© 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