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Tommy Atkins (often just Tommy) is slang for a common soldier in the British Army. It was certainly well established during the nineteenth century, but is particularly associated with the First World War. It can be used as a term of reference, or as a form of address. German soldiers would call out to "Tommy" across no man's land if they wished to speak to a British soldier. French and Commonwealth troops would also call British soldiers "Tommies". In more recent times, the term Tommy Atkins has been used less frequently, although the name "Tom" is occasionally still heard; private soldiers in the British Army's Parachute Regiment are still referred to as "Toms".
Tommy Atkins or Thomas Atkins has been used as a generic name for a common British soldier for many years. The origin of the term is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743. A letter sent from Jamaica about a mutiny amongst the troops says "except for those from N. America ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly".
A common belief is that the name was chosen by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington after having been inspired by the bravery of a soldier at the Battle of Boxtel in 1794 during the Flanders Campaign. After a fierce engagement, the Duke, in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, spotted the best man-at-arms in the regiment, Private Thomas Atkins, terribly wounded. The private said "It's all right, sir. It's all in a day's work" and died shortly after.According to the Imperial War Museum, this theory has Wellington choosing the name in 1843.
According to J. H. Leslie, writing in Notes and Queries in 1912, "Tommy Atkins" was chosen as a generic name by the War Office in 1815, in every sample infantry form in the Soldiers Account Book , signing with a mark. The Cavalry form had Trumpeter William Jones and Sergeant John Thomas, though they did not use a mark. Leslie observes the same name in the 1837 King's Regulations , pages 204 and 210, and later editions. Leslie comments that this disproves the anecdote about the Duke of Wellington selecting the name in 1843.
Richard Holmes, in the prologue to his 2005 book, Tommy, states that:
Atkins became a sergeant in the 1837 version, and was now able to sign his name rather than merely make his mark.
The Oxford English Dictionary states its origin as "arising out of the casual use of this name in the specimen forms given in the official regulations from 1815 onward"; the citation references Collection of Orders, Regulations, etc., pp. 75–87, published by the War Office, 31 August 1815. The name is used for an exemplary cavalry and infantry soldier; other names used included William Jones and John Thomas. Thomas Atkins continued to be used in the Soldier's Account Book until the early 20th century.
A further suggestion was given in 1900 by an army chaplain named Reverend E. J. Hardy. He wrote of an incident during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. When most of the Europeans in Lucknow were fleeing to the British Residency for protection, a private of the 32nd Regiment of Foot remained on duty at an outpost. Despite the pleas of his comrades, he insisted that he must remain at his post. He was killed at his post, and the Reverend Hardy wrote that "His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign, when a daring deed was done, the doer was said to be 'a regular Tommy Atkins'".
Rudyard Kipling published the poem "Tommy" (part of the Barrack-Room Ballads , which were dedicated "To T.A.") in 1892. In reply, William McGonagall wrote "Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins" in 1898, which was an attack on what McGonagall saw as the disparaging portrayal of Tommy in Kipling's poem.
In 1893, for the musical play A Gaiety Girl, Henry Hamilton (lyrics) and Samuel Potter (music) wrote the song Private Tommy Atkins for the baritone C. Hayden Coffin. It was immediately published by Willcocks & Co. Ltd. in Londonand published by T. B. Harms & Co. in New York the next year. The song was also reintroduced into later performances of San Toy for Hayden Coffin. He recalled singing it on Ladysmith Night (1 March 1900) where "the audience were roused to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that they rose to their feet, and commenced to shower money on to the stage".
Following the British defeat by the Boers at the Battle of Magersfontein in December 1899, Private Smith of the Black Watch wrote the following poem:
Such was the day for our regiment
Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder
A drawing-room General's mistake.
Why weren't we told of the trenches?
Why weren't we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column,
May Tommy Atkins enquire…
"Tommy cooker" was a nickname for a British soldier's portable stove, which was fuelled by something referred to as solidified alcohol , making it smokeless though very inefficient.
In the 1995 film The Indian in the Cupboard , Omri brings a tiny British toy soldier to life and the soldier says his name is 'Tommy Atkins.'
Present day English soldiers are often referred to as 'Toms' or just 'Tom' (the Scots equivalent being 'Jock'). Outside the services soldiers are generally known as 'Squaddies' by the British popular press. The British Army magazine Soldier has a regular cartoon strip, 'Tom', featuring the everyday life of a British soldier.
Junior officers in the army are generally known as 'Ruperts' by the other ranks. This nickname is believed to be derived from the children's comic book character Rupert Bear who epitomises traditional public school values (see Inside the British Army by Antony Beevor ISBN 9780552138185)
The term 'Pongo' or 'Perce' is often used by Sailors and Royal Marines to refer to soldiers.
On 25 July 2009, the death of the last "Tommy" from the First World War, Harry Patch (at 111 the oldest man in the United Kingdom and also in Europe), left Claude Choules as the last serviceman of the British forces in the war.
There was a growing opinion that the passing of the last of them should be marked in an appropriate manner. This was the subject of a cross-party campaign led by the politician Iain Duncan Smith. It was originally proposed that the last veteran to die should be given a state funeral. This met with opposition from the veterans themselves, few of whom wanted to be singled out in this way.On 27 June 2006, it was decided that a service at Westminster Abbey would be held upon the death of the last veteran. However, the funeral of Harry Patch took place at Wells Cathedral, close to his home.
"In Flanders Fields" is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. "In Flanders Fields" was first published on December 8 of that year in the London magazine Punch.
This glossary of names for the British include nicknames and terms, including affectionate ones, neutral ones, and derogatory ones to describe British people, and more specifically English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people. Many of these terms may vary between offensive, derogatory, neutral and affectionate depending on a complex combination of tone, facial expression, context, usage, speaker and shared past history.
