After the War is Over: A Glossary of Terms

Antimacassar: A cloth placed over the headrest of a chair or sofa, ostensibly to prevent the furniture’s fabric from being soiled, but also used for decorative purposes.

Armistice Day: On 11 November 1918 an armistice was declared between combatant nations and the guns fell silent. Its anniversary later became Armistice Day. In Britain and many Commonwealth nations, 11 November (or the nearest Sunday) is still observed as a day of remembrance, and in some regions is a statutory holiday.

Aspidistra: A particularly hardy form of houseplant that was all but ubiquitous in British homes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bathing machines: High-sided wheeled carts that were stationed on beaches and rolled into shallow water; they offered privacy to bathers who didn’t wish to be seen in their swimming costumes. By the early twentieth century they had all but disappeared from British beaches and any that remained were used as stationary changing huts.

Belgravia: A small district in central London notable for its grand squares of large Georgian houses. Edward’s family lives in Belgrave Square, from which the district takes its name.

Blackpool Rock: Sticks of brightly colored, boiled sugar candy that were a popular treat at the seaside resort.

Bovril: A proprietary brand of thickened, salty meat extract, often diluted with boiling water to make a sort of broth.

Bubble and squeak: Main course dish made of fried cabbage and leftovers, typically potatoes, vegetables, and scraps of meat.

Bully beef: Popular term for the tinned corned beef that was a mainstay of the soldier’s diet during the war.

Carfax: The conjunction of four major streets in the center of the city of Oxford.

Charabanc: Originally a large, open-topped wagon with bench seats for passengers; the motorized version of the early twentieth century was popular as a means of transportation from urban centers to seaside resorts.

Chilblains: Tissue injury that occurs when a person is exposed to cold and humid conditions, often resulting in swollen skin, itching, blisters, and infection.

Clippie: Popular term, first coined during the First World War, for women conductors on buses and trams.

Command trenches: Some twenty yards behind the fire trenches, the command trenches formed the rear part of the front line of British sections of the Western Front, and housed the dugouts and latrines.

Crape: A dull black fabric used almost exclusively in the production of mourning clothes and draperies for a household in mourning.

CSM: Company sergeant major; the most senior NCO in a company of men, which at full strength numbered 240 soldiers and five officers.

Debrett’s Peerage: A biographical dictionary, first published in the late eighteenth century, containing information on members of the peerage and baronetage of Great Britain.

Demobilization: The lengthy process by which millions of soldiers were released from military service and returned to their homes at the end of the war.

Doughboy: Slang term for American servicemen during the Great War. The term first came into use in the mid-nineteenth century, but by World War II had largely been replaced by “G.I.”

Dreadnought: The largest of the armored battleships that became the center of the arms race between Britain and Germany in the years preceding the First World War.

Estate duty: In Britain, this was the tax due on the estate of anyone worth more than £100 pounds. In 1919 the highest rate, which applied only to estates worth £1 million or more, was twenty percent.

Final Honors Schools: The final set of examinations taken by undergraduates at the University of Oxford.

Fire trenches: The first of the line of trenches that made up the British sections of the Western Front, they were zigzagged with frequent traverses to minimize the damage from enemy bombardment.

GHQ: Acronym for general headquarters; the central command of the British Armed Forces.

Greats: A popular name for the Literae Humaniores course of study for undergraduates at the University of Oxford. Greats students would primarily study the history of Ancient Greece and Rome, Latin, Ancient Greek, and philosophy.

The Great Silence: The two minutes of silence that were observed at eleven o’clock in the morning on 11 November 1919, the first anniversary of Armistice Day.

Guff: Slang term for unacceptable behavior or nonsensical talk.

Honor Mods: The first set of examinations taken by undergraduates at the University of Oxford.

Identity disks: Small leather or pressed cardboard tags worn by British soldiers and officers during the Great War; a precursor to the modern metal dog tag.

Landau: A four-wheeled carriage, often with a convertible top.

LSE: The London School of Economics.

Matriculation: Formal ceremony by which membership of the university is conferred on new students at Oxford.

Mithering: To fuss or whine about something; popular term in central and northern England.

Moleskin: Heavy cotton material with a short nap on one side, typically in a buff or olive color.

