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Telling Tales

David Blamires

23. Children’s Books and the First World War

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1No war has been more exhaustively recorded in every kind of medium than what we now call the First World War. During the period 1914-18 itself writers of all kinds documented its impact in both public and private forms, through newspaper reports, propaganda items, works of literary ambition and expressions of personal experience. Painters, illustrators and photographers also bent their skills to the task. Both during and after the war for about twenty-five years poems and novels attempted to distil diverse areas of an experience that, for the soldiers in the trenches, was the most shattering and also the profoundest that they had had or would ever have. Some of the finest English poetry of the twentieth century stems from this personal experience. Though French and German writing of high quality also emerged from the war, it does not have a comparable weight in the literatures of France and Germany. It is a remarkable fact that even eighty years after the conclusion of the First World War the British reading public still devours the work of historians on the subject, sometimes in investigating a particular aspect, sometimes in providing a new angle of interpretation or a different way of contextualizing it. Responses to the war are immensely varied. They encompass simplistic forms of patriotism and xenophobia as well as deep compassion, revulsion, admiration, horror and tears. The catalogue of reactions is endless, but one that is particularly moving is articulated in the dedication to David Jones’s long-gestated In Parenthesis, first published in 1937. In Parenthesis recalls and reinterprets Jones’s experience as a private in the trenches and the battle of Mametz Wood, using an extraordinary combination of a painter’s careful observation of things, people and events together with a wide range of literary, religious and cultural reference. The book transfigures, but does not deny or diminish the terrors of the war, and it holds together both pathos and humour. The book is dedicated to his friends, his fellow soldiers from London and Wales, but also ’to the enemy front-fighters who shared our pains against whom we found ourselves by misadventure’.

2The poems and novels that came out of the First World War have a great lustre. Anthologies that place these great literary achievements alongside the personal outpourings of untutored men writing home or venting their emotions in traditional verse move us still. But what was written for children and teenagers about the war has virtually disappeared from awareness. Certainly, it has not survived as living literature for young people of today. Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig have examined the subject in their book, Women and Children First. The Fiction of Two World Wars (London: Victor Gollancz, 1978), which looks at both popular books for adults and children’s books and magazines. It is a very useful, briskly written account and provides a lot of detailed information. Naturally enough, it is chiefly concerned with Britain and British experience. It has very little to say about the Germans. That is not very surprising since the focus of everything written in Britain about the war was how it affected British people and interests. But Germans, both individual and en masse, do figure in children’s books about the war, though they are rarely the centre of attention.

3In what follows I want to look at three different types of material to see what pictures of ’the Germans’ are to be found. Firstly, there are histories of the war, written as the war was proceeding. Secondly, there are books in which boys and girls or young soldiers have ’adventures’ in the war situation. Thirdly, there are parodies (more directed at adults rather than children) in which popular books (including several children’s books) provide the scaffold for swingeing satirical attacks on the Germans, especially of course on the Kaiser. Linked with this kind of material there are also popular verses not necessarily based on parody, but having a similar propagandistic aim.

4Let us look first of all at histories of the war. Elizabeth O’Neill wrote a series of them as the war was continuing. I have copies only of volumes two and four, entitled The War 1914-15. A History and an Explanation for Boys and Girls (London and Edinburgh: T.C. Jack & E.C. Jack, 1915) and The War, 1915-16. A History and an Explanation for Boys and Girls (do., 1916). Volume 2, of course, deals with the second stage of the war, after ’the Germans saw that Calais was as difficult to win as Paris’ (p. 3). O’Neill concentrates on what the British and the Allies had to do, but she notes that ’the Germans fought too with desperate courage’ (p. 3). When she deals with the assault on Ypres she comments on the Bavarians’ dislike of the Prussians (p. 11), but goes on to describe the Prussian Guard as ’a fine set of men’ who were ’always thought of as being invincible’ (p. 12). Then comes the ’terrible bombardment of the town which made it a mass of ruins’, which she compares with the bombardment of Rheims as ’a crime committed in mere anger and spitefulness’. This leads to a condemnation that recurs a multitude of times in contemporary British views of the war: ’Though the Germans have boasted so much of their “culture,” they have not shown any love for beautiful things for their own sake’ (p.13). Towards the end of this account of the battle for the coast O’Neill again gives credit to the Germans:

