Goodbye Tipperary

This gem of a sequence comes at the end of “First Aid” to the Swahili Language – For the use of His Majesty’s Forces in East Africa (the discourse of how the selection of utterances in phrasebooks directs thinking is a separate and extensive subject). It dates from 1916-18, and was issued by the YMCA, printed by the Swift Press in Nairobi. Outstanding is the inclusion of ‘It’s a long long way to Tipperary’, which the mythology of the war places as the British soldiers’ song. Certainly the Home Front locked onto it, with Tipperary clubs, Tipperary dancing girls and Tipperary lapel badges.


Here we consider two contrasting approaches to Tipperary, both from the Home Circle magazine, and appearing within a few weeks of each other in Spring 1915, which indicate how the linguistic cultures of the Front and the Home Front were diverging this early. The 13 February issue of the magazine carried an article ‘Trench Topics that Tickle our Tommies’, which was by then a regular amongst the recipes, stories, advice columns and sewing patterns. Subtitled ‘Quaint Extracts from Letters sent by our Boys at the Front’, it reads:

Songs of the Soldiers

I heard from a young friend of mine the other day, who has recently joined the Public Schools Corps. In his letter he mentions one or two rather quaint items which are strictly observed by the Tommies, and regarded as part of the Army etiquette. One of these, curious to relate, is the ban placed on “Tipperary.” “It is not that we don’t like the song,” he writes, “but it has become so common-place that we have decided to put it in irons for the time being. ‘Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers’ is, however, a prime favourite, ‘Gilbert the Filbert’ rans almost as high, and ‘Hold your Hand out, Naughty Boy,’ comes in as a very good third. There’s a rumour about just now that somebody in the corps, who is connected with the music profession, is writing us a special marching song. It’s only a rumour, so more particulars later.”

Three weeks later there appeared a full page advert and a full-page offering prizes of £50 ‘For Three Words’, also known as ‘Tipperaries’:

Here is an offer which will bring more gold to the readers of HOME CIRCLE. Without doubt Tipperary is the most famous place in the British Isles at this moment, and Tipperaries will be the most popular pastime for British people.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. First choose any of the examples given, and then think out two or three words bearing on the phrase. Remember that the first word of your Tipperary must begin with any one of the letters to be found in the example chosen. When you have done that you have invented your Tipperary. Simple, is it not?

These specimens will help you:

Example : “ Painted Lady”       Tipperary – “Art helps Nature.”

”             “Lights out”                    ”                “Lovers see visions.”

”             “Cook experiments”     ”                “Constable called in.”


Remember that the excellence of a Tipperary consists in the apt relation it bears to the example chosen.

Remember also that you may send two attempts for sixpence. If you send further attempts you must enclose Postal Orders to the value of sixpence for every Tipperary Coupon sent.


And there follow terms and conditions.

The examples from which you may construct Tipperaries included

Union Jack                   After Dark                   Wedding Day              Foreign Meat

Zeppelin Raid              German Spy                Telephone Girl           Family Fun


And so on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Oxford English Dictionary does not give this definition for a Tipperary (and it is not really clear what it is); rather more surprisingly, given the extent to which the word was celebrated on the Home Front, there is no definition for anything called ‘a Tipperary’ – no hat, no dance, not even a biscuit. Given the size of the first prize, huge for 1915, and huge for whatever the achievement was, this looks like a bit of open-handed generosity from Home Circle, but of course the prizes were funded by the competitors’ sixpences. This was what C F Masterman in The Condition of England (1909) criticised in the suburban classes’ (i.e. the lower-middle classes’) addiction to ‘sedentary guessing competitions’, ‘estimating the money in the Bank of England on a certain day’ or ‘guessing missing words or the last line of “Limericks”’. As the economics of war more and more bit into the incomes of the middle classes, such schemes for instant wealth must have seemed increasingly attractive. And they were induced to participate by the patriotic connotations of ‘Tipperary’, just as the troops were trying to suppress it.

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