Luci Gosling, from the Mary Evans Picture Library, discusses a talk she gave to the Western Front Association's 2017 AGM in Newcastle on cartoons, cartoonists and the Great War.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:00:18] Welcome to 'Mentioned in Dispatches' - the podcast from The Western Front Association. I'm Dr Tom Thorpe. The WFA is the UK's largest Great War history society. We are dedicated to furthering understanding of the First World War and have over 60 branches worldwide. For more information, visit our website at WesternFrontAssociation.com. Today, it's the 6th of May 2017. This programme talks to Luci Gosling on her research into cartoons during the Great War. Luci was talking at the WFA's AGM in Newcastle over the weekend on 'Winning with Laughter Cartoonists at War'. She works at the Mary Evans Picture Library and she spoke to me about the talk she gave on Saturday. I started by asking her how she developed her interest in cartoons.
Luci Gosling [00:01:02] Well, I've always had a great interest in illustration - art in general. I grew up with beautifully illustrated children's books and things. I've always worked in picture libraries. But in 2003, I got a job managing the archive of the illustrated London News. Now, that consists of nine different magazines, not just the eponymous ILM, and it includes titles like The Sketch, The Tattler and The Bystander, which are really rich resource for cartoons not just from the Great War but also from the 19th century through up to around the Second World War. I think the Great War, because that was a time when all of those magazines were in publication. At that time, they were rivals. They later in the 1920s joined together to become part of the same group. But during the Great War, they were all in publication and they were rivalling each other to show the very best cartoonists and humorous art. So it seemed like a really interesting and vibrant period for cartooning. And in 2008, I published a book, which is published by Osprey, called 'Brushes & Bayonets', which basically tells the story of the Great War through cartoons and illustrations in the Illustrated London News Archive.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:02:08] When you talk about cartoons, what exactly do you mean? I mean, I grew up with a Beano, were they cartoons like that, or were they more like - sort of jokes, you would say in Private Eye or Punch.
Luci Gosling [00:02:17] Much more of the 'Private Eye' and 'Punch' variety. Most cartoons on this period are usually a full page - one picture and you've got a caption underneath. I think one thing that you'd really see as a development during the First World War is the captions decrease. A big thing in the 19th century Punch cartoons, as they often needed quite long and unwieldy explanations to explain whatever the political story behind the joke. In the Great War, there was really a movement towards images which are humorous art, which is a lot more visual, had a lot more impact and really got that message across. There might be a caption, but it was short and it was sweet, but that's the majority of them. There were certain artists: h.M. Bateman is a prime example, and he was really a pioneer in this - who started to use sequential jokes. So you will see Bateman using, say, a picture of a 'gas-bag-car' because there were limitations on fuel during the First World War. Lots of vehicles use these unwieldy gas bags on the top of their roofs. And he made a fantastic joke out of that, showing it eventually flying away off into the distance. But his sequential cartoons meant that very few words were required. And so you're seeing a little bit of a development towards that kind of thing.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:03:38] Whereabouts were cartoons published? Where they published in newspapers such as The Daily Graphic, or did they appear in formal battalion newspapers or trench journalist sort of adventures?
Luci Gosling [00:03:49] They appeared everywhere, but the quality of the cartoons that you would get would vary according to the publication. If you're looking at trench newspapers, you probably get whoever is in your battalion who might be able to draw a little bit to contribute some drawings. The same applies to regimental and divisional publications - which were often actually published by genuine bona fide publishers like Cassels. But they would normally get people within the division who had an artistic bent to contribute drawings. Then, you will have the daily newspapers. You, for instance, had W K Haselden, who lampooned the Kaiser and the Crown Prince with 'Big and Little Willy' in the Daily Mirror - that was one of the most famous kinds of cartoon creations of the First World War. So you would get that kind of thing. And then you would also get - the creme de la creme I'm talking about when you talk about magazines like Tatler and Bystander - those are the magazines that nurtured, and in some cases - it's certainly in the case of Bruce Bairnsfather discovered the great cartoonists of the First World War. So I'm talking about Bairnsfather, William Heath Robinson, Alfred Leeds ... Alfred Leeds, actually drew 'Schmidt the Spy', which was a great way to dispel the hysteria over German spies in Britain in the early months of the First World War. That was in 'London Opinion', which was another weekly magazine. Although it wasn't as expensive and it wasn't quite such good quality. The great thing about. Magazines like Tatler and Bystander were quite expensive through a very good quality, so the reproduction on the page has been retained - they are the best. But cartoons were just part of life. They were the best ones to reproduce on postcards. Some of them were used on posters eventually - some very serious recruitment posters. And there were others that had a more joyful aspect. So I think it's really important to realise how important drawing and cartoons were - how well they were understood by the population.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:05:49] I think it's really difficult for us in a very visual or movie - in a culture which is all about moving images to understand that then it was very much a literal community where - everybody read newspapers. There were 400 newspapers in London alone, and that these visual images really were powerful. Were they endorsed bye .. .I'm just wondering whether such images were often censored?
