Triumph – 17th February 1940

Well, I looked at a Japanese story paper from World War 2, last time. So now let’s look at a British one!

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This may be from World War 2, but it’s not the World War 2 we recognise today. The Russians were the enemy, we were cheering on the Finns, nothing much was happening in France, Winston Churchill was only First Lord of the Admiralty and many an armchair aviation expert would have predicted glorious things for the Boulton-Paul Defiant (the what? – exactly!).

There was also not yet a severe paper ration (if any), so a half tabloid, 20-page story paper with a two-colour cover could still be a going concern. Triumph was a typical post-WW1 Amalgamated Press story paper. It was in an imitation of the “Thomson style”, with several short stories in each issue. Unlike the Thomson story papers, where every story was 2½ pages long each week, and they were all “serials” (albiet ones where every part could be read on it’s own – no cliffhangers!), Triumph mixed things up a bit. While one story is only three pages, another is nearly six. The editor says that early issues had a ten-page complete story, too. Some of the Triumph stories are “singles”, while others are true serials, with cliffhanger endings.

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The Magazine data file says Triumph had 28 pages, which was probably the length when it launched (in October, 1924). This issue is number 800, we can presume the 20-page length is down to the war. Apparently it ended on issue 814, in May 1940. Another casualty of “Graveyard week”, when the invasion of Norway caused a sudden paper shortage in Britain. During it’s life, Triumph incorporated the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend (by then a shadow of it’s pre-WW1 greatness) and The Gem (in January 1940). Triumph was itself incorporated into The Champion, one of very few Amalgamated Press story papers to keep running through the war (the other one of note being Girls’ Crystal).

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Back to the issue in hand. The first story is a short, complete detective story about Peter Farrell who, amazingly enough, does NOT have a cockney boy assistant and a clever dog! Instead he has a valet, with whom he has an officer-and-batman type relationship. The story is only 3 pages long, so rushes along at a pretty hectic pace. Peter is investigating a fake coin scam (and has a bunch of ‘dud’ coins on him), when a reporter friend stumbles in and says he rather conveniently witnessed a murder. Peter investigates, hoping to bluff his way into the flat of a master criminal, by pretending to be there to fit a lamp. The criminal recognises him, but he escapes, and chases them across London, as they try to get the body away for disposal.

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The cars crash, and Peter is recaptured. The criminals brazenly hire a cab to transport the body (which is crammed into a large trunk). Peter slips the cab driver the dud coins, and allows himself to be taken in to another flat for torture. The cab driver is soon back, with a couple of bobbies, and the crooks are soon rounded up. From the very beginning of the war, Britain was “blacked out”, and much is made of the difficulty of driving under these conditions. At least the streets were free of craters and rubble!

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Stories about World War 1 remained surprisingly rare in British story papers, after 1918 (the serial stories running over the armistice needed some time to end, of course!). But in the 1930’s they exploded – though most of them were about the air war, an arena where the gallantry and challenges to single combat of medieval times had been briefly revived. Major “Mad” Carew of 333 Squadron is typical of the ace pilot characters in these stories. He knows nothing of danger, frequently takes on tremendous odds single-handed (or with the one observer blazing away in the back seat), brings down a crack German ace, then has the laugh over his Prussian arrogance, every week, etc etc.

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In this story the Major (an Army rank, as it was still the RFC, in those days), who exclaims “purple thunder!” every third time he speaks, shoots down a German plane which is pumping out some sort of gas over the front lines, then halts a massed German attack (with submachine guns) against a trench defended only by corpses. Despite the machine guns having shot his wings to ribbons, he then takes on fully seven crack German aces, led by the feared Von Haumann, who he forces down at his own base, and captures. And that’s only half the story! Though the Baldy’s Angels stories from The Boys’ Friend Library were totally ridiculous, I actually quite like this one.

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Speaking of World War 1, here’s an advertising leaflet which has survived. It’s for a four-volume set of books called “I Was There”, with hundreds of recollections and thousands of photographs. I bet publication of that had to be stopped in short order! From the one sample image, it appears I Was There is written in a similar breezy style to The Wide World Magazine, which I really must cover some day (though it’s allegedly “factual”). I’d like to hunt this set down, but I bet the prices are silly money. Any publishers out there fancy a slipcased reprint? …Actually, a modern slipcased hardback edition would probably be even sillier money.

