Wartime Nipper & Childrens’ Comics

The outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany on 5th September 1939 was to have a profound effect on everyone. It also presented the possibility for the development of a whole host of situations into comic ones in which the Nipper could feature. In a sense certain aspects of the war were as good as a new character, but this took some weeks to introduce, The immediate effect though was to reduce the strip in size by half in the interests of conserving newsprint as part of the War Effort.

As a new gimmick the Mail published a pattern for mothers (and aunts) to knit a Nipper doll in wool on 24 November with the comment ‘you can knit him in time to take to the children on Sunday week’. This was the day the railways were running cheap excursions from London for parents to visit children who had been evacuated. The same day the 1940 edition of the Annual went on sale which was well received as usual.

Up to now I had managed to avoid introducing dialogue in the form of speech balloons which to my mind detracted from the appeal of the cartoon. I relented and the first of these appeared on 8 December 1939 and were to feature from time to time thereafter.

The question of the renewal of my contract arose once more and after negotiation and due to the considerable uncertainties of the situation, this was limited to a period of one year for 1940 at a remuneration of £2000.

With the emphasis on the war situation the 2000th Nipper cartoon was published unheralded on 26 February 1940. In order to facilitate the saving of paper even more, wherever feasible the number of panels in the strip were reduced from four and three to three and two respectively.

In March I decided it was time to make a Nipper cartoon film, in black and white to reduce costs. Unfortunately this project did not get beyond the planning stage. The invasion of Denmark and Norway by German forces and the occupation of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg brought the war that much nearer. The collapse of France and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and others from Dunkirk in May/June brought the war to the south coast. I volunteered as a warden with the Worthing Rural District Council from 1 July. But it soon became obvious that it would no longer be possible to live a norma1 1ife in the coastal zone. Beaches were no longer accessible being cut off from the hinterland by barbed wire entanglements and concrete barricades against tanks. Pillboxes were built and camouflaged. The magnificent houses on Willowhayne Estate were deserted by their owners (and who would have probably sold them for a song). These were soon turned into defensive strongpoints. Schools were evacuated and life virtually came to a standstill.

I made arrangements to return to Thames Ditton; to Holzer where we had lived before. I terminated my services as a Warden with the WRDC from 18th July and immediately volunteered for Civil Defence duties, being appointed on 1st August as an Air Raid Warden by the Urban District Council of Esher. Despite all these changes I still had to create strips. There were days when the Nipper did not appear due to his being replaced by a more newsworthy item.

Like many others I had an air-raid shelter built in the back garden as a precaution. The mound above made an admirable viewpoint from which to observe the air activity of the Battle of Britain over London. Not much could be seen apart from the white contrails against a blue sky.

Then in mid-September the German airforce changed its tactics and started night raids on London. Night after night many German bombers droned with their unsynchronized engines from their bases in France northwards to the Thames around Hampton Court and thence down the river to the City. The air-raid shelter became our nightly home. Our sleep was disturbed by the aircraft and by a battery of anti-aircraft guns nearby. It certainly was not safe to go out at night at all as in the morning many pieces of shrapnel were to be found everywhere. When the house across the road was hit and damaged by an incendiary bomb I decided it was time to disposer of all the old flam celluloid film I had from my early animating days.

As usual towards the end of the year on 9th December the 1941 edition of the Annual made its appearance. Due to restrictions it was smaller than usual.

The war news in 1941 continued to be generally bad though with some successes to boost morale. Appearances of the Nipper in the Mail started off at the beginning of the year relatively well with only the odd day being missed in January. February was not too bad with seventeen strips, plus a guest appearance in the Luton News to promote that towns War Weapons Week. But thereafter it was a steady decline with only four strips appearing in May, six the month after and the last on 18 September.

