Tag Archives: World War II

Wendy at War [1976]

Wendy at War logo

Published: Debbie #186 (4 September 1976) – #198 (27 November 1976)

Episodes: 13

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: none known

Plot

In 1940, the Channel Islands become the only German-occupied British territory of World War II and the Germans put it under martial law. Wendy Lee’s father is away fighting. The Germans turn Wendy and her mother (and their cat Snuggles) out of their home because they want the place for their Army Staff Quarters. They send the Lees to a “more suitable” place – a rundown house that is almost a ruin. Appalled at such treatment, Wendy declares to her mother’s face that she is going to fight the Germans every which way she can until the Channel Islands are liberated from them.

Wendy at War 1

As the occupation takes its grip, life becomes harder for the villagers because of blockades and rationing, food, fuel and medical shortages, and repressive measures against any form of resistance. Among them is a total ban on outside photography except for the German armed forces – because they use the photographs for propagandistic purposes in Germany that they have conquered the whole of Britain instead of small British islands. Another is taking 60% of the fishing catches while having all island shipping vessels registered, numbered instead of named, and being painted in army camouflage.

The Germans suffer too, such as having to resort to horse-drawn power because of the fuel shortages. The Germans also have the islanders help them win the war, such as handing over spare rubber for their war effort. Some of the islanders comply willingly, much to Wendy’s disgust. Worse still are the informers and collaborators she encounters.

But Wendy has not forgotten her vow to fight the Germans. Her first case comes incidentally when she sets lobster pots in defiance of the German oppression with the aid of her father’s boat, Dancing Dolphin, which she has hidden from the measures imposed on fishing vessels described above. But it’s not lobsters she finds but a left-behind British Commando. They almost get caught because of an informer, who is also responsible for the arrest of a farmer who tried to help the Commando as well. Wendy manages to get the Commando away before the German forces arrest them too.

Next Wendy acquires some tissue paper to make sketches of the occupation to help the Allies, and then send them off in bottles in the hope someone on the mainland will find them. She starts with sketches of slave labourers who have been captured from other occupied territories and being forced to build shore defences. She gets discovered by a German soldier, Helmut Silbernagel. However, Helmut is a friendly German who does not agree with Nazism or the treatment the labourers are receiving. Wendy is surprised to learn from Helmut’s example that some Germans are good, and she continues her secret sketches with his connivance. Helmut is able to help Wendy even more when he is billeted at her house.

Wendy at War 3

A friend of Wendy’s, Henry Green, is arrested and deported to a labour camp for composing an anti-German dance tune, The Victory Waltz. Wendy wants to save him and turns to Helmut for help, but there is nothing either can do for Henry. All Wendy can do is watch Henry put up a brave show as he is taken aboard, along with several other people being deported for even the slightest act of resistance.

Later, Wendy steals the opportunity to do some sabotage against the slave labour, but the Germans go after the saboteur. Henry’s brother Ben helps her, but then Wendy goes into hiding because she thinks Ben is going to betray her. She camps out at an old market garden with the help of her mother, Helmut, and a poacher named Bill Parton. Mind you, Parton charges fees for his services in aiding people. It is also revealed Parton is aiding German soldiers who have deserted and gone into hiding because their superiors’ rules are too harsh.

Eventually Ben convinces Wendy that she got things wrong and he did not betray her. In fact, the Germans take advantage of his newspaper reporting to report their amazing progress in building sea defences. Moreover, Ben also received a letter from Henry saying that if he wants help in speeding up the defeat of the Germans, turn to “W.L.” for help. Henry can be referring to only one person.

Wendy at War 5

It’s not until several months later that Ben does turn to Wendy for help. Two Frenchmen trying to escape occupied France got shipwrecked on the islands. They need a boat, but the Germans have them all under close guard. Wendy points Ben in the direction of Dancing Dolphin. As one of the Frenchmen can’t row because of an injury, Ben has to do it. He will take the men back to France because he does not think Dancing Dolphin can make it to Britain, and the men will try again. It will turn out to be a one-way trip for Ben and Dancing Dolphin, because Ben stays on in France.

To help Ben and the Frenchmen get away without interference from German troops, Wendy starts a huge bonfire as a diversion. It backfires when she gets trapped in it, and then the Germans discover her while they are fighting the blaze. Wendy tries a cover story that she was trying to rescue a cat, but they Germans are not convinced. They lock her in the cells. Eventually they let Wendy go after receiving her character references, but warn her that they will be keeping a close eye on her.

Wendy’s secret resistance is under threat, and more so when Helmut is sent to the Russian Front. The German they billet now, one Sergeant Sturm, is your typical bully Nazi hulk, and Wendy suspects he has been planted to keep an eye on her. Then Helmut suddenly returns, and when he sees Sturm’s bullying he sends him packing – at gunpoint. However, this and another act of rebellion against the German military (disillusionment from the horrors Helmut had seen at the Russian Front) get Helmut arrested. Sturm goes back to billeting with the Lees.

Wendy at War 4

Helmut had dropped hints that the Germans are losing. The hints turn into open news bulletins. Street celebrations erupt at the news that Hitler is dead, and Sturm is floored at this because the source for this news is reliable. Reports of more Allied victories come, and Mum and her Red Cross workers use it to persuade the German authorities not to execute Helmut, lest the Allies hear of it when they come. When liberation comes in May 1945, the German forces surrender to the returning Allied troops. And Dad is among the returning soldiers.

Over thirty years later, an adult Wendy wraps things up for us. The Channel Islands recovered from the occupation, though it took a while. Helmut was not executed, but he did have a spell in a British POW camp. He now runs a successful vineyard in the Rhineland and still keeps in touch with Wendy. Ben Green became a reporter for a French newspaper and married a “glamorous Parissienne”. Henry Green returned, married Wendy in 1952 (awww) and still plays The Victory Waltz.

Thoughts

This story is an overlooked gem from Debbie that is now receiving attention through forums on girls’ comics and becoming highly regarded. It certainly deserves to be. It is an impressively strong story, very well written, thought provoking, and shows so much realism in its portrayal of the Channel Islands occupation. Either the writer did a lot of research to make this story as realistic as possible or they had some personal connection to the Channel Islands, perhaps even growing up there during the occupation years.

Wendy at War 6

It is one serial that features one aspect of World War II that does not get much attention in girls’ comics: the occupation of the Channel Islands and reminding us that the Nazis did occupy some British territory, even if they never succeeded in conquering Britain itself. Seeing British people being oppressed by Nazis is even more disturbing than stories that use settings of occupied continental countries. It is a microcosm of what Britain could have become had Hitler succeeded in invading it. There may be more serials that feature the occupation of the Channel Islands, but currently this is the only one mentioned on the Internet.

There have been plenty of serials about girls conducting one-girl wars against the Nazis. But unlike Catch the Cat or The White Mouse, Wendy does not adopt a costumed identity to become a symbol of resistance and a constant bane to the town Commandant. Nor is she part of any resistance organisation. She is just an ordinary girl who uses determination, quick wits, and whatever resources she has to hand to fight the Germans any way she can. Unlike The Cat or the White Mouse, who invariably win with whatever they do, Wendy does not always succeed. For example, she wants to help free Henry Green, but finds that there are some things that are beyond her power, or even that of the friendly German soldier. And so Wendy’s resistance is more realistic and believable than that of The Cat, because it is more like how it would have been with real-life resisters against Nazi occupation.

The story takes time out to explore the impacts of the occupation on people and how it is bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. We see people who comply with the Germans for one reason or other. For example, Wendy encounters boys who give the soldiers rubber for the war effort because their father says the sooner the war is over the better, no matter which side wins. Next panel Wendy looks on in horror at the slave labour on the beach and marvels at how anyone can think “no matter which side wins”. There are downright traitors and collaborators, who are epitomised in the informer who betrays Wendy and the Commando to the Germans and gets a farmer arrested. Some people are turning the war to their own advantage, such as Mr Begley who takes advantage of the shoe shortage to charge exorbitant prices for resoling. And while there are people who resist the Germans, not all of them are doing it gratis as Wendy does. Bill Parton charges fees for his services in helping people. But as he is also a poacher, his principles may not be the highest to begin with.

