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Mr Punch’s History of the Great War

Posted by on August 19, 2014

Of all the books I’ve acquired from relatives over the years one of my favourites is Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War.  Published in 1919 by Cassell and Company and edited by Charles L Graves (1856-1944) it uses extracts from Punch magazine to “provide a mirror of varying moods, month by month, but reflecting how England remained steadfastly true to her best traditions”.

Growing up I read Punch in the doctor’s and dentist’s surgeries and the brutality of some of the cartoons in this collection seemed to me far removed from the modern, gently satirical publication.

An absorbing article by Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart on firstworldwar.com compares Punch with The Wipers Times suggesting “both believed that comedy should be employed in a cathartic role against the tension, fear and grief caused by the fighting.”

Before war broke out Punch had been criticised as being too militant, publishing only one strongly anti-war article by the then sub-editor A. A. Milne.  Thus Punch entered the conflict publishing what amounted to government sanctioned propaganda with “little comedic undertone”.  However as the war endured this did change as the public mood shifted. She adds a surprising point about Punch’s and indeed middle-class male Britain’s attitude to women’s employment.  Having always believed that this was universally applauded I was surprised to realise the fear that this provoked and Punch’s efforts to undermine their role.[1]

Although intended primarily for the home market copies did make their way to the front, at least to the officer class.  However the lack of battlefield reporters resulted in such inaccuracies that it seems to have been most welcome as a higher quality toilet paper and probably provided some of the impetus behind the papers produced by the soldiers including the Wipers Times.  bravo belgium

Mr Punch’s August 1914 selection begins by recapping; “Four weeks ago we stood on the edge of the great upheaval and knew it not”.  There are two cartoons one; “Bravo Belgium” originally published on 12th August 1914 and drawn by F H Townsend, and the other depicting a recruiting office medical.  “Bravo Belgium”, a particularly well-known cartoon now appears in the Keystage 3 History syllabus.

Barbara Selby


[1] Esther MacCallum-Stewart – firstworldwar.com 2009

 

One Response to Mr Punch’s History of the Great War

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Thank you for this interesting blog. The use of humour is fascinating.

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