Encyclopedia - Tommy

British soldiers bringing in Christmas holly By the arrival of war in 1914 the name commonly ascribed to the British private soldier was 'Tommy'.

Where trench lines separating British and German soldiers were a matter of feet apart notes would sometimes be tossed into the British line addressed to 'Tommy' and shouts called across the lines, "Hey Tommy!"

The origins of the name are not entirely clear.  It is certain that the name was coined by British military authorities during the preparation of a a new pocket ledger to be carried by each soldier.  The ledger contained details of the soldier's name, age, date of enlistment, length of service, wounds, medals, etc.

When issuing the booklet to each soldier the War Office enclosed a guidance sheet which included example entries; 'Thomas Atkins' was the specimen soldier's name.  The ledger itself quickly became known as the 'Tommy Booklet' and its holder, inevitably, as 'Tommy'.

The name itself was, it is suggested said, recommended by the Duke of Wellington who, when asked in 1815 for a suggested specimen name, recalled the name of a private soldier who served under his first command (the 33rd foot regiment): Thomas Atkins, a giant of a man who apparently embodied the key strengths of the British private soldier.

Atkins was killed during hand-to-hand fighting in Flanders in 1794, the best man-at-arms in the regiment for all that he could neither read nor write. The Duke recalled that as Atkins lay dying his final words to Wellington were "It's all right sir, it's all in a day's work".  Thus he apparently recommended that Atkins be used as the ideal example.

A Kite Balloon was an observation balloon controlled by a cable from the ground.

- Did you know?

A to Z