Wendy at War 2

Having Wendy being aided and abetted by a friendly German soldier is quite a surprise and twist. It reminds us that not all Germans were bad. There were Germans who did not approve of Hitler or Nazism, and some even formed resistance groups such as The White Rose. Good German soldiers (always in the Army, never in the SS or Gestapo) appeared quite regularly in the Commando war libraries, but they did not feature so much in girls’ serials. Helmut’s disapproval stems from him not forgetting his humanity and is horrified by the sight of slave labourers being treated so cruelty by bullying German soldiers. Later it is compounded by the horrors of war. We also see glimpses of other German soldiers who have become disillusioned by the oppression of Nazism and harsh superiors and have deserted and now live in hiding, depending on covert resisters like Wendy for survival. Perhaps the soldiers became resisters themselves. A stark contrast to the more stereotyped bully German soldiers like Sergeant Sturm who conduct the typical Nazi oppression, not only on their prisoners but also the locals of the islands they have invaded.

The Black Nightingale [1973]

Plot

In Nazi-occupied Rotterdam in 1941, former ice-skating champion Linda Konig works in a German-occupied hospital during the day. But by night she is a resistance fighter against the Nazis known as “The Black Nightingale”, and she uses her ice-skating skills for fast navigation of the frozen Rotterdam canals to help the Dutch.

Black Nightingale

Notes

Appeared

  • The Black Nightingale Diana #526 (17 March 1973) – #540 (23 June 1973)

 

Catch the Cat! [1980]

Published: #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)

Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and “Phoenix” for scans

Plot (long)

In Nazi-occupied France in World War II, Marie Bonnet is despised by her classmates, particularly her ex-friends Josee and Burnetta, for being friendly with the enemy. They do not realise it is part of Marie’s cover for her secret double life as the town’s resident Resistance fighter, a costumed heroine (or hero, as they always think) known as “The Cat”. The origin of “The Cat” can be found here at a discussion of her original 1975-1976 story. This story is the first sequel, and a second followed in 1986.

The story opens with an act of defiance that hearkens back to The Cat’s debut, where she switches the swastika flag with the French flag on the tallest building in town. Now, at German headquarters, The Cat switches the swastika flag with a flag that bears her signature – and tricks the Nazis into unfurling it – and daubs a message on the wall: “France Will Be Free”. The townsfolk laugh with glee while the Commandant fumes. However, he has no inkling that he is going to be spared The Cat for a while.

catch-the-cat-1980-a

It all starts when Henri, another Resistance fighter, leaves out the signal for The Cat to call. He tells her to warn Raphael Slane that the Nazis are going to raid his artshop, as Slane must escape with all twelve of his paintings. (Considering that Slane is a scientist as well as an artist, one suspects there is more to the paintings than meets the eye.) Unfortunately The Cat arrives too late to warn Slane; he and his paintings are captured and sent to Berlin. At a Resistance meeting, it is revealed that (sure enough) there are technical drawings on the backs of the paintings. Together they make up a blueprint for a German secret weapon, a flying bomb. The Resisters are trying to get the blueprint to the Allies. The Nazis are not aware of the secret, but the paintings are to be distributed among high-ranking Nazi officials. It’s up to The Cat to track down the paintings one by one and bring back the segments for the blueprint. Fortunately it’s school holidays for Marie, so she can devote the time to her quest in Germany while telling her parents she’s staying with her aunt.

The Cat’s adventures in retrieving the paintings are as follows:

Painting One

A General Vandienst of Berlin has acquired it. The Cat has to break into his house to retrieve the painting, and it’s not easy as the house is heavily guarded. The Cat manages to get the painting, but runs into trouble when a bombing raid sets the house on fire, and Vandienst has discovered the theft and raised the alarm. Both exits are blocked, so she heads for the roof. Unfortunately the Germans see her climb and realise she is The Cat. Now they have the building surrounded and The Cat is trapped on the roof, which is heating up fast from fire. She manages to find a bridge to the next building but is spotted by a guard. Fortunately he neglects to keep an eye on her while getting reinforcements, so she hides under the bridge. She then slips into the building and changes back to Marie so she can just walk past the guards.

Painting Two

Baron Willie Von Kutch has acquired it and he lives in Blurst, Bavaria. Marie gets a bicycle to travel there (cycling all the way from Berlin to Bavaria?). When she arrives, she is dismayed to encounter another heavily guarded fortress. Nonetheless, she succeeds in breaking in. On the way she helps herself to a piece of cake as she’s hungry. Oops – the cake was meant for an honoured guest! At least the theft only arouses embarrassment, not suspicion. The Cat locates the picture and (unwisely, as it turns out) leaves her signature after she steals it. Then she discovers the painting had been tripped with an alarm, which now goes off and the guards are alerted. A German cuts the rope The Cat is using to make her escape, which sends her diving into the river. Changing back into Marie, she manages to cycle away – though she ends up doing some dangerous cycling to get away from a roadblock – and then jump a train to the next person on the list.

catch-the-cat-1980-b

Painting Three

It has been acquired by Admiral Dantz, who lives on a huge battleship in Kiel harbour. Again The Cat has to dodge some stiff patrols at the harbour. The Cat is spotted as she gets aboard and the alarm is raised. Despite this she manages to steal the painting and again leaves her signature (is that wise?). On the getaway she is spotted again and it’s another chase from trigger-happy German guards. Afterwards Marie posts the first three paintings to Henri, who receives them safely.

Unfortunately Marie does not realise the Nazis have now caught on to the common denominator of The Cat stealing Raphael Slane paintings and leaving her signature at each theft. The Gestapo now realise The Cat is after the Raphael Slane paintings and assign a Colonel Ratzt and his aide Herman to the case. Fortunately Ratzt does not check out the paintings more closely for clues as to why The Cat is targeting them, so at least the secret is still safe. Instead, he goes for setting traps around the remaining paintings to catch The Cat.

catch-the-cat-1980-c

Paintings Four and Five

Both have been acquired by a Judge Hessler, who lives in Bonn. The Cat breaks in while Hessler is out horse riding. The Cat manages to uplift the paintings and leave her signature. Unfortunately she does not realise Ratzt and Herman are calling on everyone who owns a Raphael Slane painting – and they have just arrived at Hessler’s. Ratzt discovers the theft and orders reinforcements to surround the place. After a chase in which Hessler joins in, The Cat eventually escapes by hiding in the boot of Ratzt’s car.

Painting Six

Ratzt now heads for Brokenheim, where Mayor Krinter has one of the paintings. Ratzt plans to set a trap there for The Cat, but he does not know The Cat is listening in from inside the car boot. In Brokenheim The Cat sneaks out of the boot. A woman sees this, but mistakes The Cat for an animal Ratzt locked in the boot and tells him off. (Wow, she must be one gutsy lady as it is extremely dangerous to criticise a Gestapo officer!) Now Ratzt knows how The Cat evaded him at Hessler’s and rouses the authorities in town for a man, er, Cat hunt.

catch-the-cat-1980-f

Worse, Ratzt has Krinter’s house completely surrounded, which will not make it easy for The Cat to steal the painting. Ratzt demands to know where the painting is, and does not believe Krinter when he says it is not at his house. The Cat overhears and realises Krinter means it is at the town hall. She makes her way there, steals the painting and leaves her signature, but knows Ratzt won’t be far behind. So at a department store she changes into some ordinary clothes from a rack and takes a new bag for holding the painting. Then some of the staff arrive, which forces her to hide. When she tries to slip away they spot her and think she is a shoplifter, so she has to push a trolley at them and then slide down an escalator to get away from them. She has the advantage of everyone assuming The Cat is a man, but the security Ratzt has roused is too tight. So it’s back to the suction pads to get out of the department store.

Painting Seven

Painting seven is not far away, and it is in the ownership of Major Staffle of the SS at the Kruse army barracks. However, Major Staffle – along with everyone else who still has a Raphael Slane painting – has received warning from Ratzt about The Cat. Staffle takes his warning seriously: 20 men guarding his barracks around the clock, two guards staying in his quarters, nobody is to leave or enter his room, and anyone who tries is to be shot.

