Kaiser Bill Postcards
The Lampooning of ‘Kaiser Bill’
On 19th August 1914, as the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) was about to cross into Belgium to help the French army stop the German invader, Kaiser Wilhelm II delivered his infamous dismissal of the B.E.F. as a "contemptible little army." However, his rebuke only served to further inflame British resolve to engage the Germans and finish the war as quickly as possible.
The character of Kaiser Bill
Did the Kaiser deserve the ridicule that was about to be heaped upon him by British and Allied media? Physically, William was
fragile and delicate and born with a withered left arm (which throughout
his life he tried to hide when in public) he nevertheless tried to be
'manly' by wearing over elaborate military and naval uniforms and rode
large and powerful horses - often for up to six hours a day. It was said later, "his state of mind varied from a patronising arrogance to profound self-doubt and vacillation".
In seems William was also a poor judge of character and frequently overruled the advice of political and military leaders, both before the Great War and during it. However, towards the end of 1917, he surrendered control of all matters political and military to the politicians and the generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
On 9th November 1918 (two days
before the Armistice was signed) William abdicated and next day fled
across the border to Holland. There he stayed at his country estate in
Doorn - until his death in 1941
The Lampooning starts
Postcard artists and publishers were quick to choose "Kaiser Bill" as their target for satire and caricature and numerous cards lampooning him and his son "Little Willie", were on sale in the postcard racks within days of the commencement of hostilities.
Bamforth's produced over 80 cards – printed in black on a cream background – in their anti-Kaiser ‘War Cartoons’ series. The artist did not sign the illustrations, which were dramatic and showed sharp political humour. The German monarch appeared as himself on some cards and in various guises on others, including a goat, goose, cow, child, rabbit, dog and a clergyman.
Two cards - in the Bamforth series of anti-Kaiser cards - depicting William as a child -. The Kaiser
depicted as a spoilt child was number 5021. Although the cards are not signed
it is now thought that Doug Tempest was the artist of this series.
One Bamforth card depicted 'Kaiser Bill' being ‘booted’ down a hill by a British,
French, and a Belgian soldier. A signpost nearby revealed that he had been
marching to Calais to capture the channel port. Below the picture was this
rhyme – “Kaiser Bill went up the hill, Breathing fire and slaughter, He’ll come
down Without his crown, And so the bounder ought’er.” The card was obviously a
parody on a famous nursery rhyme. There were others too. One depicted William as a small boy with a
large pie balanced on his knees and as a Belgian soldier emerged through the
crust - he delivered the Kaiser a hefty whack with his fist. Above the
illustration was this rhyme; "Little Jack Horner Sat in a corner eating the
Belgian Pie, he pushed in his Army, the fool must be balmy, He soon had a smack
in the eye." Another card on the 'Belgian Pie' theme is illustrated below.
The Belgium pie card shown above was number
5024 in Bamforth's 'War Cartoons' series. The Kaiser and John Bull was number
A card showing a British bulldog with its teeth firmly embedded in the Kaiser’s rear, carried this rhyme; "Billy teased a little dog, A very silly feat; For everywhere that Billy went, that bulldog tore his seat". On another card the Kaiser was depicted sitting in a crib, which was suspended with ropes hanging from a tree. Below the crib were bayonets with their points facing upwards and standing nearby was a British soldier about to slash through the ropes with a sword. Above the drawing were these words; "Hush-a-bye Kaiser, in the tree top, When Tommy cuts through the Kaiser will drop."
Salmon of Sevenoaks released a card, which depicted a giant
scorpion-like insect surmounted with the Kaiser’s head. Around its neck hung an
iron-cross, its tail was in the form of the German eagle and on its head was a
picklehaebor helmet. The creature was depicted rampaging its way through
Belgian on its way to France On a scroll at the top of the card was written; "THE GERM-HUN (Prussiaribug-kaisericus-Swankiobus.)". A bottle of "ALLIED MIXTURE
GUARANTEED TO KILL ALL KINDS OF VERMIN." was placed nearby - ready to be poured
on the fearsome pest.
An early cartoon card by 'E & L' depicted the Kaiser
in the guise of a sausage being chased by a British bulldog and is illustrated on the left.
