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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington


Below you will find a list of specialised and uncommon words and phrases used within 'Life and Death as a Soldier in World War One'. We have provided the definitions of these words and phrases to help you understand their meaning. If you require any additional help please contact us and we will try to assist you.

Allies: the coalition formed by Britain and her colonies (including Australia , New Zealand, Canada and India), France and Russia (the Triple Entente) from the beginning of the war, and later other countries including Belgium and the United States.

Battalion: part of a regiment, a battalion is a basic fighting unit of about 1000 men. It is made up of companies. In the Durham Light Infantry, for example, 18 battalions fought in France and Belgium during the First World War.

Commonwealth: the British Empire became the Modern Commonwealth in 1949.

Dog tag: all soldiers wear a dog tag on a cord around their neck for the identification of dead bodies. In World War One, a dog tag consisted of one circular red tag and one octagonal green tag, both made of a thick fibrous substance, rather like cardboard. The soldier's name, regiment, number and religion were stamped on both tags. The red tag was cut off and collected to count casualties, and the green tag was left on the body. The popular story during WW1 was that the red tag was the same colour as blood, the green one was the colour of the grass which the body would be buried in.

Last Post: the voluntary played at funerals and remembrance services, usually on a bugle. It is also played every night at the Menin Gate in memory of the dead of the First World War.

Military Cross: medal given for bravery to officers and senior NCOs.

NCO: Non Commissioned Officer

Neutral: a person, group or, more typically, a country which is not on any side and has no alliance, particularly during a war. For example, America declared that it was neutral on 19 August 1914, although it later entered the war on 6 April 1917.

Patriotic/Patriotism: strong feelings of love and devotion to one's country and, if necessary, one will fight to defend it.

Regiment: a division of an army, e.g. The Durham Light Infantry is a regiment within the British Army

Shell Shock: a psychological illness caused by fighting and witnessing war, often resulting in nervous breakdown. It was a serious problem for the armies in WWI: by the end of the war the British Army had dealt with 80,000 cases. The majority of these men could not return to military duty. Shell shock could also occur when men returned home after the war, as many found it difficult to re-adjust to normal life. The public, and most soldiers, did not understand shell shock and reacted with little sympathy, increasing the feelings of embarrassment and shame experienced by the sufferers.

Spanish Influenza: a pandemic of influenza spread from the Middle East in the spring of 1918 across Europe and the rest of the world. It was such a severe strain of flu that it is estimated to have killed up to 40 million people worldwide (and to have infected up to 1 billion, half the world's population at the time), before dying out in 1919. Indeed, more people died of Spanish 'Flu than were killed during fighting in the whole of WWI. It is known as Spanish Influenza because of the high number of early cases which were reported by the press in Spain. In the countries which were at war, cases were not reported for fear that knowledge of the high numbers of deaths would lower morale and encourage the enemy. The movement of troops may have helped the spread of disease.

Territorial Battalion: a battalion made up of part-time volunteers, rather than regular soldiers.

Trench Fever: first identified in the winter of 1914, trench fever is caused by bites from infected body lice. Symptoms include severe pains in muscles and bones (giving the disease its other name, 'shin-bone fever'), recurring fever, headaches, skin rashes and inflamed eyes. Although the disease is painful, sufferers usually recover within 5 or 6 weeks.

Western Front: the name given to the line of trenches which stretched from the English Channel across the battle fields of France and Belgium during WWI. It was called the Western Front because it was west of Germany.

Zeppelin: a German airship. Zeppelin raids were carried out on the ports and towns along the East coast of Britain during WWI, causing widespread fear amongst the civilian population.