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Anyway, hidden under the advert, we have… St Jim’s! This was the lead story in nearly every issue of The Gem (except for about 7-8 issues when it first started), and during the roaring twenties was second only to The Magnet in the hearts of British boyhood. The St Jim’s stories here are just “making up the numbers”, after The Gem was amalgamated with Triumph. Had paper rationing not come in, I don’t doubt that they would have quietly slipped away.

Anyway, the St Jim’s stories used to take up most of the length of a Gem issue, and were arranged into series, so the readers effectively got a full-length novel every 6-8 weeks. These stories are a mere shadow of that, probably about three pages in length (though spread over four), and complete in one issue. This particular one is about the Indian boy, Koumi Rao, slipping into a “strange mood”, which his friend Figgins tries to snap him out of. Koumi is wondering if his province (of which he is the “Jam”, presumably a contraction of some Indian royal title, though I can’t find any obvious root word) could be freed from British rule with Russian help. Figgins assures him that the Russians “can’t fight” and are “getting it in the neck a bit too thick” from the Finns to be any danger to British India. Though, come to think of it, it probably was a worry at the time. Back-and-forth proxy wars around central Asia and Afghanistan in the 19th century were all about keeping Russia out of India, so Britain could rule it instead.

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Anyway, after reminding “Jammy” that his state has not suffered any famines, or attacks by other Indian states, since it came under British rule, Figgins forces his friend to join him in the school’s “hare and hounds” chase. This was also known as a “paperchase”, and involved the fast “hares” rushing off over the countryside, throwing out a trail of pieces of torn paper from a big bag. The rest of the boys would follow them after a certain time had elapsed, and would try to catch the “hares” before they got back to the school (with, presumably, “referees” posted in the vicinity, to make sure nobody just hid in a bush and ‘ambushed’ the hares at the last minute). Naturally, such a huge waste of paper had to be stopped when rationing came in, to say nothing of the mess it made!

Koumi Rao manages to lose Figgins during the race, and sneaks back to school. After the race, he creeps out again, but the other boys race off on bikes and lay in wait for him. He turns out to be meeting with a German, who is trying to turn him. He refuses, and the other boys choose this moment to barge in and detain the German (by getting Fatty Wynn to sit on him). Koumi is vindicated, having proven that he’s not a traitor within earshot.

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The last of the text stories is The Football Cracksman, which is about a team called Milton Rovers (I very much doubt the “Milton” in question is the village just outside Cambridge!), and a supervillain called Black Mask. The local detective has got it into his head that Steve Bradshaw, star player of the Rovers, is Black Mask, but he never has any proof, and always ends up looking ridiculous. Which is a shame, because Steve Bradshaw is Black Mask! Naturally, he’s not really a villain, he’s just pretending to be one in order to take on a master criminal known only as The Boss. This story is a true serial, with cliffhanger endings, in the last part, it appears The Boss got one of his men to steal the Rovers gate-money, while pretending to be Black Mask. In this instalment, Steve gets to know where they money is hidden, but it’s an obvious trap. He lets the police inspector get to the money first and, as the criminals all attack him, snatches the bag and disappears.

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The team manager is surprised to find a bag, containing all the stolen money, on his doorstep one morning. The same day, the Rovers are off for an away game – to a town where Black Mask has business with somebody’s safe! The detective is also there (told he looks like he has “lost a fight with a regiment of Russians, or a couple of Finns”) – he has proof that the phone call which told him where the money was hidden was made from Steve Bradshaw’s house!

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Triumph also contains that rare beast for British comics of the time (though they were on the increase, especially in Knock-Out and Pilot), an adventure comic! This one is called Derickson Dene, and is about an inventor who built a rocket and flew to another planet. He has got involved in some war there, and is secretly building another rocket, with the help of some “beggars”, members of one nation who are prisoners of another. Just as he finishes his rocket, the secret police find him, and he has to blast off. He makes it back to the capital city of the nation he is helping, and is thanked by the king.

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After that, he builds a radio capable of receiving transmissions from Earth, and hears that war has been declared! He hastens to his big interplanetary rocket, and blasts off for home. But somebody called The Vampire stows away on it. No doubt his amazing inventions will go on to help fight he Nazis, whom The Vampire will join. But he’d better be quick, there’s only 14 more weeks! Champion had no comic strips, so this story may have either had a rushed ending, or just vanished entirely.

