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QGE

"Forgotten" Great War Platitudes

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depaor01

I've read and transcribed many letters and one I'm doing now has the word "beastly" as in "I have a beastly cold".

 

I've seen this in many letters of the time. 

 

Dave

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Kimberley John Lindsay

Dear All,

Some of my GWF requests have turned out to have been futile in the extreme.

However, the majority have been absolutely splendid, in terms of both feedback and information gained - photos (aka Images) even!

Kindest regards,

Kim.

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Perth Digger

Ken

Apart from the usual literary suspects writing in the late 1920s and the growing recognition from the mid-1930s that another war loomed, the word 'futile' really only took hold in the 1960s. It also often goes with the assertion that a whole generation was tricked into going to war; that they had no personal agency but stumbled blindly into the abyss. It raises the eternal conundrum for historians: do you look at the past through the eyes of the present?; or do you try to view the past from the perspective of the participants? Looking at the first war through the prism of the second, it may look futile, but the participants did not have the benefit of foreseeing the future. I personally prefer the latter approach.

 

Mike

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Medaler
16 minutes ago, Perth Digger said:

Ken

Apart from the usual literary suspects writing in the late 1920s and the growing recognition from the mid-1930s that another war loomed, the word 'futile' really only took hold in the 1960s. It also often goes with the assertion that a whole generation was tricked into going to war; that they had no personal agency but stumbled blindly into the abyss. It raises the eternal conundrum for historians: do you look at the past through the eyes of the present?; or do you try to view the past from the perspective of the participants? Looking at the first war through the prism of the second, it may look futile, but the participants did not have the benefit of foreseeing the future. I personally prefer the latter approach.

 

Mike

 

I think there are 2 different aspects here. Firstly I don't doubt that many did "stumble blindly into the abyss" simply because very few had any reliable concept of how the war would be fought and how long it would last. Having said that however, that in no way diminishes the sacrifices that were made, and it does not make any of their efforts futile.

 

On the other hand, your point about the benefit of hindsight is one that I absolutely endorse. To my mind the greatest crime that an historian can commit is to judge the events of the past according to values that only became currency after the event. It is no more than a flawed way of turning shades of grey into a falsified image of the past in stark black and white.

 

One of my great objections is to the telling of tragic stories, for any loss of life is indeed a tragedy, without even the vaguest attempt to look for the reasons why those lives were lost. It skews our understanding and cheapens the sacrifices.

 

Mike

 

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Pat Atkins
On 12/3/2017 at 17:22, Interested said:

Just read a book review: "Words and the First world War" by Julian Walker; I bet it is full of forgotten platitudes from WW1 but is apparently mostly slang words; it gives a few examples - scarper,  Blighty, cushy, dekko, etc etc.

Might put it on my Christmas list.

Blimey, I use all of those (splendid) words.

 

The convention seems to be to spell 'scarper' as such when written, and it's pronounced down here in Brighton with the long /a:/ and drawn-out terminal /ɜ:/ you'd expect from cockney rhyming slang; different accents will change the vowel sounds, but they're always pronounced as if followed by an 'r'. My Scots relatives will say scarrpurr, for example, though they pronounce it in Scapa Flow as scappa: as with much slang, 'scarper' is seen as a word in and of itself, sundered from its origins.

 

Cheers, Pat.

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Steven Broomfield
50 minutes ago, Pat Atkins said:

Blimey, I use all of those (splendid) words.

 

 

Cheers, Pat.

Me too!

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Perth Digger

Ditto. Dhobying too (although I probably can't spell it).

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MikeyH

Have an oddly amusing little book 'Roger, Sausage & Whippet', found recently by my wife in a charity shop.  This was published in 2012 by Headline, it claims to be 'A Miscellany of Trench Lingo from the Great War'.  From A.A.A. to Zone Call it covers many well known and obscure phrases and terminology in everyday use in the trenches.  

 

Mike.

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IanA
3 hours ago, Steven Broomfield said:

Me too!

Are you completely doolally tap?

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QGE

As descendants of two military families  going back some time to "Inja's sunny climes", our family vocabulary is peppered with much Anglo-Indian military slang. To this day we have a dhobi machine (washing machine) and if anything needs to be done that has clearly not been done (usually by moody teenagers), the general cry of "khasto bandobast?!!!!" (lit: whose the ****  organisation/responsibility?) rings loud. The dogs know who is a 'dushman' (enemy) but  not dekhnu/"dekko" (to see) which is substituted with "shufti" (I believe of Arabic origin). Bukshee/Bhakhsi is generic for free (no cost ). Pukkha was a  **ahem** common term until that utterly ghaaaastly common man  Jamie Oliver wore the word out.  He can't even pronounce it correctly. We all stopped using it after that rather unfortunate 'cultural appropriation". A complete koti wallah. Squared.  (someone with a black spot on his scrotal sac in case you were wondering - a sign of bad luck in some north Indian sub-cultures).....

