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Satirical maps of the Great War, 1914-15

Satirical maps of the Great War, 1914-15


In one of my first posts I covered cartoon and satirical maps in a very general way. They have a long history, reaching back to the mediaeval period if not beyond, but they gained a new currency in the mid nineteenth-century, with fine examples associated with the Crimean War and the Great Eastern Crisis. As an illustration, here’s an unusual German map from that era, relating to the Second Schleswig War of 1864:

“Jütland under der Herzogthümer richtige Gestalt 1864” is a hand-tinted wood engraving by one S. Israel, published in Hamburg by the Spiro brothers. The ‘correct shape’ of Jutland and the Duchy of Schleswig Holstein is depicted as a Bismarckian Prussian soldier. It was probably separately issued: the text at the top asserts copyright, and although Worldcat throws up a number of other publications by the Spiro firm which are journalistic in tone, there’s nothing which seems likely as a source from which it might have been extracted. The war was a key event on the road to German unification: Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Prussia and Austria (it was to be the last successful conflict for the Austro-Hungarian Empire). This kind of map reached its fullest expression during the extraordinary outpouring of patriotic jubilation which greeted the outbreak of World War One - in all the belligerent nations. And it really does seem to have been limited to the beginning of the war, hence the 1914-15 dates in the title of this post. I haven’t spotted anything dated later than 1915, and imagery on the maps themselves, for instance an Uhlan riding down Russian bears, belong to the general euphoria prevalent at the outset of the conflict:
There are no cheeky satirical swipes at the horrors of the Somme, Gallipoli or Kut and one suspects that by 1916 the joke had worn thin. The political situation also reflects the early stages of the war. Most of the maps concentrate on Europe, but the cartoonists often went to great lengths to show how the rest of the world had become embroiled: Indian soldiers wading across the ocean to Britain’s aid, or Japan being reeled in on a fishing line. However, I’ve yet to see one from 1917-1918 which brings in the USA. This won’t be a comprehensive account of all known Great War satirical maps. I’m going to keep with my usual policy of writing about maps which I have in stock and which I can refer to directly. These maps are no longer easy to come by and in the last few years they have become increasingly sought after, but I have a remarkably good selection at the moment: enough for an overall survey.
I’ve been asked what the purpose of these maps was, and the answer is straightforward enough: propaganda. Perhaps ‘morale boosting’ would be a kinder phrase. The language of the maps draws upon national symbols and stereotypes that were readily comprehensible both then and now: British bulldogs, Gallic cockerels, Russian bears … but they can be amazingly intricate, and often throw up a few surprises as well. They were generally sold sold separately. A price appears on the original printed wrappers for Louis Raemakers’ map, and Walter Trier’s map - which I’ll come onto in a bit - was sold in aid of the Red Cross, priced 30 Pfennigs in the margin. That brings me to another point: many of the artists were quite well known. Louis Raemaekers was a Dutch cartoonist and therefore, technically, a neutral. He crossed into Belgium in the wake of the German advance and what he saw drove him the create anti-German cartoons of such startling ferocity that the German government pressed the Dutch to put him on trial for compromising Dutch neutrality. He was acquitted but crossed over to London to continue his work. If one has any doubt about how significant this sort of propaganda was thought to be, it’s worth bearing in mind that the German government put a price of 12000 Guilders on Raemaekers head, dead or alive. Here’s his map:
Published in Amsterdam by Senefelder in 1915 the title ‘Het Gekkenhuis (Oud Liedje, Nieuwe Wijs)’ translates roughly as ‘The Lunatic Asylum (Old Song, New Tune)’. That seems fairly appropriate for a neutral observer in a world gone mad. In fact, although neutral Holland is looking on and peacefully pulling on a pipe, he has a revolver handy; unlike Spain and Portugal, which are intent on their own affairs, Holland is watchful, peering over his shoulder at his belligerent neighbour. (Compare it with some of the other takes on Dutch neutrality later on: Lehmann-Dumont shows Holland both as a harmless kitten and as a woman jostled by her neighbours, spilling the coffee she was trying to drink in peace.) Raemakers’ figures fill the space, pushing and straining their national boundaries - unlike some of the maps we’ll come to later - but one significant fact is that they are all human. The mixture of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic characters on maps tends be be very deliberate: one’s enemies are less than human. There are no real grotesques on this map, although Raemakers makes his sympathies plain enough. The grinning, claymore-wielding Highlander representing the British Isles comes off pretty well against the pop-eyed German. Raemakers also predicts the end of empires: after some prevarication Italy had joined the war on the Allied side in 1915, and Russia and Italy together are pulling the Austro-Hungarians every which way. The depiction of Turkey is especially well thought through:
The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers and received munitions and advisors from Germany. Raemaekers’ Turk is cutting his own throat, along the line of the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara, to Constantinople itself, using a sword stamped ‘made in Germany’. As the Italians are shown as active participants (i.e. the map post-dates the end of May 1915) this well crafted use of an existing geographical feature could also be read as a reference to the early stages of the Gallipoli campaign (from April), when Allied success still seemed to be on the cards.
This Karte von Europa im Jahre 1914 is a relatively early work by Walter Trier, a young man in his mid twenties at the time. Unlike Raemaekers, whose career was defined by the Great War, Trier was just starting out. My first encounter with his work (not that I gave it much thought at the time, although it made a lasting impression) were the illustrations in Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, and his illustrations for children are probably his most lasting legacy. Nobody readsLilliput any more - though if the magazine is remembered at all, surely it’s for Trier’s covers. But I found it useful to look again at his 1914 caricature map in the context of his later work, especially the anti-Nazi material the exiled Trier turned out in Britain during the Second World War.
This is Trier’s September 1940 cover for Lilliput, featuring his signature man/woman/dog combo; an altogether cuter version of Low’s “Very well, alone”.

