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A Yankee in the Trenches By Robert Derby Holmes Characters: 15015

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

I cannot end this book without saying something to those who have boys over there and, what is more to the point, to those boys who may go over there.

First as to the things that should be sent in parcels; and a great deal of consideration should be given to this. You must be very careful not to send things that will load your Sammy down, as every ounce counts in the pack when he is hiking, and he is likely to be hiking any time or all the time.

In the line of eatables the soldier wants something sweet. Good hard cookies are all right. I wish more people in this country knew how to make the English plum pudding in bags, the kind that will keep forever and be good when it is boiled. Mainly, though, chocolate is the thing. The milk kind is well enough, but it is apt to cause overmuch thirst. Personally I would rather have the plain chocolate,-the water variety.

Chewing gum is always in demand and is not bulky in the package. Send a lot of it. Lime and lemon tablets in the summertime are great for checking thirst on the march. A few of them won't do any harm in any parcel, summer or winter.

Now about smoking materials. Unless the man to whom the parcel is to be sent is definitely known to be prejudiced against cigarettes, don't send him pipe tobacco or a pipe. There are smokers who hate cigarettes just as there are some people who think that the little paper roll is an invention of the devil. If any one has a boy over there, he-or she-had better overcome any possible personal feeling against the use of cigarettes and send them in preference to anything else.

From my own experience I know that cigarettes are the most important thing that can be sent to a soldier. When I went out there, I was a pipe smoker. After I had been in the trenches a week I quit the pipe and threw it away. It is seldom enough that one has the opportunity to enjoy a full pipe. It is very hard to get lighted when the matches are wet in bad weather, which is nearly always. Besides which, say what you will, a pipe does not soothe the nerves as a fag does.

Now when sending the cigarettes out, don't try to think of the special brand that Harold or Percival used when he was home. Likely enough his name has changed, and instead of being Percy or Harold he is now Pigeye or Sour-belly; and his taste in the weed has changed too. He won't be so keen on his own particular brand of Turkish. Just send him the common or garden Virginia sort at five cents the package. That is the kind that gives most comfort to the outworn Tommy or Sammy.

Don't think that you can send too many. I have had five hundred sent to me in a week many times and have none left at the end. There are always men who do not get any parcels, and they have to be looked out for. Out there all things are common property, and the soldier shares his last with his less fortunate comrade. Subscribe when you get the chance to any and all smoke funds.

Don't listen to the pestilential fuddy-duds who do not approve of tobacco, particularly the fussy-old-maids. Personally, when I hear any of these conscientious objectors to My Lady Nicotine air their opinions, I wish that they could be placed in the trenches for a while. They would soon change their minds about rum issues and tobacco, and I'll wager they would be first in the line when the issues came around.

One thing that many people forget to put in the soldier's parcel, or don't see the point of, is talcum powder. Razors get dull very quickly, and the face gets sore. The powder is almost a necessity when one is shaving in luke-warm tea and laundry soap, with a safety razor blade that wasn't sharp in the first place. In the summer on the march men sweat and accumulate all the dirt there is in the world. There are forty hitherto unsuspected places on the body that chafe under the weight of equipment. Talc helps. In the matter of sore feet, it is a life saver.

Soap,-don't forget that. Always some good, pure, plain white soap, like Ivory or Castile; and a small bath towel now and then. There is so little chance to wash towels that they soon get unusable.

In the way of wearing apparel, socks are always good. But, girlie, make 'em right. That last pair sent me nearly cost me a court martial by my getting my feet into trench-foot condition. If you can't leave out the seams, wear them yourself for a while, and see how you like it.

Sleeveless sweaters are good and easy to make, I am told. They don't last long at the best, so should not be elaborate. Any garment worn close to the body gets cooty in a few weeks and has to be ditched. However, keep right on with the knitting, with the exception of the socks. If you're not an expert on those, better buy them. You may in that way retain the affection of your sweetheart over there.

Knitted helmets are a great comfort. I had one that was fine not only to wear under the tin hat but to sleep in. I am not keen on wristlets or gloves. Better buy the gloves you send in the shops. So that's the knitted stuff,-helmets, sweaters, and mufflers and, for the expert, socks.

Be very moderate in the matter of reading matter. I mean by that, don't send a lot at a time or any very bulky stuff at all.

