“Buckshee” is a new word for me. I encountered it in "A Rifleman Went to War,” (1930) by Herbert McBride, an American who joined the Canadian Army to fight in the First World War.
McBride goes into some detail about the word, which he says was in general use in the trenches before he got there in 1915. According to him, it means:
1. Something that can be shared;
2. Something that can be used not in the intended way;
3. Something left over; or
4. Something odd that the army has in low quantities and not for general distribution.
Examples given by McBride are sticks of dynamite obtained from engineering companies, or artillery shells obtained from artillerymen. (Both intended by the infantry to be used in making bombs to be used in trench raids.)
McBride suspected that it was originally an Indian word, guessing that it had been “backsheek.”
Google brought up a lot of good information about buckshee, with the sources being at considerable variance as to the origin and meaning. That’s what usually happens, isn’t it?
Dictionary dot com just says that it’s a “gift, gratuity or small bribe.”
Mirriam Webster dot com calls it something that is obtained free, adding, “. . . especially extra rations.”
Urban Dictionary dot com gives it as, “often used by the army, meaning spare.”
There’s a big entry at the British Army Rumour Service (arrse.co.uk). They say that it is simply excess kit hoarded by soldiers. They make it look like a silly habit, like carrying extra mess tins or web belts. Arrse is way up on the derivation of the word, though. They say that it comes from the Urdu word, “baksheesh,” used even today over a wide area to mean a bribe.
Grumpy Man’s Gripe is a cute blog (grumpymansgripe.blogspot.com). They say that it means, “free.” According to the grumps over there, the origin of the word is Arabic, from the word, “bakh’sheesh,” meaning a gift or a present. (With variations in Urdu and Turkish.) They say that buckshee was brought back to England by British soldiers in North Africa during the Second World War.
Well, we have it from a reliable source that it was in full use during the First World War, and I also like Mr. McBride’s definition and usage. His book was published in 1930, so there is no reason to suspect that its origins lie in World War II, and his usage is much more military-specific. His definition goes well beyond anything that is merely free, and applies to items that are more useful and important than extra mess tins. (Unless you need one, I suppose, and your friend has an extra.)
This word game is endlessly fascinating, is it not?