Charley’s War

Forty or so years ago I used to read a comic called Battle. It was a proper comic on thin floppy paper. It came out once a week and there were half a dozen or so stories in it all about war. There were a number of other similar comics one of which was called Victor. But Battle was the best. The stories had more grit about them. Men died untidy deaths. There was an ongoing story about Johnny Red – a disgraced Spitfire pilot who found himself flying for the Russians; Blackie’ War  -about a lost sergeant who fought a particularly violent and bloody war in the jungles of the Far East, and Charley’s War, the ongoing story of a young private in the trenches of the First World War.

Over the last ten years the strips that made up Charley’s War have been republished in book form. A new edition has come out in October time and they have become a regular Christmas present. The stories were written by Pat Mills and drawn by Joe Colquoun and over the ten volumes build up in to a vivid history of the war. There are diversions into life in the navy and some of the experiences of the French Army, the mining that took place under the trenches (years before Songbird) and the near mutinies that took place in the British Army. A lot of the stories centre around the contrasting exeriences of the men and the officeresThere is no soft-soaping. Men, friends, die violent, horrible deaths. One story ends with Charlie have to collect the remains of his friend Ginger into a bag.

Driving home early from work on Friday I found myself listening to Radio 4 and an ongoing series on voices from The First World War. There were three r four men talking about their experiences fighting in the trenches. They must have been recorded more than fifty years ago but they sounded as fresh and as clear live on the radio and in their talk they brought back to mind stories in Charley’s War which must be a testament to how closely they got it right in the comic.

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