Glossary

Here is a dubiously-complete glossary of things that seem like they belong here.

Slang & Quirks

There is an exhaustive list of British trench slang available at this excellent website; only terms that recur often in the blog will be defined here. Also under this heading you’ll find particular turns of phrase that I use a lot.

Advancing to the rear – Euphemism for “retreating”.

Arse Hortillery – Childish-yet-amusing spoonerism of “Horse Artillery” (see “Military Speak” section).

Brass Hat – A general, or other senior officer, entitled to wear gold braid on his hat. Not to be confused with a “Red Tab”, who is any staff officer, even a low-ranking one. All brass hats are red tabs, but not every red tab is a brass hat.

The Chief – The head commander of a country’s armed forces in a particular theater, so called because his title is usually Chief or Commander-in-Chief of something or other.

Currently – “At this time 100 years ago”.

Latrine rumour – An almost believable story, usually transmitted by bored soldiers while they use the latrines. For instance, “Next month we’re being reinforced by twelve Russian divisions sailing round Scandinavia from Archangel.” The Australians refer to such stories as a furphy, after the contractor who cleans out the Army’s latrines at home.

Matter of Some Debate – Something that’s still being argued about or contested and is unlikely to reach a definitive answer any time soon.

Minnie – Any German trench mortar or its projectile; the German name for which is “Minenwerfer”.

…Of which more later – I deliberately use this a lot so I can then search for it and remind myself what I’m supposed to be picking up in six months’ time.

Poilu – Literally a “hairy one”; any French soldier, equivalent to “Tommy” for a British soldier. Most French soldiers wore large beards.

Soixante-quinze – French 75cm artillery piece whose capabilities are usually described in flushed, masturbatory tones, and not entirely without reason.

Trench newspaper – A publication written generally for soldiers by soldiers, such as the Fifth Glo’ster Gazette or the Wipers Times.

Military Speak

Official or semi-official military terminology. “Subaltern” and “trench mortar” goes here. “Rupert” and “Crapouillot” goes in “Slang & Quirks” above.

BEF – British Expeditionary Force, the collective name for the British Army in France and Belgium.

Bomb – In British parlance this is the usual term for a hand grenade, and a man who is armed with them is a bomber (because the Grenadier Guards are prissy about who gets to call themselves a “grenadier”). British mortars fire bombs, and the explosives dropped from an aircraft are usually also bombs.

Flechette – Large metal dart dropped out of an aircraft, the offensive application of which should be obvious.

GHQ – General Headquarters. Where Field Marshal Sir John French lives. Currently located at St Omer.

GQG – Grand Quartier General, the French GHQ. Where General Joffre lives. Currently located at Chantilly.

Gun – A gun is an artillery piece. In this context, rifles and pistols are not guns. A gun has a very low angle of fire and therefore a comparatively long range, but the low angle means that trenches are excellent for giving cover to men. It fires shells.

Hill XX – Hills without names are referred to on military maps with their height in metres; so the top of “Hill 82” is 82 metres above ground. There are infamous Hill 60s both in the Ypres Salient and on Gallipoli.

Howitzer – An artillery piece with a shorter barrel and higher angle of fire than a gun. Howitzers in this war are often very heavy, and designed primarily to attack forts and anything else that’s been built with a comedically large amount of concrete.

King’s Regulations – Collective name for official British military policy and guidance on any number of military matters. Unless otherwise stated, this usually refers to the King’s Regulations that put strict limits on fraternisation between officers and men. (In 2015 they are called Queen’s Regulations.)

Mine – A large underground explosive. Or possibly a large explosive dropped in the sea for unwary shipping to trip over. Also the German name for a mortar projectile.

Minenwerfer – German name for a trench mortar, literally “mine-thrower” because German trench mortars fire mines.

Sepoy – Equivalent of “private” in the Indian Army; also a collective term for Indian soldiers, as “Tommies” is for Britons.

Shell – Projectile fired by an artillery gun or howitzer. A high-explosive shell simply goes off with an enormous bang and is generally used to target trenches and structures. A shrapnel shell throws lots of small bits of metal everywhere and is used to incapacitate men and to cut the enemy’s barbed wire before an attack.

Stand to! – The hour around dawn and dusk were the two most likely times for an enemy attack. During this time, all sides would customarily bring plenty of men into the front fire trenches, standing up on the parapets, ready to fire their rifles at any advancing enemy. The British military term meaning “begin this hour of watchfulness!” is “stand to”; the command “stand down” marks the end.

Subaltern – A British term for second and first lieutenants. In practice, it often appears with the word “clueless” on the front.

Wehrmacht – Wrong war. Fuck off.

Place names

This is for place names that have either changed since the war, were mangled by the soldiers stationed there, or it’s not immediately obvious where they might be. I tend to refer to places by the common English-language name at the time. Except where I don’t. There are a lot of Flanders placenames in here because a lot of them now take Dutch names in English instead of French ones, as was contemporary practice.

Channel Ports – Collective term for the ports in France and Belgium closest to the English coast, especially Bolougne, Calais, and Dunkirk; but possibly also Gravelines, Etaples, and Ostend. They were strategically vital for keeping the BEF in supply and the German Navy out of the North Sea. All except Ostend remained in Allied hands for the duration of the war.

Dalmatia – A historic region of Eastern Europe. It’s on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, today in Croatia.

Galicia – A historic region of Eastern Europe. Western Galicia is now mostly in Poland; eastern Galicia is now mostly in Ukraine. At the time it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Mendinghem – Major BEF hospital near the first GHQ location at St Omer. There’s a town near St Omer called “Tatinghem”, which inspired the trio of Mendinghem, Dosinghem and Bandagehem. Do you see what they did there?

Mesopotamia – Mostly the modern country of Iraq. Click the blue for the latest on how Mesopotamia turned into Iraq!

Nieuport – French name for the town often (and currently) known as “Nieuwpoort”, at the mouth of the River Yser.

Roulers – French name for the town now known as “Roeselare” in Belgium. First identified as a British objective in October 1914; remained comfortably to the rear of the German lines until autumn 1918. For some reason I find it very hard not to spell it “Rouleurs” with two Us (the French word for a cyclist).

Plugstreet – Universal British mangling of “Ploegsteert”, a small village and wood about nine miles south of Ypres. British and Empire forces held a line near Plugstreet for most of the war.

Ypres – Still widely referred to in English by that name; but it’s worth being aware that everyone else thinks it’s called “Ieper”.

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