Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ashley Sterne Punch Articles Part 2

Here are three more comic Punch articles by Ashley Sterne.  The article Arms and the Woman is notable for being Ashley Sterne's first mention of the German military after the Great War had begun on July 28, 1914.

Vol. 147 (Jul – Dec 1914)
On Active Service, p.156  [Aug 12, 1914]
A Candidate for the Force, p.199  [Sep 2, 1914]
Arms and the Woman, p.250  [Sep 16, 1914]



By Ashley Sterne


Every August Bank Holiday we have a short Mixed Open Tournament at our lawn-tennis club. It's quite a small, homely affair, but as our President, Sir Benjamin Boogles, always offers two valuable prizes (hall-marked), every member who can possibly enter does so. Each year hitherto the Tournament has been finished in the one day; but this year it is not finished yet—in fact, in one instance the first game of the first set is still undecided, and the winners in the other sets are anxiously awaiting the result in order that the second round may proceed before the end of the season. As I am one of the actors—I might almost say the protagonist—in this protracted drama, I will explain the position.

Wilbrooke, our crack player, who can easily give most of us forty and a bonus of five games in the set, and still beat us, recently became engaged to Pattie Blobson, who is a hopeless rabbit at the game, this being her first season. Not unnaturally she insisted on his entering the Tournament with her. I always enter with Joan, and though we are neither of us exactly rabbits it would be rather hard to find a zoological term that would fittingly describe our standard of play. Of course there is no handicapping in "Opens," and Joan and I usually reckon to be knocked out in the second round at latest, though we did once get into the third round owing to one of our opponents, a doctor, being summoned to a case in the middle of play.

Now this year we both thought our tennis would be over for the day after the first quarter of an hour, as we were drawn to play our first round against Wilbrooke and Pattie. However, I won the toss, and to that fact the subsequent impasse may be attributed. I elected to serve first, leaving Wilbrooke the choice of sides. The sun was not shining, so there was little in it from the point of view of light; but the east end of the court is just a trifle higher than the other, so he chose that.

I served first, and though I never peg them in to rabbits, I felt justified in sending down a medium-paced ball in my partner's interests. It pitched correctly, broke (unintentionally) and buried itself in Pattie's skirt.


I banged my first ball to Wilbrooke with all my might. It fell within the Club precincts, but that's the best I can urge for it. My second was an easy lob, which he smashed, and, in spite of my efforts to give it a clear path, it caught me in the small of the back.


My next serve to Pattie was a fault, which I followed up with an ordinary "donkey" drop, towards which she rushed in the impetuous fashion characteristic of the genuine rabbit, with the result that it bounced scathless over her head.


I then got a fast ball over to Wilbrooke, but returning it was child's play to him, and he drove it like lightning down the centre-line before I had time to call "Leave it to you, partner."


Again I served Pattie a fault. At the second attempt the ball performed Blondin tricks on the wire of the net, and for one of those "moments big as years" I feared we had lost the game, the service to Wilbrooke being a mere formality; but fortunately the ball fell the other side of the net, and my third delivery Pattie tipped to the wicket-keeper.


I now determined to send two—if necessary—fast ones to Wilbrooke on the chance that one might shoot and be unplayable. But my first ball went into the net, and the locale of the second can only be dimly surmised, for it went over the fence into the open country.


It was at this point that I began to realize that so long as I did not serve a double-fault to Pattie, Wilbrooke could never win the game, and when we had played nine more deuces I communicated the intelligence to Joan. Meanwhile, the other sets had all finished, and the players came up to see why we were still hard at it. At the twenty-fourth deuce the Tournament secretary remarked: "Last game, I suppose? Hurry up, we can't get on." I explained to him that this was only the first game of the set, and that similar prolongations were likely to recur when my partner served in the third game and I again in the fifth.

The news spread rapidly, and for a time we were the most unpopular quartet in the Club; but by the time we had reached our eighty-third deuce, and luncheon (the gift of Lady Boggles) was served, hunger and anger began to abate simultaneously, and the situation was discussed with humour to the exclusion of all other topics. At the end of the morning's play I was certainly feeling a trifle done up, but it says much for the recuperative properties of chicken galantine and junket that after the interval I felt quite invigorated and good for service ad infinitum. Efforts were made to induce us to toss for the set, but neither of us would consent to this, Wilbrooke maintaining that under normal conditions I could not possibly win the game, and I arguing that under existing conditions—with which I was more intimately concerned—I could not possibly lose it, and therefore to toss would be a mockery. Thus there was no alternative but to play on.

I suggested to Joan that as her presence on the court was not strictly essential she should join in a friendly set with some of the other unemployed. But she would not hear of it. She wanted to be in at the finish, if there was ever going to be a finish, she said; and so we continued.

