – The Foundationswas included in German school curriculums, and during the First World War, in which he whole-heartedly supported Germany against a decadent and materialistic Britain, Chamberlain was one of Germany’s most read authors. In Britain meanwhile the Times Literary Supplement dismissed his work as the ‘Ravings of a Renegade’. Chamberlain, who was indeed the son of a British admiral, maintained a long correspondence with the Kaiser, which lasted beyond 1918, and eventually became a mentor to Adolf Hitler.


The reaction in T.P.’s Weekly was most likely against Chamberlain’s 1915 pamphlet Deutschland und England (Germany and England), in which he vigorously attacked the changes that had supposedly ruined England during the Industrial Revolution, destroying an idyllic agrarian society and replacing it with an industrialised capitalist society, dominated by Jewish finance and an uncultured middle class. This was contrasted with the paternalistic aristocracy of Germany.


As an example of Chamberlain’s style, this is from the introduction to The Foundations:


The Goths, who of course were Teutons, have been, as Gibbon puts it, “injuriously accused of the ruin of antiquity”.  Their very name has passed into a byword for all that is barbarous and destructive; yet, as a matter of fact, it was Theodosius and his followers who, with the help of the Christian fanatics, destroyed the Capitol and the monuments of ancient art, whereas it was Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, on the contrary, who issued edicts for the preservation of the ancient glories of Rome. Yet “this man could not write; for his signature he had to use a metal stencil…. But that which was beautiful, that which the nobler spirits of the Chaos of Peoples hated as a work of the devil, that the Goth at once knew how to appreciate: to such a degree did the statues of Rome excite his admiration that he appointed a special official for their protection. “Who will deny the gift of imagination in the race which produced a Dante (his name Alighieri a corruption of Aldiger, taken from his grandmother who was of a Goth family from Ferrara), a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Goethe, a Schiller, not to speak of many other great and lesser lights? Who will dispute the powers of thought of a Locke, a Newton, a Kant, a Descartes? We have but to look around us in order to see how completely our civilisation and culture are the work of the Germane.


While The Foundations may not explicitly explain how Shakespeare came to be a Goth, the longstanding German affinity for Shakespeare may have caused some cultural boundary-definition problems. In The Foundations Chamberlain frequently quotes Shakespeare and ‘Shakespeare’s language’ (52 times – and explicitly links Goethe and Shakespeare), but an earlier letter in T.P.’s Weekly (6 February 1915) examines the text of the plays to question the connection between Shakespeare and Germany:



In 1915, without the benefit of a digital word-search, John Hurstwood missed the Host’s words in The Merry Wives of Windsor– ‘They are gone but to meet the duke, villain: do not say they be fled; Germans are honest men.’



A propos of the idea of  a  ‘universal language’, there were signs of this becoming a three-way tussle between French, German and English during and after the war. German was dropped or banned in some Anglophone areas, protests against the ubiquity of English in some German-speaking areas, and there were complaints in La Vie Parisienne (of all places) about the mingling of English and French. The concept of a universal language has long had its admirers and proponents, notably John Wilkins, who in An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language (1668), devised a linguistic structure based on a taxonomy of morphemes which countered the sense of an arbitrary linguistic sign. After the war it was suggested that Esperanto, a sort of rational Romance superimposed onto Romance arbitrariness, should be taken up as the universal language of diplomacy, an idea that was widely supported, except by the French, who believed there was already such a language: French.


Kruschen Salts

“KRUSCHEN SALTS” shouted an advertisement in London Opinion2 January 1915 “ARE ALL BRITISH”. The advertisement featured a drawing of a bulldog – ‘The British Bulldog – His faces sloped backwards so that he can breathe without letting go’ – with two Union flags behind. The message is clear: Kruschen Salts may sound German, but they are not. After a large font text singing the praises of the salts, two smaller columns inform the reader about the use of Kruschen at the Front, and ‘The Word Kruschen’:

The trademark “Kruschen” is a legacy – handed down from generation to generation of the family of Evan Griffiths Hughes, the sole Manufacturers of Kruschen Salts, and one of the oldest firms of Manufacturing Chemists in the County of Lancashire. Established 1754 – 160 years ago.


This was during the reign of George II (King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire), a time when German names were more acceptable than in 1915, though the great rush to anglicise German names came after the sinking of the Lusitania in May.


The huge market for proprietary medicines became a minor battleground of the war. The chief item fought over was Aspirin, the trade-name used by Bayer from 1899 for acetylsalicylic acid. From the beginning of October 1914 notices appeared in the British press stating that themedicine ‘sold under the German trade name of Aspirin is now being prescribed and supplied chemists under the British trade name of Helicon. Its chemical constitution is identical in every particular’ (Illustrated London News 3 October 1914). The name certainly did not catch on, and archive searches for the period are ore likely to show it as the name of a racehorse. In France Aspirin continued to be called Aspirin (Le Figaro 7 January 1916), though usually with the highly visible tag stating that the medicine was made in l’usines de Rhône (factories along the Rhône, rather than in Germany).


As an example of ‘ones that got away’ the early-war use of the term ‘Germ-hun’ in Britain was not taken up in advertisements for proprietary cleaning products. In France however, one advertisement for Jubol, a medicine for constipation and haemorrhoids, showed a poilu, labelled ‘Jubol’, chasing a German soldier, labelled ‘Microbe’, out of a large intestine (La Vie Parisienne 21 July 1917); as the German soldier is shown wearing a pickelhaube, he could have been in there for some time.


Boots early in the war joined in the ‘Hun-bashing’ enthusiastically, a double-page advertisement in Punch 23 December 1914 showing the Kaiser followed by four soldiers and dachshund carrying Lysol, Aspirin, Sanatogen and 4711 Koln-Wasser back to Berlin. Sanatogen seems to have escaped association with the enemy, as did Lysol; Koln-Wasser had a favourable alias, eau de cologne.


Boots, the pharmaceutical chain, made a half-hearted attempt to deal with this issue as early as 10 September 1914. On that day there appeared in the Daily Mail an advertisement headlined ‘Boots eau de cologne for British people’. It stated that ‘innumerable enquiries having been made by the public for a genuine British Eau de Cologne to replace the German article, Sir Jesse Boot has arranged that Boots Pure Drug Co.’ would solve the problem of people having to splash themselves with something that sounded paradoxically both French and German. The two products that would resolve the issue were ‘Boots (late Lareine’s) Jersey Castle’ (‘which has been increasingly popular for years’) and ‘Boots White Heather’ (‘Possesses remarkable antiseptic properties’). However, both were still, albeit discreetly, subtitled ‘Eau de Cologne’. Perhaps Boots were hoping this would be passed over due to the presence of a box within the advertisement, entitled ‘IMPORTANT WAR NOTICE’: ‘Boots the Chemists will supply every Hospital and Nursing Home established to receive either  British Soldiers or Sailors or Territorials with Boots Eau de Cologne at specially reduced rates until further notice …’


Eau de cologne, sold under brand names of Harrod’s, Yardley, Luce, Jay’s, Atkinson’s and others, continued to be sold till the end of the war, but it was 1924 before the famous German 4711 brand became re-established in Britain.