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Remembered Today:

Tommy - a hated nickname?


Paul Hodges

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Richard Holmes rather surprised me by claiming this:

Nicknames are not always popular with their recipients, and such was the case with Tommy. Many soldiers felt patronised by it, and its English implication grated on Scots, Irishmen and Welshmen.
Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front Introduction, p. xvi.

I certainly remember reading indignation at its use from Scottish and Irish soldiers' accounts but cannot recall much, if any, indignation from English troops. Holmes doesn't back it up with any quotes - can any Pals provide any?

He repeats the claim in the 'P.S. section' of the new paperback edition:

British soldiers no more relished being called Tommies than French soldiers liked being called poilus or Germans enjoyed being dressed as Fritz.
p. 8.

Although I haven't read a lot of French stuff, I was previously under the impression that despite its rather menial imprecations, French troops rather revelled in the poilus tag. Correction again welcome!

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This statement is surprising. "Tommy" was a good-natured nickname for a British soldier long before the Germans began using it. There are plenty of examples in British memoirs where men used the word to describe themselves with no hint of malice.

What did annoy the Scots, Welsh and Irish was the Germans' tendency to describe all British soldiers as "English." Presumably Prof. Holmes is saying that some Scots, Welsh or Irish soldiers considered "Tommy" - when used by the Germans - to be the same as "English."

Tom

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Perhaps we should cater for the non-English members by refering to MacTommy, McTommy & Thomas :P

Don't forget, the Germans weren't the only ones to use a nickname for us - the Americans refered to us as Limeys (sp) - something to do with the troops looking for Lemons or Oranges whilst in France and ended up with Limes - thus Limeys.

Les.

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I thought the Limey designation came from the Royal Navy and its prescription for fighting scurvy, namely eating limes and lemons for the Vitamin C.

I have an account written by a German who fought the "English" - my grandfather's CEF Battalion . . .

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- the Americans refered to us as Limeys (sp) - something to do with the troops looking for Lemons or Oranges whilst in France and ended up with Limes - thus Limeys.

I think you might find that this nick-name goes back quite a bit further than WW1, Les. ;) (look at the days of colonisation and the prevention of scurvy on long sea journeys. You'll find the origins here.)

Dave.

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As far as I am aware, "Limey" was the epithet bestowed on British sailors by their American counterparts in the early 19thC - not long after the French had won them their freedom!! - for the men aboard British ships were issued citrus fruits, most usually limes because they were cheaper, to prevent scurvy whilst at sea whereas the Americans did not.

Given that vitamins were only 'discovered' a century later, this came about from experiment: I believe Capt Cook swore by giving his men sauerkraut, so it could be worse.

BTW: There is an account of a submarine crew going down with scurvy as late as 1940. Charming.

Richard

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I thought the Limey designation came from the Royal Navy and its prescription for fighting scurvy, namely eating limes and lemons for the Vitamin C.

I have to agree with all those who assert a RN connection. Limey, as far as I know from the poor souls who taught me History at school, goes back to the days of Capt James Cook and his voyages to the antipodes.

Regards

Carninyj

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What was that POW Camp film where the German guard referred to Ronny Corbett (playing a Scottish soldier) as " English schweinhund". To which Corbett replied "Do you mind - Scottish schweinhund"! :D Phil B

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What was that POW Camp film where the German guard referred to Ronny Corbett (playing a Scottish soldier) as " English schweinhund". To which Corbett replied "Do you mind - Scottish schweinhund"!  :D  Phil B

It was The Great Escape, but although I cannot remember the actor's name I don't think it was Ronnie Corbett.

Getting back to the topic, of course any of the troops who were not English would have resented being thus called.

But Tommies? Well, if it was so well liked, why didn't it survive as army slang indead of the universal "squaddies"? You never hear it today and have not done so for decades.

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But when it appeared originally it was as a sample name for a British soldier, not an English soldier, wasn`t it? Phil B

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re The Great Escape and the Scottish bloke.

He was better known as Shughie McFee the chef of Crossroads!! Don't know his name either but I always wondered he reconciled playing opposite Steve McQueen with the glory that was Crossroads.

Re Tommy

I'll bet that any Irish soldier - north, south, east or west - was 'Paddy' when he joined any non-Irish btn.

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The wee Scotsman in The Great Escape was Angus Lennie ....  Flying Officer Archibald 'The Mole' Ives.

Les

post-1582-1113676579.jpg

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Well, all Scotsmen tend to look alike to us Sassenachs! :ph34r: Phil B

Frankly, I'm appalled that a thread starts with a serious topic and ends up with a picture of the cast of bloody Crossrods. Christ - what next....Albert Tatlock's MM citation?

Seriously, though, I've never come across Tommy used after 1918, in the same way that 'Bosche' seems to have gone from serious usage before WW2 (it crops up with Great War-period officers, but that seems to be it), whereas 'Jerry' carried on.

And what is the origin of 'Digger' - I must have read about 10 different origins, of which the most liklely dates back to the gold rush in the 19th Century, but another source claims it as a New Zealand origin.

And if I ever hear Jamie Bleeding Oliver misuse the word 'Pukka' again, I'll eat my cat.

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In the Royal Welch Fusiliers museum book they claim that 'Tommy' is welsh as in the paybook it says

Private Thomas Atkins

23rd the Royal Welch Fusiliers

Of course Arthur Wellsey the Duke of Wellington served with the original Tommy Atkins in India at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuary.

From,

Thomas McCall

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In the Royal Welch Fusiliers museum book they claim that 'Tommy' is welsh as in the paybook it says

Private Thomas Atkins

23rd the Royal Welch Fusiliers

Of course Arthur Wellsey the Duke of Wellington served with the original Tommy Atkins in India at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuary.

From,

Thomas McCall

Thomas

I have often read about the Duke of Wellington, serving with "the original Tommy Atkins" at the 1794 Battle of Boxtel. Of course, the term was popularised by Kipling in the Victorian period:

http://www.contemplator.com/england/atkins.html

However according the source cited below the term was in use as early as 1743.

"A letter sent from Jamaica about a mutiny amongst the troops says 'except for those from N. America (mostly Irish Papists) ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly'."

http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?method...8&curtab=2222_1

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