camouflage noun earlier than July 1916

Bryn provided evidence from 1915; Ammon Shea provided evidence in an earlier sense from 1885.

The development of aerial warfare and accurate long-range artillery in the First World War meant that weapons, vehicles, and troops needed to be concealed from enemy view; hence the need for camouflage (a word borrowed from French; it had been used in French to mean ‘disguise’ since the 19th century). The earliest evidence we have for camouflage in English is from 1916:

The shells, which a simple camouflage of white tarpaulins effectually hid from the enemy.

1916 Cornhill Mag. July, p. 54

Was camouflage used in English earlier in the war, perhaps in military records or by soldiers at the front?

* * *

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the OED is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help. Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.

Posted by OED_Editor on 27 January 2014 15.08
Comments: 7

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  • ammonshea

    It appears twice (in var. spelling) in an edition of Sensational Novels, by Fortune Du Boisgobey, published in 1885:
    p. 23 As he was also master in the art of camoufflage or disguise, his face being without age and readily changed to any style of physiognomy, the chief invariably confided delicate cases to him–such as watching suspected cashiers, tracking sons of the aristocracy in rupture with paternal authority, and verifying cases of blackmail.
    p. 49 A well-arranged wig, with whiskers artistically stuck to the cheeks, a white cravat, blue coat with gilt buttons and a decoration, such was the ne plus ultra of camoufflage or disguisement.

  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    An, apparently, non-military usage

    The North Western Advocate and
    the Emu Bay Times,
    15th July, 1915, Page 7 – whilst discussing government road policy [and a `Missing Link’], has:

    Mr. Ockerby said that in spite of camouflage the absence of the “Missing Link” would mean that Launceston supplies for the West Coast would have to be taken on the extra journey of 70 miles by way of Bothwell.

    • Bryn_Wordhunt

      Again, in a non-military usage

      The Hansard 1803-2005 has, on 21st May 1910, MR Lunn saying:

      … I further oppose this Bill, because it proposes the beginning of Protection under the camouflage of Imperial Preference. To bribe the people, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is giving the country £3,000,000 of revenue, and is borrowing money to do so …

  • hugooooo

    That’s a great idea.

    I had a look at Operation War Diary to see if it’s possible to search transcripts but they’re not doing that (at least not yet), but it’s certainly worth letting them know — they’ve had lots of people reading diaries and reports and so on:

    In the first week:

    104,167 pages classified

    116,638 people were tagged – including large numbers of Other Ranks (Privates, Drivers, Gunners, etc)

    212,832 dates tagged

    144,021 activities tagged

    24, 644 weather conditions tagged

    148,402 people visited the site

    746,972 pages were viewed

    Peak concurrent users, approx 1,000 on Tue 14.

    85 diaries completed in week 1

    Approx 1 person year of effort spent on Operation War Diary site.

  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    A blog of the War Diary of Brigadier-General CHT Lucas [of 87th Brigade] offers two passages, within his diary entries for May 1916:

    War Diary Entry: 23rd May 1916
    … In Amiens we inspected the result of the bombs dropped there 3 nights ago, there were only about 3, no damage done except 1 woman killed and some broken glass. We then went and looked over the camouflage; there was very little to see there this time as most of their imitation trees, guns, etc. had recently been sent up to the front. While we were there in walked Bobbie Black (the doctor at Kassala) and also Gordon, both from the Sudan

    War Diary Entry: 31st May 1916
    … I suggested they should pull the chimney down and put up a camouflage one 400 yds to the right or left …

    The French army’s section de camouflage operated from Amiens.

    • Bryn_Wordhunt

      Rankin, N. (2008) Churchill’s Wizards: the British genius for deception 1914-1945, London, Faber, quotes the [1915] letter from Solomon Solomon [British
      camouflage pioneer] that, famously, sought bark from a willow tree in Windsor Great Park, in order to camouflage an observation post :

      On Saturday, 18 December, from his home at 18, Hyde Park Gate, Solomon hand-wrote a letter to the Keeper of the Privy Purse:

      Sir,
      I have just returned from G.H.Q. where I was invited to report on some
      matters connected with `Invisibility in Warfare’.
      The French are making what they call ‘camouflage‘ objects to serve as artillery observation outposts and have offered to make these for the British Army, but much time will have elapsed before such things can be produced for our use by them.

      Yours obediently
      Solomon J Solomon

      If this letter has been correctly reproduced and the context is considered appropriate, the original should still be in the archives.

      • Bryn_Wordhunt

        A website, that seeks to provide a transcript for the 1915 War Diary of the 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, has this passage, for August 1915:

        13-8-15 Headquarters visited Amiens to visit French [lacuna] GOC Brig and Div and Gen.Morland [lacuna] methods of French confluage [sic - camouflage]