When we were summoned to tea (kindly provided gratis by Miss Vera Boogles) we had amassed 265 deuces, and though my right arm ached and my service was a trifle wobbly I was still scoring the vantage point (and losing it at once) with the utmost regularity. But the temporary cessation of hostilities, associated with about half-a-pound of Swiss roll and three Chelsea buns, served to restore me, and after tea we went at it again until half-past seven, when, with the score at 394 deuces, the net got tired and collapsed, and we adjourned.

We have since met on every available evening in our endeavours to bring the game to a conclusion; but the score is still deuce, and at that it will probably remain unless one of the following contingencies arises:—

(1) Pattie may improve so much with the constant practice that she will be able to return my service; in which case it will settle the game, for wherever we put the ball Wilbrooke is bound to get hold of it and drive or smash it so that we can't return it.

(2) I may serve Pattie a double-fault. But I am now in splendid training; my right biceps is like a cricket-ball, and I feel that I could serve all day without tiring. Besides, the quality of my service is improving, which counteracts, in a measure, the possible improvement in Pattie's game.

(3) We may get a bright sunshiny evening, when the sun will be straight in Wilbrooke's eyes; in which case, with my improved service, I may possibly get a fast ball over which he will be unable to see.

Anyway, it is now certain that I belong to the Bulldog Breed.




By Ashley Sterne


"I want to enrol myself as a Special Constable," I said to the man in mufti behind the desk.

"Well, don't let me stop you," he remarked. "The Police Station is next door. This is a steam laundry."

A minute later I began again:—

"I want to enrol myself as a Steam Laund—that is to say, as a Special Constable."

"Certainly, Sir," said the Inspector in charge. "Your name and address?"

I opened my cigarette-case and placed a card on the desk.

"The name of the house is pronounced Song Soocee," I said, "not, as spelt, Sans Souci."

The Inspector handed me back the card. It was a cigarette-picture representing the proper method of bandaging a displaced knee-cap. I rectified the error, and he entered the information in a book.

"I must ask if you are a British subject?" he inquired.

"You might almost describe me as super-British," I replied. "There is a tradition in my family that my ancestors were on Hastings Pier when the Conqueror arrived."

"Thank you. That will be all."

"You don't want me to give references, one of which must be a clergyman or a J.P.? You don't require me to state previous experience, if any, or any details of that sort?"

"Oh, no," he answered. "That'll be all right. You are no doubt familiar with squad drill?"

"Splendid! I had no idea it was used in the Force."

"Eight turn—left turn—about turn—form fours—and so on?"

"I beg your pardon," I said, "but what did you call that?"

"Squad drill, Sir."

"O-o-h! I thought you said 'quadrille.' But I know the turns. Right turn, I turn to the right; left turn, I turn to the left; about turn, I turn just about, but not quite; form fours, I form—excuse me, but how does one man form fours?"

"There will, of course, be others," replied the Inspector. "You'll soon pick it up. And please state at what hours of the day you would be prepared to take duty."

"Well," I said, "I've practically nothing to do from the time I get up—half-past ten—until mid-day. I could also manage to spare half-an-hour between afternoon-tea and dinner. And I could just drop in here about eleven at night to see if things were going along all right. Now, if you'll kindly fetch me a bull's-eye lantern, a life-preserver, a bullet-proof tunic, some indiarubber boots, a revolver, and a letter of introduction to some of the most skilful cooks in the neighbourhood I can put in one crowded hour of joyous life before I'm due on the links."

"Just a moment," said the Inspector. "I don't want to discourage you, but kindly cast your eye over these paragraphs;" and he handed me a printed circular. "You will see that it will be necessary for you to perform four consecutive hours' duty."

"Good heavens," I exclaimed, "I don't think I shall be able to manage that. I'm in the middle of an important jig-saw; I'm expecting a new motor-car to arrive any minute; and I have a slight head-cold. However, if my country calls me, I will see what can be arranged."

I noticed the Inspector's look of admiration at my bull-dog resolution, so to hide my blushes I perused the circular.

"I see," I said, "that we are each supplied with 'one armlet.' What's an armlet?".

"A badge that goes round your arm."

"Of course! How stupid of me! Just like a bracelet goes round one's—no, that won't do. Just like a gimlet goes—no, that doesn't either. I can't think of a simile, but I quite understand. Then we have 'one whistle.' What's that for? To whistle on if I feel lonely?"

"To summon assistance if you should require it."

"I have an idea that my whistle will be overworked. Shall I be able to get a new one when the original's worn out?"

The Inspector thought there would be no difficulty in my getting rewhistled.

"'One truncheon,'" I continued. "That, of course, is to trunch with. One truncheon, though, seems rather niggardly. I should prefer two, one in each hand. 'One note-book'—is that for autographs and original contributions from my brother Specials?"

"For noting names and addresses and details of cases," explained the Inspector. "For instance, if, when on duty, you saw Jack Johnson committing a breach of the peace you would—"

"Blow my whistle hard—"

"Certainly not. You would take his name and address and note it down."

"And if he refused it I could then whistle for help?"

