1916: In the “Summer-time”.


summer 1916
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. Continue reading

Austerity Britain in 1914-15: from war economy to radium bread.


Copyright. Imperial War Museum. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31468. The poster dates from 1917, and illustrates a later phase of what came to be known as voluntary food rationing.

War economy   n.  (a) a measure taken in order to save money or other resources because of a war;  (b) an economy, characteristic of wartime, in which a large part of the labour force is engaged in arms production, etc., rather than in the production of goods for export or for civilian use (OED)

1919   W. B. Yeats Cutting of Agate 16   The Print Room of the British Museum is now closed as a war-economy.

While the OED’s entry for war was written in 1921, war-economy would make its way into the dictionary only in the final volume of the four Supplements edited by Robert Burchfield between 1972 and 1986. Dated to 1919, the earliest  evidence, as in extract given above, derived from the poet W. B. Yeats. War economy, and the exigencies of conflict as experienced on the Home Front, has, however, a far earlier history as detailed in the Words in War-time archive. Prominent from the autumn of 1914, it can, as the archive confirms, prompt a wide range of associated forms.

Economy in the sense ‘careful management of resources, so as to make them go as far as possible’ was. of course, already well-established (the OED traces evidence of relevant use to 1670). It would nevertheless, as Clark observed, emerge as yet another ‘catch-phrase’ of the war, often being made part of a wider rhetoric of sacrifice by which individuals could be seen to ‘do their bit’, and integrated alike into government advice and popular advertising.  “Study economy and health’ was, as one advertisement proclaimed, a particularly appropriate ‘Maxim for War-Time’ — a premise realised in this instance by the injunction to drink ‘Pure Indian tea‘. Continue reading