 

Best of all we all use "ek dam luxury finish" as an expression of recognition of quality. For this we need to thank my driver a lifetime ago who on the way to HK airport in a mad rush and stuck in a traffic jam, leaned out and stroked the side of a Rolls Royce (in his word "Rolling Royce") whilst uttering the words. It became Regimental vocabulary for everything that was good. Rather like the "Forty-Ten" (instead of 50) of Irish fame....

 

When I served, we were obsessed with translating English idioms into Gurkhali. So "stone the crows!" became "dhunga khag alai lagyo" or literally "stones at black birds throw" Our orderlies were rather bemused and retorted with their own. "More tea Vicar?" became "aru chhia Pandit?" much to our amusement and mirth  when the Commandant's Memsahib let one loose in polite society....Elsewhere.... 

 

"Ek tukki sukki

Dherai tukki lagi"

 

One spit dryness

Many spits river

 

Which is the Nepali equivalent of "many hands makes light work". Two lifetimes ago in Borneo, trying to rebuild a collapsed bridge with a Bailey Bridge*, these expressions worked well. when trying to get 50 men to concentrate their efforts in the most appalling conditions to shift 10 tons of Bailey 'towards the gaaaap!'

 

Right Flank Rear.

 

MG

 

 

* Possibly the greatest engineering achievement of the UK

Edited by QGE

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Wexflyer

I have completely lost track of what this thread is supposed to be about....

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Medaler
1 hour ago, Wexflyer said:

I have completely lost track of what this thread is supposed to be about....

 

It might be December, but it's a bit early to have gotten the sherry out. Anyway, in the sprit of offering assistance, the thread was about platitudes (duck-billed or otherwise).

 

Slainte,

Mike

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Interested

I hope QGE will accept my apologies for going "off-piste" with his topic once more, but the thread has reminded me, when I were a lad the term "bint" was often used, but this seems to have died out now.  I don't think it is sexist, but I stand to be corrected. What do you think QGE?

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Ken Wayman

Mike and Mike (!)

Thanks for your perceptive comments. I fully agree about the futility of trying to interpret the past through present-day eyes and with present values. Interpreting actions should only really be done in context of the time. The complicating factor is that today we have access to so much more information.

Ken

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Ken Wayman
4 hours ago, IanA said:

Are you completely doolally tap?

 

Do you know the origin of this one?

Ken

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Medaler
Just now, Ken Wayman said:

 

Do you know the origin of this one?

Ken

 

No doubt others will add polish to this, but I believe that there was some form of mental hospital at Doelali.

Mike

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Medaler

In a vague attempt to bring this back on topic, my own choice for most annoying platitude..............

 

"Boy soldier"

 

As a medal collector I take great exception to this slur against the army. Chiefly because, by inference, it allows the navy to get away Scot free. The admiralty even used the rating "Boy" officially, and had it engraved onto their medals. It may surprise some to know that 47 "Boys" were lost on HMS Queen Mary at Jutland - 14 more than the number of her 33 "Ordinary Seamen".

 

The other point in regard to this that is largely glossed over is that many lads were in full time employment by the age of 14. In the eyes of many, when a lad brought home his first wage packet he ceased to be a boy and became a man. Ok, so he couldn't vote, but in many cases neither could his dad.

Edited by Medaler

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Maureene
9 hours ago, Medaler said:

In a vague attempt to bring this back on topic, my own choice for most annoying platitude..............

 

"Boy soldier"

 

As a medal collector I take great exception to this slur against the army. Chiefly because, by inference, it allows the navy to get away Scot free. The admiralty even used the rating "Boy" officially, and had it engraved onto their medals.

 

I do not believe the Boy part is a platitude. It is my understanding that Boy was the official rank in the Army for those under the age of 18 and depending on their training they would have titles such as Boy Trumpeter. This certainly applied in the regular Army, and I assume it applied to all recruits during WW1 under the age of 18.

