Thursday, July 31, 2014


Pat Mills hates British generals and arms industrialists, but he likes British politicians


The title may let you think the subject of the volume is the famous Great Mutiny and you would be totally mistaken. It only concerns the seven opening episodes. It is an event that only lasted a few days in September 1917 in the back camp of Etaples. It was started by the Scots reacting violently at the killing of one of them by the Military Police. The English, Australians and New Zealanders joined in after a while to free the prisoners detained in the detention camp waiting for their being shot by a firing squad. Charley joins this action because a friend of his, Weepers, is in that “detained situation.” Then they refuse to drill and have a giant sit in. They were helped in this action by the deserters who are living underground near by in some cave known as the Sanctuary, led by Blue, essentially.

Apparently that sit-in blocked all operations in France on the English side and menaced the planned offensive in Passchendaele. The main Head Quarters tell the local Officer to yield on the demands of the rank and file. This leads to going back to business but without the strictest and most difficult drilling actions and leisure restrictions. Apparently the prisoners were not recaptured and fired, though Charley helps one to get to the underground Sanctuary. We have no indication on what happened to the others. In the mean time an agent of the secret intelligence of the armed forces has arrived and he has only one objective: to catch the leaders of the mutiny, that is to say the main leaders of the Sanctuary, the deserters’ camp. That enables one soldier to give precisions about the way the French repressed a similar mutiny:

“His friend Blue told him [Charley] about the French mutiny. . . it began a few months earlier after the slaughter of thousands pof French troops in the most horrendous offensive of the war.
Fifty four French divisions refused to fight. The revolt was ruthlmessly crushed. A battalion was sent into no man’s land and was massacred by its own artillery.
Decimation was used as a punishment. . .  one soldier in ten taken away and shot”

And that is all. In the context it is obvious the English are being rational and very gentle, considering what the French did. The point is the English did not do better. But we definitely lack details. Note along that line this volume publishes in its introduction a French soldier song of the time attributed to “Paul Vaillant-Couturier, considered the author of the controversial song ‘La Chanson de Lorette’. A French author, journalist and politician, he edited the ommunist newspaper L’Humanité in the 1920s.” This is ,a little short when Wikipedia is a lot more precise: “He was editor in chief of the communist newspaper L'Humanité from April 1926 to September 1929, then again from May 1934 (officially from July 1935) to his sudden death in 1937.”

When Charley arrives in Sanctuary with Weepers he finds himself trapped by the arrival of the special intelligence agent led by a fink who is trying to settle some accounts with Blue because Blue prevented him, with Charley, from killing one Military Police in the mutiny. Charley manages to escape because Blue took off and led the “hunting party” after him. We do not know and are not told what happened to him.

The rest of the volume is dedicated again to sliced up battlefield experience.

To vary the pleasures and entertainments, maybe also the points of view, I mean the positions from which the war is seen, Charley joins the stretcher carriers, a very dangerous position. His choice is made after Jonesey let himself be blown up by a German shell because he cannot forgive himself for having been in the firing squad back in the training camp of Etaples and having shot to death several British soldiers accused of various crimes with no defense and no appeal. We note here what I have just said is never said by the author as if he considered military justice to be an acceptable rule to be played by and respected. Charley wants to save some lives.

On his team he meets Jack Masterson who is from the wealthy classes but does not want to speak about it. Once again the author alludes to the dialect of these upper class people but does not give the slightest element of it: Jack sounds posh. Why isn’t he an officer?” he asks and the answer is: “Something to do with his fmaily. Jack doesn’t like to talk about it.” We are obliged to imagine what it is to “sound posh” since we are not provided with an example.

In fact Jack will say a few things about his motivations: his father is an ammunition industrialist and he is making a fortune from the war, and he is even selling ammunitions to the Germans via neutral countries. Jack enlisted as a rank and file and is serving as a stretcher carrier to save some of the lives his father is killing. Actually he will identify one shell from his father and that shell will kill him. That is dramatic for sure but highly improbable. The fact that industrialists made fortunes out of the war is not the “fault” of these industrialists. It is the fault of the politicians who decided to have the war and who decided to make it last as long as possible. And that’s the real shortcoming of the comic strip: it never really attacks the politicians, the governments, the whatever and whoever were the real masters of this war. He never goes beyond generals and industrialists, in other words the technicians and engineers of the war.

