meaning and origin of the phrase “’arf a mo’, Kaiser!”

The phrase ’arf a mo’, Kaiser! (i.e., half a moment, Kaiser! 1) was originally the caption to a drawing by the British political cartoonist Herbert Samuel ‘Bert’ Thomas (1883-1966)—this drawing:
– showed a British soldier pausing to light his pipe prior to unslinging his rifle and going into action;
– appeared in the Weekly Dispatch (London, England) of Wednesday 11th November 1914 to advertise the newspaper’s tobacco fund for soldiers.

1 The Kaiser (i.e., Emperor) of Germany and King of Prussia from 1888 to 1918 was Wilhelm II (1859-1941).

A reproduction of Bert Thomas’s drawing appeared in the following advertisement for the Weekly Dispatch’s tobacco fund, published in The Lakes Herald (Ambleside, Westmorland, England) of Friday 8th October 1915:

'arf a mo', Kaiser! - The Lakes Herald (Ambleside, Westmorland, England) - 8 October 1915


Our Soldiers are giving their lives; you are asked to give them something to smoke.
It isn’t much to you, but it is a great deal to “Tommy Atkins.”
Every 6d. provides a parcel (worth 2/-) consisting of 30 Cigarettes, 1 oz. Tobacco, and some matches.
This large amount of smoking material can be sent for 6d. only because the parcels go from the in-bond duty-free warehouse of Martins, Ltd., the well-known tobacco firm, of 210, Piccadilly, London, W., and are conveyed to the front by the military authorities free of charge.
A pleasing feature of the fund is that a postcard addressed to you is enclosed in every 6d. parcel you subscribe for, and this enables the happy Soldier who receives your gift to write and thank you personally when he can do so.

Weekly Dispatch
Cigarette & Tobacco Fund
for our gallant Soldiers and Sailors
in the fighting line.

Will you help by sending just as many sixpences as you can to the local centre for contributions,

Westmorland House, Ambleside

and remember, a postcard addressed to you is enclosed in every 6d. parcel your donation pays for, so that the happy Soldier who receives your gift knows whom he has to thank.
Not a penny of the money subscribed is deducted by the Weekly Dispatch for the working of the Fund.

In 1915, The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) created its own tobacco fund for soldiers, and occasionally used both the phrase ’arf a mo’, Kaiser! and Bert Thomas’s drawing—as in its edition of Wednesday 25th August 1915:

'arf a mo', Kaiser! - The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) - 25 August 1915


The following from The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas, USA) of Saturday 6th March 1915 indicates:
– that U.S. citizens too donated to the British tobacco fund;
– that the postcards that the soldiers sent to the donators bore a reproduction of Bert Thomas’s drawing:

Wichitan in Receipt of Thanks from English Major

Fred Moore of the Moore Grocery company has received a postal card from the English battle front. It was mailed without a stamp and was delivered for postage due. It had a picture of an English soldier lighting his pipe and saying: “Arf a mo’, Kaiser,” meaning “In just a minute.” The postal card said: “Major C. B. Thackeray and Fifth battery thank you very warmly for your kind gift of cigarettes.”

However, the drawing ’Arf a mo’, Kaiser! ceased to appear on those postcards—as explained by The Vancouver Daily Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) of Tuesday 6th July 1915:

An interesting enclosure sent with the subscription of Mr. A. M. Wastell of Alert Bay, B. C, is one of the return postcards which Mr. Wastell received in recognition of a subscription sent through the tobacco fund of a London newspaper. He has received several of these postcards, which will make a gratifying memento of the war in years to come.
The return postcard bears on the face the picture of a British soldier with his gun slung by the shoulder strap by his side as he sits with legs sprawled out on an empty tobacco case. Amid the puffs of smoke which radiate from his pleased countenance he asks the jocular question, “Are we downhearted?” The expression on his face supplies the answer. The recipient, Private T. Dalziel of one of the British regiments, assures Mr. Wastell on behalf of his platoon that the gift of tobacco and cigarettes has been greatly appreciated.
The well-known cartoon “Arf a mo’ Kaiser!” was originally drawn for the reply postcard, but knowing the highly sensitive feelings of the super-sausages at Berlin, a thoughtful fear was felt lest any British soldier was caught with one of the cards in his possession, the humorous slang phrase might be made a convenient excuse for shooting the owner of the card out of hand on the charge of lese majeste. For that reason the “Are we downhearted?” cartoon was substituted.