In fact, just over thirty years after his caricature map was published he became a British citizen. Trier was born to a German speaking Jewish family in Prague and by 1910 he’d gravitated, naturally enough, to Berlin, but he fled Berlin for London in 1936. His Second World War political cartoons (unlike the Lilliput cover, above) are angry, sometimes visceral, always well-crafted.

Back to the old Berlin of 1914, and Trier seems to have had a particular problem with the Montenegrans, which he depicted as lice, but otherwise everyone on this map is human again. Not that the Allies are shown in an especially flattering light. The French are retreating, dispatched with nothing more than a swift kick, and special bile is reserved for the British, represented by a Scotsman once more (as per Raemakers) but this time buck-toothed and beetle-browed, protecting the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet under the skirts of his kilt (a mocking reference to the caution with which it was deployed - and one can only assume that this image wasn’t held against him by British immigration officials in 1936). The attempts of the Russian giant to swallow Europe are checked by far more heroic German and Austrian figures. However, it’s interesting to note one or two discrepancies between the text and the image. The redacted text refers to the loyalty of Italy, which was initially expected to join the Central Powers as she was a partner in the defensive Triple Alliance. As it turned out, she initially chose to remain neutral, so the text/redaction makes perfect sense if the map was rushed to press soon after the declaration of hostilities. Similarly Romania, also blacked out, remained neutral until she too joined the Allies. However, neither are shown in especially flattering ways on the map. Italy in particular, with his huge hooter thrust towards Austria, has his hands in his pockets - a decidedly neutral stance. Perhaps Trier knew something his publisher didn’t … The pair of maps by Karl Lehmann-Dumont, both published in Dresden in 1914 by Leutert and Schneidewind, are among my favourites for sheer wit and inventiveness.

