Sunday, August 03, 2014


The role of politicians is just ignored on the British side when nothing could have been decided without them


We start by going back to the Scholar and his antipathy for Charley due to some humiliation he was subjected to by an officer at the end of the previous volume. The Scholar orders Charley to take him and another officer, Lieutenant Dowd, to a very dangerous place, the Wart, a sort of little knoll some distance away that overlooks no man’s land. Against Charley’s opinion the Scholar maintains his demands. Charley advises them to go slowly due to a balloon on the German side that overlooks the whole area. They decide to run and are at once spotted by the German soldier on the Balloon and they have to stay put waiting for the dark to come. Charley decides to get the mud off his gun and accidentally shoots himself in the foot.

The Scholar reports it as a self-inflicted voluntary wound to dodge the trenches. Charley is then set aside, sent to a hospital but pending a court martial that could decide anything, including the death penalty. In that hospital he is mistreated by the nurse, Nurse Wincer, who is a terror with the soldiers accused of having mutilated or wounded themselves to get out of the war. She even goes as far as giving a white feather to Charley, meaning she considers him as a coward. But Charley manages to get to Lieutenant Dowd’s bed. He was the second officer with Charley and the Scholar and he has severely been wounded in the incident. He accepts to be Charley’s witness, but dies just on the morning of the court martial. So the Scholar’s testimony is a full accusation, but at this moment, just before the sentence is passed, a special message is delivered to the court martial: it is a testimony Dowd dictated before dying. It goes entirely the other way than the Scholar’s accusation, in fact as far as considering the Scholar was misguided in his attitude and judgment. The Scholar is humiliated again:

“I. . . I suppose I could have been mistaken, Sir. Yes it was an ACCIDENT.”

After this acquittal we move to England. Charley is sent to a convalescing and retraining camp and we learn that Charley’s brother has also gone back to England but to face and fight the new Zeppelin monsters of the German Air Force who are attacking London.

“The giants have wings 140 feet wide and a crew of NINE! . . . Flipping Heck! Look at that thing. It’s a giant, all right! IT’S BLINKING ENORMOUS!”

They can drop extremely heavy bombs and they attack civilian places: Chelsea’s Royal Hospital and then Saint Pancras Station. Charley’s brother is thus supposed to fight these monsters with the promise that if he brings one down he will be recommended to become a pilot. During that time Charley is at Ripon, Yorkshire. But at Ripon, in the psychiatric section of the hospital, Captain Snell is convalescing too after his serious injury to the head in the tunnel episode in Commines. He recognizes Charley and is looking forward to getting a vengeance. Charley finds someone else there, Nurse Wincer, who is working in the psychiatric department. This is going to be the beginning of an amorous adventure because Snell attacks Charley straight away, which brings Charley and Nurse Wincer closer.

But no one believes Charley that the man is dangerous, particularly Nurse Wincer who is convinced Snell is motivated to go back to the front and is not dangerous at all. That’s when Snell decides to escape from the hospital. He manages to get a knife in the kitchen and gets ready for his plan.

During that time Charley’s brother has come to visit Charley on his motorbike. They take a ride. On the way back, Charley driving the machine, the front wheel gets off. But that makes them then come a little bit late at the hospital but on time to see Snell trying to escape after stabbing the guard at the gate, Nurse Wincer running after him. Snell attacks Nurse Wincer when Charley and his brother arrives on the motorbike. Charley tries to neutralize Snell who tries to kill him. Snell ends up in some prison cell.

An outing to Scarborough is organized for the convalescing soldiers and It becomes obvious Charley and Nurse Wincer are getting in love. So we move directly to the wedding in London, though Kate Wincer’s parents are rather from a wealthy class. The only present that has some long-lasting value, for Charley at least and maybe the story, is the Pelman mind-training course, apparently in six volumes, given to Charley by Smithy, the machine gunner he has known all along. Don’t wonder why and how this man is here at the wedding.

After Charley and Kate’s honeymoon (in war time that sounds strange for a soldier and a military nurse, but since we are told how long it was, maybe only a couple of days, we can believe they got a special furlough), and after Charley’s brother’s funeral (he had fought against a giant Zeppelin plane that attacked London because of the Aurora Borealis that lit the night, had damaged the German plane though the plane had escaped but Charley’s brother and his pilot had gotten shot down in the battle, so that they couldn’t claim the victory on this Zeppelin giant that crashed when reaching its base because the pilots were dead) Oiley is driving Charley’s cousin Jack to Chatham Naval Barracks where he is supposed to embark on his ship because he is a sailor. That gives us the opportunity to get a full story of how the Monmouth, the sister ship of Jack’s own ship, the Kent, was sunk by the Nürnberg and all the sunk sailors were abandoned by the Nürnberg to die in the sea, against all maritime regulations and customs.

Then he tells the Falklands battle in which the Kent managed to sink the Nürnberg. And they abandoned the German sailors in the sea and witnessed Albatrosses attacking them and picking their eyes first and then their flesh. There is at this moment a totally unfair treatment of the Germans who were shown as monsters because they abandoned British sailors in the sea after a battle and the English sailors who did exactly the same thing. The author must be conscious of this unfair treatment because he builds the guilt motif of one German officer on the Nürnberg supported by the old legend of the Albatross, the great justice bird of the seas that punishes the sailors who do not respect maritime codes and what’s more he goes as far as pretending the captain of the Nurnberg on some South Atlantic island had shot an albatross, which is an extremely bad omen.

