THE NEW WAR OF TERROR. IS BRITAIN NO LONGER AN ISLAND?
MAILED FIST IN THE AIR.
The heading above appeared in the Daily Express in February 1916. Like 9/11, and the emergence of the modern “war on terror”, perceptions of this ‘new war of terror’ in 1916 were prompted by a series of aerial attacks in civilian locations. While WW1, by 1916, was indeed a ‘world war’ in hitherto unprecedented ways, it was the victims of German aerial warfare in British towns along the east coast, in Kent, and in the Midlands which prompted anxiety of this kind. The language of ‘terror’ was marked. While war zone is itself a coinage of WW1 (dated to 1914 in the Oxford English Dictionary, it is widely documented across the Words in War-Time archive), it was clear by 1916 that systemetic attack could occur outside formal theatres of war. Conflict of this kind instead consolidated the sense of what we know now as total war. As the article continued:
The governing condition of our national life during about the last four hundred years – that is, since naval power became our principal defence, has been the circumstance that Britain was an island, which strength at sea could defend … Britain is, quite manifestly, ceasing to be an island, and though strength at sea does still protect her from serious invasion, and may continue to do so for some years to come, that strength is powerless to defend us against aerial attack.
In war in the air, geographical boundaries were easily transcended; the ‘mailed fist’ could, as in the headline above, hover at will above London or Lowestoft, Dover or Deal. ‘Henceforth no non-combatant will be immune from attack’, the writer added. Here, too, language and (re)definition could be at stake. As recent events confirmed, combat and non-combatants could intersect with deadly effect, rendering civilians remote from the field of battle into direct casualties of war.
The language of terror– phrased with particular acuity in 1916 –can, in fact, be traced from the beginning of the war, whether in analysis of the Kaiser’s ‘power to terrorise’ (in September 1914) or in comment on the emergence of new weapons of destruction which Continue reading →
George Robey’s rendition of the music-hall song ‘Archibald, Certainly Not’ perhaps provides an unlikely accompaniment to the First World War. It deals with the comic archetypes of domestic – and specifically marital – strife. The unfortunate Archibald is subject to continual reproof and correction from the moment he ties the knot. Denied a honeymoon, the opportunity to play cricket, or a piece of roast chicken, Archibald’s endeavours are, in each case, firmly curtailed by the refrain ‘Archibald, certainly not’. Even outside the domestic sphere, Archibald is apparently doomed to identical processes of castigation and control:
I once strolled through a field, and there a mad bull came across.
It gamboll’d with me playfully and quickly won the toss!
Of course I sued the owner, and the day the case was fought,
The judge exclaimed when I said, “Sir, let’s have the bull in court!”
“Archibald, certainly not! Just show what other evidence you’ve got!”
But he cried when I said, “Please forgo it…
Because I must stand up to show it. “Archibald-certainly not”
The recurrent patterning by which Archibald’s every endeavour is rebutted and repulsed, was, however, to effect an interesting transfer into the diction of the war. As an article in the Evening News in January 1915 indicates, it was by this point seen as yet another component in the lexical ingenuity of war-time English. While the article draws attention in general terms to ‘the ingenuity of the British soldier in inventing picturesque names for the various engines of destruction brought to bear against him’, Archibald features as an item of specific interest. It designates ‘for some unknown reason’ the ‘anti-aircraft gun’, the writer explains. As in so many other cases, the language of Front and Home Front had apparently diverged. Here, a proper name had inexplicably been used to ‘christen’ an inanimate object. Both, admittedly, began with the same letter but at least in this article the transfer is seen as entirely opaque.
Across the Words in War-Time archive, however, the prevalence of this usage is clear. As a further quotation from December 1914 confirms, for instance, attributions of this kind were already part of common parlance at the Front. ‘High-angle guns firing shrapnel’ are ‘commonly known as “Archibalds”’, the Daily Express explains for the benefit of its own readers. Used with reference to the enemy, Archibald offered a ready personification of agency and attack: Continue reading →
Scouting, as a way of finding out facts about the enemy’s position and defences, has a long history in war. The relevant entry in the first edition of the OED had been completed in 1911; to scout, it confirmed, was ‘to act as a scout; to play the spy’, as well as (under sense 4) ‘To reconnoitre, to examine with a view to obtaining information’. ‘Besides, they must skoute, discouer, with all dueties that belongs vnto an Armie’, as RogerWilliams had stated in his Briefe Discourse of Warre in 1590 (the quote appeared in the OED in illustration of the first sense given above). Jonathan Swift’s mock-battle in his Tale of a Tub provided the first illustrative citation of scout sense 4: ‘One surveys the Region round, while t’other scouts the Plain’. Nineteenth-century news discourse usefully provided evidence for its later use, as in an OED quotation taken from the Daily News in 1871 (‘Bazaine has been condemned by every military authority in Europe for not scouting the ravine of Gorze’). The same newspaper provided the OED’s concluding quotation too, dated to 1900: ‘Major Karri Davies, with eight men of the Light Horse, were ordered to scout the country’.