And in telling the tale of the victory of the Allies, though we cannot help being proud of the way our men fought, it must be remembered that the Germans fought bravely too, though they were not always well led. Every Briton must rejoice at the story of how the invincible soldiers of the Prussian Guard gave way at last before our men. But one cannot help feeling sorry for the companies of reserves, often mere boys, who rushed forward to their death singing the German patriotic song, ”Die Wacht am Rhein,” just as companies of Britishers pressed forward to the fight singing ”Rule, Britannia!” (pp. 16-17).

5One of the things that constantly comes through O’Neill’s book is the fact that the Germans were not conducting the war according to previously established ’rules’. On 16 December 1914 the Germans shelled the east coast towns of Whitby, Scarborough and the Hartlepools. ’Only West Hartlepool’, wrote O’Neill, can in any sense be called a fortified town, and the shelling of the others was quite against the rules of warfare, but no one by this time expected the Germans to keep those rules. […] At Whitby the shells fell chiefly in a field behind the town, and it was thought afterwards that the German officer in command of the attack on that place did not like the work, and, though he had to obey orders, he took good care that the shells should do as little harm as possible (pp. 54-55).

6With regard to Scarborough she quotes from Mr Winston Churchill’s message to the mayor: ’Whatever feats of arms the German navy may hereafter perform, the stigma of the baby-killers of Scarborough will brand its officers and men while sailors sail the seas’ (p. 55). This language is the emotive rhetoric of politicians, in which the deaths of children and women are outrages, while the slaughter of men in similar circumstances is of little account. A few pages on, O’Neill observes, ’It will be remembered how German airmen dropped bombs on Antwerp, Warsaw, Paris, and other places, and killed women and children without helping themselves on in the war at all’ (p. 59).

7The Children’s Story of the War by Sir Edward Parrott (London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1915), of which the first volume deals with the beginning of the war to the landing of the British Army in France, provides a full historical background, going back to the establishment of Prussia, Frederick the Great, the impact of Napoleon, the Franco-Prussian War and the boyhood of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The latter’s militaristic education and attitudes, his arrogance and self-will are dealt with at some length. His declaration: ’I consider myself […] an instrument of Heaven, and shall go my way without regard to the views and opinions of the day’elicits Parrott’s comment: ’Now to you and me such statements as this seem to be the ravings of a madman, and we wonder why the Prussians permit one man to lord it over them in this fashion. The explanation is that the Prussians have never known any other condition of things […]’ (p. 135) The Kaiser’s envy of Britain and his expansionist political ambitions form the focus of most of the satirical writing about the war, as we shall see later. When Parrott turns to the invasion of Belgium, he writes about the ’many black and shameful deeds done by the Germans’, but is ready to ’honour them for their treatment of General Leman and the gallant twenty-five who fought with him to the end’(p. 239) in the defence of Fort Loncin on the west of Liège. Mainly, however, we are given accounts of the terrible destruction that the Germans inflicted, both on cities like Louvain and Malines and on the civilian population.

8One incident figures in other books apart from Parrott’s. It concerns Alsace rather than Belgium and illustrates the bitter opposition to German military might that was typical of Alsatians despite the fact that they spoke German too. The incident was told in a German newspaper in which ’the writer actually gloried in the dastardly crime that he there set forth. It seems that a German column was passing along a wooded defile when it met a French boy scout, who was seized, and asked where the French troops were. He refused to say. At this moment a French battery opened fire from a wood only fifty yards away. The Germans managed to get into cover, and took the boy with them. When they asked him if he knew that the French were in the wood, he did not deny it. They told him that they were going to shoot him, but he showed no fear. He walked with firm steps to a telegraph post, stood against it, and with the green vineyard behind him, smiled as they shot him dead’ (p. 245). This story is also included in Nellie Pollock’s short children’s novel, Belgian Playmates. Heroes Small – and Heroes Tall (London: Gay & Hancock, [1914]) (pp. 79-80). It seems to be the most compelling story of a boy’s courage in the war, as it crops up again, this time with the separate heading ’Faithful unto Death’, in John Lea’s collection of true stories entitled Brave Boys and Girls in Wartime (London, Glasgow and Bombay: Blackie & Son, [1918]). In the latter two examples the emphasis lies more on the French boy’s heroism than on the cruelty of the German soldiers.