It was not only on postcards that Bert Thomas’s drawing was reproduced—as shown for example by the following two quotations:

1: This advertisement, published in The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland) of Saturday 27th February 1915:

SOLDIERS’ MARCHING SONGS.—A book of 50 of the best melodies in both notations, the National Hymns of the Allies, a chapter on vamping accompaniments to the songs, and cover with illustration of “’Arf a mo’, Kaiser,” by Bert Thomas. Of all musicsellers in Edinburgh and Glasgow; or 6½d. post free from the Publishers, Hawkes & Son, Denman Street, Piccadilly Circus, London.

2: This paragraph, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 28th March 1915:

’Arf a Mo’, Kaiser,” Playing Cards.
The latest playing cards issued by Messrs. Thomas De La Rue and Co., Ltd., have on the back a reproduction of Bert Thomas’s now famous picture, “’Arf a Mo’, Kaiser.” Bert Thomas originally drew this picture with a view to raising funds to send tobacco and cigarettes to soldiers at the front. A proportion of the profits on each pack of cards on which the picture appears is being devoted to this end.

The following paragraph from The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) of Friday 23rd April 1915 indicates that the phrase ’arf a mo’, Kaiser! came to be used in the sense of pipe tobacco:

The First Heavy Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, is mostly composed of Montreal boys. They are now at the front and they need tobacco. Whether they can get it or not depends largely on the friends they have left at home. The Gazette wants to send to every man an outfit consisting of a briar pipe, a rubber-lined pouch, a tender-lighter, fifty cigarettes and a quarter-pound package of “Arf a Mo, Kaiser” smoking mixture, the brand which is already becoming popular among the Canadians in the trenches, thanks to those who have subscribed to The Gazette Tobacco Fund, which can send the three dollars’ worth of smoking material mentioned above for one dollar.

The phrase ’arf a mo’, Kaiser! was used as the caption to a different drawing, first published in London Opinion, and reproduced in The Tatler (London, England) of Wednesday 23rd February 1916—a Cossack, whom Wilhelm II, pictured as a priest, was about to bury, is getting out of his coffin, raising his fist:

'arf a mo', Kaiser! - The Tatler (London, England) - 23 February 1916

                              From “London Opinion”
The Russian: ’Arf a mo’, Kaiser! I’m not dead yet

During the Second World War (1939-45), the phrase was changed to ’arf a mo’, Hitler 2.

The earliest occurrence that I have found is from the caption to this cartoon, published in the Western Mail and South Wales News (Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales) of Tuesday 18th April 1939—on his way to the recruiting office, a proud ‘Taffy’ (i.e., Welshman), swelling out his chest, pushes apart the knees of Adolf Hitler, under whom he is walking; Hitler, who is holding a copy of Mein Kampf 3, exclaims: “These interruptions make it more and more difficult to get on with the next chapter!”:

'arf a mo', Hitler - Western Mail (Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales) - 18 April 1939

2 The Austrian-born Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945.
3 Mein Kampf (My Struggle – 1925-26) is a political manifesto written by Adolf Hitler.

The second-earliest occurrence of ’arf a mo’, Hitler that I have found is from the Telegraph and Independent (Sheffield, Yorkshire, England) of Saturday 27th May 1939:

Most of us will convince ourselves that we have earned or deserve a holiday. Truth to tell, all of us have been through a strenuous time since the summer of last year. There has been scarcely a week-end when the question has not been on everybody’s lips, “Does it mean war?” And month after month of an ordeal of that nature is bound to have a wearing effect.
The doctor would order in such circumstances a few days of rest and quietness, plenty of sunshine, if possible, and no worry.
The country is about to take that treatment, we believe. Many thousands have started it already. They may not all manage to be quiet or seek quietude, but for the time being they mean to say, “Arf a mo, Hitler,” and forget about him.

The phrase was used as the title of a 1939 war film made of re-edited Paramount news-reels. The following review is from the Liverpool Daily Post (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Friday 6th October 1939:

In spite of its facetious title, “’Arf a mo’, Hitler” […], the first war-time piece of film propaganda for our Army is quite a dignified affair. Directed by Mr. G. T. Cummins, it is good solid film reporting. Opening with the last war and a sketchy account of the causes which produced the Nazi regime, Mr. Cummins has not much of importance to show until he reaches the Army of to-day with its mechanisations. Here his material is really interesting, and often beautiful.
The film ends with touching shots of the troops embarking for France, all looking cheerful. One is grateful to Mr. Cummins for having left it at that and not tried to introduce any individual human interest in the way of a stage Tommy Atkins uttering the standard Cockneyisms.

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