USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘WWII’
Folk speech
Game
Legends
Signs

Kilroy Was Here

Title: Kilroy Was Here

Category: Legend/ Phrase

Informant: Evan A. Lewis

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 80s

Occupation: Retired— Radio Broadcaster, Laundry Mat Owner, Koren War Vet, etc.

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

“Kilroy was here” was a phrase primarily found written on the sides of stem ships and throughout Europe during WWII. The phrase has no true meaning or origin but spread rapidly throughout Europe during the second World War and can be found in graffiti alongside a cartoon of a man peeking over a wall with a large nose and “curly-q” piece of hair.

Apart from being found on the sides of ships, the term “Kilroy was here” has also been found as graffiti on walls, bathroom stalls, sidewalks, etc. The term is thought to have come into existence in the early 1930s and was a part of popular culture up until the late 1940s.

Context/Significance:

The phrase is thought to be a combination of several pop. culture phenomenons happening throughout the second World War. The phrase “Kilroy was here” is believed to come from a southern shipbuilder who used the term to check off parts of a ship as they passed through inspection. This account would specify how this graffiti made it into areas of a ship that no other crew member would have had access to.

As GIs and soldiers made their way into and across Europe, the phrase is thought to have traveled with the Americans and combined with the English cartoon of “Chad”. The resulting combination of the cartoon man peeking over the wall and the phrase “Kilroy was here” was then found scribbled across Western Europe and even made it’s way into Russia near the conclusion of the War.

During this time, Australia also had a similar term being used that said “Foo was here”. All forms are though to relate to each other in someway and be replicas of each other since there is no definitive answer to the terms origin.

Personal Thoughts:

My grandfather learned about the phrase from serving in the military himself and from living through the events of the second World War. My grandfather does not know the exact origin of the story, but claims that the true inception of the phrase comes from southern ship yards. He said that infantry men used the term as a way of marking their travels and conquests throughout Europe.

Image:

kilroywashere

Annotation:

For additional history behind this phrase, see:

https://americacomesalive.com/2014/11/10/kilroy-story-world-war-ii/

MLA Citation:

Kelly, Kate. “‘Kilroy Was Here’-A Story from World War II.” America Comes Alive, 30 Oct. 2017, americacomesalive.com/2014/11/10/kilroy-story-world-war-ii/.

Customs

Victory Gardens

After my grandmother’s funeral, my family members and I were sitting around a table listening to my grandfather, Jim, share stories about his youth.  My grandfather told us about Victory Gardens he and his family had, growing up in rural Illinois.

During the war everybody, well not everybody, had Victory Gardens.  If you had a little patch of land you’d make a garden.  You had a garden.  You had lettuce.  You had fresh tomatoes.  

There was this open field and me and my brothers would just dig the garden out every spring.  Spade it, you know?  And my dad would make the garden. That leaf lettuce, when it comes up it’s so good.  

Oh my dad had a chicken coup too.  I hated going in there! Them chickens were mean. And the roosters were the worst! Them roosters were really mean.  And they stink too!  

My grandfather’s story reveals what life was like during World War II.  One practice during the war were these Victory Gardens.  From his story, we can garner that many people maintained these Victory Gardens in order to reduce the pressure on the public food supply.  The name of these vegetable patches suggests that they provided families with a sense of empowerment because they allowed anyone with a patch of land to become a part of the war effort–though my grandpa remembers the freshness of the vegetables and the mean roosters most.

Folk speech
Foodways
general
Material

“Clean your plate” and Central Texas Supper

“The other thing I remember is my grandmother on my dad’s side, when we would go eat dinner with them, well first of all it was called ‘supper.’ ‘Dinner’ is lunch and ‘supper’ is supper and there would always be at least three meat dishes on the table. So you’d always have, like, venison, there was always fried fish, and there was usually like ham or a roast as the third meat. And then for dessert there were always at least three choices for dessert. And the saying was, ‘You have to clean your plate.’ So . . . yeah, I never felt that great after eating there. So full. But ‘you have to clean your plate.’ If you put it on your plate, you have to eat it. So then you just learn to put less on your plate, unless you’re just gonna make yourself eat it. You can’t throw anything away.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. She learned it from both of her grandmothers who “both grew up in the Great Depression and during the war when there wasn’t a lot of, when they used coupons to get their food.” She thinks this proverb is “about not wasting any food. And they didn’t have iceboxes, or well they had iceboxes which didn’t keep the food as well.”