That does not change a cat into a dog and an unfair treatment into a fair one. The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge was only a piece of literature, good literature probably but nothing else. After delivering Jack at Chatham Naval Barracks where he is supposed to take his new post on a secret mission, Oiley delivers Charley at Folkestone for him to go back to France. Just before arriving in Folkestone, Charley delivers to Oiley a letter from OHMS (On His Majesty’s Service) that had arrived at his Mum’s: Oiley is drafted back into the army, in spite of his accidently self-inflicted mutilation.

And we move back to Flanders, in fact Saint Quentin where the Germans have brought tremendous means liberated from the Russian front and actually break through the English lines ruthlessly and extremely fast. It was supposed to be DER TAG, the last day of trench warfare. The Germans had brought one million soldiers mostly from the east after “their victory in Russia.” This is a free and debatable interpretation of history. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed by Lenin was a peace agreement with no victor on any side. It just stopped the war on the Russian front. It is surprising that this comic strip defends the old western position that the Russians (at times even the Russian communists) had betrayed their alliance with France and Great Britain. Lenin had been victorious thanks to the strong opposition to the war that developed in the armed forces themselves and on the Front which supported the Bolshevik revolution. In fact neither the Czar nor the first Russian revolution had the power to impose the drastic treatment that the French government imposed to the rebellious soldiers in Verdun or even the regular treatment imposed by the British generals (in the comic strip) and (at least if not only) the British government, though this political dimension is ignored in the comic strip.

But the comic strip has systematically evacuated political questions and issues, not to speak of stakes, so they come to open un-historical assertions. The government of the people for the people and by the people was exactly what Lenin did on that question: the dictatorship was to come later and we could discuss if it came under Lenin or after him, even if we could agree that under Lenin the ferment that was to produce Stalin’s dictatorship was already there, waiting for its time, among other elements Stalin himself.

The tactic chosen on the British front was simple when Charley returned to the front: THE GREAT RETREAT. Men were ordered to surrender for the retreat to go even faster. The British invented the blitz retreat. Charley is set right in the middle of that mess as a corporal with a small group of men. This long section is not that interesting. It eliminates the Scholar who is burnt alive by a German flame thrower. It reveals the strange personality of Skin, who is presented after doubts about his patriotism or his being a German spy as the son of German parents who had moved to England a long time ago, and his brother was drafted into the German army when visiting his grand parents in Silesia. And fate being always on the side of comic strip writers the two brothers meet in a street in some city the British and the Germans are crossing, though the former backwards and the latter forwards. The “German” brother is shot by one shady character on Charley’s side. Charley and his group are captured, become prisoners, but then escape and retreat trying to catch up on the retreating British troops.

They can witness the frightening power of the German cavalry, the Uhlans. Charley is saved in extremis by Skin. They are confronted to the new German tanks, the Panzer, and Charley’s little band is saved from the Germans by Skin again using his dead brother’s uniform to pass for a German soldier. The balance of this Great Retreat is enormous and flabbergasting:

April 1918, the Great Retreat went on. The British had suffered a terrible disaster. . . In ten days they had lost 178,000 men and were hurled back 40 miles. The soldiers of the British fifth army were criticized for “running away”. Even their commander wrote, “I cannot understand why they have gone so far back without making some kind of stand.” The answer was that most were lying in MASS GRAVES.”

Once again the only culprits were the officers who ordered the retreat by surrender and then were unconscious enough not to see that the Germans were not making any prisoners, but that meant the British soldiers were not in mass graves. They were rotting all over the place where they had fallen and died. But it is quite obvious that the result of this Great Retreat is dramatic, but who took the decision to have that Great Retreat in the first place? A decision of that importance, and the fact that everyone knew after October 1917 that Lenin was going to negotiate immediate peace with the Germans and that the Germans were going to bring back the troops from the east making such a decision crucial, could not be taken by one or even half a dozen generals. Such a decision must have been taken at the political level of the government and Parliament.

This volume ends up with a small victory over a German tank. It gets stalled on the brink of a sand pit and ten men manage to neutralize one gunner with a grenade and not even ten men just push the tank over the brink into the sand pit. It’s when some English tanks arrive. Lighter they can go down into and back up from shell holes which the big German tanks cannot do. A counteroffensive is coming. One of these tanks gets trapped and turns on its side. Charley and his men then open the hatch and get the men out and the author of the comic strip brings up a jack out of that box, in fact Captain Snell out of that British tank.

[Author’s caption] Captain Snell was a dangerous mental patient Charley had fallen foul of in Blighty.
[Captain Snell] Good gracious! Young BOURNE! Hasn’t anybody killed you yet?
[Charley, silent bubble] Flipping heck! It is Captain Snell! I’ve just rescued my worst enemy!]

That’s what we can call suspense. It has little to do with the war and I must say the extremely haphazard story telling technique of the comic strip can only find some kind of unity or unifying thread in these personal lines, but they are in no way deep enough to give the comic strip some tragic or spiritual dimension. We only have the dramatic accumulation of facts and small events and that does not fit what we expect: we expect a wider vision that would take into account the political stakes and we cannot even think it is the vision of the war through the eyes of one man, or maybe one man plus his brother plus his cousin, because these visions do not have the biased and at the same time contradictory allegiance to some general vision of life, especially when death is so dominant, apart from being British-biased and anti-German, at times to the point of quasi-jingoism.

What’s more we expect some real approach of the individuals who are considered and these have to speak a credible language, for one instance of credible realism. And one more instance of this totally unrealistic standard King’s English spoken by the men is provided in this volume:

[Nobbler White] “Flipping Norah! Haven’t you seen a bloke in a kilt before?
[Skin] Not one with a cockney accent.”

And we do not have the slightest element of Cockney accent or simply Cockney dialect.


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