[Jack says:] “My father owns the factory that makes them. He’s a munitions baron. . . a pedlar in death. He’s the only one who’ll get fat out of this war. Him and the worms. “
[Charley says:] Nothing wrong in making a bit pof a profit, Jack.
[Author’s caption] One famous British arms manufacturer made 34 million pounds profit out of the war.
[Jack says:] No? what about British companies selling war materials to the Germans through neutral countries?
[Charley says:] I don’t believe that!
[Jack says:] It’s true. That’s why I am stretcher bearer. . . So I can clear up a little of the mess Dad’s making!”

We can note that more than 75 years after the war, and today one hundred years after it, the author considers it still taboo to give the name of the industrialist. We can also note the politicians who authorized the exporting of ammunitions and arms to neutral countries knowing it was for the Germans are not even alluded to. That’s the kind of element that completely makes the comic strip fictional if not even fictitious, and that is regrettable.

At one time a plane crashes in no man’s land. The pilot is killed but the observer is alive. Charley decides to save him, Fred Green, and he ends taking him behind the lines to some dressing station. He has to cross a point known as Hell-Fire Corner that is shelled and bombed constantly. The two of them are the victims of a close by shell? Fred Green survives but Charley disappears. We have then an episode in which Fred Green visits the place where it happened in 1982 and in the course of this visit he recuperates from his deeper memory the name Charley gave him just before the explosion: Charley Bourne, and he finds out his name is not on any memorial or on any list of the victims of the particular battle fought here. But Fred Green refuses to find out if Charley Bourne is still alive, not to see him old. Such an episode is trying to build the story as if it were a true story. But many details are absent that make the story vague and fictitious if not even dubious. And the reaction of the older Fred Green is unimaginable and in a way extremely self-centered.

In the same battle the episode with a German prisoner is strongly anti-German and strongly distasteful. Not because it is a German soldier who is at stake but because similar episodes must have occurred daily on all sides of the front and only a German episode of the type is reported and when something that could be similar on the English side, though we have not followed any English soldier as a prisoner on the German side, which reduces us to an English soldier mistreating a German prisoner, it is presented in such a way that there is an excuse for it. In this present case there is no excuse whatsoever except – though it’s not mentioned – the fear of this German soldier being accused of fraternizing with an English soldier by the Germans who liberated him and took over Charley, and these German soldiers did not make any prisoners, so why did the German ex-prisoner prevented his German “colleagues” from dealing with Charley and submitted him to a very humiliating treatment? Charley’s reaction when the English took over again is absolutely absurd and inhumane. He is a stretcher carrier and as such is not supposed to carry or use arms and yet he takes a bayonet and kills the German ex-prisoner and prisoner again on the spot for the humiliation he submitted him to, a humiliation that saved Charley’s life.

By the way in 1982, Fred Green is looking for Charley (whose proper name he cannot yet remember) as being a member of “a Cockney regiment” but we have never been given anything like the real cockney dialect.

The episode on the battle of Cambrai in which an important formation of tanks actually break through the German lines and come to the very outskirts of Cambrai after an important advance, states the battle is lost because the cavalry arrives and pretends to have orders from higher up command not to go after the Germans who are routed. That is in November 1917 when the Russian front has been liberated of its war duties due to the stepping out of the war by Lenin. You can imagine the reinforcements that are arriving from the Eastern front

This book comes to a close with another nasty remarks about officers. The scholar Charley had defended against a bully a few volumes back has become Charley’s commanding officer. When Charley finds out on his first meeting with him he exclaims: “Blimey! It’s the scholar! How are you mate?” And the response of the Scholar turned officer is “I’ll have none of that ‘mate’ stuff. You’ll forget we were in the ranks together. I hold his Majesty’s commission. Now it’s ‘Sir’. Understood?”

The author of this comic strip is systematically trying to force us into believing that the main culprits in that war were officers and no one else, because they were both socially condescending and highly incompetent. He even quotes Winston Chruchilm to support his point:

Winston Churchill wrote that tanks could have stopped the carnage of the trenches. . . “If only the generals had not been content to fight machine-gun bullets with the breasts of gallant men, and think that was waging war.”

And Charley is ordered to become a sniper.

The last box of this volume introduces us to “the best runner in the regiment” on the German side, a rare moment when we cross the front lines, and this runner is “Corporal Adolf Hitler”. Isn’t that a treat and a coincidence?

This seems to mean that British generals will never be better than German officers or leaders in the future, even if they win now, because the German leaders are not coming from the elite of society but from the rank and file of runners and other dangerous positions in the war itself. They have experienced courage as a daily counterbalance to danger and fear in daily missions.

That’s not the case of British generals, at least in World War One.


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