If it is possible to get a louse pomade called Harrison's in this country, send it, as it is a cooty killer. So far as I know, it is the only thing sold that will do the cooty in. There's a fortune waiting for the one who compounds a louse eradicator that will kill the cooty and not irritate or nearly kill the one who uses it. I shall expect a royalty from the successful chemist who produces the much needed compound.

For the wealthier people, I would suggest that good things to send are silk shirts and drawers. It is possible to get the cooties out of these garments much easier than out of the thick woollies. There are many other things that may be sent, but I have mentioned the most important. The main thing to remember is not to run to bulk. And don't forget that it takes a long time for stuff to get across.

Don't overlook the letters,-this especially if you are a mother, wife, or sweetheart. It is an easy thing to forget. You mustn't. Out there life is chiefly squalor, filth, and stench. The boy gets disgusted and lonesome and homesick, even though he may write to the contrary. Write to him at least three times a week. Always write cheerfully, even although something may have happened that has plunged you into the depths of despair. If it is necessary to cover up something that would cause a soldier worry, cover it up. Even lie to him. It will be justified. Keep in mind the now famous, war song, "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile." Keep your own packed up and don't send any over there for some soldier to worry over.

Just a few words to the men themselves who may go. Don't take elaborate shaving tackle, just brush, razor, soap, and a small mirror. Most of the time you won't need the mirror. You'll use the periscope mirror in the trenches. Don't load up on books and unnecessary clothing. Impress it upon your relatives that your stuff, tobacco and sweets, is to come along in small parcels and often and regularly. Let all your friends and relatives know your address and ask them to write often. Don't hesitate to tell them all that a parcel now and again will be acceptable. Have more than one source of supply if possible.

When you get out there, hunt up the Y.M.C.A. huts. You will find good cheer, war

mth, music, and above all a place to do your writing. Write home often. Your people are concerned about you all the time. Write at least once a week to the one nearest and dearest to you. I used to average ten letters a week to friends in Blighty and back here, and that was a lot more than I was allowed. I found a way. Most of you won't be able to go over your allowance. But do go the limit.

Over there you will find a lot of attractive girls and women. Most any girl is attractive when you are just out of the misery of the trenches. Be careful of them. Remember the country has been full of soldiers for three years. Don't make love too easily. One of the singers in the Divisional Follies recently revived the once popular music-hall song, "If You Can't Be Good Be Careful." It should appeal to the soldier as much as "Smile, smile, smile", and is equally good advice. For the sake of those at home and for the sake of your own peace of mind come back from overseas clean.

After all it is possible to no more than give hints to the boys who are going. All of you will have to learn by experience. My parting word to you all is just, "The best of luck."


All around traverse-A machine gun placed on a swivel to turn in any direction.

Ammo-Ammunition. Usually for rifles, though occasionally used to indicate that for artillery.

Argue the toss-Argue the point.

Back of the line-Anywhere to the rear and out of the danger zone.

Barbed wire-Ordinary barbed wire used for entanglements. A thicker and heavier military wire is sometimes used.

Barrage-Shells dropped simultaneously and in a row so as to form a curtain of fire. Literal translation "a barrier."


Big boys-Big guns or the shells they send over.

Big push-The battles of the Somme.

Billets-The quarters of the soldier when back of the line. Any place from a pigpen to a palace.

Bleeder or Blighter-Cockney slang for fellow. Roughly corresponding to American "guy."

Blighty-England. East Indian derivation. The paradise looked forward to by all good soldiers,-and all bad ones too.

Blighty one-A wound that will take the soldier to Blighty.

Bloody-The universal Cockney adjective. It is vaguely supposed to be highly obscene, though just why nobody seems to know.

Blooming-A meaningless and greatly used adjective. Applied to anything and everything.

Bomb-A hand grenade.

Bully beef-Corned beef, high grade and good of the kind, if you like the kind. It sets hard on the chest.

Carry on-To go ahead with the matter in hand.

Char-Tea. East Indian derivation.

Chat-Officers' term for cootie; supposed to be more delicate.

Click-Variously used. To die. To be killed. To kill. To draw some disagreeable job, as: I clicked a burial fatigue.

Communication trench-A trench leading up to the front trench.

Consolidate-To turn around and prepare for occupation a captured trench.

