Archibald? Certainly not!

The widely accepted story is that ‘Archie’, RFC and general slang for anti-aircraft fire, came from a song first performed by George Robey in 1911. Fraser and Gibbons (Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925) and Brophy and Partridge (Soldiers’ Songs and Slang, 1930) give what have become the generally recognised definitions, etymology and developments.

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The first verse and chorus of the song, composed by John L. St John and Alfred Glover in 1909, give an idea of the general thrust:

It’s no use me denying facts
I’m henpecked you can see
‘Twas on our wedding morn my wife
Commenced to peck at me
The wedding breakfast over
I said “We’ll start off today
Upon out honeymoon” Then she yelled,
“What, waste time that way?”

Chorus: “Archibald – certainly not
Get back to work, sir, like a shot
When single you could waste time spooning
But lose work now for honeymooning
Archibald – certainly not.”

But Ernest Weekley’s An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921) offers an alternative:

Archibald, Archie: “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement” (Col. C H Joubert de la Ferté, I M S ret.).

Col. Charles Henry Joubert de la Ferté, of the Indian Medical Service was 68 when the war broke out, and lived in Weybridge, where Brooklands is located. Brooklands had been in use for at least 7 years by this time – A V Roe and Tommy Sopwith both tested planes there. Whether the term was picked up from the song or whether the song reinforced the chosen word is difficult to determine. But those who remember the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965) will remember the duel scene, which took place over a sewage farm next to a race-track, where the aerodrome was located.

Notable in Fraser & Gibbons’ text is the term ‘Anti-aircraft Force’, a term not often seen.

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