NCO: A non-commissioned officer, for example a sergeant or warrant officer.

Neurasthenia: Medical term originally used to describe a disorder of the nervous system, but during and after the Great War was used to describe symptoms of shell shock, or what we would now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder.

NYDN: Acronym for “not yet diagnosed, nervous”; used by medical staff when shell shock was suspected but not formally diagnosed.

OC: Officer in command, as distinct from CO, or commanding officer. Edward was the OC of his infantry company.

Peace Day: 19 July 1919, the day chosen to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and thus the end of the Great War.

Pillock: Slang, considered quite vulgar, for an annoying person or fool.

Pioneer battalion: Soldiers in these battalions took on the “fatigue” work of trench digging, moving munitions and supplies, and the installation and maintenance of barbed wire entanglements, among other duties.

Plimsoll: Type of shoe with a canvas upper and rubber sole.

Prebendary: Senior cleric or canon in the Church of England; the title was often accorded to an administrator at a cathedral.

Punch: A weekly satirical magazine published between 1841 and 1992, with a brief revival in the early years of this century.

RAMC: Royal Army Medical Corps. Its members included medical staff such as physicians as well as support workers such as orderlies.

Representation of the People Act: Also known as the Fourth Reform Act, the 1918 Act radically expanded the franchise in Britain by extending the vote to all men over the age of 21, and to women aged thirty and over who could meet certain property requirements.

Roll of Honor: The portion of The Times newspaper during and after the war that listed the names of soldiers and officers who were killed, wounded, captured, died of their wounds, or who went missing. In the days and weeks after major offensives it typically stretched to several pages or more.

Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act: The 1919 Act removed most restrictions to women’s employment in the professions, among them medicine and the law, allowed them to serve as magistrates or jurors for the first time, and disallowed marriage as a bar to women’s employment.

Shell shock: Common term for what we would now term PTSD. In 1917 it was banned as an official diagnosis and its use was censored elsewhere, with the mandate that “neurasthenic” instead be used to describe men whose nervous shock had no known physiological cause.

Special military probationer: Nurses employed in military hospitals and facilities in Britain. Many were drawn from the ranks of the VAD and had little formal training.

Subaltern: A second lieutenant in the British Army.

Subfusc: Academic dress worn by University of Oxford students for examinations and other formal occasions during their course of study.

Suffragist: A member of the suffrage movement, which sought to extend the franchise, or the right to vote, to all adults; the term is more commonly associated with those seeking the vote for women. “Suffragette” is often used in its stead, though its origins are derisive.

Toff: Slang term for someone from an aristocratic or upper-class background.

Treaty of Versailles: The treaty that formally ended hostilities between the Allied Powers and Germany. It was signed on 28 June 1919 after six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference.

University constituency: A constituency in the parliament of Great Britain that represented a university or group of universities rather than a geographical area. The university constituencies were abolished in 1950.

WAAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. WAAC was also the term used for an individual member of the corps.

War Graves Commission: Formally established in 1917, the commission is responsible for the establishment, indexing, and maintenance of the graves or places of commemoration of the soldiers and officers of Great Britain and its empire (now the Commonwealth).

WC: water closet; informal term for toilet. Considered less polite than “lavatory” or “necessary.”

Whitsun: Also known as Whit Sunday, this nominally was the observance of the Christian holiday of Pentecost in the late spring, but in practice was celebrated as a bank holiday in Britain.

A note on currency: Before British currency was decimalized in 1971—that is, before pounds and pence were measured in divisions of one hundred—it was measured in pounds, shillings, and pence. Twelve pence made up one shilling and twenty shillings made up one pound, with a total of 240 pence in a pound. Written in numeric form, a pound was symbolized by the term still in use, “£,” while a shilling was “s” and a penny was “d”. Other coins were circulated: the farthing (worth a quarter of one penny); the halfpenny (pronounced “ha’penny”), threepence (pronounced “thruppence”), and sixpence; the crown (worth five shillings); and the half-crown (worth two shillings and sixpence). Less commonly seen were the florin, worth two shillings, and the guinea, which actually referred to a gold coin no longer in circulation, and was equal to the amount of one pound and one shilling.