Giles’ employment as the Daily Express “official war cartoonist” in 1944 and 1945
A black and white photo of Giles sitting and sketching in war damaged building
©Sado, Brussels. All rights reserved.

GAPH00235, Black and white photo of Giles sitting and sketching in awar damaged building (Sep 1944)

In early September 1944 Christiansen, editor of the Daily Express, called Giles to London and invited him to become the paper’s “official war cartoonist”. He accepted, and on 27 September 1944 Captain Giles flew to Brussels on a DC3 Dakota, to see the fighting around Arnhem. He received a special war correspondent’s steel helmet, and, as Giles remembered, made several visits to the front over the next few months “with WC printed on my hat”, until someone in Whitehall realised the joke and changed it to “C”: “I ask you, who in the Army would walk around with C stuck on his hat? They all knew what that stood for.”

On his trips to the front Giles had the use of a jeep and driver. “The noise was unbelievable”, he recalled of their first experience under fire: “Bullets seemed to be coming from every direction, which I suppose they were. The last thing that came naturally to mind was to set up an easel, get out the pencils and start drawing amusin’ cartoons.” But he did manage to produce a number of cartoons, which were flown back to London for publication.

Giles’ view of British soldiers at war was consciously similar to that of Bruce Bairnsfather, the popular soldier-cartoonist of the First World War. As a boy Giles had enjoyed his father’s copies of Bairnsfather’s Fragments From France, and he now adopted a similar style. “All the old last-war jokes about mud, cussing, lorries that won’t go, shells that fall too near and boots that pinch too tight are laughed at just as much in this war”, Giles acknowledged: “I’m laughing now, when I think about them. Especially about the boots that pinch too tight. Especially if the boots belong to someone else.”

Over several trips, Giles followed the British army across Belgium and Holland, and into Germany. In May 1945 he was present at the German surrender on Luneberg Heath, and sketched Field Marshal Montgomery. Giles later admitted that he had enjoyed his wartime experiences, collecting so much looted stuff that he wasn’t allowed to return by plane, and had to go by boat. But he was still deeply shocked by what he had seen, and by the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 declared himself “anti any kind of war for whatever reason.” This remained his point of view, and he was also opposed to the later conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Falkland Islands.

A man sits sketching in a barren battlefield as ammo flies over his head.
©Express Syndication Ltd. All rights reserved.

GA5421, "Nearly had to do without a cartoon in tomorrow's paper that time, didn't they?", Ronald Carl Giles, Daily Express (10 Oct 1944)

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