The Wars

The Wars Glossary


A British English slang term for Britain. The word derives from a Hindustani word, vilayati, meaning "province" or "state". This term became common in India when referring to Britain and then became a popular slang term among British expatriates.

During World War I, "Dear Old Blighty" became a common term of endearment among British soldiers. A "Blighty wound", a wound not serious enough to kill but serious enough to merit a hospital stay, was enviable and, sometimes, self-inflicted by desperate soldiers.

"No Man's Land"

A term for disputed or unoccupied land. During World War I, it referred to the area between enemy trenches.

"Sea Legs"

A metaphor for adjusting to life on the open sea. The term frequently refers to being able to live at sea without succumbing to sea sickness.


An improvised military encampment, usually a tent.


A muzzle-loading firearm with a short, large caliber barrel. The muzzle is often flared and the weapon uses shot or other projectiles. It can be considered an early version of a shotgun.


A container for fire, usually in the form of a hanging or standing metal box. A brazier was used for heat, light, and cooking.


The chemical element with atomic number 17, chlorine gas (also known as bertholite) was first used as a weapon by Germany during World War I at the 2nd Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915. It is a respiratory system irritant and can kill by reacting with water in the mucosa and other cells to form hydrochloric acid.


A gradual return to health or vitality after illness. The time necessary for one to heal and regain strength following illness.


From the Canadian French word coulée, itself from the French word couler, meaning "to flow". The term is loosely applied to various types of valleys or drainage areas that can be prone to flooding. A marsh or bayou are also examples.


A levee, slope, or wall used to regulate land water levels. These can be natural or man-made.


A shelter made around a hole or depression in the ground. These were used extensively in World War I as a place for soldiers to rest and eat. They could vary greatly in size, housing a few men or several hundred.


Belgian Dutch, or the type of Dutch spoken in Belgium. Flanders refers to a geographical region in present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.


Literally "water on the brain", hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid inside the skull, leading to a swelling of the brain. It is caused by problems associated with the flow or manufacture of cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid which encases the brain. Intellectual, neurological, and physical disabilities result if it is untreated. Rowena Ross was born with the condition and it caused her to live her life in a wheelchair.


A dance for two people, French in origin, usually performed in 3/4 time.


A muzzle-loading explosive projectile weapon that delivers indirect fire in arc trajectory.


Referring to the condition of myopia or nearsightedness, in which the light entering the eye focuses in front of the retina instead of on it. As a result, vision is blurred, and objects only appear in focus when held close to the eye.


A wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof, balcony, or other structure extending above the roof. Parapets were originally designed as military fortifications to defend buildings.


A young hen, particularly one less than a year old.


A bugle or trumpet call usually used to wake military personnel at sunrise.


A British military term for a junior officer or subordinate.

The Huns

Although the term refers to a group of nomadic people who entered Europe circa AD 370, the term was used again by Kaiser Wilhelm II in orders for German forces to behave ruthlessly toward rebels during the Boxer Rebellion in China. The term came to be used again in World War I to refer to German forces and was used in propaganda to reinforce the idea that Huns, and thus Germans, were barbarians.

Trenches/trench warfare

An excavation in the ground used for defense in military campaigns. Trench warfare became the dominant form of combat in World War I. Intricate trench systems were devised to allow soldiers and supplies to move back and forth between the front line and dugouts as well as other areas of each encampment.


Although reported in the novel to be in Belgium or France, there is no such place by this name. There are similar names such as Willebroek that Findley may have used as a basis for this location.


A Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Ypres occupied a strategic position in the war, since it stood in Germany's path to occupy Belgium and France. German forces first used chlorine gas on April 22, 1915 at the 2nd Battle of Ypres after losing the town in the 1st Battle of Ypres in 1914.

English-speaking soldiers often referred to the town as Wipers through deliberate mispronunciation, as this was easier for them to pronounce. This was a common practice and was used for the names of other Belgian cities and towns.