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There’s not much else to Triumph, just this little section for sending in jokes, to win “useful prizes”. What are these “useful prizes”? Funny card games! No doubt paper rationing put an end to those, too! Though then again, maybe thick, crude card could be more easily made by fourth-time-round recycled pulp than thin, white paper.

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There’s actually something to be said for using crude stereotypes to quickly and easily teach young children about the world.

Apart from that, there’s a few adverts on the back cover, where “Mad” Carew is concluded. There’s also an advert for a new serial, Sandu of the Himalayas. It’s about a boy doing work for his tribe in the fight against another – not sure if it was going to be cast as a “proxy war” between British and German-backed tribes, or set in the past. Probably the former, though.

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Peeps at Foreign Comics – Shonen Kurabu, November 20th 1943

I’ve taken a look at numerous Japanese publications on my Things Japanese blog, but I think this one is worth airing here. I’ve long dreamed of getting a story paper or comic from one of our enemies during (or, in the case of WW1, the years immediately before) the world wars, and in 2014 I finally got an issue of Kodan Kurabu from 1942! … but, aside from some funny cartoons, it’s not that interesting (I’ll still “do” it on Things Japanese one day). Then, in 2015, (from the same shop, even) I got a Boys’ Own story paper from 1943. This one is full of derring-do, talk of how the allies will be smashed by the might of Japan, etc… yet is tempered with air-raid advice, which indicates the situation on the “unreachable” Japanese home islands wasn’t as in keeping with the government propaganda as they would have liked.

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Much is written in English about American and British comics during the war (most of it, in recent years, sneering contempt for “propaganda”, or mock-shock at the depiction of children in battles), but virtually nothing is said about the other side, so let’s say it! (Actually, there are a few English-language articles about Shonen Kurabu. But they’re all full of critical theory).

Unfortunately, even my modern Japanese is hardly up to scratch, so I can’t say very much. The written language underwent a number of rationalisations and simplifications in 1946, getting rid of a number of irregularities, such as words that are said with U (う) at the end being written with Fu (ふ), and also the “long Ku” (く), which actually means “repeat the previous two letters”. Even my old Japanese teacher managed to slip up on that, pronouncing it “Kuuuu” in front of a bunch of Japanese historians. This probably also explains my bizarre / incomplete translations on previous occasions. I knew some kanji had been removed from circulation, but not about words being “spelled” differently!

Anyway, this particular story paper is the issue of Shonen Kurabu (Boys’ Club) from December 1943. You might think that “Kurabu” being used for “Club” indicates a loan word, taken from English, which would be written with the katakana クラブ. But actually it’s written with the kanji 倶楽部, which also means “Club” in Chinese. The fact they are pronounced Ku Ra Bu in Japanese appears to be nothing more than an incredible coincidence! That didn’t stop them from going over to katakana after the war, anyway.

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This one’s from 1951. Note the writing now goes in the other direction.

But, to drag ourselves back to the issue in hand, it opens with the usual ads and contents page, many of the adverts have a greater or lesser war theme…

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We also get this page, which appears to be an imperial edict, right from the pen of Emperor Showa himself! Old British story papers used to get celebrities like Lord Baden-Powell (who may be familiar as the founder of the Scouts) to write to them, but I’m not sure one ever secured the reigning monarch! Anyway, it’s written in “court Japanese”, which is heavy on kanji, broken up by small katakana. There’s no hiragana at all! You can see a rather more famous example of court Japanese on this Wikipedia page.

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The contents page is not the “usual” fold-out thing, due to paper shortages. It does contain some happy islanders, greeting their liberators, though. It also repeats the slogan from the cover, which is something along the lines of “Victory in the great East Asian war number” – perhaps indicating that this was an especially war-themed issue, even for the time?

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Following that, the coloured plate that many Japanese magazines of the period seem to have (see my look at King from 1939). This one shows patriotic school children bowing to their teacher. The title is “Reliable / Level-headed Pupils”. Perhaps they are being rewarded for the best attendance record, or highest score in thier exams?

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After a page on how some ancient Chinese “bone script” characters evolved into modern Kanji, there’s some more wash plates. This time thrilling accounts of derring-do at the front. Here some soldiers bravely charge an enemy tank. The title appears to refer to “meat bullets” who “sacrificed themselves”. Was it a suicide bombing (one guy’s got some big cylinders on his back), or just a last-ditch charge to avoid the shame of surrender?

