British comics herald the start of World War 1

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And, as usual with my ‘projects’, I’m starting to write this post the day after the anniversary. But then again, the British Expeditionary Force did have to get to France, then march across half the country, before they even saw a German.

Anyway, while I say “British comicS”, I really only have one thing from the true start of the war (I did have some Dreadnoughts and Boys’ Journals from that time, which I sold ((making all of 7p profit, after postage -_-)), but they didn’t mention it), which is the 1914-15 volume of Young England.

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The volume seems to have started around September or October, so was probably well along the line of preparation when war broke out. It opens with this introduction, stating that “very different fare” had been prepared:

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The serial stories in this volume – probably fully written in advance, rather than in separate parts, as they were in “downmarket” papers – don’t mention the war at all. Though the main one is also set in 1911, and is about a quest across China to retrieve the “true emperor” from a mountain hideaway. Only to find that the Chinese have risen against the monarchy and established a republic in the meantime!

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The other main serial story is a school story, presumably set when it is published. Though it too doesn’t mention the war at all.

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Though the title could suggest mysterious spy capers

The third one, rather shorter, and appearing at the end of the volume, is quite warlike… but set several hundred years previously! Perhaps this one was at least partly written after war was declared, and is an attempt to conjure up the “spirit of old England”?

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Stay, thy Norman churls!

The short stories in the early part of the volume don’t mention the war either. Later ones do – but not all of them! Several seem to have a Canadian Backwoods theme. Perhaps, before the war broke out, there was a push to expand the colonies in Canada.

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Before long, the war-related fiction appears, such as this story called The Yellow Streak, which starts off in a school before moving to the Western Front.

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There’s also a number of factual accounts of heroic deeds, often with a big illustration. Some of these are “independent”, whilst others are part of a regular series. I suppose they were written-up and crammed in as quickly as they came into the office. Several are about the war in the air – this new arena of battle fascinated the public of the day, especially boys! One article is about the first Zeppelin to be destroyed in an air-to-air fight. Though we now see them as rickety flying bombs (the planes of the era were proabably more dangerous!), early in the war Zeppelins seemed invincible – they could fly much higher than any plane could, and ordinary bullets would pass straight through them. “Archie” was still in nappies, too. It wasn’t until incendiary “tracer” bullets were invented that they could be reliably bought down by gunfire.

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Right from the word go, the articles are almost all about the war. Except for some of the early Scout and Boys’ Life Brigade (seemingly an even more militaristic “scouts” – are they an ancestor of today’s cadets) ones, which were ‘regulars’ and so written as they went along. Later ones explain why the war hadn’t yet been mentioned.

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It’s interesting to see how the BLB and Scouts helped out with the war effort – taking messages, acting as lookouts, training in first-aid, and so on. If the “balloon went up” and a major war started today, would the Cadet and Scout leaders dare to use thier boys for war work (at least until the nukes started falling, anyway)? Or would they be facing the wrath of furious parents, who put thier “fammleh” above the greater calling of service to one’s country?

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Several of the early war-related articles were rushed in to replace other material. Treating thier readers as intelligent beings, rather than money-laying chickens, the editors of Young England admit that these are reprints:

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While a few other articles were nothing to do with the war, but became important – for instance, this one about the Suez Canal. In peacetime, it was just an interesting feat of engineering, but in wartime it became a place of vital strategic importance – especially with Britain’s colonies in the east (and her alliance with Japan). A new introduction has been added, mentioning that the Turks are making a move on the canal.

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Apart from that, there’s plenty more up-to-date articles written about the war, they really dominate the volume – featuring all sorts of stuff about uniforms, aircraft, songs and slang of the time.

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Inevitably people die in wars, and this means obituaries. Though one of the biggest is actually dedicated to a military commander who died of old age, having led British (and Indian!) troops in former times. Even before the war broke out, military commanders were regarded as celebrities – they, and thier campaigns, being household names in the same way actors and pop stars are today. How much do we hear about the leaders of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

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Another feature of the more upmarket story papers was poetry (though editors of the likes of The Marvel and The Boys’ Friend threatened to throw poets down the the stairs!). The poems follow the themes of the complete stories, starting off “normal”, but getting more and more warlike:

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Some nice illustrations, too.

