Q From Chris Johnston; related questions came from Mary Louise Lyman and Tony Apted: You used the phrase no names, no pack drill in the 7 January newsletter. What does this mean? I can’t find it on your Web site or in any of my dictionaries.
A That phrase bubbled up from my subconscious. I realised at once that it might not be understood, but left it in from a mischievous desire to learn whether anybody would query it.
The immediate source of the expression was my father, who served in northern France throughout the First World War. Introduced in the nineteenth century, pack drill was a common military punishment in that war, though not one he ever suffered.
This is a well-known description:
Mulvaney was doing pack-drill — was compelled that is to say, to walk up and down in full marching order, with rifle, bayonet, ammunition, knapsack, and overcoat.
Soldiers Three, by Rudyard Kipling, 1890.
You may know Kipling’s poem with the lines,
O it’s pack drill for me and a fortnight’s CB
For “drunk and resisting the Guard”.
Cells in Barrack-room Ballads, 1892. (CB: Confined to Barracks.)
Pack drill was often required to be done at the double, at twice the normal marching pace:
Then comes “Pack Drill” or Defaulters’ Parade. This consists of drilling, mostly at the double, for two hours with full equipment. Tommy hates this, because it is hard work.
Over The Top, by Arthur Guy Empey, 1917.
The full expression no names, no pack drill seems to have been of First World War origin, but has survived the punishment itself. It means that if nobody is named as being responsible, then nobody can be punished, the point being that in some situation or other it’s wisest not to name the person being discussed.