Slang of the First World War
"Duck's Breakfast"

Today is #NationalEatOutsideDay. Did you know in the First World War, to have a “duck’s breakfast” meant the simple pleasure of a face-wash and drink of water? (Doyle, Walker, Trench Talk – Words of the First World War, p. 144).
A Canadian enjoys a “duck’s breakfast” in May 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001193.

Slang of the First World War
"Jake"

In Tuesday’s post, we quoted Canadian stretcher bearer Ralph Watson of the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion using the term “jake” as an expression of approval when describing a dugout with a corrugated iron roof and large open wood fire. A term associated mostly with Canadians, “jake” was used to refer to anything considered positive or worthy of approval, comparable to simply saying “good” (Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs And Slang Of The Great War, p. 115). 

A “Rustic Summer House” dugout in January 1917. An elaborate shelter like this would have been considered “jake” to Canadian troops!
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004400.

Slang of the First World War
Bombardier Fritz

Following this week’s post about estaminets, (read it again here: http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/25-july-1917/ ), today’s slang term is “Bombardier Fritz”.

Bombardier Fritz – A corruption of the French “pommes de terre frites”, it referred to the ever-present eggs and fried potato chips meal that could be bought at civilian estaminets just back of the front lines. Also referred to as “pom Fritz”. (Pegler, Soldiers’ Songs And Slang of The Great War, p. 44 & 149, Brophy, Partridge, Dictionary of Tommies’ Songs and Slang, 1914-18, p. 88).

British and French soldiers playing cards outside a family-run estaminet. Braisne, 16 October 1914.
© IWM (Q 53337)

Slang of The First World War
Gaspers

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.

Credit: [tin] Capstan Navy Cut Cigarettes, [c1914-1919] Collections CCGW / CCGG.

Slang of The First World War
Blighty & Bomb-Proof

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.

Blighty also came to represent any sort of homely comforts. This photograph depicts the inside of The Blighty Club at Skipton in Craven, Yorkshire run by local women during the First World War. Note the “Blighty Club” sign hanging over the fireplace.
© IWM (Q 108264)