Both entitled “Humoristische Karte von Europa im Jahre 1914”, the first is mostly anthropomorphic (but with notable exceptions) the second predominantly zoomorphic, with the Germans and Austrians cast as heroic (human) tamers of ravening beasts, armed only with whips and pistols, as if in a circus ring (1914 style …) There’s so much going on here that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The text at the foot of the map is pretty comprehensive, which helps. Evidently even contemporary readers needed some exposition to get the full effect! The bees issuing from the German hive apparently represent the scions of the nobility (I would have guessed industry, but that’s my 21st century mind at work; this is the German equivalent of the lost generation). Spreading out across the continent they are stinging the crazed, boss-eyed Russian bear into submission. They are accompanied by zeppelins, one of which is jabbing Britain (this time an Englishman in a pillbox hat) in the guts, while a mailed fist emerging from the North Sea, smashing a devastating blow into his face, presumably represents the Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet. Ireland and India are both presented as liabilities: Ireland attempting to sever the cord which ties him while an Indian snake is constricting the bulldog (all rather wishful thinking on the cartoonist’s part - the contribution of both nations to the Allied war effort was enormous, but this is propaganda … ) Note the sacks of money which the figure of the Englishman is standing on, supporting his weight. That’s a very old complaint indeed, going back to the Napoleonic Wars at least, that Britain could afford to bankroll others to fight her wars for her, stirring up trouble without risking British lives by intervening on the continent in a major way herself.
The treatment of the Ottoman Empire is again a highspot of the map. The Turk is shown reclining, his arm in a sling, lightly wounded by the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, but bearing a lit candle, which is impaled on the tip of a scimitar in his other hand and threatens to explode the powder keg under the loutish, drunken Russian. The outline of the Crimean peninsular becomes a puff of smoke. A stroke of genius. In the second map all of these figures have become predatory beasts: ravening Russian wolves, a ferocious Russian Rhino (which must surely be a first) and a British crocodile (connotations of deceit?) with an inset of a fine oriental dragon and monkeys representing the Japanese.
This black and white map by E. Zimmermann, published in Hamburg by W. Nölting in 1914, is almost equally elaborate.
Quite graphic too: the Russian is being shot in the balls while defecating into a chamber pot (the value of his supposed victories …)
The British and French snakes are an interesting touch - a direct reference to enemy propaganda, specifically lies about false victories. (Actually there’s a suggestion that British ‘black propaganda’, the other side of that particular coin, was so successful in the First World War that it contributed directly to starting the Second, nurturing many of the betrayal myths which proved so damaging.) I don’t particularly understand why the Russian bear is spraying insect repellent, there may be one or two in-jokes, now lost. The inclusion of a French colonial soldier is rather pointed: the deployment of African soldiers on the Western Front was contentious and one senses here that the Germans perceived it as underhand - or at least are presenting it as such. Just a couple more maps. Printed in 1914 by the Verlagsgesellschaft Union in Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin, the colour printing of this map is a delight, very bold:
Instead of filling the available space the creatures on the map strut or skulk across it. It’s surprisingly effective, putting me in mind of the men and beasts which populate golden age maps. The anthropomorphic/zoomorphic divide is rigid; indeed the whole map is couched in terms of a hunt, a European hunt or ‘Europäische Treibjagd’ to be exact. The Central Powers and their friends (or at least neutral parties - though note Ireland gazing gleefully at England’s discomfiture) are human, the neutrals mostly peering at the action through spyglasses; their enemies are ignoble animals. Our anonymous artist has been scratching his head, wondering how best to bring in Japan, the usual problem, and he’s opted for a monkey dropped onto the periphery of the map. Geographically closer to the mark perhaps, or heading in the right direction anyway, but not as ingenious as Lehmann-Dumont’s boat/hook and line inset. The text simply indicates that the European menagerie has plotted to rise up against its noble master, but that it will soon be tame again. I note that the Belgian lion of the text has been substituted for a Belgian hare by the artist, a curious discrepancy. In Fritz Elsner’s map of 1914, published in Cologne by F. Klotz and G. Cremer, the characters also have room to breathe:
Only the skirts of blind-justice-Spain and the Scandinavian lion really fill the available space within their borders. This is clearly deliberate, and I’m wondering if the artist had in mind certain maps of the period which illustrate the relative size of the armies through appropriately proportioned uniformed figures standing next to one another. That would account for the solidity of the French, the skinniness of the British and the bulk of the Russian giant. Unperturbed, the Germans and Austrians are striking out at their adversaries on both fronts.


This is the sort of table which might have inspired Elsner’s approach; this example is a detail extracted from the Daily Mail’s War Map of 1914.
Finally, here’s a highly unusual Polish map with cyrillic text, effectively giving the Russian take on things:
This ‘Symbolic map of Europe’ was published in Warsaw by Vladislav Levinsky, passed by censor on 9 April 1915 and (naturally enough, having been passed by censor…) it tows the official line. Many caricature maps show Poland struggling to be free, but Poland had been partitioned for more than a century when this map was made, and Warsaw was then the third largest city in the Russian Empire. The map is dominated by the serene figure of the Tsar, pinking the raging German bull without physical exertion of any kind. It’s quite unlike anything on the other maps we’ve looked at so far. The Tsar himself is the personification of Russia, and the Tsar himself will bring victory.

A version of the map was also published in Paris (by ‘Editions G-D’ as ‘Carte Symbolique de l’Europe … Guerre Liberatrice de 1914-1915’. The signature is the same, but dated 1914; the French edition may indeed have primacy, as our map is decribed as 2nd edition, top right) and this French connection may explain the contrast between a glamorous Marianne riding a fine specimen of a cockerel and the rather dowdy battle-axe in battleship grey which represents Britannia. I like Ireland, keeping company in some sort of fishing smack! The cartoonist is fairly kind to the countries on the periphery of the map. Russia’s neutral neighbours, Sweden and Norway, are portrayed as two beautiful women in a close embrace (enduring stereotypes again?) but in another break from the maps we’ve seen so far the Austro-Hungarian Empire is not represented by anything living at all, man or beast. Instead, a fallen crown lies on a barren plain, spotted with graves, bringing us full circle to the predictions of Louis Raemaekers and the fall of empires.

The reception of all these caricature maps is difficult to gauge, but there are clues. I recently discovered this British postcard by Gus Carswell, dated 1915: “This is not a distorted map of Europe … it’s just a ragtime kit inspection”. The idea of ‘distorted’ caricature maps had become embedded in the public consciousness to the extent that they could be caricatured in turn. If one draws a loose line around the figures one can create a rough approximation of mainland Europe (the soldier with the kit bag as the Iberian peninsular; the tip of the toothbrush representing Denmark; the officer in the foreground as Italy, with the dog as Sicily …) Not as accomplished as the other pieces we’ve looked at, but interesting evidence that the currency of caricature maps was widespread.

Edited to add (02/13): They don’t come along every day, but I’ve bought an example of the 1914 Bacon/Johnson, Riddle & Co caricature map “Hark! Hark! The Dogs do Bark!” and I’ve discussed it in another post.

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