‘To End All Wars’ Sample Page

Coward's War pic

Page from the story ‘The Coward’s War’ from the To End All Wars Graphic Novel

Yesterday I put up a piece about the article in that day’s edition of the I newspaper reporting the publication of a new graphic novel on the First World War. Introduced by 2000 AD’s Pat Mills, the comic aims to present the grim reality of the conflict, documenting some of the challenging, embarrassing and difficult facts and attacking the jingoistic lies told about the War by Michael Gove and similar Right-wingers. The article also contained the above sample page of artwork from one of the stories, ‘The Coward’s War’, about Thomas Highgate, the first British squaddie executed for cowardice in the War. I didn’t put it up yesterday, and so here it is today. It’s credited to Jonathan Clode, writer, Matt Soffe, artist, and with lettering by Jim Campbell. Enjoy!

This is not the first time comics have taken an anti-War stance. Back in the 1990s during Gulf War I there was a strip attacking that conflict, The Unknown Deserter, if I remember correctly. I don’t know if Alan Moore is anything to do with the above anthology, but he also wrote another anti-war comic, Real War Stories. This was intended to show the horrific reality of modern conflict. Moore wrote it in connection with a conscientious objectors’ group in the US, and based it on real soldiers’ accounts of combat, such as what it feels like to be shot and so on. This volume seems to be similarly meticulously researched, as you’d expect from a creative team that includes Mills, the writer of the classic comic First World War story, Charley’s War. I’ve reblogged Mike’s story about the forthcoming graphic novel adaptation of classic First World War poetry, and the news that Mills and his artist, Hitchcock, also have another First World War project, Brothers in Arms, waiting for a publisher. With all this coming out from the funny papers, it should provide something of an antidote to some of the views on the War being broadcast by the BBC. It’s also a reminder why David Cameron’s recommendation that people should commemorate the centenary of the War’s outbreak with street parties is such colossal, tasteless and offensive nonsense. Jeremy Paxman, away on a lecture tour of the Gulf States, criticised Cameron for that.

Unfortunately, Paxo didn’t get the reason why so much of British yoof arguably wouldn’t volunteer en masse as they did for the War. A few weeks ago the I reported that Paxo had complained that in today’s climate, the army would struggle to fill a trench due to the apathy and luxury of today’s young people. He claimed that most of today’s kids really wouldn’t know what to do with a military trench, and instead of doing anything militarily useful would probably stand around taking pictures of it on their mobile phones.

This is too cynical and dismissive a view of modern kids. Right through history the older generation have complained about the immorality of the younger. One old Soviet cosmonaut, when asked how he felt about Russian young people grooving in a disco held at the Moscow Space Museum the day before the collection was due to be broken up and the Museum closed, simply remarked that they’d found a complaint about how terrible the kids of today were scribbled on a wall in Babylon. He had no desire to complain about the young lads and lasses partying the night away there, but quietly sat there with his wife enjoying the evening. It’s a good attitude.

If today’s young people aren’t as ready and willing to volunteer to fight and die for their country as they once were, it’s because history has left them with fewer illusions than that generation. The lessons of history have all too often shown that the imperialism, which the British and other Western powers viewed with pride as bringing civilisation and justice to the benighted peoples of the rest of the world was all too often simply a pretext for invasion, carnage, oppression and exploitation. And people are now far more aware of the reality of warfare – the soldiers returning home with shattered minds and missing limbs, or who simply don’t come back at all. The illusion that you can somehow have a sportsman’s war that’ll be over by Christmas is extremely difficult to maintain. Hence the way the reporting of the harsh reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are very carefully concealed and managed by the military and civilian authorities. The American radical magazine, Counterpunch, did a piece on this a few years ago. They noted, for example, that unlike in the Vietnam War, the journalists covering the conflict are embedded within the troops themselves, so they get to feel part of the team, and rely on them for their own personal safety. It’s all part of a strategy of managing the War’s coverage to keep it as positive as possible, and avoid the negative coverage like that which turned American public opinion against the Vietnam War.