Donald McGill used his fertile imagination to lampoon the Kaiser on a number of occasions. For example, the Inter-Art Publishing Company released a
card which showed the heads of the Kaiser and his son, the crown prince,
transposed to the centre of an over-ripe pear. The caption thereon reads "A D--- ROTTEN PEAR!" McGill also depicted Wilhelm as a madman and frequently as a
sausage. A coloured card by an unnamed publisher - but signed by McGill - showed the Kaiser spread-eagled on the ground - after a fight
with a group of allied soldiers. Underneath the picture appeared this caption
“DEUTSHLAND UBER ALLES! 'Germany over all' - (We don't think!)".
As previously mentioned, comic anti-Kaiser cards appeared very early in the war and were extremely popular with the public. The card on the left, titled "In Loving Memory of the Kaiser", was mailed to Aldershot by a soldier in Southampton on 13th August 1914. (Nine days after the outbreak of the war.) The message on the back reads; "Dear Wife, Have arrived at Southampton quite safe. Am waiting to go on boat. Love to all, Bob." The soldier was probably one of the advance guard of the B.E.F. heading for the Continent in 1914, The card on the right again depicted the Kaiser as a sausage and Britain was represented by a bull-dog. Regent Publishing Company' released the novelty card in the centre. The Kaiser's moustache was a constant inspiration for ridicule by comic postcard artists. The one on the card was fashioned from a piece of black wool!
The assembled cards
Miss Rose Doxford put pen to paper and composed a witty verse she named
the "KAISER'S BUBBLES". It complimented a card titled "BUBBLES" which was drawn
by the artist of the Bamforth anti-Kaiser 'War Cartoons' series. The artist
appeared to have 'borrowed' the idea for his cartoon drawing, from a famous
painting by the renowned 19th century artist John Everett Milias - whose
painting was also titled "Bubbles".
The card on the left was Rose Duxford's anti-Kaiser contribution in verse. It would not seem unfair to suggest that the artist of the card on the right was inspired by Sir John Millais's oil painting 'Bubbles.' John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was a Pre-Raphaelite artist, but later moved away from the ideal and turned to more popular genre subjects. He painted 'Bubbles' in 1885-86. The person who bought the painting from Sir John, sold it to the proprietor of Pear's Soap who used the picture in his advertisements for many years.
Here are more 'Kaiser Bill' verse postcards
This anti-kaiser card titled “A Fair Knock-Out” featured in one corner Kaiser-Bill and in the other the French boxer Georges Carpentier, who has just delivered a knock out blow to William. The publisher is not named, but the card is thought to have been released in 1915.
Kaiser Bill’s shorts are in the colours of the German flag – red, white and black, while the Frenchman’s shorts are supported by a sash in the French tricolor. In the upper left corner of the card appear the flags of the main Allies. England, France, Belgium and Russia.
Georges Carpentier was renowned for his lightening speed and hard punch. His career as a light heavyweight and heavyweight boxer spanned 18 years. From 1908-1926.
A card by Donald MaGill. This was Inter-Art Co's card number 1277 and depicted the Kaiser among eleven other lunatics.
lt was a good day for the propagandists when they
successfully criminalized the Kaiser. However, it was a bad day for truth. ln
fact, the Kaiser was neither a criminal nor a warmonger as the numerous picture
postcards featuring him depicted.
Although he wanted ‘a place in the sun’ for
Germany and had ambitions for the German Empire to be as great as Britain’s
empire, it was never Wllliam’s intention to be involved in a worldwide conflict
to achieve this. Nevertheless, once persuaded by the German military and
Foreign Office to sign the mobilisation order in 1914 and initiate the
‘Schlieffen Plan', it was then too late to have second thoughts.
addicted to the culture of militarism and ceremony, after signing the order he
said to those around him, "You will regret this, gentlemen", but supported the
army and the actions it took. However, as the war progressed his lack of
knowledge on military matters left him cut-off from reality and therefore
making important military decisions became the edit of his generals. Playing
just a supporting role to the military,
he became a figurehead, giving encouraging speeches, attending parades and
presenting medals and decorations.
Towards the end of the war however, William recognised the futility of carrying on and did not object to an armistice.
Though studying First World War anti-kaiser picture postcards we can see what the British public thought of him at the time - or were persuaded to think - particular during the first few months of the war when patriotism and jingoism were rife.