The Cat breaks into the army barracks using a trapeze trick. She manages to get past Staffle’s security, take the painting and leave her signature, but the guards are battering at the door she locked. They burst in, but see no sign of The Cat; she misdirected them into looking the wrong way while slipping out behind their backs. Several more tricks from The Cat cause one very trigger-happy, jumping-the-gun goon to shoot up a lot of Major Staffle’s property! When Staffle sees the damage the goon has done he orders him to be locked up. However, The Cat is still stuck on the roof and there are guards swarming all around.

The Cat manages to hide in a storage sack that is being bundled aboard a truck. However, she gets a horrible shock when a goon starts bayoneting all the sacks in the truck! She narrowly escapes being skewered, but when she gets off the truck later she has a nasty cut on her hand. Luckily, she is picked up by a French girl named Eve, who is being forced to work on a German farm. Eve treats The Cat’s injury and provides her with new clothes. These are male clothes as Eve assumes The Cat is male like everyone else, even though she does see The Cat’s face.

catch-the-cat-1980-g

The latest consignment of paintings is soon dispatched to Henri. However, he has discovered something that he can’t warn The Cat about – Ratzt has ordered the last four Raphael Slane paintings to be secured in the vault of a Berlin bank.

Writing/editing error: there are twelve paintings and The Cat has stolen seven, so there should be five paintings remaining, not four.

The Last Four (Should be Five) Paintings

The Cat discovers the transfer to the Berlin bank vault when she tries to steal one of the paintings from one Field Marshall Von Borrel. So it’s back to Berlin where she started. The Cat is no stranger to breaking into banks, but after sussing out the security she decides it is too strong for her Cat tricks. So she goes in posing as a civilian and manages to slip into the vault, where she uplifts the paintings. When she gets locked in the vault she starts a fire to bring the fire brigade to open it. While they do so, she slips out under cover of the smoke.

catch-the-cat-1980-i

The Cat has already changed into her costume and now proceeds to climb up the wall outside. Ratzt spots her and uses a fireman’s ladder to chase her. He catches up and holds her at gunpoint. To save herself, The Cat throws one of the paintings at Ratzt, which causes him to lose his footing on the ladder. What happens to him because of this is not recorded.

Afterwards

The whole of Berlin is now looking for The Cat. She changes back into Marie, knowing the guards will not be looking for a girl because they always assume The Cat is a man. As her task is done anyway, she now heads back to France on the train. At Henri’s, The Cat brings the final paintings she has and explains how she lost one. The Resistance assemble the pieces they have and keep their fingers crossed the loss is not serious. Fortunately it isn’t as the lost painting was a corner piece, and what they have provides all the essentials.

catch-the-cat-1980-i

School holidays are now over, so it’s back to business as usual for Marie Bonnet aka The Cat. The final panel leaves Marie feeling so sad at the usual taunts from Josee and Burnetta, and she can only take solace in the thought that one day they will understand why she is so ‘friendly’ to the enemy.

Thoughts

The story structure deviates from the first Cat story, in which The Cat stumbled into or created assorted escapades and attacks on the Nazis. It was also a story where The Cat was new and becoming established in the field of resistance work. This sequel, however, resembles the story structure followed in the Bunty PSL The Cat on the Trail of the Flying Bomb: it opens with The Cat committing an individual act of rebellion that is specifically aimed at annoying the Commandant, but the rest of the story is devoted to helping the Resistance in a mission against the Nazis. Strangely, both the PSL and this sequel both have The Cat and the Resistance trying to foil the development of a German flying bomb. Is it coincidence or the same writer?

catch-the-cat-1980-e

Making the sequel a mission story gives it a specific focus and more structure. Instead of The Cat going off on all sorts of escapades, attacks and narrow escapes with the Nazis, she has just one task: track down and retrieve the paintings before the Nazis discover their secret. Making her mission even more dangerous and exciting is that she’s plunged straight into the heart of enemy territory – Nazi Germany itself. She has to depend on her wits, gymnastics skills and suction pads even more than before because there is nobody to help her. There are no French sympathisers or Resistance fighters available, except one she stumbles across. Everyone has to be regarded as a real or potential enemy this time. The Cat is completely on her own for this one.

The unfamiliar territory also makes The Cat’s M.O. even harder than usual. For example, The Cat finds it harder to get out of the window of the room she renting than her bedroom window. The Berlin houses are further apart than the ones in her hometown, so she can’t just leap from building as she could back home.

On the other hand, the change of scene is quite refreshing and makes a change from all the familiar scenes of Marie’s hometown. It must be good for Marie to have a break from the bullying of her classmates too. Still, it does look a bit difficult writing to her parents regularly as they asked her to. Even if she squeezed in some letters, how will she be able to explain the German postmarks – her aunt took her on a tour of Germany or something?

catch-the-cat-1980-d

As the mission gets underway, The Cat does not seem to realise that the mission she’s on requires extreme stealth and discretion – which means no blatant evidence like leaving her signature. It’s fine when she commits acts of rebellion against the Nazis, but this is a mission where she must de-emphasise who is doing the work as much as possible. Otherwise there will be patterns that would eventually have the Nazis figure out what’s going on. The Cat must take the blame for the difficulties Ratzt creates for her in the story by tipping the Nazis off to what’s going on by leaving her signature at each theft all the time. The Cat should thank her lucky stars Ratzt did not think to investigate why she was stealing the paintings. If he had, he would certainly have discovered the blueprints.

catch-the-cat-1980-h

Colonel Ratzt is a more interesting villain than the colourless, flat Commandant of Marie’s hometown. For one thing, he has a given name while the Commandant is just “The Commandant”. Second, he is Gestapo, which would arouse far more repugnance than the Commandant would. So readers would be really rooting for this Nazi’s downfall and cheer Marie far more lustily. Third, there is always something endearing about a guy who wears glasses, particular in the hands of an artist like Hugh Thornton-Jones. And when it’s combined with a character that is both a Nazi and Gestapo, it really raises a smile. Fourth is Ratzt actually catching up to The Cat and pulling a gun on her – something the Commandant has not had much luck in doing. The Cat can only escape by making a sacrifice – one of the paintings – which could unseat the whole point of her entire mission. It is a brilliant piece of storytelling that delivers far more punch and dramatic tension than if The Cat had succeeded in bringing all the paintings to Henri. And fifth is the disturbing final panel of Ratzt. He has lost his footing on the ladder and yelling and screaming in panic – but Bunty leaves the final fate of Ratzt up to the readers’ imagination. Did he go kersplat on the pavement, in which case The Cat is responsible for a man’s death? It is an unsettling thought with which to leave readers pondering on.

Lucky Charm #25: Catch the Cat! [1976]

catch-the-cat-cover

Lucky Charm: #25

Reprinted from Bunty serial: Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)

Artists: Hugh Thornton-Jones (cover); Unknown (story)

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for making this entry possible with photocopies

catch-the-cat-logo

Plot (long)

In World War II, the Nazis have just defeated France. Marie Bonnet’s father is mayor of a small French town. Marie’s friends Josee and Burnetta believe the town should do something to resist the Nazis and expect Marie’s mayor father to do something in that regard. However, he believes the Nazis are too strong for that, and submission and obeisance are the only answer if people know what’s good for them. Mum agrees while Marie secretly wants to fight the Nazis, but she has no idea how to go about it.

A scientist friend comes to say goodbye as he has to flee from the Nazis because of his occupation. His daughter Jacqueline leaves Marie a box of her childhood things for safekeeping. Its contents include a prize-winning fancy-dress cat costume and, surprisingly, suction pads. It does not take long for Marie to become really adept with the suction pads.

The Nazis arrive and replace the French flag with the swastika flag on the highest building in town. Dad and Marie greet the new Commandant with a tremendous show of obeisance and servility – much to the disgust of Josee and Burnetta. From then on they call Marie a traitor and are her worst enemies out of all the girls who soon ostracise her at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not realise that Marie has now cemented her plan to resist the Nazis, and those suction pads, cat costume and show of servility are just the thing for it.

catch-the-cat-3-jpg

Next day, the Nazis discover that someone has restored the French flag to the flagpole. The only clue is a card the culprit left behind, which is of a black cat. The Commandant realises there is a new resistance fighter on the block who calls himself “The Cat”. Apart from the gender, the Commandant is absolutely right. Marie’s career as The Cat has been born. And although The Cat’s debut deed of defiance can only last until the Commandant puts the swastika flag back, it has caught the attention of the entire town.

