dubiously true stories and cartoons

Monday, September 10, 2012


I was born in 1954 when the Second World War was still fresh in most people’s minds and the boys’ comics I grew up with and read in my teens used this collective memory to create an assortment of xenophobic war stories depicting the British as courageous, lantern-jawed heroes. 

Suddenly, and without warning, Captain Norville broke cover . . .

In the pages of Wizard, Rover and Victor you could find Sergeant Matt Braddock VC, DFM, of Bomber Command, who flew Bristol Beaufighters and sent  many a Hun pilot to his fiery grave with a jubilant cry of ‘Got Him!’. The Valiant featured the exploits of Captain Hurricane of the Royal Marines, who seemed to be in a different theatre of war every other week as he despatched thousands of sausage eaters, square-heads and slant-eyes (not my words) whilst in the grip of one of his Raging Infernos. 

The Wing Commander's inability to tell the time was beginning to annoy the rest of the squadron . . .

The Germans, on the other hand, were often portrayed as Teutonic twits, rabid baby-eaters or limp wristed figures of derision, with silly accents who used phrases like ‘Donner und Blitzen!” and ‘Achtung! Britischer Pig Dog!’ just before they shuffled off their mortal coils.

All the guards had top security clearance, but some secrets were just too good to keep secret . . .

The cruelly unsubtle and rabidly nationalistic pulp stories that appeared in the pages of Valiant, Victor, Lion, Hotspur, Wizard, Rover and Tiger would send my Granddad into helpless fits of laughter. He loved them and it was extremely difficult for me to get my comics back once he got his hands on them. To him, it seemed, they were the propaganda of the victors and they sent out a clear message, which was:  It is still OK to hate the Germans.

Major Morgan was regretting ordering the fish the night before his first drop into enemy territory . . .

My Granddad had served in both wars and actually did hate the Germans. He was especially proud of the beautiful Swiss-made watch that he had liberated from the body of a dead German at Monte Cassino, and was now hanging on the wall above the fireplace (the watch – not the German). He never really told me anything specific about what he did (I never knew that he had been rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk until a few years after he died, or that when went back to North Africa in 1941 he didn't see his wife again until 1945). He just had this one thought on the matter, which was: There’s only one good German, and that’s a dead one.

Mike felt proud in his new flying suit . . . until he saw the twinkle in the Squadron Commander's eye . . .

Granddad died in 1973, three years after I had joined the Royal Air Force, and a year after that I found myself posted to RAF Bruggen in West Germany. and I found myself living in a small village called Lahr, a few miles from the Dutch border.

To my utmost surprise I discovered the German people were the complete polar  opposite of what Granddad had described to be.

My landlord at the time was called Peter. He was married to Wilma and Peter’s father lived upstairs. Peter and Wilma had desperately wanted children; they had tried for many years until one bright sunny morning she joyfully announced that she was pregnant. As the months went on she grew bigger and bigger and she waddled around with a permanent smile on her face until a couple of weeks before the due date when she was admitted into hospital.

At that time in Germany fathers were not allowed to be anywhere near their spouses when they were giving birth. Instead, they had to wait at home for a telephone call from the maternity ward announcing the arrival of their newly born offspring.

I was often invited around to Peter's house, usually on a Friday night, where there seemed to be an unending supply of various forms of alcoholic beverage in his cellar. Peter only spoke a little English and I only spoke a little German so we communicated with each other using pidgin German and hand signals. He would never take no for an answer where alcohol was concerned and it therefore normally took me around two days to recover from these sessions of overindulgence.

Having been informed of the date Wilma was due to give birth, Peter invited me round for celebratory drinks. I checked the calendar and found that it was a Thursday night and I knew instinctively that I would not be getting out of there until the early hours of the morning. I politely informed him that it was not possible to go round on the Thursday, but I could do it the night before. We had it all planned – at about 10pm we would tell him that I had to get up for work the next morning and I would then say goodbye and good luck for Thursday night. 

It was perfect.

Except that it wasn’t.

At around 9pm that evening, Peter’s telephone rang. He picked up the receiver and listened. Then he said “Ja”. After a pause he said “Ja” again. He said “Ja” a few more times and after each subsequent pause his Ja’s got louder, until, after a deep breath, he announced in a loud, clear voice in perfect English, “IT’S A BOY!”

I groaned inwardly but cheered all the same. It was the happiest day of Peter’s life and I was not (could not) spoil it by leaving early.
Peter and Wilma and Peter’s father were warm, friendly and helpful. They were charming and unpretentious and, above all else, they possessed a sense of humour. 

Watching The Cruel Sea in German with no subtitles, with Peter laughing raucously throughout, proved that.

Peter, and his father, himself a veteran of the Second World War, were a far cry from the sausage-eaters and squareheads that Captain Hurricane had annihilated with such reckless abandon in the comics of my youth.

It was the worst pitch invasion in living memory . . .

The last World War ended almost seventy years ago, but those old comics still have a strange pulling power. Despite their bombastic, imperialistic storylines, they were brilliantly drawn by teams of talented up-and-coming artists who would make their names in later comics such as Action and 2000AD.

I suppose I noticed the change in attitudes when you could no longer buy Second World War British and German uniforms for Action Man

The new flat-packed machine gun from IKEA was proving harder to assemble than anticipated . . .

Times have moved on and we now no longer need to regard the Germans as our enemy. And why should we when there are so many other nationalities we can hate?

There’s the French for a start . . .

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