For The Duration Discussion


For The Duration Discussion July-August 1996


Query From Julie Phillips 28 July 1996

Does anyone know where the term 'for the duration' originated when referring to World War II? Thanks.

Response From Karen Hobbs 29 July 1996

That phrase "for the duration" was already used in the mid-nineteenth century per some material I have read associated with the European wars 1864-1871. The phrase was associated with general mobilization and indicated that the recruits called up at that time (which may have included students and others who would otherwise be exempt from military service) were in a category separate from those who were recruited for the "regular" army. These "mobilized" troops would serve "for the duration" of the war or the period of the country's need and then would be mustered out so that the State could get them off the payroll as soon as possible.

In Austria, regular troops had to serve up to eight years with or without a war although in some cases they would be furloughed without pay after two years of training. These "furlough men" would be recalled "for the duration" in case of a war and then mustered out again when the war was over.

Often those who were serving "for the duration" were called up too late to be well trained before going to the front and they suffered dire consequences because of this. Even the "furlough men" - not well trained to start with- were apt to be out of shape and poor shots after several years of living as civilians.

>From Yvonne Klein 30 July 1996

The phrase comes from the terms of service in the armed forces--men were drafted "for the duration" of the war. The term extended itself to cover civilian participation in the war effort--especially to women who were asked to participate in "unfeminine" activities "for the duration," implying that their full engagement in the economy or in active service was to be construed as merely temporary.

>From Phil Landon 30 July 1996

I believe the term referred to the length of service required of active duty personnel. Instead of enlisting or being drafted for a specified length of time, military personnel were obligated to remain in the service for the duration of the war.

>From Marylu Hill 30 July 1996

The phrase "for the duration" might be more of a hold-over from the First World War, where, at least in Britain, a standing joke was those unlucky soldiers who signed up "for the duration" rather than a specific two or three year stint. See Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory --also an old Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon from WWI in his collection of cartoons called Fragments from France. Good luck.

>From Jim Weiskopf H-Minerva or WIMSA@ 31 July 1996

We have an earlier reference from World War I: "For the duration plus six months." Unsure of its origin.

>From Josette Wingo H-Minerva. also 30 July 1996

I don't know who used the term first but I do know that since nobody knew how long the war was going to last people were signed on "for the duration (of the war) and six months." Military history is replete with stories of soldiers who just plain went home when their enlistment term was up, but in WWII the only way to do that was to go "over the hill." (AWOL) Hope this helps.

>From Phyllis Soybel Butler H-Minerva, also (Phyllis) 30 July 1996

I believe it referred to the term of enlistment for American soldiers...

>From Hans Halberstadt, also H-Minerva 30 July 1996

I believe the expression came from the documents signed by each draftee and enlistee that specified the term of service would be from the date of enlistment an "...for the duration of the war." That was before my time, but I'm pretty sure that's the origin of the expression. Previos--and susequent--enlistments were for fixed periods, typically two to four years.

>From John Biddle (J Biddle), also H-Minerva 30 July 1996

"For the duration" meant an enlistment for the duration of the war. In fact, I believe soldiers were enlisted "for the duration and six" meaning for the duration of the war plus six months.

>From DeAnne Blanton, also H-Minerva 30 July 1996

The term "for the duration" was in use as early as the Civil War. It means, literally, that the soldier was enlisting for the length (duration) of the conflict, however long or short that might be.

>From Julie Phillips 01 Aug 1996

Thank you to all who took the time to respond to my question on "for the duration>" All your responses were very helpful!