Tag Archives: John Bull

“Well, I’ll Be Blowed!”

"Well, I'll be blowed!"
John Bull, the personification of Britain, has a bewildered expression as he looks at a naval officer representing the Royal Navy, as he sits with Mahatma Gandhi on a blanket labeled ‘Passive Resistance.’


“Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is a political cartoon mocking the blow to Britain’s naval pride about the issues they were facing in 1931. The cartoon was illustrated by John Francis Knott and published on September 20th, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News. It was Autumn, 1931. The First World War had ended in 1918 and the roaring twenties followed until the stock market crash of 1929 (History.com). When the economy of the industrial world collapsed, more problems arose for Great Britain to battle. In September of 1931, Great Britain was facing many disruptions due to the start of the Great Depression and a loosening grip on not just their precious empire, but one of their own military forces.

The title of the cartoon, “Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is an expression that became popular in Great Britain during the turn of the century to mid-1900s and was used to express great surprise, similar to “well, I’ll be darned” (Simpson “well, adv. and n.4.”). The cartoon depicts John Bull, the personification of Britain, with a bewildered expression as he looks at a naval officer representing the British navy, often referred to as the Royal Navy. The naval officer is sitting with Mohandas Gandhi on a blanket labeled ‘Passive Resistance.’ Gandhi, named Mahatma meaning ‘saint’ in Hindi, was the Nationalist leader of the passive resistance protests in India during the late 1920s and early 1930s (BBC News). Gandhi and the navy are sitting on the same blanket of resistance against Great Britain, which is unexpected because the navy was Great Britain’s strongest military force. The military was how Great Britain kept tight control over India and all of the British Empire. In the background of the cartoon, many ships are out at sea, but on shore John Bull stares at the navy sitting the blanket of passive resistance that Gandhi laid out.

John Bull became the popular persona of England and all of Great Britain in the early 1900s.  He was commonly depicted as a stout middle aged white man wearing a tailcoat, waistcoat, and boots, all from the Regency Period of the early 1800s. He also usually holds a cane and has a low top hat. John Bull is the personification of Britain in a similar manner to how Uncle Sam represents the United States of America (Johnson). John Bull is supposed to represent the majority of Great Britain and his surprise to what is happening in the cartoon represents the reaction that Great Britain was having at the time.

When this cartoon was published, Britain had been struggling to keep control over India for almost 20 years. India, known as “the jewel in the crown” of Great Britain began non-violent protests for independence in 1920. India had been under the control of the British since they arrived in India in the 1600s (BBC News). Leading up to 1931, Mahatma Gandhi had been campaigning for India’s independence through passive resistance. Gandhi had been working as a lawyer in South Africa during the early 1920’s, but after the the massacre in Amritsar in 1918, where 379 unarmed nationalist demonstrators were killed, Gandhi decided India had to stand up to Great Britain and that they would be better under their own rule (Wolpert). He quickly became a prominent leader in passive resistance against the British rule.

In the Fall of 1930, Gandhi attended the first Round Table Conference in London to discuss a new form of government for India (Trager).  In September of 1931, Gandhi was back in England for the second Round Table Conference. He wanted India and Great Britain to “exist in the Empire side by side as equal partners, held together ‘by the silken cord of love.'” As it was worded in the editorial that accompanied the cartoon in the Dallas Morning News, “It is a conflict between an idealism of a far-away future and a realism that sees things as they are.” Although, Gandhi’s desires for the country sounded beautiful, many in Great Britain didn’t think that giving India autonomy to self govern would be good for the Indian people (Dallas Morning News). Also, Great Britain’s Empire was threatened.

Not only was Great Britain having trouble with India, but with their own military, which they used to enforce their power, began protesting against them. Headline in the New York Times read, “NATION SHOCKED BY NEWS”, on September 15th of 1931, the Royal Navy conducted a protest against Great Britain at Invergordon and on the 16th there was another at Rosyth Base (Selden). The Royal Navy was the pride of Great Britain and for the first time in centuries, there was discontent there. Since far before world war one, the Royal Navy had been considered the strongest navy in the world and put much of their resources and manpower into building up their navy and keeping it strong and growing stronger. The Royal Navy became the dominant sea power in 1805 when it defeated the French and Spanish fleets during the Battle of Trafalgar (“Royal Navy History”). When the Great Depression hit them at the end of the 1920’s however, many budget cuts needed to be made and they chose to make 25% pay cuts to the royal navy (Lowry). 

