John's real-time WW1 blog: Can we really win the war with a joke about punctuation?

John Dilley
John Dilley

September 3, 1918...

Grammar pedants will appreciate the punctuation joke published in the War Supplement that accompanies the September 3, 1918, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The punctuation joke.

The punctuation joke.

The caption reads: “The Kaiser, in his proclamation to the German people at the beginning of the fifth year of the war said: ‘The worst is behind us.’”

Then comes the punchline: “With the addition of three full stops the sentence has an entirely different meaning and one much nearer the truth.”

It will momentarily leave the readers scratching their heads – but check out the cartoon closely and you can see the Kaiser and an American soldier looking at the proclamation with the additional full stops: “The worst is behind. U.S.”

In other words, the American Army has arrived and is flooding its soldiers onto the front line. The hundreds of thousands of ‘Doughboys’ who have joined the fight against the Germans are rightly held in awe for their energy, fitness and fierce-some firepower: after all, they have not fought four long years of attrition in the trenches of France and Flanders.

The YMCA advert

The YMCA advert

Whether it is the Americans who are winning the war for the Allies – as some have portrayed – or whether they are merely a welcome addition, the consequence is that Market Harborough’s sons and husbands are getting safer and safer.

Once again there is NO NEWS of ANY local soldiers – no news means good news in this situation.

There is, however, a focus though on how the Home Front is still very active. The latest campaign being run is by the YMCA which wants to raise money for their work – and if the local drive is successful then there will a building in France named after the town.

The ‘Market Harborough Hut’ does not have quite the same glamour as a previous campaign to have an aeroplane named after the town but it still provides a vital contribution to the war effort.

In particular, the YMCA provides the writing paper for ’92 letters out of every 100 written by a British Tommy’.

An advert proclaims that the YMCA supplies ‘25 million pieces of stationery a month at a cost of £1,000 a week’.

Ironically, given the grammatical nature of the cartoon mentioned above, the word stationery is spelled incorrectly as stationary. But that doesn’t take away from the fact this is a staggering number which translates most importantly into keeping ‘the link with home’ as the advert describes.

Another campaign currently being run is outlined in an official classified advert from the Ministry of Food – this time for the national collection of blackberries.

The advert says: “Owing to the partial failure of the fruit crop the supply of jam throughout the country is insufficient. A very large quantity of jam is required from the Army and Navy, also to supply the needs of the civilian population.”

The advert continues: “We earnestly appeal to owners and occupiers of land to allow all authorised gathers of blackberries full access to the bushes growing on their land.

“We also appeal for help to holiday makers and all persons willing to assist the Government in supplying this national necessity either by picking blackberries themselves or by organising parties for the purpose.”

There is also news that is of particular interest to a 21 st century reader – the number of women voters who have for the first time been included on the roll for a parliamentary election.

It is intriguing to see the breakdown of figures: Great Bowden has 1,324 male voters and 905 women voters with Little Bowden having 872 men and 629 women on the lists. Market Harborough has the smallest number of voters – just 473 males and 314 females.

- This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.

- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.

- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.