Not Enough Room to Swing a Cat by Martin Robson and An Officers' Manual of the Western Front
Not Enough Room to Swing a Cat by Martin Robson and An Officers' Manual of the Western Front (from Army documents) (Conway, £7.99 each) THE problem with this matched pair is that one spends a lot of time telling us what we already know and the other things we are most unlikely to ever need.
Martin Robson's book is pleasantly rude dealing with the naval obsessions with grog and sex during which another person does not have to be present. If you don't want to know what a showerbaby is look away now.
Most of us though, know very well what 'son of a gun' means or meant, 'shipshape and Bristol fashion' and can have a good stab at 'splice the mainbrace'.
As a matter of fact I have a grand-daughter in the Royal Navy and I've never once heard her say that she likes or doesn't like 'the cut of a person's jib'.
A book written many years ago entitled 'Jackspeak' was the definitive work on the naval slang.
Any purported dictionary that doesn't have 'uckers' - the naval version of ludo in it - must be suspect.
However, the very next time I am called upon to organise a platoon attack across open ground with the added problem of enfillading machine-gun fire I shall certainly turn to the book about the Western Front which is culled from various Army manuals of between 1914 and 1914.
Ditto the correct method of quartering cavalry horses, inspecting my men's feet for signs of trench foot and stripping a Lewis gun.
The funny thing though, is that even after 90 years there are still bits that chime.
The advice that an officer should always set an example to his men both in speech and deed and that he should put his own needs second to those of the enterprise in hand are as true now as they ever were.
In this instance I shall have to favour the Army over the Navy although since I was in the air force I suppose strictly I should remain neutral.