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Another plate shows an artilleryman, who has somehow ended up in the sea, with his gun on a raft, tellling sailors to rescue the gun first. That really is straight out of Commando!

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Well, War Picture Library, actually…

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The main body of the paper is, of course, the stories! They cover the land, sea and air campaigns (with some very faint and ghostly illustrations). There’s also the usual samurai tales, and a story that looks-like-comedy-from-the-illustrations-anyway. The first of the stories has an odd character in it, but the title is something to do with the water of a river (though it’s not “the river water flows”, or anything like that). It’s subtitled as an old legend of Japan.

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The first adventure story is called Marai no Tora, or “The Malay Tiger”. I would have thought “Malay” would have been Marei (マレイ), not Marai, but there ya go. Anyway, it seems to be about a spy in Malaya, witnessing the cruelty of the British, and helping to lay the groundwork for the Japanese invasion. Just look at this picture of an old man about to be run down by grinning Tommies. The art style actually reminds me of Commando. Maybe they ought to do this same story from “the other end” XD.

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There’s another very short story, or article, which I couldn’t initiallly understand the purpose of (it’s only over one spread). Until I realised it was called “The 8th of December”. In Japan, the date of Pearl Harbour!

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Airmen are represented by this story, called Homeward Through the Jungle of Death. As the name implies, it doesn’t involve much flying – instead, it’s about a shot-down pilot on a trek through the jungle, meeting giant bats, alligators and a hulking native with an axe!

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On the subject of the navy, the story Kuri Sailor’s War Account (“Kuri” meaning Chestnut, but I assume it’s the name of the ship, in this instance) is about sailors – seemingly either ratings, or young, junior, officers – as was common in old British navy stories, too. Anyway the illustrations are very faint and murky, but they show a torpedo tube being fired at a distant ship, and, in this one, a line being tied onto a burning carrier, probably so it can be towed to safety. It also starts with a section labelled “previous number up until”, aka “the story so far”, indicating a serial!

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The next story is Appare Katsu Tachira-kun, or “The Praiseworthy Boy, Katsu Tachira”. It’s billed as a true war story and seems, from the illustrations, to be about some boys who kept a lookout for spies / enemy soldiers, allowing a boatload of them to be machine-gunned before they reached the beach. This sounds like the sort of cautionary tale that was also rife in British comics of the time, even Tiger Tim’s Weekly! (Though in that, of course, the spies just ended up arrested).

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Except, there’s actually photos of Katsu Tachira and his friend, as well as the machine gunnners! There’s also a picture of some sort of list they kept, counting the numbers of men and women “seen” (it says “investigated”) in the north of… something.

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Those letters, written over and over, mean “correct”, but they’re also the Japanese version of tally marks, as they take 5 strokes to write.

The first of the “historicals” appears to be called “Become the Camphor Tree of Justice”. I guess I’m missing some samurai metaphor. Anyway it has sword fights and archery. This one’s also a serial, it has a “story so far” section, and the first chaper appears to be numbered 14 (though, oddly for the time, written as “1 4” and not “10 4”).

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There’s another historical tale called Book of the Spirit Times. Though “spirit” in this case is more “the essence of” something, rather than ghosts. Maybe it’s Book of Ages? Anyway, it has an illustration of some very angular-looking samurai…

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There’s one main comic strip, 30 panels long (they’re all numbered). I can’t make head nor tail of the main title. It’s something about “flying big son XX’s look study”. It’s about a kid who goes to visit a training camp for pilots, called “Bear Valley Military Flying School”, with some incredibly primitive-looking equipment. I doubt “the west” was much better, though – no computerised simulators in those days!

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There’s some sort of contraption with a bicyle-powered cockpit, and a model plane on the front (probably a general primer for how an aircraft handles). There’s also a fake fuselage with a box over it, perhaps for training pilots to fly by instruments.

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Later there’s a cockpit on a zipwire (landing training?), and a big spinning wheel with a seat on it (a fitness test, for flying upside down?). The boy has been taken to the camp by his high-ranking dad. On the train back he falls asleep, then suddenly wakes up, saluting, and shouting that he wants to be the first pilot to bomb “Washinton”.

