Angela Brazil’s strafing schoolgirls

Jonathon Green, of Green’s Dictionary of Slang https://greensdictofslang.com alerts LFWW to the use of ‘strafe’ in Angela Brazil’s wartime novels. Angela Brazil (stress on the first syllable of Brazil) changed the tone of girls’ school novels with her avoidance of a moralising and worthy tone in favour of the feeling of writing from the girls’ point of view. In http://www.ju90.co.uk/his.htm we read that ‘Shirley Foster and Judy Simons point out that Brazil’s use of language was a key reason for the popularity of her stories: “Brazil’s slang, considered sufficiently outrageous by contemporary readers for her books to be banned from some schools, effectively creates its own anti-authoritarian code that is distinctively juvenile and female.”’

 

As an example of Brazil’s use of the term Green notes:

“It means a good solid hour’s work,” whispered Raymonde to Ardiune. “Tennis is off to-night. Strafe the old camp! I wish the Romans had never lived!”

The Madcap of the School, 1917 (p67)

This matches a use of ‘strafe’ to mean ‘to hell with’, which is not over-common. It can be found, possibly, in War Letters of Desmond Genet, 1918 (p306):

I hope some one of our armed merchant-vessels see and fire upon a German U-boat without any warning soon and sink it. They’ve got orders to do just that, so let them do it. Strafe the damned Boches!

‘Strafe’ was used figuratively in a number of ways, ranging from the general:

When this type of cheap witticism got beyond all bearing, the Medical Officer would seek out the Quartermaster, and together they would strafe the English, talking of Sassenachs and hinting at dark deeds, and the Quartermaster would think regretfully of his Skein-dhu and the Medical Officer would rattle his pill-box threateningly in its scabbard.

Herbert Rae, Maple Leaves in Flanders, 1916 (p107)

to the Lifebuoy Soap adverts from June 1916 – ‘strafing germs and microbes’, and three months later Tennants’ beer (‘“some” beer surely’) ‘strafing all others’; and ‘Strafe me!’ in a play by a Private Hamel, in the trench journal The Grey Brigade, 11 Dec 1915.

 

‘Strafe’ quickly became a general purpose term, like ‘napoo’:

… the soldier cook brought on the roast chicken, which was received with a befitting chorus of approbation:

Who would carve? Who knew how to carve?

Modesty passed the honour to its neighbour, till a brave man said:

“I will! I will strafe the chicken!”

Gott strafe England! Strafe has become a noun, a verb, an adjective, a cussword, and a term of greeting. Soldier asks soldier how he is strafing to-day. The Germans are not called Boches they are called Strafers. “Won’t you strafe a little for us?”

Frederick Palmer, My Year of the Great War, 1915 (p300)

‘Strafe it/him/her/anything’ in the sense of ‘to hell with …’ as in ‘Strafe him, he’s got my pen!’ (advert for Swan pens, Printers’ Pie, 1916), certainly appealed to Angela Brazil’s schoolgirls, at least after 1916 – it does not feature in her two books of 1915 and her one of 1916. By 1918 it was freely used:

“I’m the worst off,” sighed Marjorie. “I’ve got to spend Saturday afternoon pen-driving, and it’s the match with Holcombe. I’m just the unluckiest girl in the whole school. Strafe it all! It’s a grizzly nuisance. I should like to slay myself!”

 A Patriotic Schoolgirl, 1918

“Strafe the baity old blighter!” gasped David.

and

“Strafe the wretched old turns!”

 For the School Colours, 1918

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 18.19.50

Did ‘strafe’ count as outrageous slang? And how did it compare with the supposedly slang ‘baity’ (bad-tempered)? (Incidentally this ‘baity’ predates the OED’s current earliest by three years.) The Armistice did not stop Angela Brazil from using ‘strafe’, which appears in both her books published in 1919, though these may have been written before the end of hostilities.

“Strafe the old chap and his jaw-wag!” exploded Mervyn. “A nice mess he’s got us into with his fussy interference!”

and

“Strafe the old dentist! I wish he were at the bottom of the sea!” declared the youngest of the Forrester family, with temper.

and

“Oh, strafe Sir Galahad!” groaned Morland. “The armour’s the most beastly uncomfortable hot stuff to wear you can imagine. I wish I had a turned-up nose and freckles.”

are found in The Head Girl at the Gables (1919);

“You can if you wish, and I’ll write to her myself, and explain that it is against our rules.” Murmuring something that sounded dangerously like “Strafe rules!” Diana darted upstairs for blotting-pad and fountain-pen.

appears in A Harum Scarum Schoolgirl (1919).

 

‘Strafe’ is rather an isolated war term for Brazil: she does not appear to use ‘cushy’, ‘no man’s land’, ‘cuthbert’, ‘sanfairyann’, or any of the spelling variations of ‘napoo’. In The Jolliest Term on Record (1915) there is a letter from a wounded soldier which refers to ‘the Hun’, but it is 1918 before girls start using the term themselves, which may be taken as an indicator of the term slipping into acceptable general usage. Unsurprisingly it appears a number of times in For The School Colours (1918), describing the villainous Mr Hockheimer, and three times in A Patriotic Schoolgirl (1918), including the enterprising:

“It’ll mean knocking off buns, I suppose,” sighed Sylvia mournfully.

“Certainly.

‘Save a bun,

And do the Hun!'”

improvised Marjorie.

A couplet which might have satisfied A P Herbert two decades later.

 

‘Strafe’ eventually fades away, not featuring in A Popular Schoolgirl (1920), The Princess of the School (1920), or Brazil’s books of 1921; a good example of how the war made slang terms fashionable, and how they disappeared.

 

 

 

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