With the discussion for an independent India and their protests in the air, the disorder in the navy was a slap in the face that Great Britain should have seen coming. The political cartoon by John Francis Knott laughs at the discomfort that Britain was facing as their grasp on world power appeared to be slipping. Not only was “the jewel in the crown” seeking independence, but the pride of the military was in resistance as well. In the cartoon, John Bull looked surprised and maybe scared and he had reason to be.


Works Cited

BBC News. “India Profile – Timeline.” www.bbc.com. BBC, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12557384.

Dallas Morning News Editorial Staff. “Gandhi’s Idealism.” Dallas Morning News  [Dallas, Texas], 20 Sept. 1931, sec. IV, p. 6. America’s Historical Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/iw-search/we/HistArchive/ ?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=Q6EL5CCQMTQ4MDQyNDIwNC40ODI1MTM6MToxMjoxMjguODMuNjMuMjA&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=6&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=6&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-104D21319BD1D300@2426605-104D2133809DF0B9@37-104D213D50D94037@Gandhi%27s%20Idealism. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

History.com Staff. “Stock Market Crash of 1929.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.  History.com Staff. “Stock Market Crash of 1929.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Johnson, Ben. “John Bull, Symbol of the English and Englishness.” Historic-uk.com. Historic UK, 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/John-Bull/.

Lowry, Sam. “The Invergordon Mutiny, 1931.” Libcom.org. Libcom.org, 9 Mar. 2007. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. https://libcom.org/history/1931-invergordon-mutiny.

“Royal Navy History.” Royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy, 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/history-timeline.

Selden, Charles. “Disorder in the British Nave Follow Economy Pay Cut; Manoeuvers Are Cancelled.” New York Times (1923-Current file)Sep 16, New York, N.Y., 1931. http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/99307291?accountid=7118.

Simpson, John A. “well, adv. and n.4.” Def. P6. www.oed.com. Oxford University Press, Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Trager, James. “1931.” The People’s Chronology, 3rd ed., Gale, 2005. Gale Virtual Reference Library,  Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3460601931&it=r&asid=b446869dc318d220d9663e0d9c575d74.

Wolpert, Stanley. “Gandhi, Mahatma M. K.” Encyclopedia of India, edited by Stanley Wolpert, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 119-125. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3446500239&it=r&asid=2b657833b7ab29e7e1e5fd3c8699f99d. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

Kibitzer’s Advice

John Bull and Mussolini playing cards over a map of Europe with Lloyd George speaking to John Bull and telling him that Mussolini is bluffing.
John Bull and Mussolini playing cards over a map of Europe with Lloyd George speaking to John Bull and telling him that Mussolini is bluffing.


Kibitzer’s Advice – John Francis Knott – March 27, 1937

This cartoon refers to David Lloyd George’s call for Britain to take action against Italian aggression that was happening during the time.  The Italian and German fascist states had just begun their involvement in events that were building up to World War II, such as making and using forces to invade nations and interfering with foreign affairs.  Other countries were worried about what these involvements might turn in to if the situation was left unchecked, and Lloyd George wanted Britain to interfere with the fascist forces for this same reason, so he demanded the country to take action.  However, the cartoon is entitled Kibitzer’s Advice, and a kibitzer is a person whose advice is unwanted, so this suggests that Lloyd George’s call was largely ignored.  The reason Britain did not listen to Lloyd George’s advice was that Britain did not have much in the way of intervening due to the fact that they had been playing the pacifist role since the First World War.  This made it so that their arms were heavily depleted and taking any form of action appeared unappealing to the country.

