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  glossary
fighting and trench terms
 
 

Boche
Pillbox
Duckboards or Bath Mats
Over the Top
Sausage
Trench and Sap
Battery
Dugout
Trench Foot
Blighty
Chatting
Puttee
 
            Boche  
 

French slang for 'German', taken into English. Boche could refer to an individual or general, noun and adjective. It was used mainly by the British and Canadian soldiers, the other ranks preferred 'Jerry'.
 
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Pillbox
 
 

These were built by the Germans as an alternative to trenches (which were impossible to dig in the oozing mud). Made of reinforced concrete, they were devised as a system of interlocking strongholds. They were square rooms with one door in the rear leading into a fire trench. Manned by resistance troops, these men would gain shelter within the pillbox during a bombardment or when not in action. As soon as an attack was launched the occupants manned the fire trench, which ran behind and extended on either side of the pillbox. Their vision was limited, however, and it was possible for individual attackers to crawl up under cover and bomb the garrison from behind. Many of the Canadian VC winners received their awards for their bravery in attacking and knocking out pillboxes in this manner.
 
 
Duckboards or Bath Mats  
 
 

Duckboards (which were nicknamed bath mats) were wooden tracks laid and maintained by soldiers to allow for movement across the muddy and marshy ground. They consisted of two narrow planks, about eight feet long, across which were nailed horizontal wooden slats. These were laid, end to end, to form long tracks for movement of the troops and artillery.
 
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Over the Top
 
 

This expression was used when leaving the shelter of a fire trench in order to make an assault. Troops had to hoist themselves over the front wall of sandbags (the parapet) and many were struck down by bullet or shell explosion before they had time to take a stride forward. The phrase was originally 'over the top and the best of luck', but as casualties increased and so many attacks ended in disaster, 'and the best of luck' was either omitted or spoken in bitter irony.
 
 
Sausage  
 
 

Sausage was the name for the observer balloons used by both sides. These balloons would usually be anchored over the front or near the front, and would be connected to a winch, so they could be hauled down quickly. Used to direct artillery fire, they were targeted by fighter aircraft and by artillery.
 
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Trench and Sap
 
 

Trench represents a line of defense: front trench, support trench, reserve trench, for the most part running approximately parallel to the line held by the enemy. A sap was a line of communication, whether from the rear to the front or from a trench to an emplacement, kitchen, latrine, store, etc. The main links between the front line and the supports and reserves were called communication trenches. Technically, a trench was dug downwards, a sap was dug outwards from an existing trench. It was the infantry who dug both saps and trenches.
 
 
Battery  
 
 

Battery refers to a group of guns, or "artillery" pieces. A "counter-battery" is artillery that targets the enemy's artillery. Locating the enemy's artillery or batteries and targeting them with counter-batteries became a complex, essential science. Methods included sound-ranging, flash spotting, aerial observation and photography, intelligence reports and spying and interrogation of prisoners. Raids on enemy trenches were often carried out to gather information and capture prisoners for interrogation.
 
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Dugout
 
 

A Dugout was a shelter from shell fire and the weather, made by digging into the wall of a trench or down from the trench floor. Dugouts were of three kinds: Cubbyholes dug into the side of the trench, in which one or at most two men could sleep, without much comfort. Shelters were also dug into the trench wall but rather bigger and shored up with wooden props and corrugated iron. Deep dugouts afforded real protection and were used only for headquarters of various kinds. A deep dugout had a stairway shaft leading six, ten or more feet underground into one or more rooms which might be walled with boards and contain wire-netting beds and even electric lights.

Dugout was also a facetious name among officers for an oldish officer returning from retirement to active service and displaying little efficiency.
 
 
Trench Foot  
 
 

Days of standing in freezing mud and water produced a condition akin to frostbite that was called trench foot. It was a common winter ailment for the troops, but when prevention was provided (a thick grease in which one had to coat the foot), it became a crime to get it. However, no humane commander enforced the penalty.

 
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Blighty
 
 

Blighty was one of the soldier's favourite words. It referred to a wound that was serious enough to take one out of the war, hopefully forever, but not life threatening. For the infantry in the mud, a Blighty evoked images of normal life: clean beds, a roof, good food, in other words, home. In this one word was gathered much of the soldier's homesickness, affection and war-weariness.
 
 
Chatting  
 
 

Chatting was ridding oneself of chatts, which were lice that lived in the clothes of the soldiers. These vermin bit the soldiers and left blotchy red bite marks all over the body except in the hair of the head. During quiet periods the soldiers would spend hours searching their uniforms and underwear, especially along the seams, and cracking the lice between the thumb nails.

 
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Puttee
 
 

The cloth band that was wound round the leg from the upper of the boot to near the knee was called the puttee. It was meant to give support to the soldiers while they were walking. There were two accepted ways of winding the puttee for active service and several dressy ways for social service. The word comes from the Hindustani for bandage and became accepted in English late in the 19th century.
 
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