9Understandably, British books about the war focus on aspects in which soldiers from Britain and the Empire were crucially involved. Germans tend to figure only as the undifferentiated enemy. The aim of the British books is to encourage their readers to identify with the values and aspirations of the Allies, so Mrs Belloc Lowndes’s book subtitled ’A Child’s History of the War’, is called Told in Gallant Deeds (London: James Nisbet & Co., [1915]) and centres on deeds of exemplary bravery and compassion, especially where children or young people are personally involved. The kind of explanatory historical and political background provided by Sir Edward Parrott is hardly attempted, perhaps because Mrs Lowndes was targeting a younger readership. However, at this stage in the war she allows herself to relate a merciful exception to the pitiless way in which the war was being waged:

One of these was the reconciliation on the battlefield between a French and a German soldier, who lay wounded and abandoned near the little town of Blâmont. They were there all through the cold, dark night, with only the dead about them. When dawn came they began to talk to one another, and the Frenchman gave his water-bottle to the German. The German sipped a little, and then kissed the hand of the man who had been his enemy. ’There will be no war in Heaven’, he said (pp. 208-09).

10This kind of episode finds a place in many of the British books about the war as a counterpart to the characterization of the Germans en masse, and especially their leaders, as cruel and barbarous. It is a rare reminder that the German soldiers were men with similar feelings to their opponents. But on the whole the historical accounts written for boys, such as Herbert Strang’s The Blue Book of the War (London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, reprinted 1917), are more interested in military strategy on land and sea and in the air than in the Germans as a nation or as individuals.

11The restraint shown by the history books is often jettisoned in fictions of the war, which tend to have a cruder approach to the Germans. Though the stories of F.S. Brereton and Charles Gilson were generally believed by their young readers to be authentic, their accounts of battle were, as Cadogan and Craig point out, ’often based on Boer war experiences and on ideas of wish-fulfilment rather than on the actuality of the Somme, the Marne and Passchendaele’ (p. 72). Brereton, in With the Allies to the Rhine. A Story of the Finish of the War (London, Glasgow and Bombay: Blackie & Son, [1919], writes pretty indiscriminately about ’the unspeakable Hun’ (p. 10), ’the Boche’ (p. 11), ’Fritz’ (passim), ’truculent, triumphant Germans’ (p. 35), ’the Kaiser and his vandals’ (p. 136), ’the Teuton’ (p. 247). He declares roundly through the voice of his American soldier character, Dan: ’Fritz is a murderer and a barbarian. He’s out to kill for the sake of killing, and he’s out at the same time to kill the moral of the French people – as if anything that a German ever did or could do could kill that!’ (pp. 38-39). The three soldier friends who are at the centre of Brereton’s story have learned ’that violence is idolized by the German, that he makes of it a fetish, and that he made a deliberate display of it to spread terror wherever he went. The more helpless the people the more they were exposed to his violence’ (pp. 42-43). The German is marked by ’ferocity’, ’love of violence’ and ’unscrupulousness’ (p. 82). A young Prussian officer into whose hands the three soldiers are delivered is described as ’arrogant, fierce, and unsympathetic’ (p. 68) and ’this bullying, swaggering, overbearing Prussian’ (p. 70). Among other matters that Brereton criticizes strongly are the Germans’ lack of mercy towards their opponents (p. 190) and their failure to deal out to their prisoners the treatment to which they were entitled (p. 224). Yet amidst all these strictures he can say of a German general at the end of the war:

To speak the truth, four and a half years of terrible warfare, of death and wounds and killing, had satiated this Prussian’s desire for slaughter. […] His mind went back to his own little house somewhere on the Rhine in Germany, to his own home-circle, to the son who had accompanied him to the war in 1914 (p. 114).

