Boyeffles, September 25, 1917

Tuesday         As we left the gun position last night Fritz shelled the fosse heavily The night was clear & we got back about 10:30 pm we picked up a stray horse & brought it home I slept in this morning, the weather continues perfect. It’s quite a relief to get back away from falling shells I did not do much today Changed Resp’r [respirator] Rec’d a letter from Alice [Theobald, his sister-in-law] today & a photo I intend to swing the lead while back here am in the best

“Swinging the lead,” according to Tim Cook, means shirking one’s duties, since to swinging the lead (to gauge the depth of water under the keel) is one of the easier tasks aboard ship. (1) In Percy’s use, it is generally not so much active malingering, by which I mean inventing ailments to escape working, as taking advantage of every moment of idleness. Certainly, doctors were alert to a wide variety of complaints that were presented by malingerers – and notoriously prescribed the same medication for them all, the No. 9 pill. (1) Arthur Empey tells us that the No. 9 is a” pill the doctor gives you if you are suffering with corns or barber’s itch or any disease at all. If none are in stock, he gives you a No. 6 and No. 3, or a No. 5 and No. 4, anything to make nine.” (2) In fact, it is a laxative, and many No. 9’s were discarded almost as soon as dispensed.(1)

OPip 2 8 medicThe caption under this cartoon confirms Empey’s comment: In addition to prescribing a No. 9 for the man with a broken wrist and ankle, he assigns a No. 5 to one of the  other sufferers, and a No. 4 to the other: “Fix it up somehow, but make the good old nine out of it.” (3)

Notice also the portrait of Lydia Pinkham on the wall of the medical officer’s hut. Lydia Lydia_E._Pinkham's_Vegetable_Compound_ad_1882Pinkham’s vegetable compound is not an obvious choice for an army clinic. It was advertised as a remedy for “all those painful Complaints and weaknesses so common to our best female population. It will cure entirely the worst forms of Female Complaints, all Ovarian troubles, Inflammation, Ulceration, Falling and Displacements of the Womb,… and is particularly adapted to the Change of Life.”  The song “Lily the Pink” touts its virtues as a panacea –  the 1968 pop version is apparently only an innocuous shadow of the versions sung during the Great War – but the appeal of the medicinal compound was undoubtedly the alcohol which was its primary ingredient.

(1) Cook, Tim. Shock Troops. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 2 1917-1918. 2008. 239.
(2) Empey, Arthur Guy. Over the Top by an American Soldier who Went. 1918. 301.
(3) The O.Pip. 1:2 (May 1917).7.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”




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