The Thin Red Line was an episode in the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. In the incident, around 500 men of the 93rd, aided by a small force of 100 walking wounded, 40 detached Guardsmen, and supported by a substantial force of Turkish infantrymen, led by Sir Colin Campbell, fired at the Russian cavalry. Previously, Campbell's Highland Brigade had taken part in actions at the Battle of Alma and the Siege of Sevastopol. There were more Victoria Crosses presented to the Highland soldiers at that time than at any other. The event was lionised in the British press and became an icon of the qualities of the British soldier in a war that was arguably poorly managed and increasingly unpopular.
A military funeral is a memorial or burial rite given by a country's military for a soldier, sailor, marine or airman who died in battle, a veteran, or other prominent military figures or heads of state. A military funeral may feature guards of honor, the firing of volley shots as a salute, drumming and other military elements, with a flag draping over the coffin.
A war poet is a poet who participates in a war and writes about their experiences, or a non-combatant who writes poems about war. While the term is applied especially to those who served during the First World War, the term can be applied to a poet of any nationality writing about any war, including Homer's Iliad, from around the 8th century BC as well as poetry of the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Crimean War and other wars.
The Military Medal (MM) was a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other arms of the armed forces, and to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land. The award was established in 1916, with retrospective application to 1914, and was awarded to other ranks for "acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire". The award was discontinued in 1993 when it was replaced by the Military Cross, which was extended to all ranks, while other Commonwealth nations instituted their own award systems in the post war period.
Doughboy was a popular nickname for the American infantryman during World War I. Though the origins of the term are not certain, the nickname was still in use as of the early 1940s. Examples include the 1942 song "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland", recorded by Dennis Day, Kenny Baker, and Kay Kyser, among others, the 1942 musical film Johnny Doughboy, and the character "Johnny Doughboy" in Military Comics. It was gradually replaced during World War II by "G.I."
Sir Richard Christopher Sharples, was a British politician and Governor of Bermuda who was shot dead by assassins linked to a small militant Bermudian Black Power group called the Black Beret Cadre. The former army major, who had been a Cabinet Minister, resigned his seat to take up the position of Governor of Bermuda in late 1972. His murder would result in the last executions to be conducted under British rule anywhere in the world.
Thomas, Tom, or Tommy Atkins may refer to:
G.I. are initials used to describe the soldiers of the United States Army and airmen of the United States Air Forces and also for general items of their equipment. The term G.I. has been used as an initialism of "Government Issue", "General Issue", or "Ground Infantry", but it originally referred to "galvanized iron", as used by the logistics services of the United States Armed Forces.
Henry John Patch, dubbed in his later years "the Last Fighting Tommy", was an English supercentenarian, briefly the oldest man in Europe and the last surviving combat soldier of the First World War from any country. He is known to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Patch was the longest-surviving soldier of The First World War, but he was the fifth-longest-surviving veteran of any sort from the First World War, behind British veterans Claude Choules and Florence Green, Frank Buckles of the United States and John Babcock of Canada. At the time of his death, aged 111 years, 1 month, 1 week and 1 day, Patch was the third oldest man in the world, behind Walter Breuning and Jiroemon Kimura, the latter of whom would become the oldest verified man ever.
Tommy may refer to:
The Cardwell Reforms were a series of reforms of the British Army undertaken by Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell between 1868 and 1874 with the support of Liberal prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstone paid little attention to military affairs but he was keen on efficiency. In 1870, he pushed through Parliament major changes in Army organisation. Germany's stunning triumph over France in the Franco-Prussian War proved that the Prussian system of professional soldiers with up-to-date weapons was far superior to the traditional system of gentlemen-soldiers that Britain used.
The 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, raised in 1756. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot to form the Princess Charlotte of Wales's in 1881.
Lazare Ponticelli, Knight of Vittorio Veneto, was at 110, the last surviving officially recognized veteran of the First World War from France and the last poilu of its trenches to die.
The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. Lord Raglan had intended to send the Light Brigade to prevent the Russians from removing captured guns from overrun Turkish positions, a task for which the light cavalry were well-suited. However, there was miscommunication in the chain of command and the Light Brigade was instead sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one well-prepared with excellent fields of defensive fire. The Light Brigade reached the battery under withering direct fire and scattered some of the gunners, but they were forced to retreat immediately, and the assault ended with very high British casualties and no decisive gains.
The British grave of the Unknown Warrior holds an unidentified member of the British armed forces killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1920, simultaneously with a similar interment of a French unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in France, making both graves the first to honour the unknown dead of the First World War. It is the first example of a tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The youngest authenticated British soldier in World War I was twelve-year-old Sidney Lewis, who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Lewis' claim was not authenticated until 2013. In World War I, a number of young boys joined up to serve as soldiers before they were eighteen, the legal age to serve in the army. It was previously reported that the youngest British soldier was an unnamed boy, also twelve, sent home from France in 1917 with other underage boys from various regiments.
"Tommy" is an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling, reprinted in his 1892 Barrack-Room Ballads. The poem addresses the ordinary British soldier of Kipling's time in a sympathetic manner. It is written from the point of view of such a soldier, and contrasts the treatment they receive from the general public during peace and during war.
Captain Sir Thomas Moore, more popularly known as Captain Tom, was a British Army officer who raised money for charity in the run-up to his 100th birthday during the COVID-19 pandemic. He served in India and the Burma campaign during the Second World War, and later became an instructor in armoured warfare. After the war, he worked as managing director of a concrete company and was an avid motorcycle racer.
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