In Herbert Jenkins’s jolly book, The Night Club (1917), a group of men agree to gather together regularly to tell each other stories (as so often in fiction of the time – did it ever happen in real life?)
The first meeting, however, ended in a fiasco. A fellow named Roger Blint had been called upon to tell a yarn, which proved him to be utterly devoid of narrative skill. It was something about a man who was jilted by a girl and, in consequence, went to the war, returning a few months later with his breast a rainbow of ribbons and his pockets jingling with medals, crosses and stars. We were all much depressed.
Jenkins, of course, was a publisher as well as an author, and I’m willing to bet that this paragraph was his way of signalling to prospective authors that he never wanted to be sent yet another version of this clunkingly obvious story of manliness triumphant. I bet it didn’t stop the manuscripts coming in, though. It was the story that everyone wanted to tell, because it was the story that people wanted to tell themselves – that the war would bring everything to a happy ending.
Jenkins’s inclusion of this very naff story in his book reminds me of ‘Frank Richards’ in the Magnet comic giving a message to all the eager lads sending him implausible war stories by having that prize oaf Billy Bunter (The Fat Owl of the Remove, in case you’d forgotten) write his own version. here’s how it begins:
Through Mud and Blood
The shades of night were falling fast, and the silence lay silently on the sleeping camp, while the German guns thundered and roared with a terrific din. Captain Fearless stood in his dugout in Flanders, watching for the vile foe. ‛Aha!’ he muttered, his eyes flashing, his lip curling scornfully, his nostrils dilating, his hands clenching and his breath coming thick and fast. ‛Aha! They come!’