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.
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?