The Cat soon shines as the beacon of hope, pride and fighting spirit of the townsfolk against the Nazis. Marie’s show of servility and friendliness to the Nazis, endorsed by her father, is now the perfect cover for throwing off suspicion and to worm information out of the Nazis. But there is a high price to pay for it – Marie becomes shunned and friendless at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not listen to Marie’s excuses that it is foolish to defy the Nazis and they call her a coward while they try to be defiant. Marie can only take solace at the thought that one day the girls will know the truth about her. For now, though, nobody must know for their own protection.

The Nazis lose no time in printing “Wanted” posters of The Cat (how odd that they include a pretty accurate picture when they do not even know what The Cat looks like at this stage) – and ironically give Marie the job of putting them up! But what’s really despicable and so typical of Nazis is that they take a hostage to force The Cat to surrender; the hostage will be executed if The Cat does not surrender by a certain deadline. The Cat rescues the hostage en route to execution and leaves another calling card.

From then on it is a long, extraordinary career of single-handed resistance work in rescuing Allied soldiers and other prisoners, sabotage, foiling Nazi plots to capture her, recovering items the Nazis have stolen, stealing Nazi top secrets, Robin Hood-style thefts of stealing from the Nazis and giving to the townsfolk, constantly dodging bullets, and all with nothing more than a costume, suction pads, incredible gymnastics skills and amazingly sharp wits that always seem to get her out of every scrape. Where possible, The Cat always leaves her calling card so the Commandant knows who to blame. In the first story it is cards with a cat or cat’s paw, sometimes carrying the words “Vive La France!”. In subsequent stories the signature will change to a scrawl of a cat’s face, sometimes accompanied by “Vive La France!” on whatever surface is to hand. This is probably because it is easier to leave a scrawl than print a business card.

catch-the-cat-5a

The subsequent escapades of The Cat in the Lucky Charm volume are listed below. (Note that I do not have the original run available for comparison, so there is currently no way to determine if the reprint edited or deleted anything in order to fit into the issue.)

1: The Nazis are forcing the local men to build a factory in the woods, and the location is too deep for Allied bombers to penetrate effectively. The Cat helps the Allies destroy the factory by bringing in some flares stolen from the Nazis’ ammunition stores. She uses them to lighten things up on the tallest tower in the complex so the Allied can see where to hit.

2: Marie has to hide a downed Allied airman and then steals a German truck to drive him to the coast (isn’t she a bit young to be able to drive?) where the Resistance can take him to safety. This causes an awkward moment afterwards when Marie has to explain to the Commandant as to how she came into be in possession of a stolen German truck. The Commandant swallows her cover story (she was bringing back a stolen German truck). But his new aide, Colonel Krantz, is suspicious of her, and Marie realises it when she sees Krantz keeping a close watch on her.

2: The Nazis are forcing the townsfolk to pay exorbitant taxes they cannot afford. The Cat breaks into the bank to get the tax money back for the people and offsets it against the market produce so it can be given away free. She then eliminates the Krantz threat by framing him for the bank robbery. Krantz is arrested while the Commandant cannot understand why the townsfolk are looking so happy.

3: A supply train is due to arrive and the Commandant is press-ganging all the people in town to unload it (except Marie, who is excused to work in his office). The Cat hijacks the train before it arrives (she can drive a train too?) and wrecks it. The Gestapo are called, and they send in a Herr Kranzten (later called Herr Kranz), who immediately seizes on a fatal flaw in The Cat’s costume – it does not cover the hands. So The Cat would have left fingerprints all over the controls. Kranzten then starts fingerprinting everyone in town and makes no exception for Marie. The Cat breaks into the office later and destroys all the fingerprint files taken – and also manages to dump a truckload of sand all over Krantzen while she’s at it!

catch-the-cat-4a

Realising The Cat must be a young person, Krantzen has everyone aged 14–30 rounded up, and Marie is among them. They will be fingerprinted again, and the Nazis will take another set of The Cat’s fingerprints from the train to compare with. Marie uses her servility to the Commandant to wangle a release and then heads back to the train to destroy the evidence. Marie decides The Cat will wear gloves from now on – but never does add gloves to her costume. So she continues to leave fingerprints around, which the Nazis never seem to follow up on again.

Krantzen tries another tactic. Recalling The Cat’s recent mission to get a British airman to safety, he rigs up a Gestapo agent, von Gelber, as a phony downed British airman to lead The Cat into a trap. The Cat finds it odd that the airman said he was from a bombing crew while a friendly bargeman, Antoine, says there have been no Allied bombing raids for weeks. However, The Cat unwisely thinks she misunderstood the airman and does not really follow her instincts that something is wrong. So she nearly falls into the trap when Von Gelber pulls a gun on her, but she manages to overpower him and sends them both toppling into the river (a soldier who can’t swim?). She brings him to Antoine for safekeeping. She then leaves a letter for the Commandant that Von Gelber will be returned in exchange for the town having double rations. Both sides of the bargain are met, but The Cat has a hard time getting away after returning Von Gelber (in a rather undignified and terrifying manner) when she slips on the roof tiles and nearly falls to her death.

Krantzen now takes his leave, but before he does he takes the paintings the town is famous for. However, with the help of a loyal Frenchman The Cat intercepts the truck and the paintings are secretly returned to the townsfolk, who hide them until after the war. When the Nazis discover The Cat has foiled their art plundering, Krantzen is stripped of all rank, reduced to Private, and wishes he had never heard of The Cat.

catch-the-cat-4a

5: The Cat is returning home after sabotaging a Nazi supply store by leaving a hose to run and flood the place. She sees a man making queries with Josee and Burnetta about The Cat. They tell him to shove off in case he is a spy, but Marie decides to check it out in case the man is genuine. It looks like word about The Cat has reached British intelligence, because Josee and Burnetta tell Marie that the man has a message for The Cat: London will broadcast a secret message for The Cat at 5 o’clock that evening (funny how they despise Marie as a traitor yet they give her top secret information!). The message is coded, but Marie understands enough to realise she must meet “The Bulldog” – who is the man, of course. The Cat arranges a rendezvous, but when she gets there, she sees the Nazis capture The Bulldog, who also shoot him in the arm. The Cat manages to rescue The Bulldog and they escape on a motorcycle (so The Cat can ride a motorcycle too!).

Unfortunately the Nazis took The Bulldog’s plans of a local Resistance group – and all the names of the resisters are on it! The Bulldog goes to the resisters get his arm seen to while The Cat goes to get the papers back. She succeeds and flees on a horse, but the Nazis telephone for reinforcements. By the time The Cat catches up with The Bulldog, she, The Bulldog and the Resistance group are in danger from enclosing Nazis. The Resistance group do not trust The Cat and The Bulldog can’t vouch for her as he is unconscious. The resisters almost unmask The Cat when the Nazis open fire. This sends the resisters scattering into the woods. The Nazis try to flush them out by setting fire to the wood, but they get away by river barge. En route, The Bulldog regains consciousness and tells The Cat to stockpile as many weapons as she can for the upcoming Allied invasion of France (which indicates about four years have passed since Marie’s career began). The Cat then takes her leave of the resisters and dives into the river.

When The Cat finds a place to strip off her wet cat suit, she hides the cat suit in a bag and piles firewood on top of it. This will lead straight to her next adventure, which starts on the way home.

catch-the-cat-1a

6: The Nazis are on high alert following The Cat’s latest adventure with the resisters and they are stopping and checking everyone. When they stop Marie, they confiscate the bag with the firewood put it in an army truck. Marie will be in dead trouble once the Nazis search the bag properly and discover her cat costume. She jumps into the truck, but there is a guard inside who pulls a gun on her. When the truck goes over a bump in the road it gives Marie the chance to jump out, but the Nazis still have the sack and take it to their barracks. Marie manages to break into the barracks and get her costume back, but deems it the narrowest escape The Cat has ever had.

