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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Friday, 27 March 2015

'Arf a mo, Kaiser


'Smokes for our soldiers at the front'

The Weekly Dispatch scheme to send tobacco to the soldiers at the front began in September 1914, with a promise that every packet sent would carry the name and address of the sender, thereby ensuring a link with home for the soldier and a link with the place of combat for the contributor. But what was it a packet of?

The first notice in the paper, on 13 September, announced the setting up of the scheme ‘to send them tobacco and cigarettes’, a scheme ‘whereby every reader may gladden the heart of a hero in khaki by filling his pipe and giving him the cigarette he so dearly loves’. Perhaps it is an effect of the song ‘Pack up your troubles’ that we have the over-riding idea that soldiers smoked cigarettes (‘while you’ve a lucifer to light your fag’); it is hard to find advertisements in newspapers for pipe tobacco amid the vast number of adverts for cigarettes – Army Club, Waverley, Players, and several brands which seemed to vanish with little trace (Mufti and Life Ray, for example, though Woodbine seemed not to need to advertise).

But there is ample evidence for pipe-smoking in the background. Charles Douie in The Weary Road (1929) describes (p170) meeting three men in a shell-hole in no-man’s-land; observing that they are in a position of extreme danger, he gets the reply from the Dorset lance-corporal that ‘he would be all right so long as he did not lose his pipe’.

The most famous image to come from the Weekly Dispatch campaign is the drawing by Bert Thomas of a soldier lighting his pipe, with the caption ‘‘Arf a mo, Kaiser’. That, however, is not the first caption, which appears above the figure -  ‘Wait till my pipe’s lit’. This was seen on the first occasion that the cartoon was used, 9 November. There had by then been several cartoons used in the campaign. The first, on 4 October, showed ‘Tommies enjoying Weekly Dispatch tobacco at the front’: pipe-smokers outnumber cigarette-smokers by 5:2, possibly 6:1. In the next issue there is a handwritten letter expressing gratitude for ‘a packet of good English Mixture’, saying that ‘not one of the English Tommies here in France can enjoy the French Tobacco nor the cigarettes’, and only used them in the absence of ‘good English baccy’. The next issue (16 October) shows ‘a few of our sailors enjoying “Weekly Dispatch” cigarettes and tobacco’ – the drawing has four pipe-smokers and two cigarette-smokers. There is a big change the following week with John Hassall’s cartoon of a soldier and a sailor lighting each other’s cigarettes (the humour is that it is impossible to tell who is lighting whose). The next cartoon is Bert Thomas’s famous image (for more on Bert Thomas, who donated the image as a contribution to the campaign while he was serving in the Artists’ Rifles, see http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/arf-a-mo.php ). All the three subsequent cartoons feature cigarettes only – it seems the tide was turning against pipes. From 29 November you could buy a postcard reproduction of Bert Thomas’s cartoon, and by 3 January 1915 you could buy ‘Striking Souvenir Plates’ at a shilling, signed artist’s copies at ten shillings and sixpence, or postcards for a penny. For every shilling reproduction sold, the Weekly Dispatch promised to send a sixpenny parcel of ‘Tobacco and Cigarettes … to a brave soldier at the front – in the purchaser’s name’. But, headlined as ‘’Arf a mo, Kaiser’, there was no longer any mention of ‘Wait till my pipe’s lit’.

By 7 February 1915, pipe tobacco’s popularity seemed to be receding in favour of cigarettes. ‘Soldiers’ Tributes to “Weekly Dispatch” Cigarettes’ was the sub-headline. The text beneath contains many letters of thanks, which mention both cigarettes and tobacco, but overwhelmingly cigarettes. A week later the paper announced figures of the amount that had been dispatched – 2 million ‘packets of cigarettes and tobacco’, and/or 45 million cigarettes. The headline was ‘45,000,000 cigarettes’; you could still buy a copy of Bert Thomas’s picture. By 11 July though even the slogan ‘’Arf a mo, Kaiser’ had disappeared from the fund’s announcements.

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