First World War letters glossary

Jack Johnson: German howitzer shell with a calibre of 150mm (5.9 inches).  Named for the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908 to 1915, an American called Jack Johnson (1878-1946) who was the first black world heavyweight champion, in reference to the black smoke the shells threw up upon impact.  Also called a 5.9 or Five-Nine in reference to its size in inches.

Uhlan: Polish light cavalry later adopted by other countries including Germany.  While it technically only refers to one specific sort of cavalry, British soldiers often called all enemy cavalry uhlans.

Battle of Hill 60: Battle on a hill south of Ypres that lasted from 17th April – 7th May, 1915.  Notable for being the first use of poison gas by German forces.

Prvt. Edward Warner: Member of the 1st Battalion in the Bedfordshire Regiment.  Posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts in the Battle of Hill 60 where he died on the 2nd May, 1915, aged 32.

1 penny = ~25p

1 shilling = 12 pence = ~£2.95

1 pound = 20 shillings = ~£59

16 shillings 8 pence =~£49

RMS Lusitania: A British passenger ship that was sunk by a German U-Boat on 7th May, 1915 killing 1,198 people including 128 Americans.  This incident was one of the factors that influenced the American decision to join the War in 1917.

HMS Goliath: A British battleship sunk on 13th May, 1915 in Morto Bay, Ottoman Empire which is now in modern day Turkey.  570 people died when she sunk making this the greatest British loss in the Dardanelles campaign.

Tommy: Slang word for a British soldier.

Hun: Slang word for a German soldier.

DSO: Distinguished Service Order.  An award given to officers for “distinguished services during active operations against the enemy.”

Hill 70: A location in the Battle of Loos which lasted from 25th September – 8th October, 1915.  The Battle of Loos is notable for being the largest Allied attack in 1915 and for having the first British use of poison gas in the War.  Despite some early success with Hill 70, the operation was ultimately a failure for the Allies.  Another notable battle occurred at Hill 70 in August of 1917 primarily involving Canadian forces.

Boche: Slang word for a German.

Star shell: A type of artillery shell designed to provide illumination rather than a direct weapon.

Billet: A place where a soldier is assigned to stay.

DCM: Distinguished Conduct Medal.  An award given to British soldiers for acts of gallantry in the field.  Another award, the Military Medal, was introduced in 1916 due to the overwhelming number of DCMs being awarded in the War.  Both the DCM and the MM were discontinued in 1993.  Over 80% of all DCMs were awarded during The First World War.

Hussars: A type of Hungarian light cavalry that was later adopted by various other countries.

Coal Box: A German high explosive artillery shell similar to a Jack Johnson.

Whiz-bang: A German small calibre shell named for the sound it makes while in transit.

Sausage: A type of very large, high-explosive German shell.  The force of the explosion is so great that anyone caught in its radius will likely die instantly even if no shrapnel hits them.  Also called a Flying Pig, a Rum Jar or a Minnie.

Krupp: A notable German arms manufacturer.

Cheval de frise: An obstacle designed to impede cavalry.

Fritz: Slang word for a German soldier.