At this time my future and that of the Nipper was very uncertain, due to the small papers and the impossibility of carrying the strip other than very infrequently. The upshot was that my contract was now for a period of six months and that in view of this I would forego 50% profits due to me for the 1942 Annual, and not to produce strips other than to keep just ahead of any demand. There were then seventy or more hand which could become dated or of no use if the size was altered. The Mail for its part offered an allowance of £400 per annum once I was called up which at this time was pending, and agreed to accept the odd illustration of Nipper so that he would not be forgotten.

On Monday 14 July 1941 I had my medical and was passed Grade 1 and was provisionally accepted for the Police War Reserve, though this did not entail an immediate call-up.

Once again it was possible to publish the 1942 edition of the Annual, still in a reduced size. This came out on 14 November. I was fortunate in that I was able to make use of most of the strips the paper had be en unable to publish. It was, however, to be the last Annual published under the auspices of the Daily Mail.

With the lack of newsprint for the Nipper in the Daily Mail I tried my hand at childrens’ comics and took over Deeda-Day Danny from Hugh McNeill and then creating Little Tough Guy, both for the Knockout.

On 25 March 1942 I received notice of my call-up. Two days later I finished my service with Esher District Council as a Warden and on 15 April I was sent to Liverpool City Police as War Reserve Constable WR 1084. After a month’s training I was posted to Anfield on 11 May. I was in the City when it became the target for numerous German air-raids. Then on 17 August I managed to obtain a transfer to my home town of Luton where on 18 September I bought a house: 52, Montrose Avenue, for £1750 from a Mr. McGeorge, into which I moved with the family.

Now as Temporary Constable No. 167 for the Luton Borough Police my main duty was drawing up plans of accidents and the like, and as part of the War Effort, I suppose, caricatures of my senior officers and fellow constables. There was also time for the odd cartoon or two such as a poster to promote Luton’s Wings for Victory Week.

One of my official duties was in the production of ciné films on aspects of Civil Defence. One of these I recall concerned the rescue of an injured person from a bombed out building who had had his leg blown off. For this we found a man who had had his leg amputated below the knee – I believe it was his right one – who was suitably prepared for filming. For some reason or another the filming could not unfortunately be completed that day. We were only able to recommence shooting several days later. But by this time our one legged actor had left town. We now had to find another person suitably disabled and the only one we could find was missing his left leg. Possibly no-one noticed.

The Nipper had made the odd appearance, mainly at Christmas time, to remind admirers he was still around. Then between April and July 1944 the Mail found space to publish nine small, but four panel, cartoons. Even if more newsprint had become available I was too busy with Police duties to create strips. In September I requested the Editor of the Mail apply for my release from the Police War Reserve as an end to the war in Europe was only a matter of time. I felt that even with only a temporary release I could devote more time to create Nipper cartoons and let me get ahead of any demand, as well as enabling me to make a start on sports cartooning, a new endeavour. This was not to be. Instead I was sent on a 14 day refresher course for War Reserve constables on 30th October.

In January 1945 I was allowed a fortnight’s leave to enable me to complete cartoons and work on a booklet entitled Careful Nippers. The theme was accident prevention, a subject in which the Chief Constable was particularly interested. With the emphasis on this project I was unable to make the expected headway with strips for the Mail. All I needed was more time off or a release from war service.

With the end of the war in Europe in May I once again requested the Mail apply for my release from the Police. With extra duties I was unable to complete the strips the paper required. It was only in October, two months after the surrender of Japan, that the Editor received a reply from the Ministry of Labour and National Service. This was to the effect that owing to the shortage of men in the Police Force applications for the release of men from the Police War Reserve were being granted only in very exceptional circumstances. The Home Office had not definitely decided on my case which was still under discussion and the Ministry of Labour did not hold out much hope for a favourable decision.

While still ruminating about this bleak news I was advised that my discharge would be effective from 5 November. A case of left hand, right hand… The Directors of the Daily Mail in the meantime had in celebration of Victory and in recognition of loyal service of staff decided to pay a Victory Bonus of an extra week’s ordinary pay (less tax, if any) which was most welcome.

 

 

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