Gaspers – “the cheapest of cigarettes” available at the front (Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs And Slang of The Great War, p. 101), nicknamed for the reaction of those brave enough to inhale. Capstan Cigarettes was one of the popular brands referred to as “gaspers” by the troops; high in tar and unfiltered, they could cause a first-time smoker some trouble. This waterproof tin comes courtesy of the Canadian Centre for the Great War/Centre canadien pour la Grande Guerre.
In the coming weeks, we will be starting a new series on Fridays, called “Slang of The First World War”, revealing words, sayings and names created or adopted by those in the trenches to describe aspects of what had become a very absurd “everyday life”. In light of our posts this week referencing “Blighty” and “Bomb-Proof Jobs”, it is fitting we define those here.
Blighty – the origin of this word is unclear and various explanations exist. It appears to be a corruption of the Hindi word ‘bilayati’ or ‘bilaik’, meaning a foreign place or country, or from the Arabic term ‘beladi’ meaning ‘my own country’ (Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs And Slang of The Great War, p. 38). In British India during the 1800’s “Blighty” became a term of endearment for home and/or English things. This carried through to the First World War, and a number of secondary uses evolved depending on the context as a noun, verb or adjective, “such as ‘This is like real Blighty bread.’ “, “a Blighty one”, and a “Blighty bag” (Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs And Slang of The Great War, p. 39).
Bomb-Proof Job – referred to any one of a myriad of support roles that men could be posted to in the rear areas, usually far from danger and consequently “bomb-proof”. Those who made a military career of “Bomb-Proof Jobs” during the First World War were usually disliked by frontline troops – they were often seen as cheats who received frequent and unwarranted leave passes, broke into and stole the men’s mail parcels, and who often received official recognition and medals “for bravery” whilst miles from danger.