12In accounts of this kind we have to remember that the authors were writing boys’adventure stories, not histories of the war. They were following in the footsteps of G. A. Henty – Brereton was actually a cousin of Henty – and they used the staples of his stories, but transferred to the setting of the First World War. In these stories it was a quite typical procedure to paint the enemy black, but have a single enemy figure with some humane characteristics. But the main focus was youthful deeds of bravery against the odds, captures by the enemy followed by skilful escapes and plenty of robust action and fighting. Very often the hero would be wounded, but not too seriously. In this way the accusation of unrealism would be avoided.

13The war often provided a setting for a spy story. Brereton’s book contains an extraordinary German spy who masquerades as a Frenchman and tricks the British and American soldiers. He is called Monsieur Joseph, and he has a colleague called Paul Harn. Brereton may well have known the meaning of the latter’s surname – it means ’urine’ – since he uses a similarly scornful name in A Hero of Sedan; it was probably a tasteless joke. However, at the end of the book Brereton writes: ’And though we hesitate to do so, seeing that he was an unmitigated rascal, we must admit that Monsieur Joseph too had pluck, had resource, was filled with energy and decision’ (p. 284).

14Herbert Strang’s With Haig on the Somme (London, etc.: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1917) has a rather more disagreeable attitude towards spies. It tells a story about a few Australian soldiers who are pitted against the machinations of two naturalized Britons of German descent – Sir Julius Hoggenbach, a powerful man in the City, and Mr Montague Spurling (formerly Sperling) – who are working as spies in the German interest. The book ends with a laconic paragraph on the latter’s disappearance:

No one appeared to know what had become of them, though some suspected that Sir Julius had fallen a victim to the rage for interning men of enemy birth, however useful they might have shown themselves to their adopted country. Very few connected their disappearance with a brief paragraph that was printed one day in the papers – the bare official announcement that two spies, tried by court-martial and convicted, had been sentenced to death (p. 277).

15The war at sea is the subject of Captain Charles Gilson’s Submarine U93, subtitled ’A Tale of the Great War, of German Spies, and Submarines, of Naval Warfare, and all manner of Adventures’ (London: ’The Boy’s Own Paper’Office, c. 1917). As the author states, the story consists of ’fact blended with fiction’ in dealing with the Battle of Dogger Bank, but its youthful protagonist has once again to contend with the machinations of a spy as well as the might of German naval power. The reader knows what poor Jimmy Burke is up against when he is confronted in New York with Rudolf Stork, ’a strange-looking man, with an exceedingly wrinkled face, and a sinister cast of countenance’, who is instinctively distrusted by Jimmy’s girl-friend. Stork speaks German, French, English and Dutch, was formerly an actor and once played Iago, so his malignant role can hardly be doubted. Towards the end of the book his venality rather than heroism or courage is underlined when he is described as ’the paid servant of the Wilhelmstrasse, the man who had served the Fatherland for gold’. The man from whom he has taken his orders, Baron von Essling, ends up in a prisoner of war camp at Wakefield reading the Prussian historian Treitschke. Stork’s distasteful motives contrast strongly with those of Captain Crouch, who is ’cast in a most heroic mould’. Gilson roundly declares:

In sinking one of the most famous of the U boats within range of the great guns of four of the most powerful of the German battle-cruisers, Captain Crouch accomplished a feat which was as much to his own credit as it was of service to his country (p. 251).

16There are, of course, lots of other adventure books about the war, some aimed at adolescent boys, some at girls, and others at smaller children. The boys’ books tend to be more specific about the details of the conduct of the war, but the emphasis everywhere is on the children or young people’s adventures and escapades, for which the war is merely a context.

17In addition to the history books and adventure stories there is a third category of material that links up with popular children’s books. It forms part of the propaganda of the war, in which the popular press played a prominent role. Newspapers and magazines published cartoons and verses galore, encouraging those left at home and vigorously attacking the enemy. The War Poems of Jessie Pope (London: Grant Richards, 1915) were not designed for children, but they display in skilful verses many of the stereotypes that we find in the books that travesty children’s classics. Heavy sarcasm is frequently to the fore, as in ’The Blackest Lie’, which, after speaking of ’Poor little Germany, / Gentle land of peace’, goes on to say:

Hurry with the whitewash,
Pour it out in streams!
Bleach the ravaged country,
Louvain, Antwerp, Rheims!
Belgium concocted war,
Thus deserves her fate!
That’s the blackest Teuton lie
Published up to date (pp. 30-31).