Newspaper citations of this kind also provided, of course, the kind of precedent which Andrew Clark widely adopted for his own project in tracking words in use, and the changes in form and meaning that they could reveal, here within the time-frame of a specific historical event. The three years since the OED entry of 1911 brought, as Clark argued, a range of new developments in these terms. Scouting offered a range of interesting changes, closely linked with the emergent technologies of modern warfare. ‘Scouts beneath the Waves’, as the Daily Express stated in September 1914 – a statement which it glossed by the explanatory ‘Hidden Watchers in Submarines’. ’Scouts in the Air’, it affirmed, if to rather different ends. ‘Scouting missions’, as Clark noted, could be realised in entirely new ways in WWI, involving aviators and daredevils** rather than the advance parties on horse or foot who people the relevant entries in the OED.
In other popular locutions, scouts could even be realised in non-human form entirely: ‘The air scouts of an army in action start from a landing-ground … that is obviously some distance behind the actual scene of action. The aeroplanes start from that point, make their reconnaissances, and return thereto, either to make their reports or to land for supplies of petrol and oil’, as the Daily Express explained to its readers in late August 1914′. ‘Soon, however, another machine hove into view, which turned out to be a German Otto biplane, a type of machine which is not nearly so fast as our scouts’, the Evening News stated to similar effect in October 1914. As Clark pointed out, scouts in this respect signified the planes rather than their occupants.As another early entry in the Words in War-Time archive notes, scouting monoplanes of this kind (‘One of our aviators on a fast scouting monoplane sighted a hostile machine’, Evening News 15 October 1914) formed, of necessity, another absence in the contemporary OED.
As Clark realised, air scouts and aerial scouting (the latter recorded in the Evening News in September 1914)** served to realise and express the new enterprise of air reconnaissance — another form which came into historical prominence in the early days of WWI (even if this, too, remained and, indeed, still remains absent from the OED):
From their [the German] rate of fire they seemed to be nearly automatic, but so far they have not had much effect in reducing the air reconnaissance carried out by us (Evening News Oct 15 1914).
As Clark noted, evidence on reconnaissance in the contemporary OED had ended in 1875; it was moreover Wellington’s military missions which had been deemed to provide appropriate illustration in ways which evoked a far earlier period of history (‘A body of troops sent to reconnoitre’: 1811 Wellington, ‘The enemy sent a reconnaissance of cavalry…consisting of about fourteen squadrons…of the Imperial Guard’).Flight, and the wide-ranging role of air scouts instead bought results which, as the Scotsman contended, surely rendered older forms of reconnaissance obsolete:
even with a limited flying service, if it is efficiently handled, secrecy in the concentration of large bodies of troops has been rendered almost impossible. The air scouts receive their orders, and whirl aloft. Each sweeps upon an individual route, and each returns with observations, that are blended to form a whole. Where is the enemy in greatest strength? what troops are in motion, and in what direction are they moving ?
As it added, ‘Instead of groping clumsily in a twilight, as was the case in former times, a Commander-in-Chief in this war, thanks to his aircraft, finds himself provides with an all-seeing eye’. Patriotic pride centred, as here, on these new scouts of the air in a diction which is densely emblematic of time and place. The ‘splendid work of the Flying Corps’ is praised for its strategic importance in what was depicted as acts of of information rather than attack. ‘The main object of military aviation is the collection of information’, as the Scotsman announced on 15th September 1914, providing useful evidence on reconnaissance flight as another newly familiar formation. ‘The constant object of our aviators has been to effect the accurate location of the enemy’s forces’, it added.
Here and elsewhere, the Words in War-Time archive emblematises the historical moment, presenting, as in the quotations above, eloquent evidence of the changes which took place in contemporary perception, not least in terms of the diverse role of flight in modern war, and its vital significance.