Unfortunately Marie soon discovers it is not the end of the story. At school the Nazis order an identity parade of the girls to pick out the one who broke into the guardhouse. The Nazis misidentify a girl named Yvonne as the culprit and she is arrested for deportation to Germany. The Cat has to rescue Yvonne and, knowing Yvonne cannot return to her parents, get her to her grandmother. The Cat snoops in on the Commandant to get more information on Yvonne’s deportation. She overhears what she needs to know, but then finds there are new searchlights waiting for her and guards are surrounding the place. She has to take a very high dive into a swimming pool to avoid being caught. That narrow escape has The Cat realise the Commandant is getting smarter and she must be more careful with him.

In her civilian identity, The Cat slips aboard the train Yvonne is on. They fake Yvonne jumping off the train to draw the guards out, then The Cat disguises Yvonne and puts her on another carriage, telling her to get off at Lavere station where someone will be waiting for her. Yvonne is surprised to find that person is Marie, and Marie claims to know The Cat when everyone thinks she is a collaborator. Marie ‘fetches’ The Cat to smuggle Yvonne to a sympathiser who will take her to her grandmother’s. When The Cat gets back, she has another narrow escape when the railwayman finds her hidden shopping basket and then her. Being Italian, he is only too happy to turn her over. She manages to escape while the railwayman is distracted by a German guard and jumps a train that is going in the direction she wants. On the way home she discovers the train is carrying food parcels for the German garrison. She loosens the retaining pins so the parcels will tumble out for the French to retrieve, and they are most grateful to The Cat.

catch-the-cat-6a

7: From this latest escapade, the Nazis know The Cat has lost a shopping basket, so they put out the alert for anyone who tries to buy one. They soon hear that only one such purchase has been made – by the Bonnets. The Commandant orders a search of the Bonnet house despite their apparent collaboration as he believes nothing is too impossible for the French. When they arrive, Marie has to hide her Cat disguise, and it goes up in the loft. Unfortunately the Nazis begin to search that too! Marie pulls the rug out from under them and then directs them to a ladder downstairs. Foolishly, they both go downstairs, leaving Marie unguarded. She now shifts the costume to her bedroom as the Nazis have already searched there. The Nazis turn up empty and decide it was a false alarm. Boy, oh boy – that was the closest the Commandant has come yet to unmasking The Cat. He later apologises to Marie for the search and gives her chocolate to make amends. What a hoot!

8: That same evening, a friend named Madame Foulard is worried because her daughter Carrie is ill. She needs medicine, but the Nazis won’t release any from their stores. So it’s another mission for The Cat. She breaks into the town hospital, which is under German guard. She grabs as many medicines as she can as she does not know which one is the right one. During the getaway she cuts her hand on a grate, and the Nazis discover this when they see the blood left behind. The alert goes out to bring in anyone with a bandaged hand. The doctor picks out the correct medicine and Carrie is soon on the road to recovery. The doctor also treats The Cat’s hand. But the doctor realises the Nazis may be onto this, so he gives out the order for everyone in town to bandage their hands – too many people for the Nazis to check. Some days later the bandages are off, except for Marie’s. Josee and Burnetta scorn Marie for still having her hand bandaged like that, not realising that they bandaged their own hands for her.

Thoughts

The 1975–6 “Catch the Cat” story was one of the most popular and enduring serials ever to appear in Bunty. The Cat is still one of the best-remembered heroines in girls’ comics. The original Cat story spawned two follow-up serials, one Bunty PSL, Catch the Cat appearances in four Bunty annuals, and was of course reprinted in Lucky Charm #25.

All three Cat serials ended on open endings to leave scope for more sequels. This meant the day Marie dreamed of where she would reveal the truth and the bullies who called her a traitor would be silenced never came. Which is rather sad, really. It would have made for some very thrilling panels to see the town liberated, The Cat coming down to cheering crowds and pulling her mask off in front of them and the captured Commandant – and then watch everyone’s jaw hit the ground! The third Cat story had a slightly more definite ending, where Marie is forced to fake the death of The Cat when the Commandant executes a manhunt for The Cat that tears up the whole town. Marie swears The Cat will return. Unfortunately this would reveal to the Nazis that The Cat is not dead after all, which makes things a bit awkward. Maybe Marie should find a new costumed identity. In any case, that is where the regular story of The Cat ends in Bunty.

There are so many reasons why The Cat is so popular. The first is that she is one of the most proactive heroines ever in girls’ comics. That incredible gymnastics ability and suction pads that have her scaling buildings, leaping onto trucks, diving into rivers, getting over fences and so many other feats of agility seem to be almost superhuman. Plus there are those amazing wits of hers. She always comes up with a plan, and whenever she is cornered she always has something up her sleeve to get her out of trouble. Sometimes this stretches the boundaries of credibility, such as The Cat being able to operate trucks, motorbikes and trains at her age. But on the whole it is exciting and admirable. Even Josee and Burnetta say The Cat is too smart to be caught by the Nazis. Indeed, it would take a Nazi of extreme wit and cunning to match The Cat, and the Commandant definitely is not it. He is not stupid or incompetent, but he is not shrewd enough to ever get the better of The Cat and he has been completely duped by Marie’s servility to ever suspect her. Which is course one of the reasons why The Cat never gets caught.

catch-the-cat-2a

Furthermore, the things Marie gets up to against the Nazis are more typical of boys’ comics or Commandos: blowing things up, sabotage, breaking into military complexes, hijacking, robbery, kidnapping, framing enemies to dispose of them and other things that girls are not normally expected to do, especially in the pre-feminist 1940s. Girls must have loved to see action like that in Bunty, which made a change from the more typical stories about ill-used heroines. The writer must have had a lot of experience in writing war stories in the industry. There would be some appeal to boys here as well, what with the heroine being a girl of action and the story having a war setting. Mind you, it cannot be said how many boys actually read The Cat.

And who doesn’t love a good story where Nazis get their comeuppance? Though there never is a defining moment showing the Nazis being pushed out of France, readers smile and cheer again and again as The Cat strikes yet another one over Hitler yet. Readers love it when the Nazis are left looking sour and furious, and they often wind up in the most embarrassing and undignified situations because of The Cat.

Also, Marie is a sympathetic heroine because what she has to endure as part of her cover: being bullied and ostracised by girls who think she is a collaborator. Marie consoles herself with thoughts that one day they will know the truth, and it would be dangerous for them to know the truth now. But she can’t help but feel lonely and miserable and having no-one who understands. Except for us readers, of course.

For all their bullying, Josee and Burnetta play an odd role in helping The Cat. They despise Marie, yet they always supply her with information, such as telling her London is going to broadcast a coded message for The Cat. Oh really, girls – did nobody ever tell you that loose lips sink ships? And if you think Marie is a traitor, she is the last person you should tell!

It is very odd that everyone always addresses The Cat as a “he”. It may be 1940s sexism, but nobody ever seems to realise The Cat is female, not even people who are in close proximity to The Cat. Whatever the reason, it must also help Marie to preserve her secret. Nobody ever discovers the secret of The Cat and she never gets caught. Of course there are moments when the Nazis come close, but a cat has nine lives after all.

 

List of Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)
    • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #25
  • Catch the Cat!  – Bunty:   #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]
  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #1490 (02 August 1986) – #1501 (18 October 1986)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]

Other Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1979
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1980
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1981
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1982

 

The White Mouse (1979)

The White Mouse logo

Published: Emma #67 (02 June 1979) – #81 (08 September 1979) – final issue

Artist: José Ariza

Plot

Louise Colbert is a nurse in Verville in Nazi-occupied Belgium during World War II. She is known as a timid, gentle, unassuming person. One night an Allied pilot is shot down. In hospital, a patient named Mr LeBlanc confides in Louise that he is hiding the wanted airman in his old theatre. She must inform a Mr Gabin about this, and that the airman is to be taken to a pickup point that night. But both Gabin (had to evade arrest by the Nazis) and LeBlanc (died later) become unable to help the airman, so it falls to Louise. She makes her way to the theatre, but finds the Nazis have caught the airman. Louise heads to the props room, where she dons a white mouse mask and uses a prop rifle to help the airman get away from the Nazis and to his rendezvous to be picked up.

