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Hendon's Jewish Military Museum opens its Cartoons at War exhibition
Five exhausted British soldiers sit slumped in a corner, drinking steaming hot chocolate from delicate china cups and looking mightily relieved. The caption beneath this cartoon, in French, reads: Victoria Chocolate. Infallible for healing wounds.
This cartoon, from the Boer War, is just one in the exhibition Cartoons at War at the Jewish Military Museum , which opened this week.
Curator Roz Currie explains: “The British suffered a lot of defeats in the Boer War so, to keep their spirits up, each soldier was sent a tin of chocolates from Queen Victoria. On the continent, they thought this was really funny – why did they get chocolate instead of bandages?”
The exhibition features works from some of the most famous cartoonists of the 20th Century and focuses on the way in which cartoons have played different roles in wartime.
“The exhibition looks at loads of different aspects of military cartoons,” says Roz. “They fall into so many categories – political ones in newspapers either being used patriotically or against the government, and then military personnel doing their own of what life on the front line is like, then the ‘make do and mend’ type that went on posters.”
Original works by Philip Zec, Leslie Illingworth and Willi ‘Wooping’ Wolpe feature alongside the museum’s regular images and objects, including one of the original tins of Boer War chocolate, still with the chocolate inside, sent to Corporal Solomon Davis. Queen Victoria is pictured with the message, ‘I wish you a happy new year’, and ‘South Africa 1900’.
The museum has also been lucky enough to get some of the cartoons the pilots put on the side of their aircraft in World War Two, from the RAF Museum in Hendon.
Given the museum’s heritage, there is a Jewish element to a number of the cartoons, not least the original works of Philip Zec, donated to the museum by Tim Benson of the Political Cartoon Society.
“He was born in Gower Street to Russian Jewish parents in 1909,” Roz explains. “One of his most famous cartoons is Seamen on the raft , of merchant seamen clinging to a raft on the sea. He was commenting on black marketeers profiting from the rise in petrol prices, but it wasn’t interpreted in that way – it actually caused a debate in Parliament. It was considered by Churchill and others to be saying that the black marketeers were profiting off the backs of the seamen. The Mirror , which published it, almost closed down because of it.”
James Gillray was one of the most well-known and popular political cartoonists, and worked in the days before there was cheap printing and illustration in newspapers. One of his works on display shows William Pitt the Younger and Napoleon (Little Boney) carving up the world between them.
Another cartoon, borrowed from the Cartoon Museum in Holborn, is by Willi Wolpe, “a virtually unknown cartoonist who was a Jewish refugee who escaped the Nazis in the 1930s. It’s of democracy stabbing himself in the back with a knife labelled Munich.”
The exhibition opened this week as part of the Jewish Week of Culture, which this year had the theme of humour. “It can be quite difficult to find humour in war,” says Roz, “but it’s definitely there.”
- Cartoons at War is at the Jewish Military Museum, Shield House, Harmony Way, Hendon until November 29, Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm. Booking in advance is essential but you can call or email on the day. Details: 020 8201 5656, email email@example.com, www.thejmm.org.uk
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