As the war dragged on, and got more and more bitter, propaganda pieces started to appear, often illustrated. In this volume, they concentrate on the use of submarines by the Germans. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that the use of gas by the Germans is mentioned – you’d have thought that would be an atrocity worth commenting on (though, before very much longer, everybody was at it).

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There’s quite a few sea illustrations, actually. Though the much-vaunted Dreadnoughts of the early part of the 20th century didn’t really score the smashing victories either side was hoping for (though the blockade of Germany was a ‘victory’, it lasted years and involved very little gunfire!).

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I’ll be lookig more at WW1 publications (what I have, anyway!) as the 100th anniversaries come up. Not all of them will be in English, though! I’ve already reviewed a Japanese story paper called Hiko Shonen here:

http://thingsjapanese.crystal-knights.co.uk/2014/08/08/hiko-shonen-may-1917/

I also have the Christmas 1914 issue of Union Jack, which is worth another look. Unfortunately, I don’t have any German story papers from that era… time for a holiday? I bet they make very interesting reading!

Buckle of Submarine V2

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While much that has been written about the use of submarines in WW1 concerns the Germans alternating between the use of restricted and unrestricted (IE, torpedoing merchant ships without warning) warfare, other nations used them too. It was actually the first war where submarines were really used on a large scale, bar the famous one in the American Civil War (which sunk itself as well as the enemy), and rumours flying about in the Russo-Japanese War. With the war bogged down on land, and a lot of the naval engagements “inconclusive” at best, both sides looked to their submariners and airmen for “good news”. This was reflected in the boys’ own adventure stories published as the war went on, with tales of air raids on Berlin, by experimental new planes able to fly that far, or submarines pulling off daring attacks against the German fleet.

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One of these stories was called Buckle of Submarine V2. My copy has an inscription dated to February 1917 (though it could have been published before then). It reads like a series of shorter stories – and in December 2013 I discovered why! It was originally a series of short stories published in Young England, from early 1915.

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The inscription. Is that “young news bible class”?

Each of the shorter Young England stories is broken up into several chapters in the book. I have the 1914-15 volume of Young England (containing the twelve issues from September 1914), and this contains three Buckle stories. However, the book is longer – perhaps the extra chapters appeared in the 1915-16 volume, or else were written for the book.

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The book opens with some verse, which is also reprinted from the original short stories, though the one of the poems has been put in the front of the book, rather than used to open a chapter, as it was originally.

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The stories themselves feature a number of incidents, of greater or lesser realism. As you can see from the cover of the book, one of these involves Buckle and his crew taking on a Zeppelin! And yes, some of the submarine’s crew are killed or badly wounded during the course of the battle. No doubt, with this year marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, we’re going to be hearing a lot of nonsense about how the “popular magazines” of the period made the war look like “fun”. But that’s an article of it’s own!

Another of the stories involves the successful sinking of a German submarine as it’s being resupplied by a surface ship. In the Second World War they’d learned their lesson and had dedicated supply subs, which traveled to their rendezvous underwater!

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Another part of the story involves a large sea battle, in which Buckle’s sub acts as a scout. For most of the war, before Jutland (though some minor, half-forgotten battles did take place, such as the one near the Falklands), the British and Germans were both anxious to “get to grips” with the enemy’s navy, confident of a quick victory. But at the time, battlecruisers and dreadnoughts were the most expensive things the major powers owned, and they didn’t want to risk them coming to any harm! Even Jutland itself might best be called a draw, both fleets retreating after roughly equal losses (though it did ‘bottle up’ the German surface fleet).

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The first of the short stories / chapters have Buckle on a fairly ‘routine’ (by the standards of the story, anyway) mission, to sneak up an estuary and spy on the German fleet at anchor. This involves a nerve-wracking trip through a minefield, using nothing more than blind dead reckoning! It sounds far fetched, but incredibly, an article elsewhere in the volume reports on something similar being done for real.

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The submarine B11 passed through five rows of mines in the Dardanelles and sank the Turkish battleship Mesudiyeh (spelled Mesudiye in modern times). The feat is illustrated with a diagram which doesn’t make it look particularly difficult, the mines all neatly floating on the surface and the sub merely trundling along beneath them.

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However, remember that the mines would have been anchored to the seabed by varying lengths of chain. In buckle’s case, V2 actually snags one of these chains and must be very gently handled, lest the mine is pulled down into the hull and detonated. The Young England episodes of the story don’t contain many illustrations, but this incident is given one.

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