Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Playing with Words in the Great War

When you are tired of the monotony of everyday conversational language it's often refreshing to step back in time, savouring the idiom of another era.

In my recent book about the Great War, Stephen Boulton's often playful use of words has appealed to many readers. His enjoyment of irony in language was already apparent in his carefree days before the war, evidenced by his choice of a verse for the autograph book of his cousin Phil (Phyllis Flockton Clarke):

The letters Stephen wrote one hundred years ago contain some fascinating Australian idiom, but my first example of it actually comes from his brother Nigel, whose letters are interwoven with Stephen's throughout the book:

No 15 General Hospital, Alexandria, Egypt, 11 April 1915
Dr. Harry, from her account, is raking in the spondoolicks, which must be very gratifying …. They are both very like her, especially the daughter, who promises to be a veritable sollicker.

Back to Stephen:
Rank: Artillery Gunner
Minneapolis Troop Ship, Aegean Sea, 4 May 1915
I am very well and in good spurrits and will be back soon for something to eat

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, 16 Aug 1915
As there is as much chance of getting any milk or soup as there is of flying, I thought it pretty brainy.

Hospital, Imbros, 15 Sep 1915
No patients are allowed any pay. So unless you happen to have some splosh on you, it is likely you will go hungry for some time. Luckily I had about 10/- on me when I arrived, but this is going fast.

Hospital, Imbros, 25 Sep 1915
Am living for the time when we all come back safely and settle down again with the Mee Maw

St John’s Hospital, Malta, 7 Oct 1915
It is run by English R.A.M.C. with English nurses. They seem very kind and all that sort of thing, but not the stamina or build of the good Australian "strapper". They also are of the La de da type which greatly amuses a lot of the chaps, me included, who often feel like bursting out with a mighty guffaw.

St John’s Hospital, Malta, 16 Oct 1915
Was feeling well just before this attack and had my phiz. taken with some other patients. [Phiz - abbreviation of physiognomy, a slang term for photo]
St John's Hospital, Malta, Oct 1915. Stephen Boulton sitting far left.

St John’s Hospital, Malta, 30 Oct 1915
This letter will get to you too late for your birthenday

St John’s Hospital, Malta, 6 Nov 1915
Hope everyone is well and keeping up their spirits, not worriting too much

Ghain-Tuffieha Convalescent Camp, Malta, 3 Dec 1915
The trip into town takes pretty well half the day … By the time you have done the trip in and out your brass is about finished

Ghain-Tuffieha Convalescent Camp, Malta, 31 Dec 1915
hoping there will be some "vegengubbles” left by the time I arrive,

Zietoun, Egypt, 1 Mar 1916
drove in a Garri or cab to Groppi’s which is the place where all the elite take afternoon tea. We did the heavy here for a while amongst all the Generals and crowned heads. … Holland has got his pater over here now who is a bloated “Colonel” and so is having a pretty good time. He is on transport duty and has the job of bringing over the troops from Australia. He is going to touch him for a £5 or tenner so he says, so we may be having another afternoon out in the near future before we go away.

Rank: Bombardier
La Valentine, France, 2 Apr 1916
I managed to get into Marseilles and have a look round. It is not a bad city at all and very up to date. Of course the ‘Orstralians’ caused the populace to be not a little interested and we got some cheers marching through the streets on our way to camp

La Valentine, France, 10 Apr 1916
the sheepskin coat you sent would have come in a treat if I had only got it

Caëstre, France, 8 May 1916
have to frequently drill at getting on our gas helmets. We are carrying them at all times ready to slip on immediately the alarm is given. A few seconds is long enough to put you out if you take a breath or two, so they are getting us pretty slippy at it.

Near Ypres, Flanders, 2 Sep 1916
Billy having met him in his knickerbocker youth ... Evidently took him a long time to find out a war was on. I think I was a mug to come away when I did. I should have stayed and started thinking about it now and come over as a captain with the aid of Officers Schools etc.

Rank: Corporal
Flanders, 27 Sep 1916
Leave to England for our Division has commenced again … I don't feel like going over there and calling on all the relations and spending my time playing at mams in their drawing rooms.

Royal Field Artillery Officer Cadet School, Lord's, 12 Aug 1917
I have successfully inamputated another exam

R.F.A Officer Cadet School, London, 30 Aug 1917
I hope the sarvint stays

Rank: Lieutenant
Caëstre, France, 26 April 1918
We have been living like fighting cocks for the last week and carrying on the war at the same time, dealing out plenty of biff

Read the full set of letters in Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, RAMC, & Lieut Stephen Boulton, AIF. My website lists the online retailers.

No comments:

Post a Comment