The White Mouse panel 1

And so Louise’s career as “the daring White Mouse” is born. Word soon spreads about this new resister. A lot of people, such as fellow nurses at the hospital, laugh at the idea that the White Mouse could be Louise because she is so timid. It doesn’t take long for the White Mouse to become so famous that other European countries, including Nazi Germany itself, hear about her; she gets plenty of comment from overseas agents and one defecting German saying so. The White Mouse is soon the bane of Colonel Koenig of the Gestapo and his henchman, Major Lutz. But like everyone else, Koenig and Lutz assume Louise is too timid to have any connection to the White Mouse.

White Mouse cases often start at the hospital where Louise works. Louise encounters more patients who have connections to the Resistance one way or another, and it is a simple matter to put on her mask and get them to confide in her as the White Mouse. Other times it is someone she meets while out cycling, such as a defecting German, downed Allied airmen, or Resistance fighters. After that she takes up their cases, which include rescuing their relatives from the Nazis, retrieving items they stole from the Nazis, getting people on the underground railroads to safe countries and other emergencies.

the white mouse

Koenig sets several traps for the White Mouse, of course. In one episode, he rigs up a German as a downed Allied airman for the White Mouse for help. But the White Mouse gets suspicious, simply on finding that his rifle is cold and therefore could not have opened fire on Germans only moments before, as he claimed. She goes along with him until she is ready to turn him over to the Resistance.

Ironically, in one episode Koenig actually does capture the White Mouse – in her civilian identity – without realising it. It takes a bit of luck and ingenuity for Louise to get rid of her White Mouse mask before the Gestapo search her and find it, and they soon release her. Presumably she got another mask from the old theatre, for the theatre does reappear in the strip to get disguises for the people she is helping.

The White Mouse panel 2

The White Mouse carries on until the last issue of Emma. Sadly, she does not make it into the merger. The final episode is a regular White Mouse episode, where she comes to the aid of Belgian resistance fighters and a British radio operator, who have been surprised by German forces. After seeing them all to safety, Jacques the leader thanks the White Mouse for the service she has done for them, which they can never repay. The war still rages, so the career of the White Mouse continues.

Thoughts

Curiously, there was a real-life WW2 SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent and resistance fighter called The White Mouse. Her name was Nancy Wake and she made it all the way to Number 1 on the Gestapo’s Most Wanted List. Unlike her Emma counterpart, the real White Mouse did not wear a mouse mask or adopt the moniker as a code name; the Gestapo dubbed her the White Mouse because of her ability to elude them.

The shyness of Louise Colbert could be described as a Clark Kent personality – except that unlike Superman she did not develop it as a cover for her secret identity. Rather, this is her own personality; Louise starts out as a nurse who is known for her shyness. However, Louise does not show her shyness much, either before or after she becomes the White Mouse; it’s only through the comments of other people that we know it at all. She comes across more as an ordinary nurse, no different from any other.

The White Mouse panel 3

Shyness does not make Louise a coward, though; even before she dons the mouse mask she does not hesitate to go to the rescue of her first case at the old theatre when his initial helpers become unavailable. The moment he is caught by the Germans, she has no qualms about going to the rescue and thinks fast as to how to do it. In that split second Louise demonstrates not only courage but also instant powers of resourcefulness, quick wits and fast thinking in getting out of sticky situations. She also has amazing powers of observation that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. For example, she is tipped off to the phoney British airman Koenig set up for her by the mere fact of discovering his rifle was cold.

Luck also plays its role in the success of the White Mouse. For example, on her debut night, she is stopped by German soldiers as she drives the British airman to safety. But they are so startled by the mouse mask that they flee in fright. Silly boys! That mouse mask sure does create a lot of humorous moments, especially from an artistic point of view; for example, when it is drawn at an upwards angle.

White Mouse OuBaPo original text.jpg

It is ironic that everyone assumes Louise is too timid to be the White Mouse. Does nobody remember that mice are associated with timidity? They probably equate shyness with cowardice, as one hot-headed resister does in one episode. So much the better for keeping the identity of the White Mouse secret.

“Ma Budge’s Drudge!” (1987)

Ma Budges Drudge cover

Judy Picture Library: #286

Published: 1987

Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

In World War II, Jill Durrell has just completed training in the Land Army, which consists of girls who work on farms in the place of men who have gone to fight. Now it is time for the girls to be sent on their various farming assignments.

The girls are expected to go where they are sent, but the instructor does not want to give anyone the assignment from Mrs Budge: “Mrs Budge works single-handed on a smallholding with neither electricity nor running water, situated at the back of beyond. She’s a cantankerous, demanding, slave-driver, and no girl has ever stayed there more than a week!” He cannot believe his ears when Jill insists on volunteering for Mrs Budge’s assignment.

Jill arrives exhausted and hungry because Mrs Budge could not be there to meet her at the station at Geronwy Junction. Mrs Budge is not impressed to see the replacement for her farmhand Owen (who is in the catering corps) because Jill looks too small and not strong enough. Jill begs to be given a chance, so Mrs Budge has her prove it by preparing the stall for a newborn calf. Jill is tired and hungry, but completes the job because she is a stubborn girl. Later, she tells Mrs Budge that she won’t leave on the next train leaving Geronwy Junction.

Drudge 1

And Jill doesn’t, despite how tough it is working for Mrs Budge. Mrs Budge is not only the cantankerous slave driver the instructor warned her about, but also insists on doing everything the hard, traditional, old-fashioned way: hand scythes and sickles, hand water pumps, doing laundry in copper boilers, oil lamps, candles etc. “They were good enough for my great grandfather when he bought this farm, and they’re good enough for me, now!” She won’t have a bar of modernisation, modern farming methods, or any other labour saving devices. She won’t even have electricity or running water. She throws a fit when she sees Jill borrowing a combine harvester from a neighbour, Mr Wheldon, and only agrees to let Jill keep her job on condition she complete the haying her way – the old-fashioned way. The same obstinacy also extends to medicine; she doles out her own homemade potions and she won’t call in doctors or vets. On Mr Wheldon’s farm, Mrs Budge has a reputation for running her farm in the “dark ages” because she is too mean and tight-fisted to modernise. Mr Wheldon has his own team of land girls, who call Jill “Ma Budge’s drudge” (hence the title of the story), but they are friendly with her.

Drudge 3

Jill, however, is under the impression that Mrs Budge sticks to the old ways out of pride rather than miserliness – that and just plain stubbornness. Throughout the story, Jill is appalled and exasperated at how stubborn Mrs Budge is, and Jill is pig-headed herself. For example, when Mrs Budge sprains her ankle, she won’t listen to Jill’s urgings to call in a doctor: “Why waste money when a swollen ankle will heal in its own good time?” Nor does she take it easy because of her swollen ankle; she turns to jobs that she can do while sitting down. When fully able-bodied, Mrs Budge works even harder than Jill, and she works Jill far harder than necessary because of her insistence on old-fashioned ways. And Jill notes Mrs Budge never has a word of praise for her; she treats Jill in a grumpy fashion, especially when Jill doesn’t quite come up to the mark at times.

But Jill refuses to leave Mrs Budge, and nobody can understand why. The neighbouring farmer thinks she is a “rum ‘un” for declining his offer to leave the drudgery of Mrs Budge and join his own team. At times, Jill herself is tempted to walk out on Mrs Budge – except for… but she doesn’t reveal what. Even Mrs Budge asks why, and Jill replies: “Some day, I’ll tell you. I-I’m afraid the time hasn’t come yet, though.”

The time comes when two letters arrive. The first, for Mrs Budge, says her old farmhand Owen is being invalidated out of the catering corps. He will now be returning to the farm, so there is no further need for Jill. Jill is dismayed that she is leaving, but the second letter, for her, puts her mind at rest. It says that her father has been released from a Japanese POW camp. Jill then explains to Mrs Budge that when her father was captured, she made a bargain with herself to find the toughest job she could find as a land girl. She believed that if she did not quit, her father would keep fighting to survive as well. “Dad and I are two of a kind, you see. Not very big or very strong, but plenty pig-headed!”

Drudge 2

Mrs Budge finds it a bit of a cheek that Jill used her farm for a substitute prison camp. But she decides to take it in good part because she realises she got the best of the bargain. They hold a celebratory toast together.

Thoughts

It is refreshing to see a World War II story tackle the subject of Land Girls, something that doesn’t get much attention in girls’ comics. More often, their WW2 stories deal with female soldiers, resistance fighters, fugitives, evacuees and war orphans.

