The First World War is not a humorous chapter in history and the lighter side of life at the Front is not something that is naturally associated with the years between 1914 and 1918. Despite this, nearly everything in life is open to ridicule and caricature and this War was no exception: Kaiser Wilhelm II was a particular target for the British sense of humour as the contemporary postcards below demonstrate:
The lampooning of military life and the satirical interpretation of living and working in uniform were far removed from reality; many people at home had little real idea of what men and women at the Front had to contend with. In many ways these postcards represent an idealised nonsensical view of what the War was about, but they do reflect the way it was possible to poke fun at many aspects of military life.
Of course the Germans came under particular scrutiny from the British satirists; the Kaiser himself was a particular target of ridicule as the postcards below demonstrate. ‘The Last Line of Defence’ is a depiction of the rather desperate state of recruitment into the German army that faced Wilhelm in the closing months of the War in 1918.
Even well-meaning civilians became the brunt of satire; the postcard below reflects the gap between the coarse language of a recovering Tommy and a rather confused hospital visitor:
In ‘Two Trees’ I tried to blend into the story aspects of humour and ridicule which many contemporaries must have felt despite the real challenges of the War both at home and on the Western Front. In the novel Ada is a very competent cartoonist and her satire is much admired by all, including the enemy; Tom never seems to be able to take life seriously. Equally, I wanted to give the German individuals a humane character: in Chapter Nine the scene in the German Prisoner of War Camp involving the Scouser is based on a real recorded incident.
My thanks to Kelvin Tyacke for access to his collection of First World War postcards.
In Chapter Twenty Five of ‘Two Trees’, Tom is studying the racing pages of the newspaper and selects a horse called Kosmos Delight: the name of the horse pays homage to the Hotel Kosmos in Heuvelland, Belgium. For a number of years this hotel was the base for our First World War Battlefield Tours in Belgium and France when I was teaching; many bemused students passed through its portals and survived to relate stories of its basic facilities in the middle of nowhere. The original hotel was built in 1934 but sadly the whole complex closed in 2005 and the site has now been abandoned.