Page 3. " a preference of the girls from officers’ brothels "
WWI Brothels
Public DomainWWI Brothels - Credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

   Camp brothels were usually built as barracks surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, with small individual rooms for up to 20 female prisoners, controlled by a female overseer. Jewish males were not allowed in the brothels. Some VIPs paid extra for specialized services. Some of the women were forced to undergo sterilizations or abortions, often resulting in their death.

  Brothels were also deployed in an effort to counter homosexuality. The German authorities saw homosexuality as a disease, and believed it could be cured by contact with women.

Page 4. " pushing up daisies "

Pushing up the daisies
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePushing up the daisies - Credit: countryboy1949
This expression, meaning to be dead and buried, originated as, 'to turn one's toes to the daisies'. The phrase evolved over the years until 'pushing up daisies' was coined.

The daisy was one of the first flowers to regrow on a battleground.


Page 6. " He glanced into the dixie "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDixie - Credit: John Warwick Brooke
A dixie is a 12-gallon metal pot used for cooking, particularly in the British military.


Page 9. " On the horizon float the bright yellow, sunlit observation-balloons "

French WW1 Observation Balloon
Public DomainFrench WW1 Observation Balloon - Credit: Ray Williams
Observation balloons were used by both Allied and German forces to spot artillery fire and gather intelligence. They were generally stationed a few miles behind the front lines. The balloons were made of fabric and were filled with hydrogen. It was not unusual for soldiers manning these balloons to have to parachute out to escape the possibility of an explosion.

Page 9. " After every misère ouverte we have a round of nap "

The misère ouverte, which roughly translates as "open (to view)", is a bid in the card game Solo Whist that involves laying all one's cards face up on the table, in the expectation of not winning any "tricks" (sets of cards the players try to obtain). 

Napoleon, or Nap, is a straightforward trick taking game in which players are dealt five cards each; whoever bids the highest number of tricks chooses trumps and tries to win at least that many. It is a simplified version of Euchre, with many variations throughout Northern Europe.


Page 10. " Muller explains that he has a flesh wound in his thigh; a good blighty. "

Blighty was a slang term for Britain during World War I, but in this case Muller is talking (in the English translation) about a blighty wound.

A blighty wound was serious enough to send a soldier home, but not serious enough to kill them. Frequently, this type of wound was self-inflicted. 

Page 11. " he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized "

Ostracism was common in Germany during World War I. Citizens who did not support the war or refused to serve would be cut off from society. This could mean being ignored by friends or it could go as far as legal persecution. Most often, however, the offender would simply be looked upon with disapproval by peers.

Page 13. " it reeks as ever of carbolic, pus, and sweat "
Bar of carbolic soap
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBar of carbolic soap - Credit: SamBlob

Carbolic soap is a disinfectant soap made from carbolic acid, which is extracted from coal tar.  The soap has a distinct bright red color and was used worldwide during much of the twentieth century.  

Because of its anti-bacterial properties, the soap was used in operating rooms and hospitals, and as a deodorant.  For these reasons, it was commonly used during World War I.

Page 14. " Muller reappears with a pair of airman’s boots "

Most infantry boots in World War I were made of cowhide with iron heels, such as the 1917 “Trench Boot.” However, they were not waterproof and only laced up the foot. 

The 1917 and 1918 American airman models quickly became the most common boots worn in the trenches.  These were typically much better quality than those of the infantry. 

It was extremely important to have good, dry footwear: trench foot was very common and could result in the complete disfigurement of the feet. 

Page 19. " Iron Youth "

 In Kantorek's letter to the young men, he calls them the "Iron Youth," implying that they are hard, strong, and resilient; a description that fails to take into account the horror of the war, trapping the men in a constant state of panic and despair.

The average age for enlisted men was 25,  but soldiers as young as 14 or 15 also served.

For more information about the personal life of a WWI soldier, visit:

Page 21. " weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer "
Arthur Schopenhauer
Public DomainArthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first people to state that the universe is not a rational place. Inspired by Plato and others, he developed an ascetic outlook, arguing that in a world filled with endless strife people ought to minimize natural desires for the sake of achieving a more peaceful frame of mind.

Page 22. " amongst Frisian fisherman "

Frisia, a coastal region on the North Sea, is the homeland of Frisians, a Germanic people that speak a language that is a close relative of English. Frisians were traditionally known for raising cattle, catching fish, and making textiles. 

Page 22. " to Goethe "

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath who was born in 1749 and died in 1832. Goethe is considered one of the giants of German literature, and he was a major inspiration in music, drama, and literature. He also developed theories of evolution that would later be expanded by scientists such as Charles Darwin.

Page 25. " That means clink "

Clink Prison Museum
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeClink Prison Museum - Credit: Sir James, Wikipedia
A slang word for prison, derived from the medieval Clink prison in Southwark, London.  

Founded in 1151, the Clink was one of the oldest prisons in England. Its name may have come from the clinking of prison chains or bolts.