English Words in War-time

1916: In the “Summer-time”.

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Women practicing semaphore signalling at summer camp in Hertfordshire 1916

 

© IWM (Q 108031): http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205088114?cat=photographs. “THE WOMENS VOLUNTEER RESERVE ON THE HOME FRONT, 1914-1918”

In The Guardian on 22nd June 2016, the sculptor Martin Jennings commented on the ways in which diversity can, tactically, ‘be put in inverted commas, as though it isn’t real’. The role of punctuation as a way of contesting reality — and performing what is, in essence, ideological work —  has become a common feature of modern discourse.  Diversity as word, or practice, can, for various reasons, often attract these signals of attitudinal distancing, irrespective of the facts by which it is underpinned.

That ‘summer’ or ‘summer-time’ can also be accompanied by  signals of ideological scepticism is perhaps not altogether unsurprising. As in the ostensible summer of 2016, ‘summer (at least in Britain) is characterised by leaden skies and ample rain, rather than its prototyppical sun and warmth. “Summer time”, complete with its own set of ideologically marked scare quotes, would, however,  assume a rather different set of meanings in 1916, in ways which offered their own potential for expressing a perceived dissonance with expected realities.

On one level, of course,  summer time —  irrespective of either weather and the war – retained its traditional meanings. As in the relevant fascicle of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was published  in January 1917, summer-time was ‘the season of summer; the time that summer lasts’. Bound with the rhythms of the turning world, this spanned (in Britain) the period between the summer solstice (June 21st) and the autumnal equinox (September 22 or 23rd). Illustrative quotations for summer in the OED reach back into the earliest records of the language.

The summer of 1916 nevertheless brought a new and discrete sense into operation. As the original OED explained in a strikingly contemporary note, summer time had, in this respect, recently been redefined by parliamentary decree:

 An Act to provide for the Time in Great Britain and Ireland being in advance of Greenwich and Dublin mean time respectively in the summer months..This Act may be cited as the Summer Time Act, 1916.

As the relevant entry explained, summer time was now officially divided between meanings which pertained to ‘ordinary time’  and a new sense dependant on what was given as ‘standard time’, a time ‘in advance’ of time as previously understood.  The equinoctial boundary was discarded. Under ‘standard time’, summer-time was longer (often extending to the end of September), as well as being re-configured in relation to ‘ordinary’ conceptions of time itself. Summer-time in this new sense now meant, the OED added:

The standard time (in advance of ordinary time) adopted in some countries during the summer months (in the British Isles, in 1916, from 21 May to 30 September).

Or as the Daily Express carefully explained for the benefit of its readers:

The altered time, which will generally be called “summer time,” will remain in force up to and including September 30 next.

The inverted commas or scare quotes adopted in the Express signal not only the new but also set out a marked  sense of defamiliarisation – and another way in which war-time experience was increasingly seen as dislocated from the past. Summer-time in 1916 was, and was not, the same of that of 1915.

Readers were frequently reminded that time had been redefined. As in another illustration of the amazons of 1916, a caption in the War Budget in June 1916 hence extols:

A Croyden milk portress doing the work of several men who have joined the colours. She starts work at 4. a.m. (new style) and deals with over 500 cans and churns for each “round”.

“Summer-time” (new style)  was increasingly  seen as a quintessential aspect of war-time use. The writer Twills Brex in the Daily Mail envisaged, for example, a post-war museum of relics in which summer-time as redefined in 1916 would, of necessity, also take its rightful place:

Gallery of Relics and Curios (additional items). No.5. ‘Interesting photograph of facial expressions inside the bars of the lion-house at the ‘Zoo’ at 4 p.m. on the first day of ‘summer time’.

Here, the lion – a well-established signal of Britishness – is yawning by 4 p.m. The natural rhythms of the day are seen as out of line with those imposed by man. Summer-time is, tellingly, “summer-time”.

This dissonant sense of natural time versus what was often referred to as artificial time or official time continued through war-time diction.  As in a late entry in the Words in War-Time archive (taken from the Daily Express), “summertime” – again as distinct from summertime—is seen as a mode of existence imposed on British life (beneath which natural time continues intact):

Sunday 30th March 1919

Artificial time, an hour ahead of natural time, began today

As Andrew Clark likewise recorded in his diary in September 1917, last night ‘clocks were set back to bring official time back to natural time’. As this confirms, other locutions introduced as composite parts of these war-time changes have their own enduring legacies in modern English. ‘This is the last day of summer time. Do not forget to put the clock back an hour before going to bed to-night’, as the Daily Express noted on September 30th 1916.

That time might be changed by human regulation was, of course, nothing new. Samuel Johnson, working on his own record of the language in 1752, had been deprived of his birthday on September 7th (for this year alone, September 2nd was followed by September 14th as the nation moved from Julian to Gregorian calendars, thereby bringing Britain into line with most of Europe).  It was, however, pragmatic reasons of a different kind that underpinned the recalibrated summer of 1916 (and succeeding years). While war economy (especially in relation to food) had, as earlier posts have explored, emerged as a prominent locution in war-time use, the fact that war-time  – here in quite literal ways – might be subject to war economies of its own was a further shift in use. ‘The Government brought forward the measure of as a war-time economy’, Michael MacDonagh confirms in his own diary in the summer of 1916, here placing what is seen clock-time against the natural rhythms of the year:

They argued that the advance of clock-time by one hour throughout the country during the summer months will, by lessening by an hour a day the time of artificial lighting, be productive of large savings of coal. It will also provide opportunities for open-air recreation to the working classes, which is to the good in war-time.

Daylight-saving, a concept already explored by Benjamin Franklin in comic form (“An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light”, sent to The Journal of Paris in 1784) as well as proposed for Britain in the early twentieth-century by the Surrey builder  William Willet,  also came, by extension, into common use as both noun and adjective  in 1916 – even if it did not always bring the consequences desired. There were marked advantages, at least for those who did not have to work. As Ethel Bilbrough noted in her War Diary in May 1916:

‘We benefit in many ways by the new arrangement. To begin with, in hot summer it is delightful to find at 8.30 in the morning that the air is quite bracing and fresh (it being in reality only 7.30!) and you can open every window for an hour, and so cool the house for the whole day’

Yet saving daylight by means of artificial time might, paraodxically,  mean that more artificial light might be required. ‘In the manufacturing districts in the north it has been found that daylight saving means starting work in the factories by means of artificial light when the opening time is 6 a.m.’. a further article in the Express confirmed.

British history would see a range of further experiments with the extent and duration of summertime in ways which would, in time, contribute to its modern familiarisation (and the now entirely unremarkable British Summer Time). In 1916, as both private and punblic writing confirms, this unremarkablility had yet to be achieved. Instead writing time could become a  more complex space, in which nature and artifice, enforced compliance and attitudinal resistance, often demonstrably lurk beneath the range of locutions which come into (and of) use.

 

Further notes

For Martin Jennings on diversity, see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/21/sculptor-defends-his-mary-seacole-statue-if-she-was-white-would-there-be-this-resistance.

For Samuel Johnson and the 18thC reconfiguring of time, see Lynda Mugglestone, Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words (OUP, 2015), Chapter 7: ‘History and the Flux of Time’.

 

 

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