 

I included the details about central Texas supper because it struck me as interesting and unusual that there always had to be three different kinds of meat on the table. I have no idea why this might have been, but it seems like it was a pretty hard and fast rule. I also thought it was interesting that different people refer to different meals differently, even if they reside in the same country. I agree with the informant that “Clean your plate” is probably related to the time period in which the two women grew up. In addition to there being the Great Depression and WWII, food was generally less abundant in all times before this one. I have often heard this saying in American households and I think it reflects the negative attitude most people have towards wasting food.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Well of Lost Souls

“My second ghost story umm happened just only a few years back, maybe about three years ago. When my children and my sister decided to take a visit to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Umm it was around Halloween time and they do a umm haunted ship or a haunted Queen Mary tour. Umm I’m kind of a scaredy cat and a chicken, so I went ahead and I sent my sister, who loves to be frightened and scared, with a portion of my family and I went ahead and decided to take a tour of the ship by myself with my two younger children.
So as we went ahead, and we started walking up and down the different floors, we decided to catch the end of a tour on one of the upper decks. So, as we were walking through, I guess it was the main deck to the back side of the ship, or which I believe is called the stern. We saw the tour enter this back umm entrance of the ship, so I -we- happened to be held back, because I think one of my children, her shoe was untied, so I went ahead and tied that. In that lapse of time, we kind of lost the group that we were following, but we know what area that they were going to go ahead and tour.
So we started walking down these red steel steps and my daughters were first and I was following behind them and as I made it to the bottom of that landing, I look up to my left and I see a sailor dressed in, I guess, its nautical clothing or a sailor’s outfit, but very dated. And he looked like he was behind a boiler, so I kind of shook my head and continued to walk through this what looked like an empty office with a lot of windows, a panoramic view basically of the bay. As I was walking through this area, I had a very uneasy feeling and at the same time, my middle daughter, she turned to me and she said “we need to get out of here and we need to get out of here now.” So I asked her “what happened, what happened?” And she says” we just need to get out of this place right now.” So we left that area of the ship and we went back to the main deck to catch some air. And when we arrived up at that upper deck, I asked her what happened and she said while she was there and even though we were the only ones now that were touring that area, because we had lost the other group. She said that there was a hand that or this pressure that came across her neck and was squeezing her neck very tightly and making sure that she understood that there was a presence there with her, but not a good presence, a bad presence. So between my daughter’s incident and what I saw and the sickening in my stomach, I was convinced that I needed to go and either find a historian or talk to somebody who knew of the sightings of the Queen Mary.
In my head, I kept on hearing this… this… I don’t want to say a voice, but I kept on hearing “the well of lost souls.” It was repetitious in my head. And the more this was happening the more I was desperate to find somebody who had answers for the way I was feeling and the incident that happened to my daughter. So when I finally got to the entrance, mind you, of the Queen Mary, which is also on the main deck, but kind of I guess it’s the lobby, they directed me to a historian who was in the bookstore. And I had told him of my account and what I had seen and what my daughter had seen. They had confirmed that yes the sailor that I saw is a frequent spirit that is always there and is always seen. That the ill feeling I had in my stomach and this word of “the well of lost souls” umm because what happened in that area that we were touring happened to be behind the – in front- of the infirmary umm and below that was the morgue. They had told me also that their main offices was in that portioner that area of the ship, but because there was so many sightings and incidents they had to relocate all the Queen Mary corporation offices off of that area and actually on to the main land. So, that was a little strange.
They also told me that the ship in itself had actually 49 deaths that happened on the ship and it was also called the Grey Ghost. Because Not only was it a luxury liner, but in World War II, it was a transport ship, so that’s why it was called the Grey Ghost, because they had painted it grey. During that time that it was a transport ship, there was an incident in the atlantic as it was crossing the atlantic with a sister ship, where the sister ship was sinking and the Queen Mary was zigzagging through the debris of this fallen ship and they had left behind 300 survivors in the water, of shark infested waters. So here you have also a guilt I guess, of these 300 people -I’m sorry- ya 300 people that were suffering in freezing cold water with sharks that were left at sea and either got eaten by the sharks or drowned. So since then, I do not go back to the Queen Mary and will not go back to the Queen Mary even though it is a tourist attraction, because I will never want that experience or wish that experience on anybody. I hope you enjoyed my second story and thank you for listening.”

