Our Military Critic Speaks

[A correspondent recently complained to a contemporary

that “the actor in touring companies is badly trained

in military matters”, and is not convincing when he is

playing the part of a soldier.]

Oh, we take him from the wilds of Maiden Lane;

   Twelve bob a week we give him for a wage;

We try to teach him not to look insane

   When making his appearance on the stage.

He doesn't often have a lot to do

   (Just enter r. and exit l.u.e.),

        But –  the fact there's no concealing,

        You –  well, somehow can't help feeling

   That he isn't all a soldier ought to be.

        O-oh, histrion TOMMY ATKINS,

           I've no doubt you do your best;

        But there are a few improvements

           You'll allow me to suggest.

        Don't salute when you're bare-headed:

           It is not the usual plan,

        Scarcely, so to speak, the hall-mark

           Of a military man.

His regiment's the "Loamshires" or "The Blanks",

   And the discipline's not rigid there, I fear;

For nobody says, "Silence in the Ranks!"

   When he greets the hero's speeches with a cheer.

Real soldiers when on sentry-go, I'm told,

   Are very seldom heard to air their wit;

        But if he says nothing funny,

        Then it's "Give us back our money!"

   From the patron of the drama in the pit.

        O-oh, histrion TOMMY ATKINS,

           That is where you come to grief;

        Real soldiers hardly ever

           Deal in “humorous relief”.

        Though I've heard the gallery giggle

           When your funniments began,

        Yet, believe me, humour's foreign

           To the military man.

He's in the mess-room scene in Act the First

   When the villain tells the hero that he – knows!

When the latter bids the reptile do his worst

   He separates them ere they come to blows.

In the big court-martial scene in Act the Third

   He hangs about (left centre) and salutes,

        But one feels constrained to mention

        That, when standing to attention,

   A warrior rarely gazes at his boots.

        O-oh, histrion TOMMY ATKINS,

           You'd be splendid, I've no doubt,

        As a pantomime gazeka

           Or a “sudden noise without”;

        But you're rather like a waxwork

           Or a doll that's stuffed with bran;

        And this makes you unconvincing

           As a military man.

First published in Punch, October 17, 1906.


- l.u.e.: left upper entrance

  1. -Loamshires and Blanks: Loamshire Regiment is a placeholder name used by the British Army to provide examples for its procedures. For example, the Loamshire Regiment is provided by the British Forces Post Office to show how to write a British Army address, and is used to set out specimen charges for violations of military law. When writing to a Field or General Officer, not well known to an officer, he should start ‘Dear General Blank’. To a Subaltern or Captain he should start ‘Dear Blank’.

  1. -Pantomime Gazeka: The Gazeka, also known as Monckton's Gazeka or the Papuan Devil-Pig, is an obscure cryptid, a hypothetical or perhaps mythological animal, said to have been seen on Papua New Guinea in the early 20th century. It is said to resemble a tapir or giant sloth, having a long, proboscis-like snout, and some theories suggest it may be the descendant of an extinct marsupial. The Gazeka,
    a mythical beast, was the creation of the well-known English comic actor, George Graves (1876-1949), who introduced it as a bit of by-play in the musical, The Little Michus at Daly’s Theatre, London, in 1905. As a result, Graves’s little idea became a fad of the season and a competition was mounted to encourage artists to give sketches of what the beast might look like. Charles Folkard won the competition and the Gazeka suddenly appeared in the form of various items of novelty jewellery, charms, etc, and was taken up by Perrier, the sparkling water makers, for a series of advertisements. The Gazeka also featured in a special song and dance in the entertainment Akezag, at the London Hippodrome at Christmas, 1905.

The text on the reverse of the Perrier advertisement below reads:

The True History of the Gazeka.

By the Discoverer, George Graves.

(Described by him in Act II of The Little Michus at Daly's Theatre.)

It has been said that my little Gazeka is the outcome of a fevered brain – a late night at the Club – an over-heated imagination – even worse things have been said of him – poor little fellow. Nothing of the sort, my ‘Gazeka’ is the product of accident.

Nature has been so neglectful as to forget to clothe him in any way, except for a little patch of fur on his chest; the rest of his carcase is perfectly bald, but such a sweet-natured little fellow is he, that to prevent the little patch of expensive and rare fur on his chest being in any way ruffled before it reaches us he sleeps on his little back. But to show what a dirty trick nature has played, when the moon's rays shine on him (he being of a very light milky skin) the other animals mistake him for a turnip and nibble him. Shame!!! His breed is decimated, inasmuch that the young Gazekas – to be correct, the Gazikëtas – whilst very young, are pounced upon by the voracious slugs of the district, who attack the ankles of the young Gazeka, and he, being of a self-absorbed nature, doesn't discover until too late that the slugs have chewed through his equilibrium – consequently the next thing he knows is that he has lost his balance and is on his face in the suffocating mud. He generally remarks before dying, ‘I think that will do for to-day’ – and exits.

[signed] George Graves.”