In the last part of obscure military phrases, we covered how Wagner turned into unfortunate slang. This time, we’ll discuss the origins of some obscure military graffiti.
Kilroy was here – World War Two
This symbol and phrase became popular the world over. It lasted well past the 1950s. However, to truly understand the origins, you have to examine two things separately. The two distinct parts are the words, and the picture.
A radio contest held in 1946 has largely settled the debate to the phrase’s origins. The American Transit Association had dozens of people claim to be the originator. However, they settled on the story of James J. Kilroy. He was an American shipyard inspector in Quincy, Massachusetts. James claimed most inspectors used chalk to mark their inspections. Nevertheless, welders would erase the mark in order to claim it was new work, and get paid double. This was feasible considering war factories were at full steam. As a result, numbers of armored plates and bulkheads produced were not always accurate.
James was frequently reinspecting the same work again and again. Therefore, he belligerently scribbled “Kilroy was here” in a more durable marking, a yellow crayon. This was much harder to remove, and seemed to do the trick. This was merely a way for James to maximize his time contributing to the effort. He had no idea the impact he would truly have on the war.
Now flash forward to the front. Troops were removing plates to lighten vehicles. Also, they were constantly replacing damaged armored plating. Astoundingly, they would see this marking. This phrase was in hard to get to places, or even behind metal panels. Bewildered, the troops began to speculate as to the origins. Through smoke pit conversations and foxhole whispers, it became a source of folklore. The myth of Kilroy evolved. Many fashioned him as a traveling soldier, who had been everywhere. Others thought of him as a ghost of a fallen ally. As the legend grew, so did the desire to participate. Soldiers began scribbling it everywhere they could. The swirling rumors made their way out to Berlin. The mystery perplexing even Adolph Hitler. Moreover, he actually believed Kilroy to be a high-level American spy.
The long-nosed man, peering over a wall, was originally called “Chad” and created in 1938. Many attribute the original design to British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton. To begin with, the phrase “Wot, no tea?” was used in pairing. In England, any social gathering lacking tea was considered to be subpar. Consequently, this became a source of ironic humor for the large units that were often under-supplied. Additionally, the cartoon had been referred to as “The Goon,” for its resemblance to a Popeye the Sailor character. Furthermore, it was known as Pvt Snoops and “The Watcher.” Since a large amount of American troops came through England, the two cultures merged.
This iconic symbol is a classic example of irreverent humor. This is part of what makes military service and culture so unique. Let us know what other pieces of obscure military history we should cover next!
You can also find Grunt Style’s Kilroy shirt, here!