Cootie-The common,-the too common,-body louse. Everybody has 'em.

Crater-A round pit made by an underground explosion or by a shell.

Cushy-Easy. Soft.

Dixie-An oblong iron pot or box fitting into a field kitchen. Used for cooking anything and everything. Nobody seems to know why it is so called.

Doggo-Still. Quiet. East Indian derivation.

Doing in-Killing.


Duck walk-A slatted wooden walk in soft ground.

Dud-An unexploded shell. A dangerous thing to fool with.

Dug-out-A hole more or less deep in the side of a trench where soldiers are supposed to rest.

Dump-A place where supplies are left for distribution.

Entrenching tool-A sort of small shovel for quick digging. Carried as part of equipment.

Estaminet-A French saloon or cafe.

Fag-A cigarette.

Fatigue-Any kind of work except manning the trenches.

Fed up-Tommy's way of saying "too much is enough."

Firing step-A narrow ledge running along the parapet on which a soldier stands to look over the top.

Flare-A star light sent up from a pistol to light up out in front.

Fritz-An affectionate term for our friend the enemy.

Funk hole-A dug-out.

Gas-Any poisonous gas sent across when the wind is right. Used by both sides. Invented by the Germans.

Goggles-A piece of equipment similar to that used by motorists, supposed to keep off tear gas. The rims are backed with strips of sponge which Tommy tears off and throws the goggle frame away.

Go west-To die.

Grouse-Complain. Growl. Kick.

Hun-A German.

Identification disc-A fiber tablet bearing the soldier's name, regiment, and rank. Worn around the neck on a string.

Iron rations-About two pounds of nonperishable rations to be used in an emergency.

Knuckle knife-A short dagger with a studded hilt. Invented by the Germans.

Lance Corporal-The lowest grade of non-commissioned officer.

Lewis gun-A very light machine gun invented by one Lewis, an officer in the American army.

Light railway-A very narrow-gauge railway on which are pushed little hand cars.

Listening post-One or more men go out in front, at night, of course, and listen for movements by the enemy.

Maconochie-A scientifically compounded and well-balanced ration, so the authorities say. It looks, smells, and tastes like rancid lard.

M.O.-Medical Officer. A foxy cove who can't be fooled with faked symptoms.

Mess tin-A combination teapot, fry pan, and plate.

Military cross-An officer's decoration for bravery.

Military medal-A decoration for bravery given to enlisted men.

Mills-The most commonly used hand grenade.

Minnies-German trench mortar projectiles.

Napper-The head.

Night 'ops-A much hated practice manoeuvre done at night.

No Man's Land-The area between the trenches.

On your own-At liberty. Your time is your own.

Out or over there-Somewhere in France.

Parados-The back wall of a trench.

Parapet-The front wall of a trench.

Patrol-One or more men who go out in front and prowl in the dark, seeking information of the enemy.

Periscope-A boxlike arrangement with two mirrors for looking over the top without exposing the napper.

Persuader-A short club with a nail-studded head.

Pip squeak-A German shell which makes that kind of noise when it comes over.

Push up the daisies-To be killed and buried.

Ration party-A party of men which goes to the rear and brings up rations for the front line.

Rest-Relief from trench service. Mostly one works constantly when "resting."

Ruddy-Same as bloody, but not quite so bad.

Sandbag-A bag which is filled with mud and used for building the parapet.

Sentry go-Time on guard in the front trench, or at rest at headquarters.

Shell hole-A pit made by the explosion of a shell.

Souvenir-Any kind of junk picked up for keepsakes. Also used as a begging word by the French children.

Stand to-Order for all men to stand ready in the trench in event of a surprise attack, usually at sundown and sunrise.

Stand down-Countermanding "stand to."

Stokes-A bomb weighing about eleven pounds usually thrown from a mortar, but sometimes used by hand.

Strafing-One of the few words Tommy has borrowed from Fritz. To punish.

Suicide club-The battalion bombers.

Tin hat-Steel helmet.

Wave-A line of men going over the top.

Whacked-Exhausted. Played out.

Whiz-bang-A German shell that makes that sort of noise.

Wind up or windy-Nervous. Jumpy. Temporary involuntary fear.

Wooden cross-The small wooden cross placed over a soldier's grave.

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