Bryn provided evidence from 1909.
Zeppelins, which were widely used for reconnaissance and bombing in the First World War, must have captured the imagination of soldiers, and one of the more colourful phrases originating in the war is Zeppelins (or Zepps) in a cloud (with variants such as Zepps in a fog/smokescreen, etc.) meaning ‘sausage and mash’. However, the earliest example we have for the phrase is from a 1925 dictionary, and the first contextual example is from 1931:
Zeppelin in a cloud, sausage and mashed potatoes.
1925 Edward Fraser & John Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words, p 313
I’ll bring yer a spot o’ coffee and a couple o’ Zepps in a smoke screen.
1931 Margery Allingham Look to Lady i. p. 22
Is there any earlier written evidence of this phrase (or any of its variants)?
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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 31 January 2014 13.00