The role of humour during World War One

The sense of humour played a major part in maintaining the morale of both troops and civilians during WWI.

Humour was a response to fear, boredom, isolation and adversity. Humour fostered solidarity and helped shape a group identity against a common enemy. It nurtured resilience and helped men cope together with fear, hardship, deprivation and loss.

In 1916 some British officers in Ypres discovered an intact printing press in the ruins of a bombed out building.  They decided to use the press to create a satirical newspaper to entertain the soldiers and to raise their spirits. The Wipers Times was named after Tommy slang for Ypres.  The paper consisted of poems, reflections, wry in-jokes and lampoons of the military situation.  In 2013 the BBC broadcast a dramatization of the story of The Wipers Times.

Are you a victim to optimism

‘Are You A Victim Of Optimism?’ appeared in The Wipers Times in July 1916 in response to the Battle of the Somme, where 19,240 British men died in the first day of fighting. It is a typical example of the magazine’s gallows humour.

Further reading:
Gallows humour from the trenches of World War I
Picture Postcards from the great War 1914-1918

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Trench Lingo

The language used in the WWI trenches combined humour and understatement. Many of the words are still in use today, and have become part of the Aussie lingo eg:
Kip:  to sleep
Clobber:  clothing (from Yiddish)
Cold feet:  fear
Cakehole:  mouth
Dead soldier:  empty beer bottle
Kaput:  finished, broken (from German)
Thunderbox:  toilet
Howler:  a big mistake Read the rest of this entry »

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Regimental numbers

Men enlisting in WWI were issued with a regimental number by the AIF. Exceptions were officers and nurses, who were not issued a regimental number.

Numbers, while sequential, were rarely unique. The number “1‟ was allocated to the first man in every infantry battalion and light horse regiment. Therefore, a minimum of 20 men could share the regimental number “1‟ – one for each of the 16 infantry battalions and four light horse regiments.

When a soldier was transferred to another unit which already had that regimental number his number was appended with a letter. The numbers of re-enlisting soldiers often included the letter R.

With the formation of the General Service Reinforcements (GSR) in 1917, the numbering system changed; general reinforcement soldiers were allocated a unique number between 50,000 and 80,000.

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