Tommy Atkins is a Fatalist: 1918

Good Luck Charms used by Soldiers in the Great War. The Wellcome Collection.

Good Luck Charms used by Soldiers in the Great War. The Wellcome Collection.

TOMMY ATKINS IS A FATALIST

Many British Soldiers Carry Charms and Keep Mascots; Black Cats Favored.

Behind British Lines in France. The feeling of fatalism is strong among soldiers. Many hold the opinion that “if the bullet is not made for you you won’t be hit.” One soldier boasts that he knows he will come through the war all right, because during his latest battle, a large piece of shrapnel on which he found his own initial fell at his feet.

“It was made for me, all right,” he said, “but it missed the mark, so nothing else can kill me.”

Mascots and luck-bringers of various sorts are numerous in all the armies today. They are of great variety, although perhaps tiny rabbits and black cats made of “lucky” metal are encountered more frequently than anything else. Probably in most cases the lucky charm which a soldier carries is something sent him by his womenfolk in the homeland—a thimble, a ring, or a child’s trinket of some kind that has been passed down in the family as a luck-bringer.

Fear Number Three.

Among soldier’s superstitions, of which the British soldier has his full share, one of the most characteristic is connected with the number three.

“The third time is never the same,” is a proverb among the Irish troops. “The third anything is fatal,” is a common expression among the English country battalions. Soldiers have been known to refuse to take their third leave, feeling certain that it will be their last. A soldier’s third wound is said to be the one which must be most carefully attended to. A development of this same superstition prohibits the lighting of three cigarettes with one match.

Odd numbers, according to the British Tommy, are more likely to be unlucky than even ones, and thirteen is no worse than nine. Friday as an unlucky day has been dethroned, and there is no particular bad luck connected with any day of the week in Tommy’s estimation. Sunday, however, is preeminently a lucky day for battles.

White Heather is Lucky.

The lucky flower, by common consent, is white heather, and a piece properly tucked away inside the hatband is supposed to save the wearer from a fatal wound.

Some regiments regard certain decorations and medals as unlucky, not to the wearer, but to the regiment in general. One very well-known battalion objects strongly every time one of its number is awarded the Military Cross.

As regimental pets, black cats are regarded as the luckiest possession a detachment can have, and the arrival of a stray animal of this color at a gun-pit or dugout is an event of great importance. Everyone is bound to be lucky for some hours at least. To meet a black cat while marching up to the trenches puts every member of the company in the happiest humor. On the other hand, a black magpie flying across the line of march is a bad omen. To hear the cuckoo calling before breakfast is another bad omen.

Idaho Statesman [Boise ID] 20 February 1918: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Imperial War Museums shared five “lucky objects” from the Great War.

On the subject of regimental pets:

SOLDIERS’ MASCOTS.

Some regiments possess curions mascots. The Royal Fusiliers for the last hundred years have kept a goat as the regimental pet, and the mascot of one of the Lancer regiments is also a goat, which they acquired some years ago in South Africa. This animal went through the Matabele war with the regiment, and though several times under fire escaped without a scratch. The 17th Lancers—the “Death or Glory” boys used to possess a large black bear with white markings, but she became bad-tempered, and so was presented not long ago to the Dublin Zoo. Star 11 September 1919: p. 6

To-morrow is Armistice Day, the 99th anniversary of the end of the Great War, reminding us that many “Tommies,” despite their charms and mascots, were not lucky enough to return.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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