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“Washinton” doesn’t do too well out of the other comic strip, either. It opens with a formation of American bombers approaching Japan (at this stage, only Kyushu was in range, though the Doolittle raid, an effective “kamikaze” mission, had made token hits on other cities in 1941). Then some sort of intercontinental ballistic missiles get launched, with magnets on the end, drag the bombers all the way back to Washington DC (surely all those big, square buildings are the stereotyped apperance of New York?), and blow the city to bits. You wonder what the Germans would have thought about this strip “giving away their secrets”! (The only time Jane was censored was when there was a storyline about a secret plane called a “Meteor”, only weeks before the real thing went into service).

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Another “comic”, of sorts, is this page of “Japanese-style songs”. And two other letters I can’t make out at all! Anyway, they seem to be short poems, actually, not songs. Or maybe they’re all verses of one song. Anyway, they show kids doing things like obeying thier teacher, taking food and water to women who are working as air-raid wardens / fire watchers and, erm, stealing apples. There’s probably meant to be a point of contrast, somewhere!

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There’s a later section called “Poems for People in Small Countries”, which features a Burmese teacher (and, on the next page, Japanese soldiers coming away from a shinto shrine, cheered by schoolboys). The text doesn’t look much like poems, though.

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As for factual content, though the horrors of sustained firebombing were yet to come, Kyushu was experiencing sporadic air attacks, so there’s an article about air-raid precautions. Readers are advised to sleep near their bundled-up possessions, ready to head for the shelters. There’s also diagrams of American bombs, and advice to wear padded clothes and an “air raid hood”. I’ve seen one of those hoods in the Osaka Peace Museum, it’s not much more than a padded balaclava; I wouldn’t trust it to protect me against a thrown stone, let alone bomb fragments!

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There’s another diagram showing the lethal range and height of shrapnel from a high explosive bomb. Note the nearby shelter – unlike Britain’s corrugated Anderson shelters, the usual Japanese bomb shelter was a short trench, with wooden planks over it. By the time of the major city bombings, the Americans had developed cluster incendiary bombs, especially designed to start the most intense fires possible in Japan’s wooden residential areas. The resulting firestorms sucked up oxygen from the lowest spaces first, suffocating families to death, even if they were untouched by the explosions.

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Another article is about an assault course youngsters can build (or, perhaps, get their teachers to organise). It features bars to balance on, walls to climb, nets to crawl under, etc. All as a primer for future military training, when the readers are old enough. There’s also another article about general fitness, with push-ups, running, etc. One picture shows how you should motivate yourself by imagining you’ll one day be a soldier, charging into battle!

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There’s also an article called Minna Sendo Da, which is roughly “It’s Everybody’s War!”. An illustration shows Japanese and American boys building model planes, while the men fight in the skies above. Basically it’s like those poems in the contemporay Beano, telling children to “do their bit”, even if it’s just saving waste paper. Fortunately, the Kyoto kid who bought this one hung on to it, instead!

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Still, it wasn’t all worry and self-sacrifice. The article Sea Eagles Hitting the Enemy’s Fleet is about successes the Japanese naval air arm have had against allied ships. Pearl Harbour is well known, they also sank HMS Prince of Wales, which had survived the infamous encounter with Bismarck, where the Ark Royal was blown to pieces by a shot in the magazine. The artist doesn’t seem to have had many reference pictures, though. An American carrier is drawn in the “top heavy” Japanese style, and a battleship, seen later, looks a bit Yamato-ey too. No internet image searches in those days!

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This is accompanied by Filming The War at Sea, which is apparently (from the pictures, anyway) an account of a Japanese ship being attacked by American planes, but it survives, and the crew rescue one of the pilots.

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More light-hearted is an article called Koko ni Konna Kufuu, or “How to Make These Useful Devices”, including a frame apparently designed to stop roosters, but not hens, getting seeds, and a thing for clipping an umbrella to a belt, leaving your hands free.

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This section advertises the next issue, as a “New Year Number”. As well as the continuing adventures of The Malay Tiger and the good ship Chestnut, there’s an article / interview with a submarine captain who sank a ship, and got a picture of it through the periscope.

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I beleive the Japanese government banned all “entertainment publications” at some point in 1944, as the paper shortage became desperate (and, no doubt, to free up the lumberjacks, paper factory workers, and writers, for army service). But Shonen Kurabu was among several magazines re-started after the war. The picture I showed earlier is from 1951, but, if we look at the publishing details (which, at the time, always gave the date of first publication), we can see they both have the same “first published” date:

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Continuity was clearly intended, though the later Shonen Kurabu is quite a different publication (more comics!). I’ll also give it a review on Things Japanese one day.

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(And there was a spare image left over… erm…)