An autobiography, although of a later period is Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys: The Life of a Boy Soldier in India by  William Pennington. He trained as a Boy Trumpeter for the Royal Artillery in 1934 at age 14, and was appointed gunner after he turned 18 (although this was not automatically on his birthday, I seem to recall he had to wait a few months}

 

Cheers

Maureen

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Pat Atkins

I've certainly seen 'Boy' as a rank in records relating to the (RE/Royal Signals) Signals Service Training Centre in 1920. Appreciate this is marginally later than the period under discussion.

 

Cheers, Pat.

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Steven Broomfield
11 hours ago, Interested said:

I hope QGE will accept my apologies for going "off-piste" with his topic once more, but the thread has reminded me, when I were a lad the term "bint" was often used, but this seems to have died out now.  I don't think it is sexist, but I stand to be corrected. What do you think QGE?

 

I occasionally use 'bint', but only to irritate Mrs Broomfield. I believe it came from the Eighth Army from Round two: is it from Arabic? Bit like 'Teddy Boys' (Italian tedesci for Germans, I think)

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Medaler
32 minutes ago, Maureene said:

 

I do not believe the Boy part is a platitude. It is my understanding that Boy was the official rank in the Army for those under the age of 18 and depending on their training they would have titles such as Boy Trumpeter. This certainly applied in the regular Army, and I assume it applied to all recruits during WW1 under the age of 18.

An autobiography, although of a later period is Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys: The Life of a Boy Soldier in India by  William Pennington. He trained as a Boy Trumpeter for the Royal Artillery in 1934 at age 14, and was appointed gunner after he turned 18 (although this was not automatically on his birthday, I seem to recall he had to wait a few months}

 

Cheers

Maureen

 

The point is really that the Army had regulations, which were flouted,  that should not have allowed anyone under (if memory serves correct) 18 1/2 to serve in a war zone. The navy it seems either had no such scruples, or had a younger age. When, in the popular imagination, it comes to passing judgement in modern times, the navy is never criticised.

 

Cheers,

Mike

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healdav
12 hours ago, Interested said:

I hope QGE will accept my apologies for going "off-piste" with his topic once more, but the thread has reminded me, when I were a lad the term "bint" was often used, but this seems to have died out now.  I don't think it is sexist, but I stand to be corrected. What do you think QGE?

Arabic for girl. A respectable word distorted.

 

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healdav
21 minutes ago, Medaler said:

 

The point is really that the Army had regulations, which were flouted,  that should not have allowed anyone under (if memory serves correct) 18 1/2 to serve in a war zone. The navy it seems either had no such scruples, or had a younger age. When, in the popular imagination, it comes to passing judgement in modern times, the navy is never criticised.

 

Cheers,

Mike

You could jon the Navy at a very young age. I once had a clerk who had joined as a 'boy' at Ganges in the late 1920s, where he got a pretty good education, then went to sea in the 1930s, still as a 'boy'. He ended up as a CPO at the end of WW2. You will probably have seen photos or film of the boys 'dressing the mast' i.e. climbing it and having a boy sitting on the yard arms. Health and Safety would have a fit today, although there is no record of any boy ever falling off.

The term 'boy' was applied to those who were under 16, I think. At 16 they became ordinary seamen, and then Able seamen.

The reason, in the Navy, for the distinction was that 'boys' did not mess with the rest of the crew, they got a special diet which was designed to help them grow (whether it did or not is something else). And, naturally, they did not get a tot.

In return, they usually got the job of doing the washing up for their mess, and otherwise doing the chores (sometimes waiting on the men). When they became 17 they became member sof the Mess and had normal rations, which most looked forward to. The celebration of their manhood was marked by hoisting a dishcloth! over the kitchen area.

They became eligible for a tot at 18.

Most qualified very quickly as an AB, and usually by the time they were 18. 

Kipling wrote a story about two boy bandsmen who were killed in Afghanistan having been left behind by the regiment when it fled and playing a drum and bugle until they came back. I forget the name of it.

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Ken Wayman
12 hours ago, Medaler said:

 

No doubt others will add polish to this, but I believe that there was some form of mental hospital at Doelali.

Mike

Mike

I've heard (though I know not the provenance) that Deolali was the port to which men nearly time-expired were sent from up-country to await transport back to UK. Sometimes the wait for a ship was extended and some men consoled themselves in the bottom of a glass - the water was too dangerous! This might explain men going 'stir-crazy' in Deolali and the location there of a mental hospital. On the other hand, it might be totally different..!

Ken

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Perth Digger

Ken

Next to me this afternoon in a cafe I heard a woman say: 'My Mum's gone doolally'. In Perth, Western Australia. I read something similar to what you've said about its provenance.

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