18This same line of bitter sarcasm is directed at the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin (1865-1952), who notoriously took up a pro-German stance in the war and was prepared to whitewash whatever the Germans did. His gullibility was derided by E. V. Lucas in a book entitled In Gentlest Germany and attributed to ’Hun Svedend’, supposed to be ’translated from the Svengalese’ (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1915).

19Another kind of approach was taken by A. T. Mason in The Book of Artemas, which was sufficiently popular to have reached a 127th edition by 1918 (London: W. Westall & Co.). Its style and format is modelled on the Authorized Version of the Bible, and it begins by attacking the Kaiser in allegorical mode:

203. Now there was peace over all the land of Eur and amongst all the nations that abode there, it was a time of great content.

214. But Willi, who ruled over the men of Hu, was a crafty man and greedy, and his ways were devious.

225. And when he beheld the prosperity of the land and the industry of those that dwelt round about, and that they did live in peace, the one with the other, his heart grew black within him and his soul vomited envy.

236. Moreover, he was a proud man and ambitious withal. His covetousness was like unto a tree, that being planted in fertile ground, flourisheth mightily; and the independence of the peoples was as gall unto his vanity.

247. Now the son of Willi was a young man, and he was puffed out with pride and his mind was empty; in his living, he was vicious, and his name, it was Mud.

25This kind of satire clearly sold well and gave rise to The Second Book of Artemas (2nd edition, 1918).

26The Kaiser and the Crown Prince were natural targets of satire and propaganda, but the Germans as a nation were frequently portrayed as being of limited intelligence and human understanding. This is exemplified in connexion with the spy theme in Alfred Leete’s Schmidt the Spy and his Messages to Berlin (London: Duckworth & Co., 1916), which shows the German spy constantly misinterpreting typical features of British life. Railway stations at St. Pancras, Euston and so on are identified as Zeppelin sheds; road works are interpreted as military preparations for the defence of London; Salvation Army women are thought to demonstrate the failure to raise an army of men, and, what’s more, they have strange weapons and a peculiar war-cry of their own! The humour is rather simple-minded and has no greater aim that to raise a laugh at the expense of the stupid Germans. It is not as clever as the criticism of heavy-handed German ways and notions of culture to be found in Professor Knatschke. Selected Works of the Great German Scholar and of his Daughter Elsa by the popular Alsatian author Hansi, translated into English by Professor R. L. Crewe (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2nd impression, 1917). As the introduction says, the Germans had never been so wittily ridiculed, but as Alsace was part of the German Empire Hansi was arrested, tried and sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment, but managed through the help of a friend to escape to Switzerland. The book caricatures the Germans’ inability to understand why their ’reconquered brothers’ (p. 55) in Alsace do not appreciate their incorporation into the German Empire. Professor Knatschke remarks:

When you have once had the experience of observing how dull and joyless an Alsatian village is on the morning of the Kaiser’s Birthday, and how, as soon as the ’Herr Gendarm’ starts on his beat down the village street, flags and banners are at once displayed on every side, you will agree with me when I state that he it is who, in spite of the resplendent sublimity of our Art, contributes most to instil true and pure Germanism into the hearts of the Alsatian Folk (p. 70).

27One of the fascinating features of British satire unleashed by the war is the plethora of parodies or travesties of children’s books and nursery rhymes. Nursery Rhymes for Fighting Times was written by Elphinstone Thorpe and illustrated by G. A. Stevens (London: Everett & Co., Ltd., [1914]). It is dedicated ’To the children of all British heroes, whether on land or sea’. A considerable number of the rhymes focus on the Kaiser and the drubbing the British soldiers are going to inflict on him. A typical example is:

Ride-a-cock horse, the frontier across,
To see Puffing Billy astride a high horse –
Blood on his fingers and shells for his foes,
He shall be hated wherever he goes! (p. 14).

