British World War I Veterans Named Their Medals After Comic Strip Characters
Meet Pip, Squeak and Wilfred
Britain awarded millions of medals to the soldiers of the Great War. The crown gave the Silver War Badge to the injured and sick. “For King and Empire, For Services Rendered,” the medal states along its outer rim.
Those who served in the merchant navy received a Mercantile Marine War Medal, which bears the face of King George V. But the three most common decorations were the Mons Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Soldiers often received all three, and the matching set soon earned the nickname Pip, Squeak and Wilfred — after the popular British comic strip characters from the first half of the 20th century.
Comics and war have often mixed. Even as far back as World War I.
The Daily Mirror tabloid ran Pip, Squeak and Wilfred from 1919 to 1956. The strip followed the adventures of three orphaned animals who adopted each other and became a family.
Pip is a dog, who acts as the trio’s father. The mother is a penguin named Squeak. Wilfred is their rascally rabbit son. The trio appeared in strips, yearly annuals and even animated cartoons.
It’s a bit peculiar, as if U.S. troops nicknamed the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals after Snoopy and Woodstock.
The artists were also veterans. Writer Bertram Lamb and artist Austin Bowen Payne both served Britain during World War I.
Payne named the dog and penguin after his batman, who went by the nickname “Pipsqueak.” A batman was a British military position akin to an officer’s servant — they had nothing to do with protecting Gotham.
The strip took off in the years after the war, and British soldiers borrowed the characters’ names for their medals. The names stuck — online references to Pip, Squeak and Wilfred more often specifically refer to the medals rather than the cartoon.
But the comic strip was massively popular at the time, and Payne and Lamb became celebrities. The Daily Mirror even filmed the pair working alongside a penguin, a rabbit and a dog as part of a bizarre promotional campaign.
Pip actually refers to two different military decorations. The first is the Mons Star, or 1914 Star. Britain awarded it to soldiers who served in France or Belgium during the first year of the Great War.
The medal features a bronze star bearing British heraldry, and dangles from a red, white and blue ribbon. The military gave out almost 400,000 of them.
The other Pip is the 1914–1915 Star. Visually, it’s almost identical to the Mons Star, except it has a different color. It commemorates the service of British troops who fought against the Central Powers from August 1914 through 1915. More than two million soldiers received a Pip.
Squeak was the name for the British War Medal, commemorating those who served in various theaters from 1914 to 1918. It includes a depiction of King George V. More than six million soldiers received a Squeak.
Wilfred was the Allied Victory Medal, awarded to anyone who entered the war from 1914 to 1918. The medal was bronze, and bore the image of a winged woman clad in Greek robes — known as Victory or Winged Victory. The British Empire gave out around six-and-a-half million of these medals.
Many of the other Allied nations — including America, Japan and France — issued their own versions of the Victory Medal with their own depictions of Winged Victory. But no country gave out as many of them as Britain.
If a veteran got a Pip, he typically received the other two medals and had a set. But Pips were the rarest of the three, and millions of soldiers only received a Squeak and Wilfred. Without the third medal, the set was incomplete.
But the soldiers had another nickname for a pair of British War Medals and Allied Victory Medals absent the Mons star — Mutt and Jeff, a popular comic strip drawn by American cartoonist Bud Fisher.