** daredevil was another word which took on an interesting alignment with the enterprise of war in the air. Clark located early evidence in October 1914 which suggested a new meaning restricted specifically to airmen, and those who ventured on dangerous missions as part of the Flying Corps:
that is why the work in the air will always demands the daredevil. That is why the world will thrill to the deeds of the airmen, to the wild swoop through the shrapnel upon the mark for the bomb, to the vaunting swoop above the trenches that belch forth searching bullets’ (17th October 1914)
Dare-devil had been recorded in the relevant section of the OED (printed in 1894, and provided with evidence 1794-1874), but Clark, rightly, suggested yet another change was at work, embedded in the ways in which one could, in a time of war and via flight, find new ways in which being ‘recklessly daring’ might be manifest. The OED1 entry remains unrevised in OED Online. See dare-devil, n. and adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 22 December 2014.
** aerial scouting (Evening News, 4 Sept 1914): ‘ThTheir usual plan is to send out aeroplanes, which are followed by a Zeppelin with explosives’
‘War in the air, so long the dream of the imaginative novelist, has become a terrible reality’, the Scotsman noted in September 1914, here in another clipping which found its way into Clark’s archive of words. For Clark, as his notebooks record, flight would serve as a particularly telling domain of language and history, providing — from the early days of war — compelling evidence of wide range of new collocations and constructions. New identities proliferated; attack, as newspapers reported, might now come from aerial enemies while a new breed of soldier-aviators were early recognised as important in the directions war might take. ‘We shall no doubt hear more of the desperate missions our fancy has usually associated with the work of the soldier-aviator’, as the Scotsman noted on August 18th 1914; ‘Precautions have been taken with a view to possible visits from aerial enemies at night’, it likewise recorded on September 8th, in a report on Paris at war. Nevertheless, as Clark’s clippings demonstrate, explaining — and describing — these new realities of conflict could be difficult. Did one use aerial raid or air raid in documenting war in the air? Both appear in early pages of Clark’s notebooks, describing attacks on Paris and Rheims. ‘Interesting Details of the Aerial Raid’, the Scotsman announced on 24th September, for example, describing an ‘air raid’ made by the British on the German frontier.** The OED, as then published, maintained a conspicuous silence; the relevant sections had been completed in 1884. Here an aeroplane was ‘a semi-transparent fabric of the nature of a thin crape’, while an aeronaut was ‘One who sails through the air, or who makes balloon ascents; a balloonist. Clark’s evidence on aviator, aeronaut, and airman, of aviation school, aeroplane service, and aerodrome swiftly confirmed, in this respect, the language – and history – of a very different time. Similar was airmanship (‘’it was superb airmanship’, the Evening News stated on September 3rd). This, as Clark explained, referred to the ability to manage an airship (rather than ‘skill in managing a balloon’, as the OED had earlier stated). Such changes reflected on-going history with marked specificity. As Clark explores, the framing diction of airships (which were likewise absent from the first edition of the OED) would, in this respect, come to inform a range of nautical extensions as journalists strove to report the events taking place across Europe. Attack by ‘a fleet of airships’ had, in fact, also long been the territory of the ‘imaginative novelist’ , as H.G. Wells’s novel War in the Air (1908) confirms. Yet as in the Scotsman on Saturday September 5th,, these terms were to be familiarised in fact rather than fiction, as in reports of the German aerial fleets which sailed across the sky in search of objects to attack: ‘Leiutenants Zalin and Rheinhardt of the aerial fleet have been awarded iron crosses for distinguished achievements’, the Scotsman noted; ’German Air Fleetto attack Paris’, it stated two days later. Aerial piracy becomes, by a further extension, another prominent image in these early days of war. As a range of clippings in Clark’s notebooks confirm, this could convey the ruthlessness and depredation which piracy had traditionally connoted, while simultaneously being transplanted to the conditions of strikingly modern warfare. ‘The aerial pirate stopped in its swoops, and turned so suddenly I wondered it did not break amidships’, an illustrative clipping from the Evening News on 3rd September states. Such forms also, of course, effectively demarcated the conditions of war in other ways. An aerial pirate was, of necessity, an enemy’s airship, as Clark confirms in his accompanying definition; it was, he added, one bound moreover on an errand of destruction’. A pirate here meant a ‘pirate-ship’, he clarified, rather than those on board. Piracy here defined the enemy – the activities of the allies demanded a different, and far more legitimatized, diction. Yet at stake on both sides was, of course, the conquest of the air– another combination which Clark early picks out in use, here in the Star on September 5th: ‘the conquest of the air has served to cloak the most infamous stain in contemporary history. It has demonstrated that the means of flying, in the hands of barbarians, have brought into prominence their savage, terrible, and ignoble brutality’.
** This still antedates, if by four days, the evidence of the modern OED. The entry for airmanship, in OED Online, likewise omits evidence for the war years, moving instead from 1879 to 1937 in ways which occlude the changing senses which are at stake. See “airmanship, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 3 September 2014.