This little story was Ashley Sterne's last Punch submission for many years. During 1915 his articles in London Opinion began appearing in syndication in a variety of Australian newspapers.
Punch, v149, p. 482
December 15, 1915
EVERY day since my papers had gone in I had had a good look at it, morning and evening. When I inclined my head sideways some of it really seemed quite long and bushy; but viewed full-face I must admit it looked somewhat scanty. Still, although its growth was slow it was undoubtedly sure. I occasionally — about 465 times a day — ran the tips of my fingers along it, and none of it rubbed off. I had even pulled it with tweezers, and it had not come out. I showed it to a few chosen friends, and after one had said that nitrate of silver was good for removing moles, and another had observed that all the best nigger-minstrels invariably blacked their ears, too, and I had ultimately explained what it was, they unanimously agreed that it could never be taken for anything but a moustache, though in the long-clothes stage. Hence I felt that by the time I was due to report myself for duty to my C.O. it would not disgrace me.
And now I was actually en route for my battalion head-quarters at Puddlecombe-on-the-Ooze. Before I had lunched at the railway-station restaurant I had taken a glance at myself in one of the many mirrors the establishment possessed. My moustache was still there, but looking a trifle wasted, I thought, and I began to wonder whether I had moulted any of it on the way without noticing it. However, after I had lunched (and I must own that I did myself exceptionally well) I took a final look in the glass, and to all appearances I was as well equipped as the hairiest Ainu. "I shall not be ashamed of that, at least," I said to myself as I settled down in a corner of the carriage for my three-hours' journey to Puddlecombe.
* * * * *
"What's that dirty mark on your lip?" roared the Colonel suddenly as I was in the middle of explaining to him who I was.
"That's what puzzles me," remarked the Adjutant before I could reply. "I asked him about it, and his answers were suspiciously — well, to say the least of it, suspicious." I started with surprise. I could swear that the only remark made to me by the Adjutant had been, "And how are they all at home?" However, I let that pass.
"It's intended to be a moustache, Sir," I began.
"I don't care what it's intended to be," snapped the Colonel. "The question is, is it or is it not what it is?"
"Yes, Sir, it isn't — that is to say, No, Sir, it is," I stammered, astounded beyond measure at the extraordinary importance the Army apparently attached to moustaches.
"Well, it's a precious poor one, whichever it is or is not, as the case may be. What 's your opinion? " he asked, turning to the Adjutant.
"Quite so," said the latter. "Indeed, one might say even more so."
"Just so," said the Colonel. "Now let's get to the bottom of this matter. Where did you get it from?"
"I grew it," I replied in astonishment. "All by myself," I added, as if pleading extenuating circumstances.
"His parents did not help him with it, I can vouch for that," observed the Adjutant pleasantly.
"What seed did you use? " asked the Colonel.
"The very best, I assure you, Sir," I answered in desperation, as I began dimly to wonder if there was some War Office fertilizer I ought to have used and through ignorance had omitted to do so.
The Colonel approached me with a magnifying-glass in his hand. "Why, it's skewbald!" he cried. "Some of it's brown, some of it's flaxen, and — bless my soul! — some of it's ginger. You grew it in a pot! Why on earth didn't you bed it out?"
I racked my brains for some reminiscence of the law governing the billeting of moustaches on private individuals.
"King's Regulations, page 993," muttered the Adjutant.
"I won't have him," raved the Colonel, resuming his seat." I won't have an officer that looks like a — By the by, what's the fellow's name?"
I was about to tell him who I was when the Adjutant said, "Charlie Chaplin."
"Excuse me, Sir," I put in hastily, "it's nothing of the sort. It's —
"Do you mean to insinuate," said the Colonel angrily, "that the Adjutant doesn't even know your name? I shall have you conducted to the padded mess-room, and the M.O. shall remove your moustache, hair by hair, and. . . wozzle 'em."
I hadn't the faintest idea what he meant, but it sounded dreadfully degrading. I thought of my mother and sisters, and how proud they were of me. If I had only had an aunt or a grandmother I feel almost sure I should have thought of her too.
"Wozzle them, Sir?" I could only repeat blankly, a horrible grinding sound coming from the direction of the Adjutant, who was busy at a cupboard in the corner of the room. He was obviously getting the wozzler ready.
"Wozzle 'em was what I said," shouted the Colonel.
"Wozzle 'em! WOZ-zleham Junction! Change here for Puddlecombe, Sir," said the Guard, putting his head in at the window.