The moment we see the cover, we expect to be geared up for a story where a cruel slave driver works a poor hapless Land Girl to the bone. So, along with everyone else, we are taken aback when Jill volunteers for the Budge assignment while already knowing what she is getting into (unlike a lot of unsuspecting heroines who discover too late that they have ended up with an abusive slave driver). And we also have to wonder why Jill won’t quit her job as she learns just how tough and gruelling it is. When we find out why – to parallel with her father’s suffering and struggle for survival in a Japanese prison camp – we have to applaud, but do we laugh or cry about it as well?

Drudge 4

When we see Mrs Budge on the cover, we expect her to be a cruel, slave driving abuser, like countless other villains that have appeared in girls comics, such as Gert and Jed Barlow from Tammy’s “Bella”. So it is a surprise and delight to see that once we (and Jill) get to know Mrs Budge better, we find she is a more complex, layered character who is difficult but not totally unlikeable, and she is not a cardboard villain. There is no denying that she is cantankerous, demanding and slave driving, and she makes it all the harder by clinging to old-fashioned methods and eschewing modernisation. It is easy to see why no Land Girl had stayed with her more than a week until Jill volunteered. We also have to wonder why Owen the farmhand stayed on with her until the catering corps called him up. But she only demands of them the same thing that she does herself, and Jill admits that Mrs Budge works even harder than herself. Mrs Budge makes no allowances for herself either; when she sprains her ankle, she insists on carrying on. And when the accident happens, she insists that Jill do the milking than tend to her: “Leave me be! The milking’s more important than I am!”

The story is also a clash of wills between two people who are both pig-headed; Mrs Budge in her obstinacy about clinging to traditional ways and Jill in her obstinacy to stay, despite how tough it is. It is hard to say who was a match for the other in stubbornness, but we are all rooting for Jill’s stubbornness to win out against Mrs Budge. And it does, because Jill’s tenacity was motivated by love for her father while Mrs Budge’s stubbornness was motivated by pride and extreme conservatism (and perhaps fear of change and new technology).

Drudge 5

There is a dash of eccentricity about Mrs Budge’s obstinacy and stick-in-the mud ways that gives her a touch of humour. For example, she always wears the same raincoat, regardless of the weather. And while she always seems to be a grouch, signs of her having a heart do slip through. One of the most touching is when Mrs Budge tends to Jill when she burns her arm on the steam thresher: “Girl, girl – I wouldn’t have had you hurt, not for all the world.” Jill is really astonished at this tender remark after having endured Mrs Budge’s grumpiness with never a single word of praise. And when Mrs Budge find out why Jill stuck out at her job, she really does show that she is a human being: “Fancy using my farm as a substitute prison camp. There’s cheek for you! Still, I reckon we ought to celebrate – because to my way of thinking, I was the one who got the best of the bargain!” We see that Mrs Budge has come a long way from first dismissing Jill as “a tiddler” and setting her extra-tough tests to drive her off to liking and respecting her, and appreciating Jill’s work on the farm after all. We get the impression that Mrs Budge is really going to miss Jill when she goes.

Eve All Alone (1996)

Eve All Alone cover

Published: Bunty Picture Library #425

Artist: Unknown

Year: 1996

Plot

Gemma Halliday comes home from school one day to good news – her father’s company wants him and mum to spend the summer in Hong Kong. But the bad news is that Gemma can’t come as well. The company isn’t paying for her and the parents can’t afford it. Instead, Gemma will be spending the summer with Great Aunt Lyn in the country. Gemma is very disappointed to hear she won’t be going with her parents and is bracing herself for a summer holiday of boredom in the countryside with a great aunt she hardly knows.

Aunt Lyn is very nice, but Gemma still wishes to be with her parents, and her boredom increases when bad weather sets in. Aunt Lyn suggests she go up to the attic for something to read. Gemma is not hopeful that there will be anything decent to read, but is pleasantly surprised to come across an old diary. It starts in September 1939, when a twelve-and-a-half girl called Eve writes that she has just decided to start it.

Eve All Alone 1

Eve and her parents live in London. World War II has broken out, and there are tearful goodbyes to Dad as he departs to go into the army. Eve promises her father that she will look after Mum while he is away.

At school the teacher distributes letters for parents about children being evacuated to the countryside in case Germany bombs London. Mum declines the offer because she and Eve want to stay together. But then their home is destroyed in the Blitz. At this, Mum changes her mind and tells Eve that she is joining the next round of evacuees. Eve is horrified, but Mum is adamant. So Eve resolves to be brave and not cry over leaving her and going to an unknown fate.

Eve All Alone 2

Lunch interrupts Gemma’s reading. But now she is feeling less upset because her own separation from her parents is nowhere near as bad as Eve’s.

Upon the resumption, Gemma reads that at their destination, the evacuees were all taken in except Eve – Mrs McDonald, who was meant for her, has been taken ill. Evacuee organiser Mrs Barford hastily sets Eve up with Mrs Pettigrew, a reclusive-sounding woman living alone in a big house with a housekeeper.

Right from the start, Mrs Pettigrew’s is not the place Eve wants to be; the house looks “gloomy and scary”. Mrs Pettigrew herself “looks like a witch” and doesn’t behave much better. She has never welcomed lodgers – Mrs Barford virtually blackmails her into taking Eve by threatening to get her house commandeered for army barracks or hospital services if she refuses an evacuee.

But Mrs Pettigrew immediately goes to spiteful lengths to show Eve how unwelcome she is. She gives Eve the attic bedroom (tiny and cold) when the more kindly housekeeper offered her the more plush spare room. When the housekeeper offers Eve porridge for breakfast, Mrs Pettigrew directs her to make Eve’s porridge with water because she wants all the creamy milk. Then she forces Eve to do the washing up although Eve protests that it will make her late for school, and she suspects that was precisely Mrs Pettigrew’s intention.

Eve All Alone 3

Soon Mrs Pettigrew is making Eve work like a slave. All the while she allows Eve so little food that Eve cannot sleep for hunger, even though she is worn out because of the work. Added to that, Eve starts hearing strange noises (a door banging for no reason, mysterious footsteps) and Mrs Pettigrew starts winding her up about the house being haunted.

Meanwhile, an enemy plane is shot down and one of the pilots escapes. Now there is a manhunt for him and everyone is on the lookout, but so far the airman is evading capture.

In between reads, Gemma learns not to turn up her nose at food she doesn’t like (better than going to bed hungry like Eve), and introduces Aunt Lyn to bowling. She is delighted to see Aunt Lyn enjoying it and thinks her childhood must have been really boring. But Gemma can’t wait to get back to the diary; it is a riveting read now.

Now food goes missing. Mrs Pettigrew blames Eve and punishes her by allowing her no breakfast for a week, and the work gets harder. More food goes missing, but the kindly housekeeper agrees not to mention it to Mrs Pettigrew; she reckons Mrs Pettigrew is taking it herself. Where possible, the housekeeper shows Eve kindness.

Then Eve finds a man’s footprints on the kitchen floor she just cleaned, and they go straight to the larder. Eve realises there is a man creeping about in the house, which explains the strange noises and missing food. Assuming that Mrs Pettigrew is hiding the missing German airman, Eve goes to the police. But it is not the airman (who gets captured later) but Mrs Pettigrew’s son Peter. She had been hiding Peter in the cellar to keep him away from the fighting, but now he is arrested for “shirking”. Following this, Mrs Barford takes Eve away from Mrs Pettigrew, saying something else has turned up for her anyway.

Eve All Alone 4

And in the next village, Eve is surprised to be reunited with Mum! Mum didn’t like being on her own, so she got herself a job as a cook at a big house in the countryside in order to be with Eve again. They are going to stay there until the war ends – and there ends the diary. Gemma wishes she could know if Eve’s Dad ever came home.

But next day Gemma discovers that Eve is Aunt Lyn (Eve and Lyn are short for Evelyn). Aunt Lyn does not mind Gemma reading the diary one bit. Yes, Dad did come home, and there was “quite a to-do” when she exposed Mrs Pettigrew and Peter. Recalling her earlier assumptions about Aunt Lyn having a boring childhood, Gemma realises how wrong you can be about people.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a lesson in expectations and not making assumptions about anyone or anything until you know more about them. Gemma came in with expectations of a boring, miserable summer with no parents, and she came away with a whole new appreciation for the things she has, her aunt, and also family history. And Gemma reciprocated her aunt as well, such as introducing her to bowling for the first time in her life. So grownups can learn from kids as well.