"No, you would at once arrest him."

"What's the earliest possible moment at which it would be etiquette to blow my whistle?"

"When he offered resistance. Then you could whistle."

"No, I couldn't," I said, "not unless my equipment included one pair of bellows. Do you mean to tell me that I should be expected to arrest a man of infinitely superior physique to my own with no other weapons than one armlet, one whistle, one truncheon and one note-book? Surely I should be allowed to run for the Mayor and get him to read the Riot Act? If not, I can only say a policeman's lot is—"

"Not a happy one?" put in the Inspector.

"I was going to say a policeman's lot is a lot too much. Would you kindly cross my name off your list?"

"I crossed it off some minutes ago," replied the Inspector.




By Ashley Sterne


I was working in the garden, tidying up after the weekly visit of the jobbing gardener, when Bolsover put his head over the hedge. "Heard about the Pottingers' governess?" he asked excitedly.

"The Pottingers' governess?" I repeated. "No; what about her? Has she given them notice?"

"Well, she's not exactly the Pottingers' governess," he replied, "but governess to some intimate friends of theirs named Ings living at Ponders End. Anyhow, I can absolutely vouch for the truth of the story."

"Get on," I said. "Don't keep me on tenterhooks. What's she done?"

"Why, the police have discovered that she's a German spy," said Bolsover mysteriously.

"'Angels and ministers of grace de—— '"

"Yes," he went on, "she had been with them three years, teaching the children 'Ich bin geworden sein,' and 'Hast du die Tochter des Löwen gesehen,' and all that. It appears that the police called at the house one night recently and insisted on searching her room and her trunks. Mr. Ings protested; said they'd made a mistake, pledged his word on her honour and integrity, but all with no avail. They searched and found—what do you think?"

"I'll buy it," I said; "Uncle Jasper's coming to lunch with me. What did they find?"

"It's no catch," protested Bolsover, "but the solid truth. They found in one of her trunks a German service-rifle and a quantity of ammunition."

"Never!" I exclaimed.

"Only once," retorted Bolsover. "She's now in a Concentration Camp near Hendon."

I thought no more about the matter until midway through lunch. We were waiting for the soufflé when—

"Have you heard that story about a German?" Uncle Jasper and I began simultaneously.

"After you, Uncle," I said dutifully. "What were you going to say?"

"I was about to ask you if you had heard the story of the Polworths' governess," he said.

"No," I answered. "Tell me. You refer to the Polworths of Croydon?"

"Exactly. Well, they—or rather some friends of theirs named Culverton, living at Purley—had a German governess who had been in the family for some years. A night or two ago the police—"

But I needn't repeat it. In all essentials it was Bolsover's story over again, the only differences being that they found three bombs and that the governess was incarcerated at Horsham.

In the afternoon I accompanied Uncle Jasper to the railway station. On my way home I met the Vicar, and we fell to discussing the war. Eventually the conversation got to espionage.

"That reminds me," said the Vicar, "of a very strange case in the household of one of my parishioners—or it would be more correct to say that what I am going to tell you occurred in the house of a friend of his at Canterbury. However, the bona fides of the facts is absolutely unimpeachable. It appears that—"

And here followed another version of the governess episode, identical in all respects with those of Bolsover and Uncle Jasper, save only that the police found a loaded revolver and a plan of Chatham Dockyard, and that the woman had been deported.

That same evening I dined at old Colonel Jevers', and when the ladies had withdrawn to the drawing-room our host began—

"Talking about the war reminds me of a most extraordinary spy story I heard to-day about a German governess."

All the men exchanged glances and smiled. The Colonel continued—"I can say at once that what I am going to tell you is authentic, for the events actually happened to the man who told me—I daresay some of you know Bickerton?—or rather to an old friend of his, which, under the circumstances, is practically the same thing. Well, this friend of Bickerton's, whose name was—"

"Ings, Mullens, Doddridge, Finlayson," we all, except young Pitts, murmured sotto voce.

" ... Potherby, lived at—"

"Ponders End, Woking, Cleckheaton, Norwich," we added in a similar manner.

" ... Maidstone, and for some time had had in his employ a German governess."

And so the tale went on until the Colonel got to the searching of the trunk. " ... and in it was found"....

"A service-rifle, three bombs, a loaded revolver, plans of fortifications," we supplied as before.

" ... incriminating letters showing clearly that for years the woman had been in communication with the German Secret Service Bureau," concluded our host.

Young Pitts left with me and walked to my house.

"I didn't hear any asides from you while the Colonel was repeating that hoary old yarn," I said as we reached the gate. "Hadn't you heard it before?"

"I heard it in the train this morning," Pitts answered.

"You don't believe it, surely?"

"Of course not. Amongst other reasons, because the man in whose house the events were supposed to have taken place happens, I know, to be a bachelor, and would not therefore require the services of a German governess."

"Who was the person referred to in the version you heard?" I asked.

"You," he replied.


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