And with Pat Mills and his fellow artists creating these strips, the lessons of what war is really like in the case of the First World War, will be brought home once more. And its going to be grim. Wilfred Owen’s piece, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, anthologised in To End All Wars, contains some truly horrific descriptions of what actually happened. It describes the froth spewed from a stricken trooper’s lungs after he was gassed as like a ‘cud’ and ‘a Devil’s sick of sin’. This is ugly stuff, described in beautiful poetry and doubtless with beautiful artwork that’ll do the poem justice. And the fact that Paxo doesn’t understand why so many young people after the First World War are less than enthusiastic about joining the army for another one shows how needed such comics are. Except that it’s probably not the kids who need to read them, but the older generation of the establishment looking on and castigating them for a cynicism that has been ground into them by the bleak lessons of history the elders of the establishment don’t understand or share.

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21 Responses to “‘To End All Wars’ Sample Page”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Ulysses Says:

    After reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, i seriously doubt Patriotism was the main reason for the majority of British working class men signed up.
    I gather, from reading that account, conditions on the front were immeasurably better than the struggle at home to keep body and soul together by prostituting yourself to the tender mercies of employers or the poor laws, charities and Churches of the time.
    The Army gave you 3 square meals, a pair of boots that reasonably fit and weren’t 4th or 5th hand when issued, and reasonable clothing that needn’t be pawned and clawed back by hook or crook between bouts of unemployment and the choice was eat, or sell the clothes off your back.
    The description of Town Councillors of that time, I could easily put contemporary names to the characters in the book the parallels are so striking, it seems as though the Local Authority have taken that work of semi fiction as a working plan on how to run a town for the last 100 years.

    And as for Paxo and his views on the youth of today?
    I seriously hope they’d all have more sense than to spill their blood for the ideology of the ruling classes.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the reply, Ulysses. I totally agree with you. A friend of mine told me a little while ago that the fatality in the War was actually less than the death rate in the factories of the time. This tells you just how horrific working conditions were in Edwardian Britain.

      I also recall that way back in the 1980s, a radical historian from South Africa or Zimbabwe – I’ve forgotten which, presented the case on Timewatch that while the Zulu warriors were the well-trained, fit elite of their society, the British squaddies by and large were poor, frequently undernourished men, who had joined the army to escape the crushing poverty of Victorian Britain. He stated that at the time they were widely looked down upon, and quoted Kipling’s poems to that effect, particularly the lines ‘And it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that, and kick him out, the brute’.

      It caused widespread outrage amongst the patriotic, but I think it’s an accurate view of the historical reality.

  3. stewilko Says:

    Reblogged this on stewilko's Blog.

  4. jess Says:

    ” volunteer en masse as they did for the War”
    This is an old canard beast.

    Quite simply, people didn’t ‘volunteer en masse’ for WW1

    No ‘reputable’ historian would still suggest they did.

    There were many things that caused people to enlist….over the course of the war….But the BEF that went to France in 1914 was a professional army

    It would take too long, and too much space to go into detail, but , as one example, single men, thrown out of work by the outbreak of war, were denied Unemployment Assistance unless they (guess what?)

    And workhouses and labour colonies were toured by recruiting sergeants looking for ‘suitable’ recruits, until a magistrates court put a stop to that…


    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the information, Jess. I really don’t know anything about the First World War, or the social conditions that caused men to enlist in the army. However, I’ve absolutely no doubt you’re right. Unfortunately, the myth that men volunteered overwhelmingly for the War out of patriotism is obviously still very strong, as shown by the way Paxo came out with it unchallenged. And it very definitely needs to be discredited amongst the public, as well as academically.

  5. jess Says:

    I added this to Mike’s re-posting. It should have been here

    ……… I welcome this from the ‘comic’ artists.
    Looking through their selection of poems, they seem to me, well thought through.

    They should be aware, too, that they have predecessors, in the trenches and elsewhere.

    Many units produced their own ‘comics/journals’ to keep up morale at the front and at home. The best known of these is the Wipers Times, which has been regularly reprinted and was the basis for that bane of Michael Gove, Oh What A Lovely War.

    They were quasi-official publications. The War Office kept a fine collection, which is now with the British Library. The War Museum also has a good set. But they were more representative of the horrors and privations endured by the troops than representations in the ‘popular press’ at the time.