Analysis:

Firstly, this story shows a harmful and unfamiliar ghost. In the sighting and incident, the ghost appeals to the senses. In the case of the storyteller, she sees him. In the case of her daughter, she feels a pounding on her neck. It is important to notice that ghosts can be perceived in different ways and not solely through sight. Secondly, this story draws a line between official and unofficial history. Most people are not aware of thew massive and horrible 300 person death in the seas. The Queen Mary tries to bury this secret and the ship is haunted by its guilt in a sense, because the ship has frequent sightings. Lastly, it is important to notice the way in which the Queen Mary staff talk about these stories, because it shows that ghost storytelling is a business in which money can be made.

general
Humor
Narrative

Joke

Joke, WII Military

Joke and Performers Analysis: I would start the joke by telling them I had a friend who had flown a bomber in the General Doolittle raid on Tokyo. They flew two engine bombers from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. And they didn’t know, after bombing Tokyo, how far the gas they would have left would take them and who would be on he ground when they landed.

Hoping he would be met by friendly natives, my friend had an American flag tattooed on his chest before taking off. Well, they bombed Tokyo and then flew on. When they ran out of gas, my friend parachuted from the plane and landed in a rice paddy. There was a woman in a kimono at the far end of the paddy, and she now walked towards him.

When she reached him, my friend unzipped his flight jacket , pulled his shirt open, and exposed the flag on his chest. “American,” he said.

The woman pulled her kimono open. She was wearing nothing underneath. “Nip on nese,” she said. End of joke.

The joke was current at the time, and I told it with my wife Cynthia at a dinner party. We were in our late 20s, and I insisted I tell the joke before they go. The joke was common at the time, and I learned it from someone in they military after the war finished up.

Collector’s Analysis: During lecture this semester, we covered jokes, in particular disaster jokes. We discussed “Making a Big Apple Crumble” a book containing jokes about September 11th 2001. We also discussed that the Kennedy Assasitnation was one of the first instances where are disaster or tragedy became socially acceptable to poke fun at an event. However, this seems not to be the case with Albert Schutzer’s joke about World War II. While this joke regarding the Japanese would have been offensive during World War II, there came a time where joking about World War II became socially acceptable.

Conversation about disaster jokes raises the question when it is OK to start making fun tragedy. Often times it is found that a disaster joke becomes funny well before the risible moment is identified and accepted. In addition, this joke, especially for younger generations, would not be considered funny. Thus, the joke is somewhat outdated and socially irrelevant because less and less people were alive to understand the context of the joke and why it is humorous.

folk metaphor
general
Humor
Narrative

Insult

Insult-WWII Military

Insult: “You’re lower than whale shit, and whale shit is the lowest thing in the world because it lies at the bottom of the ocean.”

Performer’s Analysis: When the southern boys came into the Army in World War II they brought a lot of new expressions with them, colorful phrases and images that those of us who came from other parts of the country had never heard before. In a way they were poets, and they enriched our language. For example, when they wanted to put somebody down, they would say, “You’re lower than whale shit, and whale shit is the lowest thing in the world because it lies at the bottom of the ocean.”  How’s that for a putdown?

Collector’s Analysis: Albert Schutzer is from the Northeast, so when he was sent to train in Oklahoma all of his fellow comrades were Southern. While he thought this joke was unique to the South, it clearly could have come from any region.

As far as its variation or multiplicity, Mr. Schutzer feels it was a joke concentrated in the south. Because of its relative its hard to adapt the joke but other forms of this joke are possible. It would be easy to replace the whale with any other organism and attach a negative connotation to it. Often times we see that insults involve comparing a person to animals, possibly because as humans we view ourselves as “above animals” when in reality we are not.

Its important to note that jokes come and go with the times. Most jokes a based on blazon populaire most of the time, so when the culture changes the joke evolves as well. While I personally have never heard the “Whale shit” joke, I know of plenty insults involving feces or “shit” like “shithead” or “shitfaced”

Folk speech
general

Folk Speech

Expression, WWII Military

Expression: Did you get any poontangin?

Performers analysis: And then they had an expression for the sex act. I was never able to figure out what its derivation was–and I never cared to ask. Instead of saying something like “Did you get any sex?”,  they would ask, “Did you get any poontangin?” Now where in the world did that word come from?

Collector’s Analysis: The expression “Did you get any poontangin” which Mr. Schutzer says he discovered during his days in the army ironically still has relevance today. Its multiplicity can be seen in that rather than using “poontangin” many people use “poon” as a more modern term. As a college student, I hear the word “poon” tossed around the residence all quite frequently. In fact I have heard many students ask me “Did you get any poon?”, proving that the expression has adapted over time (thus creating a certain variation)

It’s interesting that “poontangin” was a term used in the military, considering it was comprised of mostly males. In its usage today, mostly males in the hall make reference to it.

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