Soldier’s English-French Pocket Book

One problem that the British soldier had when on active service in France during World War One was making himself understood by the locals. Although some soldiers did have a smattering of French, most lacked even the most basic skills in a foreign language. To help soldiers out, enterprising publishers produced a large range of pocket phrase books that had useful English phrases, their French translation, and a guide to pronunciation so the soldier could at least have a stab at being understood. Tonight we have one example of these books, this one entitled ‘Soldier’s English-French Pocket Book’:imageIt is rather battered and undated but is certainly from the Great War. Inside are useful words and phrases, many with a military slant such as these:imageSome of this is clearly aimed more at officers than private soldiers, presumably to allow them to supplement the French they would have learnt at school with specific phrases they would need whilst performing their duties. Other phrases are more prosaic and offer helpful things like how to ask if a local will swap a pot of jam for cigarettes:imageThe use of other phrases defies logic and one is hard pressed to imagine a soldier needing to ask for a receipt for a tin of beef:imageThese dictionaries were clearly popular, one soldier wrote home to his mother:

I think the Dictionary one of the most sensible presents that has been sent out. All the men are struck with it, and are writing home for one

A member of the Berkshire Regiment explained how useful it could be for shopping and the books’ limitations:

Every shop was crowded with lads in khaki, everyone talking a mixture of English, French and Hindu. Nearly everyone carries a book or pamphlet containing English and French sentences, and it is good to see the resigned look on the shopwoman’s face while a customer, red in the face, ties his tongue in a knot and feverishly turns the pages of his book in the vain hope of finding a sentence that will help him out

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