Home Land War Britain and Allies Tommy's Gazetteer Of French And Belgian Place Names

Tommy's Gazetteer Of French And Belgian Place Names

When the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) left for the Continent in August 1914, few of the soldiers had previously visited France or Belgium. Even the old soldiers of the British Regular Army, who formed quite a large part of the BEF at that time, had hardly ventured into these countries, though most had served in India and other exotic parts of the far-flung British Empire. Additionally, few of the rank and file had learnt French at school and even fewer, if any, the Belgian Flemish language. As many of the officers had attended private schools, where French was routinely taught as the lingua franca of the diplomatic service and the higher social classes, many of them had a working knowledge of modern French but here again, few would be familiar with Flemish.

So when the British soldiers set foot on French and Belgian soil they were confronted with a bewildering array of French and Belgian names for the places where they suddenly found themselves. As always in the British Army, they quickly converted the sounds they heard, and the words they read, into a slang English version that could be more readily remembered and recalled; often with a touch of dry humour added in.

Below are listed below are a sample of the better known ones in their British wartime slang, with the original place-name and location.

Original name:

British version:

Geographical location.

Nearest town.



50.45N 02.41E



Eat Apples.

50.31N 01.39E



Funky Villages.

50.08N 02.41E



Gertie Wears Velvet.

50.47N 02.36E



Monty Bong.

50.01N 02.47E



Ocean Villas.

50.04N 02.40E



Plug Street.

50.44N 02.53E


Poperinghe (Poperinge).


50.52N 02.44E


Wytschaete (Wijtschate).

White Sheet.

50.47N 02.53E


Ypres (Ieper).


50.51N 02.53E



It is interesting to note that Ypres got its Wipers name from the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, Field Marshal French himself because he spoke no French at all, and showed no inclination to learn any. The famous Great War British army newspaper in Flanders was known as The Wipers Times.

Neophytes to the Western Front may well be surprised that such famous battle sites are named after very small villages, even hamlets. But the tradition goes back for quite a while - hence Waterloo. Today many of the villages and much of the countryside of the battlefields in Northern France are much as they were before the fighting began in 1916, and would be instantly recognisable to the BEF troops as virtually unchanged from the time when they marched along the country roads to their duty stations in early summer of 1916.


Flanders, in eastern Belgium, is a much more populous area and there has been much more in the way of urban development, Indeed, many of the important Great War sites have been built over or encroached upon. Many more are threatened by urban development.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 25 May 2008 16:50 )  

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