The cartoon depicts Mussolini and John Bull playing a card game over the map of Europe, and David Lloyd George is telling John Bull that Mussolini is bluffing.  David Lloyd George was the Prime Minister of Britain during World War I and was instrumental in helping build up British arms for that war and Mussolini was the dictator of Italy and the face of fascism at the time.  John Bull is a comic personification of Britain, similar to how Uncle Sam personifies America so Lloyd George is depicted as talking to Britain and not just an individual.  John Bull and Mussolini playing cards refers to the saying that politics is a game and them playing over a table with a map of Europe means that their actions are going to be for the sake of changing or maintaining territorial boundaries of  Europe.  The “Bluffing” in this case refers to the belief that the fascist did not have the amount of force and arms that they claimed to have, so Britain had the opportunity to act against Mussolini.  Mussolini is depicted as the face of fascism in the comic instead of Hitler, because the Italian dictator had devoted much more forces in conflicts at the time while Hitler used less of his forces and was rather preparing his army for future aggression.

The accompanying editorial “Lion’s Tail” states two different Italian involvements at the time, aggression in Ethiopia and breaking the non-intervention agreement.  Mussolini used Italian nationalism and stated that he wanted to build Italy into an empire like it was in ancient Roman times to gather support from the people, so his aggression in Ethiopia was to help and acquire a foothold in Africa and prove that he was committed to the sake of Italy.  However, the situation scarred Mussolini’s image and brought to the attention of Europe that peace was fleeting for the time being.  The non-intervention agreement was created for the sake of the Spanish Civil War, so other nations would not interfere with the war; however, the agreement was known to eventually be a political farce.  This agreement was broken by many nations, especially the fascist nations who wanted the rebels to win so that a pro-fascist state would be set up in Spain and France would be between two fascist areas.

Some countries and citizens believed that the Italian and German forces needed to be halted, and David Lloyd George called for Britain to believe this as well and take action against the fascist.  However his cries to Britain for involvement in these issues were not heeded, the main reason being that Britain did not want another war on their hands, since the effects of World War I were devastating for many people. The article “Lion’s Tail” states that if Britain and France did interfere with the fascist in these conflicts and they were in fact not bluffing, there would be full scale war on their hands, but if Mussolini were to withdraw from Spain, then that would only reveal that he was bluffing and did not have the forces that he claimed to have.  Britain had been playing a pacifist role since the First World War, and the article says they were speaking softly since they did not carry a big stick and instead were in the middle of rearmament themselves.  This means that Britain was the one that needed to bluff since their forces were depleted not Italy who proved they had forces in the Ethiopian and the Spanish Civil War conflicts.  Britain was also one of the few nations to not break the nonintervention agreement.  All these factors, with the addition that Lloyd George was mostly not listened to by the people after he left office of Prime minister, makes it so that his message of Britain interfering against the fascist was largely ineffective to the mainly peace-loving population.  The “Lion’s Tail” article also states that even if Lloyd George played a large part in British decision making, they would still have the condition of not having the proper amount of forces.  This means that the author believed that the primary reason that Lloyd George would speak so much of fighting is because he was part of the opposition of Mussolini and not a policy maker.

The aggression that Italian and German forces showed during the time would escalate later and lead to the need of other nations to interfere.  Eventually Italy and Germany would team up with Japan in the East to create the axis powers against the Allies and would plunge the world into the Second World War.



Works Cited

Author not listed. “Lion’s Tail.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 27 Mar. 1937: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

“Baldwin, Stanley (1867–1947).” Encyclopedia of World War II. Alan Axelrod. Ed. Jack A. Kingston. Vol. 1. New York: Facts on File, 2007. 146-147. Facts on File Library of World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

“Italy.” Encyclopedia of World War II. Alan Axelrod. Ed. Jack A. Kingston. Vol. 1. New York: Facts on File, 2007. 461-462. Facts on File Library of World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

“Lloyd George, David (1863–1945).” Encyclopedia of European Social History. Ed. Peter N. Stearns. Vol. 6: Biographies/Contributors. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. 195-197. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Knott, John F. “Kibitzer’s Advice.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 27 Mar. 1937: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

“Mussolini, Benito (1883–1945).” Encyclopedia of the Modern World1900 to the Present. Ed. William R. Keylor. New York: Facts on File, 2009. 888-889. Facts on File Library of World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

“Spanish Civil War.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 4. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2416-2424. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.