A is for armour all shiny and bright
that men used to wear when they went off to fight.
B is for button that ought to be bright
when you fight for your King, your home and your right.
C is for commandant whose uniform is red
and when a train load comes in she takes names from each bed.
D is for danger a most dreadful thing
but still we must risk it to fight for our King.
E is for Englishman exceedingly brave
who fights for his Home and his country to save.
F is for Frenchman also very bold
he’ll do and he’ll dare whatever he’s told.
G is for German not our friend but our foe
you can hear them abused wherever you go.
H is for Hospital where the Tommies all go
to get rid of the wounds given them by the foe.
I is for Iodine such a marvellous cure
that the Tommies there [sic] dreadful pain can endure.
J is for Jack who we must not forget
they sail in a boat and then throw out a net.
K is for Kaiser who we have to fight
for King home and country for Honour and right.
L is for Lehmann a nasty musician
in these dreadful hard times he’d best turn physician
M is for mascot which is sometimes a goat
soldiers have them on dry land and Sailors afloat.
N is for Nurses whose uniforms blue
who tries each poor Tommies’ dressings to do.
O is for operation which means cutting up people
which afterwards makes them feel very feeble.
P is for plaster which covers a cut
which may have been done in an old wooden hut.
Q is for Quarter Master whose uniform is blue
she is not idle she’s got lots to do.
R is for Regiment where the soldiers come from
each one is a hero from General to non-com
S is for sister the boss of the ward
she’s had a full training you may be assured.
T is for trousers that come in all worn
they have to be burnt they’re so dirty and torn.
U is for uniform blue-grey with red tie
the soldiers don’t like them it makes them feel shy.
V is for VAD they are fearfully kind
they join the detachment with a very good mind.
W is for wax which the dentists all use
for false teeth etc which are put on with screws.
X is for x-ray which photographs you
and shows your internals all through and through
Y is for Ypres where is all the worst firing
while we safe at home our gallant soldiers admiring.
Z is for Zog which makes white paint so clean
the ward maids all use it, they ought to I mean!
This War-times Alphabet was written by eleven-year-old Anne Kynaston Mainwaring when home from boarding school in the summer of 1916.Her home, opulent Oteley, a mansion overlooking the mere at Ellesmere, had been turned into a military hospital the previous year. The commandant of the hospital was Anne’s mother, May Mainwaring, referred to under the letter C.
For those recovering from the horrors of the Front, Oteley must have seemed like heaven with its extensive deer park and ten acre Italianate Garden leading down to the Mere. The house, an early Victorian stone mansion built in a neo-Elizabethan style, served as a military hospital in both WW1 and WW2 (when American GIs were cared for there). The house was demolished in 1961 and today its renowned gardens lie hidden under foliage and dereliction.
Annie’s little alphabet gives us one or two insights into everyday life in a First World War hospital. She refers to the different colour uniforms being worn and mentions the patients in a blue grey one. This was the official ‘hospital blues’ or ‘blue invalid uniform’ – blue jacket with white lining, blue trousers, white shirt and a red tie.- given out to wounded soldiers. There were numerous complaints about the quality of these uniforms and mention that the flannelette jacket shrunk at a different rate to its lining. Most patients said the only size was huge, so trousers had turn-ups that reached to their knees and jackets that flapped around them. To complete the outfit, soldiers were required to wear the khaki cap from their original uniform. One comic sketch of the time called it all ‘A bad fit of the blues.’
X-Rays are mentioned and these were first discovered in 1895 by a German, Wilhelm Roentgen, who won the Nobel Physics prize in 1901 for his discovery. The usefulness of X-ray in detecting where bullets and shrapnel had become lodged in the body was soon put to use during WW1. Field hospitals were often equipped with mobile X-ray units. Marie Curie realised the usefulness of X-rays. Not only did she raise money for the equipment but she persuaded French motor manufacturers to develop an X-ray car, mobile enough to go to the front and with a power supply for the apparatus. By contrast the Germans worked on a horse-drawn version with its own motor for the electricity supply.
Annie refers to ZOG, a paste that was sold in Edwardian times specifically to clean paintwork. ZOG it off was one of their slogans, the manufacturers claimed it was as good as an extra pair of hands. But it seems to have gone out of favour in the 1920s.