28Stevens’s cartoon has the Kaiser on a very large wooden horse facing a tiny hobby-horse (Belgium) only a few inches high. Around him are shells marked ’for babies’, ’for libraries’, ’for cathedrals and churches’, ’for hospitals’, ’for museums’ and, finally, ’2 tons for the contemptible British army’. The Kaiser’s dismissal of the British army as ’contemptible’ was to re-echo through countless pieces of British writing about the war. But the Germans more generally were also mocked in these parodies:

Higgledy-piggledy, my Black Hun!
She lays mines where the trade-ships run;
Friends and foes she treats as one –
Higgledy-piggledy, my Black Hun! (p. 22).

29A little pamphlet issued at the end of the war presents just the same kind of picture. This was Rhymes of the Times for War Babies of all Ages by J. G. Russell Harvey and Charlie Thomas (Bristol: A. W. Ford & Co., Ltd., [1919]). It targets not only the Kaiser, but also Hindenburg (spelt ’Hindenberg’), Tirpitz, the Yanks and Lloyd George. Here we have yet another nursery rhyme travestied:

Little Bill Kaiser, come blow up your horn,
The fat’s in the fire and hope is forlorn;
Where’s the old German Gott who looks after the Army?
Peradventure he journeys, or sleeps, or is balmy (p. 13).

30The most extensive use of nursery rhymes was made very early in the war in The Crown Prince’s First Lesson-book or Nursery Rhymes for the Times by George H. Powell, with decorations by Scott Calder (London: Grant Richards Ltd., [1914]). The book is sarcastically dedicated to ’H.I.H. Frederick William / Crown Prince / of / ”the most civilised nation in the world” / Worthy Son of Worthy Sire’. Fifty-one travesties of nursery rhymes and similar verse-forms treat a whole range of German figures and war-matters, not simply the Kaiser and the Crown Prince. No. XXX, entitled ’Ambition’, reads as follows:

There was a Pan-German
And what do you think?
He lived upon nothing
But envy and ink.
Bernhardi and Treitschke
Were all of his diet,
And so this Pan-German
Could never be quiet! (p. 33)

31A rhyming alphabet called ’The Alphabet of the War’ opens with the lines:

A was an Army that none could withstand.
B were the British (contemptible band!).
C is the Confidence Germans display, - till
D, that is Doubt, is displaced by Dismay (p. 15).

32George Powell demonstrates a very clever wit and turn of phrase in adapting a large variety of popular forms to satirizing the Germans.

33To them we can add several other travesties. Grant Richards followed up Powell’s verses with The Rubaiyat of William the War-Lord by St. John Hamund (1915), while Frederick Warne and Co. issued The Book of William, with apologies to Edward Lear, author of The Book of Nonsense (probably 1914). Horace Wyatt wrote a quite expansive travesty of Alice in Wonderland in prose and verse entitled Malice in Kulturland (London: The Car Illustrated, 1914). All of these books pillory the Germans in expected fashion, using a variety of popular classics and children’s books as their point of departure.

34To conclude I shall look at one of them more closely, since it was a travesty of Germany’s most famous children’s picture-book, Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, which had appeared in English in 1848 and quickly become an essential part of the English nursery. It has remained in print ever since. Its familiarity to the English middle class meant that its verses and pictures were so well known that it lent itself to travesties of the most amazing kind. There had already been two political travesties – The Political Struwwelpeter (1899) and The Struwwelpeter Alphabet (1900) – before.the work we now turn to – Swollen-headed William. Painful Stories and Funny Pictures. After the German! (London: Methuen & Co., 1914). For this E. V. Lucas adapted the text and George Morrow the drawings of the Anglo-German nursery classic. It proved such a hit that the first edition of 1st October 1914 was succeeded by the second on 6th October. Each of the celebrated Struwwelpeter stories is adapted to deal with the Kaiser, so in addition to embodying the title-figure he takes on the roles of Cruel Frederick, Harriet in the story with the matches, the man that went out shooting, Conrad the thumb-sucker, Augustus who would not have any soup, Fidgety Philip, Johnny Head-in-Air and Flying Robert. In ’The Story of the Inky Boys’ he is accompanied by Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and General Bernhardi. The opening section of ’The Story of Cultured William’ is a typical example of Lucas’s approach:

Here is cultured William, see!
An enlightened soul was he.
He killed the doves and broke the chairs,
And threw the Grey cat down the stairs,
And, oh! far worse than all beside,
He hurt his Mary till she cried.
Such stores of ’Kultur’ Will possessed,
That he’d to spare for all the rest
(Particularly dark Louvain
Sunk in the barbarous inane),
And he vowed the world should be
Just as full of it as he.
Helped by Mr. Krupp of Essen,
Everyone should learn the lesson,
Spread by missionary Huns
Well equipped with bombs and guns.

35The ’Grey cat’ is the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, and ’Mary’, who in Hoffmann’s original is Cruel Frederick’s nursemaid, is depicted in Morrow’s drawing as Germania. In ’The Story of the Man that went out shooting’ the hare is interpreted as Belgium.

36It is obvious in Swollen-headed William, as in the many other travesties and satires, that the British public laid the whole responsibility for the war on the Kaiser, his ministers and generals and the Crown Prince. The ordinary German soldier barely figures in these tirades. By and large, the fighting soldier is seen as doing what he has to do, and he is criticized only when he acts unfairly or barbarously. Yet by the end of the war, with millions dead on either side, the German army and navy in the service of their masters brought about a sea-change in British attitudes towards Germany and the Germans, attitudes that the Nazi regime and the Second World War reinforced and that live on in the gutter press today.

37The First World War marks the end of an era in the impact that Germany had had on British children’s books for almost 140 years. Few new German children’s books were translated into English after Johanna Spyri’s Heidi (and that was Swiss rather than German, though published in Germany). The most concentrated period of British interest in German children’s books, Germany and German history and culture was from around 1840 to about 1900, as this book has demonstrated. By the end of the nineteenth century Germany was increasingly regarded as a threat to Britain’s supremacy in the world, and this clearly had an effect on children’s literature. The Edwardian period saw the virtual demise of moral and religious books; of German material only Christoph von Schmid’s Basket of Flowers survived.

38However, several other German children’s books established themselves as classics that are still read and loved today. The Grimms’ fairytales stand pre-eminent, the most widely disseminated contribution of Germany to world literature. The only other fairytale author to have been reprinted throughout the twentieth century is Wilhelm Hauff, but his popularity lies a long distance behind that of the Grimms. At the beginning of the twentieth century Fouqué’s Undine and Sintram, Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl and Hoffmann’s Nutcracker testified to the continuing appeal of the Romantic tradition, but only the Nutcracker (and that most probably through Dumas rather than directly from Hoffmann) is known to today’s children. Going back further in date, Baron Munchausen enjoys the most long-lasting fame of all, aided by a transposition into film as well as updated adaptations. Two of the other great survivors are Swiss – Johann David Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson and Johanna Spyri’s Heidi.

39The only other claim to classic status comes from Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, now more than 150 years old. Though waning in its appeal in Britain from the Second World War onwards, it has come to new life very recently through Shockheaded Peter: a Junk Opera, a captivating stage production by the Tiger Lillies that has proved an amazing success wherever it has been performed in Britain and Germany. The original English version of Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter has continued being reprinted at intervals, though nothing like as often as during its first seventy or eighty years. But the ’junk opera’ shows how its virtually archetypal stories can unexpectedly catch fire and entertain a new public. They have a similar power to that of so many of the Grimms’ fairytales, which are constantly being retold, adapted given new illustrations and formats.

40These were books that had become a firm part of British children’s literature well before the outbreak of the First World War. Their German origins were virtually irrelevant, sometimes not even known or obvious, so they survived without hindrance. It was contemporary German material that was excluded in the huge wash of emotional antipathy generated by the horrors of the war in which so many millions of soldiers (on both sides) lost their lives. Germany ceased to be ’our cousins’ and became instead the stereotypical enemy of a multitude of boys’ adventure stories, supplanting the multifarious indigenous peoples that the British Empire had spent its energies in conquering throughout the previous century.


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