Cigarettes and Solace: Writing the Comforts of War

‘I trust that the appeal will receive the generous support it deserves so as to ensure that our brave soldiers and sailors in hospitals and convalescent homes will not want for the solace which means so much to them’

cigarettes
In the Ambulance: A VAD lighting a Cigarette for a Wounded Soldier © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3051)

By 1914, smoke was, of course, a well-established noun. The relevant entry in the first edition of the OED (in a section published in 1912)  had traced usage back to Old English, Nevertheless, the only example of the sense ‘cigarette’  came from Walter Besant’s 1882 novel All Sorts and Conditions of Men.Smoke meaning ‘tobacco’, the OED further declared, was ‘now rare’ if not in fact ‘obsolete’. The most recent example was located in 1853. Yet, as the Words in War-Time archive confirms, the war years would instead bring a striking prominence to cigarettes, smoking, and smokes  as part of popular discourse. ‘Our heroes who are fighting on land & sea, seem well provided with smokes”’, another missive from a tobacco fund declared, for example, in July 1915. A similar level of charity was, as it emphasised, equally requisite at home:

But what of those in hospital…with long hours of weariness & pain before them ? They need a smoke too, more now perhaps than ever before’.

Health warnings in WW1 can hence focus attention on deprivation and need, and on necessary provision rather than on targeted injunctions to break bad habits. An appeal for ‘Smokes for Wounded Soldiers and Sailors’ from the summer of 1915 Continue reading

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