Luci Gosling [00:06:10] Everything had to pass through the censor. I did a chapter in my book 'Brushes & Bayonets' called 'The Blue Pencil', which is all about censorship. What's really interesting is you will often come across cartoons which are poking fun at the censor in the gentlest way possible. Otherwise they wouldn't have been allowed through every single cartoon that went into any magazine or newspaper had to be passed by the censor. There were often conflicts within that - there's a really interesting example which I talked about at the AGM talk. There was a cartoon published in The Bystander in 1916 called 'Reported Missing' - and it showed a drunk private soldier - a British soldier. It didn't exactly say where it was, but it looked like he was probably in Africa or maybe Gallipoli. But he was drunk and it was drawn by a Captain. And eventually the Bystander was prosecuted, the Editor of the bystander Vivienne Carter was prosecuted, as were the owners of the Bystander. It was considered - the authorities were worried about whether these magazines had a great distribution. They found their way into other countries. And they didn't like the fact that this cartoon seemed to say that it was OK for British troops to be drunk. And we all laughed about it. And that wasn't the impression that people wanted to give. So sometimes magazines might find themselves in hot water. Vivienne Carter was dismissed a few months later due to another legal trial - not about a cartoon, but I think that particular cartoon certainly paved the way for his departure, unfortunately.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:07:39] And how was the national crisis covered in cartoons? I'm thinking about things like the shell-shortage crisis of May 1915.
Luci Gosling [00:07:46] Well, that would be I can't think of an exact example of the shell-crisis and a cartoon that fits with that. And since we are talking I wouldn't be able to show it to you anyway. What cartoonists really did and what they're very good at was ... belittling problems and making the public laugh about them. And I suppose by doing that, they were just minimising fear and worry and hysteria. So some of the very early 1914 and early 1915 depictions of the Germans, for example, are showing the Germans as these monstrous brutes striding over Europe, doing terrible things. The cartoons of Louis Raemaekers, the Dutch cartoonists were - they're actually still quite difficult to look at today. But I think what you find is as time goes on, is that the best way ... to beat the Germans is to laugh at them. And by doing that is not to draw them as fearsome brutes, but as sort of silly pot bellied porcine soldiers with Pickelhaube helmets. And that's exactly what Heath Robinson did. And he did it brilliantly. So I think that, you know, the shell-shortage, I think they would have magazines and would have had to be very careful about how they treated a subject like that. But what would happen is when Lloyd George - took over the munitions and wants munitions production started to go up, there were cartoons about the positive side of that and how well Britain was doing at producing shells. There are an awful lot of cartoons about munitionettes because that was a really fun, celebratory side of that.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:09:25] It's interesting. Did they do the cartoons, I suppose I'm thinking about the Home Front. Did they reflect the changing ways of, for instance, a much greater female participation in the workforce, the whole creation of new jobs? And also, did they pander to stereotypes? We have this idea of striking workers going striking for higher pay while soldiers are suffering in the trenches. And did they portray these types of themes?
Luci Gosling [00:09:48] Sometimes. By and large, the arrival of women in the workplace was depicted in a really positive way. There were stereotypes about pretty girls putting on makeup when they should be taking people's tickets on the tram - but it's fairly harmless. And by and large, it's celebratory, which I think is really great. In terms of producing anything really negative - that probably wouldn't be allowed by the censor, to be honest - things like strikes. The message was always very much - we're 'all in it together'.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:10:23] Was it possible, in fact, the idea regional variations in cartoons and with national differences in, say, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - and whether to actually produce in Gaelic?
Luci Gosling [00:10:35] I don't know about that. How Highland soldiers were a real favourite subject of cartoonists, though, because obviously there were the comic possibilities of the kilt. What's also really interesting is that the Germans frequently, when they caricatured the British - and they were never as gentle, they were a much more savage view of the British. They regularly portrayed the British as Highland Soldiers, which is really interesting. I think they just provided such an interesting visual treat - is that's how they often were portrayed. Ireland was - there were lots of cartoons about 'look at these good Irishmen' who were doing their bit and they've stopped making trouble in their own country. And then they've now answered the call. So - again, there was a lot of positivity - all this force in Ireland is over now. They're doing their very best to help out. So I think - I can only really tell you a British viewpoint of - an English viewpoint of the Scottish and Irish contingent. But it's interesting. They were always looking for different angles. You've got to remember that there were so ... you've already mentioned yourself, there were so many weekly illustrated papers. So they were always having to look at different ideas and different people, ways to portray things.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:12:02] And finally, how did the papers actually deal with, for instance, the Easter Rising? Because you talked about the Irish being now portrayed as good and not at each other's throats on the verge of civil war, as many British people saw it in 1914?
Luci Gosling [00:12:16] It wasn't given the time of day by cartoonists. The only thing that cartoonists would do is portray the good Irish men - who fought for the mother country. Certainly the Easter Rising was covered in great detail in these magazines, but it wasn't really a subject, not in the not in my experience of the magazines that I looked at something that was in any way really given any credence at all.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:12:42] And finally, Lucyi, where can people get your book? Bayonets and Brushes, pardon me 'Brushes and Bayonets'.
[00:12:48] 'Brushes and Bayonets' is very sadly out of print, but you can find it on Abebooks. So I've also written a few others. I've written a book on Bruce Bairnsfather called 'A Better 'Ole', and I've written one on Heath Robinson during the First World War, which is called 'It's All a Bit Heath Robinson' - they are still available. They're published by the History Press. My book, 'Great War Britain', which looks at the Home Front during the First World War through the eyes of these magazines - that we have in the archive at Mary Evans - that's still in print as well. And that that does concentrate quite a lot on entertainment and cartooning as part of that.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:13;24] Luci, thank you very much for your time.
Luci Gosling [00:13:26] Pleasure.
Dr Tom Thorpe [00:13:34] You have been listening to the 'Mentioned in Dispatches' podcast from The Western Front Association with me, Tom Thorpe. Thank you to all my guests for appearing on this edition. The theme music for this podcast with George Butterworth's 'The Banks of Green Willow'. It was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Chris Russman and produced by BIS Records. This recording is part of a collection of orchestral works by Butterworth, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and supported by The Western Front Association. This is available from all good rehearsals under the record code B.I.S 2.1.5 -until next time.