Staring at maps sometimes pays off. ‘Hark, Hark! The Dogs do Bark!’ is one of the better known serio-comic or satirical maps published shortly after the outbreak of World War One in 1914. Devised in that first flush of patriotic euphoria, before the realities of trench warfare hit home, it presents the war in a lighthearted way as a scrap between dogs: a British bulldog, French poodle, German dachshund and Austro-Hungarian mongrel. The whole point is that the visual language of the map could easily be read by its original audience.
We don’t know who the original artist was, only that he presumably worked for Johnson, Riddle & Co, Ltd, who designed and printed the map for publisher GW Bacon & Co, Ltd. We certainly don’t have a contemporary record of his intentions, and over the last 100 years some of the jokes which must have seemed so obvious back then have become obscure. I have seen plenty of different examples and Tom Harper and I even selected it as one of the maps we wrote about in ‘A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps’ back in 2014, but the identity of the giant sailor looming over the British Isles has always eluded me.
There are very few human figures on the map, and Britain is already represented by the bulldog, so he isn’t there by chance. He controls a fleet of battleships, depicted as iron dogs of war which are straining to be unleashed to join the fight. One idea doing the rounds is that he resembles Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. However, the features are those of an older man, the Churchill of 1940, not 1914. I don’t buy that, and as an alternative have suggested that he represents a generic John Bull or Jack Tar figure, but that’s not entirely satisfactory either. What if he represents a senior naval figure, easily recognisable to contemporaries? Not Beattie or Jellicoe, certainly, but Admiral ‘Jackie’ Fisher ticks all the boxes: he was suitably stocky in his build and was held in such popular esteem that he was recalled from retirement on the outbreak of war to resume duties as First Sea Lord. He had been a tireless innovator and and the Royal Navy of 1914 was very much Fisher’s creation. Who better to be holding the reins? I have just read that he coined the phrases ‘Buggins’ Turn’ and ‘OMG’. I count that a bonus.