Study of a Prussian Household Having its Morning Hate
Breakfast and the blockade
This is one of my favorite Punch cartoons. Responding to reports of German civilians venting their collective anger at Perfidious Albion in 1915, the satirical magazine published an image that gets funnier the longer you look at it, and then stops being funny. The story is all there: the grandparents, the lone wife and missing husband, the resigned sister, the boy making fists, the scowling dog. This comic ensemble encircles the empty table, bringing the viewer’s eyes around it and finally resting on it, as if to comment silently on what is actually happening to German families.
Germans were already starting to feel the pinch when the cartoon was published. As the British blockade tightened, any number of import streams slowed or stopped, including livestock feed and fertilizer. Butter and sugar prices soared, and costs had to be controlled. Mismanagement made matters worse: during 1915, the government ordered the mass slaughter of millions of farm pigs to save the feed; most of the meat spoiled, and the reduced production of pigshit fertilizer led to poorer and poorer harvests as the war dragged on. By 1919, tables would be empty all over the country, severely reducing caloric intake and stunting the growth of children. Malnutrition and misery were general.
No wonder the Prussian household hated Britain anew every day; they were forced to fight a battle at the breakfast table. Anyone would find that annoying.