from 'the War Illustrated' 6th March 1915.
the Humor of T. Atkins

by Walter Emanuel, of " Punch"

Pack Up Your Troubles

another way of keeping a stiff upper lip


Soldiers are men dressed up, and Tommy Atkins is really our old friend the man in the street. But with a difference. His humour is accentuated. One hears great accounts of the wit of the man in the street as exemplified in his marvellous powers of repartee, but, though I walk about with my. ears alert, I have never, I must confess, had any luck in this respect. I have even, more than once, listened greedily to an interchange of views between a bus-driver and a cabby after a collision, and, while I have admired the fluency of the speakers, and have gained some new epithets for use by myself in cases of emergency, I have not heard anything approaching wit. The nearest I ever came to this desired consummation was the occasion when my wife certainly heard a mot in a pirate bus. It was at Oxford Circus, and the bus had dallied there a very long time in the hope of making further captures. Ultimately, tired of the delay, the only other passenger, an angry City man, darted out of the pirate bus, and made for an L.G.O., which was just moving off. " 'Ere, 'old 'ard, 'old 'ard ! " cried the indignant pirate conductor. " This ain't a bloomin' waiting-room ! " But I believe that, as a rule, the smart repartees are made up by journalists.

"Funny Jokes" and "Jokes"

One hears of course plenty of unconscious humour from the masses. For example, a little while ago I heard a young woman cry out to an acquaintance, " 'Ere, Bill, come 'ere, I'll tell you a funny joke." That expression " a funny joke " was really quite priceless, for, of course, if you come to think of it, there are two kinds of jokes — "funny jokes " and "jokes." And — to come nearer to my subject — a quite delicious example of unconscious humour was the remark of a tired Tommy during a forced march in the Boer War : " Oh, Lor' ! I shall be glad when this war's over, and we get back to soldierin' !" And yet — and yet who can deny Tommy Atkins the quality of humour in the present war ? It is indeed the outstanding feature — the hall-mark — of our splendid soldier men. It differentiates them from all the other fighting men. To anyone who is interested in the study of human beings individuality is everything. The men of the British Army have, in this war, developed a most distinct individuality. This does not consist in their bravery, wonderful as that is. No army has a monopoly of pluck,

Hunnish Humour that Hurts

The Germans, say what you may, are fighting magnificently. But with their pluck goes cruelty. The individuality of the British soldier consists in his humour. And because he has humour he also has humanity. The two qualities go together. The humorous man, you will find, is seldom an unkind man. Tommy Atkins cannot hate like Hans — I had almost written Huns — -Schmidt. He could not maltreat women and children, not by the way, that the Germans never have their little joke. Let us be just to them. The other day, I read, at Waldeghem they cut off the nose from a bust of King Albert in the town-hall, and drove nails into the eyes.

But the humour of Tommy Atkins is good-humour, not ill-humour. It is seldom wit. "Wit," said someone, "comes from the head, humour from the heart." Tommy's humour seems to me to be generally high spirits — and I -would prefer, any day, a cheerful man to the one who raps out acid jests. And it is not self-conscious humour, though a private in the Scots Greys writes home thoughtfully, "Of course, there is a humorous side to everything. We would never live if there wasn't." It is intensely interesting to read the letters from the front. Many of them, indeed, have a direct simplicity which raises them almost to literature. Now and then one even comes across a distinct flash of wit. "The Boer War," says one, "was a mothers' meeting beside this affair." Could that be put more epigrammatically ?

Again : "In our regiment it's not unusual to see men playing cards under fire while waiting for the order to advance. I know of a case where one of our chaps was just going to win the trick when the Germans sent along a shell that hit every man of the card party, killing one and wounding three. When one was-being taken .off on a stretcher he called out; 'It was the Germans won that trick.' "

A lance-corporal of the. Cameron Highlanders, in the course of a description of a night attack, says, "A few minutes after that we stumbled right on top of a big body of Germans stealing along as quietly as we had come. , You can bet your last half-crown, that we didn't wait to ask if their intentions were honourable."

"One of 'em says 'e ain't dead!

Again: Powerful searchlights were suddenly turned on the Middlesex Regiment during an advance. "Lord, Bill," cried a voice, " it's just like a play, and us in the limelight — but it's the Kaiser what's gettin' the bird." And I like this : "Our fellows have signed the pledge because Kitchener wants them to. But they all say, 'God help the Germans, when we get hold of them, for making us teetotal.' "Best of all I fancy the story, which I trust is not apocryphal, of the sergeant who had given orders for a trenchful of Germans to be buried. A Tommy reported, "If you please, sir, one of 'em says 'e ain't dead ! "Oh, get on with your work," said the sergeant. " They're such liars you can't believe 'em."

Very frequently .Tommy's humour takes the form of Cockney facetiousness. A party of the King's Own rushed into one battle shouting "Early doors this way! Early doors, ninepence !" One of the Wiltshires, we are told, stuck out in the trenches, after a vicious bombardment, a tin can on which was the notice, "Business as Usual."

A private of the Irish Fusiliers writes : "The night I was hit we were just leaving the trenches for an interview with some Germans who were trying some of their fancy tricks about our left. As we stood up there was a ghastly shower of bullets and shells bursting all round. Into it we had to go, and, as we looked ahead one of our chaps said, 'I think we'll have to get our greatcoats, boys, it's raining bullets to-night, and we'll get wet to the skin if we're not careful.'

The Soldier who Never Grows Up

"The men of C Company started laughing, and then they took to singing, 'Put up your umbrella when it comes on wet.' The song was taken up all along as we went into the thick of it, and some of us were humming it as we dashed into the German trenches. The Germans must have thought us a mad crew." And the dignified Uhlan who was greeted with the words, "Hallo, old Tin Hat ! " must have been as annoyed at this lack of respect as were the warriors in the great big boots who were told by a spokesman of the Connaught Rangers, "We see you ; it's no good hiding there. We can see your ears sticking out !"

Much of the humour of Tommy is of the schoolboy sort.' He loves for instance, to give people and things nicknames. Von Kluck becomes "Old One-o'clock"; and Herr Krupp's progeny are ‘’Jack Johnsons," "Coal Boxes," "Black Marias," and "Woolly Bears," while his own special favonrite is. "Mother." That, I think, is quite a feature of the Briton, his genius for remaining a child at heart — so different from the average Continental, who is scarcely even a Peter Pan.

And this quality of humour, is it of value in the serious business of war ? Of course it is, inestimably so; It prevents Tommy from being an up-and-down man. Our happy warriors are as cheerful in adversity as in the hour of victory, and you never have them really beaten. Tommy Atkins's very best joke, in my opinion, is his refusal to be wiped out by the Germans; The light-hearted fellow is proving contemptuous instead of contemptible. No wonder the Germans are angry. It is very annoying for them.


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