Eve All Alone 5

It is also a story about two girls undergoing the pain of separation but being united through the diary. As Gemma reads, her own pain of separation lessens as she learns that there are others who are worse off than herself, including the girl she is reading about. Eve has no idea when – or even if – her father will return from the fighting. Then she loses her home in the Blitz and the forced separation from her mother to an uncertain fate as an evacuee. Things go from bad to worse when Eve endures starvation, drudgery and misery under the spiteful Mrs Pettigrew. Mrs Pettigrew’s motives for abusing Eve are more rounded than most adults who treat their charges badly in similar stories. She was clearly selfish and mean by nature, but she was also a reclusive woman who understandably resented having Eve forced upon her, and she was no doubt worried about her secret being discovered. But of course that is no excuse for her treatment of Eve or helping Peter with “shirking”. After the punishment of the Pettigrews, it’s a happy ending for Eve when her mother moves to the country to be with her. The diary is the stuff of fairy tales.

Eve All Alone 6

Eve All Alone is an engaging story and one you could read again and again. World War II is always a theme that can guarantee engrossing stories about emotion, separation, hardship, courage, adventure and warfare, and this one is no exception. It also reminds us that the war didn’t bring out the best in everyone, especially if they were not the best of people to begin with. Eve’s story as an evacuee still resonates even generations later in her family, and the lessons it teaches come across in a heart-warming manner that is not preachy.

Curiously, the son Peter has exactly the same name as a Harry Potter villain – Peter Pettigrew. Yet Eve came out three years before Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. An anticipatory moment or a popular choice of name?

 

The Cat on the Trail of the German Flying Bomb (1976)

wj9v9y

Bunty Picture Library: #161

Artist: Mike White

Published: 1976

 Plot:

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, Marie Bonnet is despised for appearing to be over-friendly with the Germans, particularly the Commandant. Josee and Burnetta are two bullies who are always picking on Marie over it. Nobody suspects that the apparent collaboration is all part of Marie’s cover for her secret life as a costumed resister known as “The Cat”!

The story opens with The Cat robbing the Commandant’s safe. The silly old boy thought hiding the key in the flower vase (clichéd!) would make the money “as safe as it would be in the bank in Berlin”. Plus, he never thinks to make his window more secure though he knows how The Cat can climb.

The Cat gives the loot to the town bank manager to redistribute among the poor. The Commandant is furious of course, but his retributive measures against The Cat (searches everywhere and new “wanted” posters that double the reward money) are futile.

Cat 1

Then fellow resister Henri puts out the signal for The Cat to call. When The Cat arrives, Henri says there has been a message from London to investigate happenings at the Chateau Villai. The chateau is heavily guarded, but The Cat infiltrates it (swimming the moat and then climbing the bell tower). She discovers a huge laboratory and fuel stores.

London orders a second infiltration, this time with a special camera they have sent, because they want photographs. The Cat gets the photographs (the laboratory, documents, scientists and the stores), but then a guard spots her and gives the alarm. She gets away on the top of a truck and slips into the woods. However, the Germans have now been alerted, which makes a third infiltration too risky.

Cat 3

When the photographs are developed, they reveal that the scientists are developing V.1 rockets. The resisters believe that these rockets are to be used on London and send the photographs there immediately. When Marie tries to pump information out of the Commandant later with her ‘friendliness’, she gets confirmation of what they suspect, but little else.

In London, the military realise they need time to build defences against the V.1, but bombing the weapons sites are ineffectual because they are too well protected. So they decide to enlist the aid of The Cat once more, to sabotage the rocket and cause the Nazis a setback that would buy them time to build their defences. They also dispatch one of their own men and explosives to help The Cat.

The man arrives safely, but then the Germans detect the plane. It is forced to take off with the explosives still on board. So The Cat raids the Germans’ stores for some replacement explosives.

Cat 5

However, at the chateau the Germans have built the launching site underground, which poses a problem in how to plant the explosives. Then the air-raid siren sounds and there is a bomb strike on the site. The bombing is accurate, but cannot destroy the launching site because it is underground. It is up to the resisters to do the rest, and the air raid gives The Cat an idea – trigger the air-raid siren to draw the Germans out.

So next night, they rig the siren to go off. The Germans are drawn out and into the air-raid shelter, and the resisters barricade them in there. They proceed to plant the explosives. But the Germans rumble the trick and manage to force their way out. They catch the resisters just as they are about to detonate the explosives. The explosives are set off, but there are still enough Germans ready to fire on the resisters. The Cat resorts to launching the V.1 that was meant for London – they have destroyed its guidance system, which turns it into a runaway rocket. It ends up landing on the chateau, where it ignites the fuel stores and creates a huge explosion that is a definite setback for the Germans and helps the resisters to escape.

Two months later the V.1s are launched against London, but the British now have defences against them. The military are pleased that more than half of the V.1s are failing to hit their targets, and are so grateful to Henri and The Cat for the time they bought them to prepare their defences. They wish they could give The Cat a medal. But until the war ends, it’s daily bullying for Marie as part of her secret war against the Nazis as The Cat.

Thoughts

This is the only Bunty Picture Library that was inspired by the Bunty classic serial “Catch the Cat”. It is a pity Bunty didn’t produce more Picture Libraries on The Cat, because they would have been extremely popular. The Cat is one of Bunty’s best-remembered characters and one of the most proactive heroines ever produced. She doesn’t hesitate to rob the Commandant in a Robin Hood style, commit acts of sabotage, help blow things up, or commit other acts of defiance that thumb her nose right at the Nazis, including leaving her trademark Cat signature. The costumed identity also adds to the appeal, as does the fact that there are no super-powers or gimmicky weapons. In fact, she isn’t armed at all. The only weapons she has are her suction pads, her incredible acrobatic abilities, and her amazing wits that can get her out of any scrape.

Cat 4

The Cat’s Clark Kent identity also arouses readers’ sympathies for her, because of the daily bullying she has to endure as part of pretending to be a collaborator in order to infiltrate the Germans. She always tells herself “One day they will know the truth”, “If only they knew” or other words of comfort, but she always looks sad and never holds her head very high against the jeers and ostracism from her fellow classmates. Living a secret life as The Cat does not do much for her schoolwork either, and we have to wonder at how much sleep she gets.

We also wonder why everyone, on both sides of the war, always thinks The Cat is a “he”. Why can’t anyone see that The Cat is a female? Not even Henri realises, and he is the one who is in the closest proximity to The Cat. Is it chauvinistic attitudes, or is there something about Marie that enables her to pass a male when it’s not so obvious that she’s a female? Whatever the reason, it must help Marie to keep her secret.

Cat 2

The picture library Cat story certainly is a strong, racy one. We see acts of war against the Nazis that are truly spectacular and go beyond sabotaging vehicles, sending Nazi commemorative statues to a watery fate, helping the Allies to bomb factories and such. Rather, we see The Cat helping to blow up rockets! How many heroines get to have such fun as that? And even before she starts on the rockets, she’s committing a heist on the Commandant. And it’s a heist that could have gotten her killed, because she has to haul a huge, heavy bag of loot across rooftops. We can just see that bag is so heavy that it could easily fall and send The Cat plunging to the ground with it. And how can The Cat lug anything so heavy across a rooftop? But she pulls it off, much to the gratitude of the townsfolk and the fury of the Commandant (next time, use safe combinations, Herr Commandant!).

And in her Cat identity, Marie even gets a bit of her own back on Josee and Burnetta in this story! They unwittingly get in her way during her second raid on the chateau, and she shoves them into a stream to get rid of them. They end up having to face very angry parents about their messed-up clothes. The sneaky girls twist it around to Marie later and brag that they helped The Cat. Little do they know!

But nobody must know until the war ends, which is what The Cat thinks to herself as she goes back on the prowl against the Nazis yet again in the last panel. How wonderful it would have been to see more of her prowling in the Picture Libraries.

Cat 6