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The final war story in Lot-o’-Fun is a serial entitled For Britain’s Honour. Our heroes are ‘Jack Buller, the only son of Sir Ronald Buller, a wealthy newspaper proprietor,’ together with a number of companions, all ‘Varsity men’, known as Buller’s Bull Pups. All are expert horsemen. Jack is commanded to hold a bridge ‘at all costs’. His response is steadfast. ‘Rather than count the cost, they must fall and appreciate the signal honour which had been paid the youngest troop in the British Army’. They make it to the bridge before the German cavalry, though the Pups are outnumbered 5 to 1. The Germans ‘arrive in a frenzy they would assuredly not have shown if an equal number of men had been guarding the bridge’. Their commander is none other than Lieutenant Wilhelm Von Loan, a ‘despicable brute’ who had once blackened the name of Jack’s father ‘one of the finest gentlemen in England!’ After a ferocious hand-to-hand combat on the bridge, Jack is unluckily taken prisoner and Von Loan promises to end his war by cutting off his hands.

Worse than that, Jack discovers that Von Loan intends to practise some unspecified evil – that very night – upon ‘the beautiful French girl, Renée de Margny, who [Jack] had grown to love in the first moment he saw her’. Women and girls, apart from the occasional gallant nurse or helpless victim, feature rarely in the comics, where a male readership seems implicit; though one editor did once make a point of welcoming ‘fellows’ sisters’. Thanks to Jack’s ingenious courage, matched only by his author’s ingenious plotting, he escapes on a German horse which, ‘Heaven be praised’, is tied to a post nearby.

The humorous tone of these early comics, perhaps derived from a confidence in the absolute superiority of British troops (‘all over by Christmas’) was not to be sustained. Letters and newspaper reports from the Front, the later evidence of newsreels and films, the mounting death toll and the return of desperately wounded men, shifted public opinion. The Boys’ Friend was famous for its high spirited school stories (Greyfriars, Rookwood, St Jim’s and the rest, largely written by Charles Hamilton under the names of Frank Richards, Owen Conquest, Martin Clifford et al); but in the Christmas Issue of 1917, the annual message from ‘Your Editor’s Den’ made sombre reading:

I feel that it is incumbent upon me to commence my Chat this

week by wishing all my loyal readers the greetings of the season. I trust that every one of my chums will have a good Christmas, unaccompanied by any form of revelry. These are no times for gaiety of any description.

There is serious work on hand. We have to carry on with the

task of defeating the unspeakable Hun. It is a formidable task, but if we have not the grit and the determination to carry the job through to the end, we are not worthy of the name of Britishers.

Thousands of our countrymen have given their lives in the great

cause. They leave friends and relations at home who deeply mourn their deaths. Their sorrow is great. Let us not, therefore, add to their sorrows by indulging in revelry, and showing an utter disregard to the sufferings of others.

Let us rather spend our Christmas in a quiet, orderly manner,

observing all the while the injunctions of the Food Controller. When we have achieved the victory for which we are fighting, when the Prussian military machine has been crushed for ever, then may we all spend our Christmas as of yore.

A confession: This series of articles is based on material from my own collection and I was especially pleased about twenty years ago to find Issue 453 of Lot-o’-Fun in almost mint condition. It seemed incredible that a comic, of all things, should have lasted so well. It was indeed incredible; only as I was exploring the Web when drafting the article above did I discover that this issue must surely have come from a pack of facsimiles of six Great War comics from the early Seventies. Several copies are currently available on the Internet, so the good news is that an interested BfK reader might well be able to pick one up. n

Geoff Fox taught in schools and universities and abroad. He has written extensively about literature and drama, including reviewing regularly for Books for Keeps. With Kate Agnew, Geoff wrote Children at War (Continuum, 2001).

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