Away from the Western Front: Glossary

WW1 Finsbury Rifles NCOs (1915)

© Darren O’Brien. The 3/11th London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles)

Use this growing glossary to learn more about the specific and unusual terms used throughout the Finsbury Rifles’ War Diary. The War Diary and Glossary form part of our contribution to the Away From the Western Front Project, which is a two year project (2017-1019) funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional grants from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial) and the Centre for Hidden Histories.


artillery formation – a tactic used by advancing troops to lessen the effect of an exploding artillery shell where men were dispersed. It had to be practised to avoid the instinctive moving together under attack.

bayonet – a blade attached to the barrel of a rifle for use in close combat. It had great psychological value as a weapon of fear during WW1 but was used less and less as the machine gun grew in importance.

barrage – a heavy barrier of artillery fire. It became an important tactic during WW1 and was used to stop the advance of enemy troops as well as protecting the advance or retreat of one’s own troops.

battalion a battalion was the standard infantry unit in the British Army during WW1. In 1914, a battalion at full strength had 1007 soldiers of whom 30 were officers.

brigade – until 1918 an infantry brigade was made up of 4 battalions. The 1/11 Finsbury Rifles were part of 162 (East Midland) Brigade, referred to as 162 Bde in the war diary, alongside the 1/4 Northants and the 1/10 London (Hackney) and the 1/5 Beds.

bell tent – circular tents used by the British Army. According to Field Service Pocket Book issued by the War Office in 1914 a bell tent could accommodate 15 men or 7 sergeants or 3 officers.

bivouac – a temporary shelter or camp. Soldiers were often expected to construct these from whatever materials was about. However, small tents could also be issued, seen here in the photo of the 1/11 Finsbury Rifles crossing the Sinai Desert in early 1917.

company – there were 4 companies in a battalion. At full strength each company had a total of 227 soldiers and was commanded by a major or a captain, with a captain as second in command.

C in C – Commander-in-Chief. The 1st C-in-C of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was General Archibald Murray who was succeeded by General EHH Allenby in June 1917.

Commanding Officer – In the British Army this refers to the Lieutenant–Colonel commanding an infantry battalion (e.g. Lt-Col S.C. Byrne of the 1/11 Finsbury Rifles) or a cavalry regiment.

covering party – a detachment of soldiers protecting a working party in the front line.

camp sanitation keeping a camp in a clean and healthy state. This would include a suitable supply of drinking water, hygienic cooking, well-kept latrines and most importantly, disposal of all waste and refuse in a way that reduces the risk of infection.

Divine Service – an Anglican (Church of England) service without Communion.

division – a division was made up of 3 brigades plus supporting specialist units and a HQ. The 1/11 Finsbury Rifles were in the 54th (East Anglian) Division.

EEF – the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

entrain – to board or get on a train.

fatigues – essential duties for the day to day running of a camp. These could include repairing trenches, mending barbed wire defences, collecting food and peeling potatoes.

GOC – General Officer Commanding –  the officer commanding a brigade (Brigadier- General or a division (Major-General) .

Lewis gun an automatic machine gun. Standard issue in the British Army from the end of 1915. At 12kg/28lb it was lighter than other machine guns and known for its reliability.

padre – the military chaplain who was attached to each battalion. The chaplain had the rank of Captain.

platoon – a platoon had about 50 men and was commanded by a lieutenant or second lieutenant with a sergeant as second-in-command. There were 4 platoons in a company.

Piquet duty – pronounced ‘picket’. A soldier or small group of soldiers on watch –usually on guard duty at the outpost of a camp.

RAMC –  Royal Army Medical Corps.

Reciprocal shelling – returning shellfire at the enemy.

Regimental Aid Post – in action this was near the front line and was usually staffed by a medical officer. It was for first aid and triage only. The wounded would either be ‘patched up’ enough to return to duty or would be passed back to an Advanced Dressing Station for further treatment.

Reveille – the military bugle call for the start of the day.

Section – a section had about 12 men and was led by a non-commissioned officer. Each platoon was split into 4 sections.

Shrapnel – steel balls ejected from a shell as it detonates. Its aim is to cause the maximum damage possible.

Shell – a projectile or missile fired from a field gun, mortar or howitzer, filled with explosives or shrapnel.

Shellfire – the firing and explosion of artillery shells.

Sniper – a highly trained marksman whose job was to shoot enemy soldiers at close range, often from a hidden position. Snipers used specially modified rifles with telescopic lenses and were successful at demoralising their enemies.