    And Conscientious Objectors also had their ‘comics’, circulated clandestinely within the prisons to which they were eventually consigned. Unfortunately only one or two of these survived [Friends House has one], but a small anthology of the poetry within them was printed just after the war. And that is relatively easy to get hold of.if you have access to a good reference library.

  6. Ulysses Says:

    Thanks for the information, Jess, i’ll try and hold of some of that material…

    • Ulysses Says:

      Quote :
      “It would take too long, and too much space to go into detail, but , as one example, single men, thrown out of work by the outbreak of war, were denied Unemployment Assistance unless they (guess what?)”

      Oh, and please do, if you have the time and inclination to write out that detail, because i, for one, would love to read it!

      • jess Says:


        Apologies for the delay, but I had to dig out some old notes

        Beast, would you still be interested in the ‘enlistment’/ outbreak of war stuff?

        If so, what sort of wordage can you handle?

      • beastrabban Says:

        Jess, I would indeed be interested in anything on enlistment/ outbreak of war. As for wordage, I don’t know. What’s the length you’re thinking of?

    • jess Says:

      I have to respect the fact that this is ‘beast’s’ blog, not mine.

      So I’ll keep the first bit brief,

      The best assessment I have yet seen is that of the ‘Trench papers’ is the first chapter of J.G. Fuller’s ‘Troop Morale…’Oxford, 1990.

      It has plenty of references and a good, albeit brief, bibliography.

      There is also a critical assessment “The evidence of the troop magazines…needs to be used with circumspection” rider at its conclusion. But it does not engage with how, in a pretty vile situation, and with ‘resources’ like ink and paper hard to come by, they appeared at all.

      But do you see what I mean by ‘large and ponderous’ questions?

      Thanks, though for your response. I will keep posting. And hope ‘the beast’ don’t mind too much..

      • beastrabban Says:

        Thanks for the consideration, Jess. Please go on about the trench magazines of the First World War, and the underground journals of the Conscientious Objectors, as this is very interesting indeed. You’re right about the best known of them being the ‘Wipers’ Times’. Ian Hislop presented a programme about them the other year and there was a book to accompany it. They were also the subject of drama documentary.

      • Ulysses Says:

        Oil, anyone?

  7. jess Says:

    To Ulysses;

    Your link doesn’t work too good…..I’d like to look at it though.

    But why did the Churchill Admiralty go after oil?

    On another note, if I might, beast?

    Where are the Belgian/ Vlaams voices going to be in these quagmires of ‘celebrations’?

    The Antwerp poet Geert Buelens edited a superb anthology of WW1 verse a couple of years ago. Staf Schoeters did a collection of postcard images last year……

    Reviews in the ‘press’, or a mention from Gove’?……….

    Or do the ‘battlegrounds’ have no voice in the ,affair?

    Again,no disrespect to yourself.

  8. beastrabban Says:

    That’s all right, Jess. And I was wondering pretty much the same thing about the other voices from the Great War – not just the Belgians, but also the French and Germans. I don’t know if they produced any poetry through their experience of the War, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t. I think Siegfried Sassoon was inspired for his criticism of the War by a book published in France, while at least of the macabre poems of Christian Morgenstern came from his experience of the War. It was about a knee wandering across the world, the only bit left of a soldier, who’d been blown up.

    Unfortunately, so far these voices seem to be absent. It seems to be another example of British insularism, plus possibly a recoil in the media from anything too elitist or ‘highbrow’, or which may only appeal to a small audience, rather than the large numbers they’re looking for in order to show they’re competitive and providing value for money with the license fee.

  9. jess Says:

    “the other voices from the Great War – not just the Belgians, but also the French and Germans”

    I refer you again to Geert Buelens’ anthology, which covers..German,French, Russian, Turkish and English poets (and other places). It also has a comprehensive bibliography.

    And whilst I am at it; Cathy Reilly’s work is well known ‘in the trade’ so to speak, but her bibliography of (Brit) WW1 poets seems to remain less acknowledged…..

    I should also mention the writings of Nancy Sloan Goldberg

    On French poets of the period

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