William “Bing” Coughlin. The Maple Leaf Forever, 1987: 45
J. Douglas MacFarlane. Editor. The Maple Leaf Forever, 1987: 16.
“If the troops like the cartoons, I can thank my army experience more than any other one thing. Because no matter how well you can draw, you can’t get that feeling of live humour into an army cartoon unless you’ve experienced the things you’re trying to put into black and white. You’ve got to live it first.” William “Bing” Coughlin. This Army Maple Leaf Album No. 1: 63.
“Herbie was thoroughly enjoyed because he caught the utter madness of what the fighting man was involved in – the hardships, the lack of logic – all wrapped up in a pixie humour that relieved the tension. Herbie was a tonic.” Jack Donoghue. Maple Leaf staff. Herbie: 23.
“What I want to most git out of this war …is me!” A caption from a “Herbie”cartoon. Canada’s Newspaper Legend, 94.
Sergeant William Garnet “Bing” Coughlin, the creator of “Herbie” enlisted as a trooper in the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards at Ottawa in 1941. He took part in the invasion of Sicily and served four months in the Italian campaign all the while sketching cartoons for his own amusement and that of his fellow soldiers. Captain J. Douglas MacFarlane who was editor of The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Army newspaper in Italy, was advertising for cartoonists and “Bing” sent him some samples. MacFarlane liked them and had Coughlin transferred in January 1944 to the 2 Canadian Public Relations in Naples Italy where he became a cartoonist for the newspaper:
He began with a panel called “This Army” which first appeared February 19 1944. The cartoon featured generic Canadian soldiers much like you see in “Johnny and Monty”. J. Douglas entered with some editorial advice. According to his son Richard, McFarlane, he suggested that Bing needed to create a Canadian soldier who tended to have a more specific character with whom the soldiers could identify. He suggested a name “Herbie”. In some of the first cartoons there had appeared a chinless little guy observing the action taking place in the cartoon. This observer took over the action and became “Herbie”.
Although, Bing based his cartoons on his own experiences in the Italian campaign and later by taking periodic trips to the front lines to visit with the troops, “Herbie” was inspired by an actual person, Norman Pallister Smith, not physically but in behaviour. Like “Bing” he was born in Ottawa, enlisted in the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, and wound up on the Maple Leaf staff. As J. Douglas described him.
“He brought to the army a rare sense of the humourous, a peculiar facility for getting himself in and out of trouble, a happy facility for keeping his fellow gentlemen of the military entertained.” Herbie, no date: 22.
“Herbie” instantly became popular with the soldiers in Italy who voted him, “Canada’s Man Of The Year for 1944. As time passed, “Herbie” began appearing in a comic strip titled “Herbie” as well as continuing in the panels called “This Army”.
This character entered army life in other ways. After a while a ubiquitous sign “Don’t Be A Herbie” began appearing along the front lines. It was short hand for: don’t goof up, don’t make a wrong turn, don’t do the wrong thing. It entered the field of the editorial cartoon as well. Another example was when “Herbie” was used to comment about the failures in the system to repatriate Canadian soldiers to Canada after Germany was defeated. Bing’s cartoons were collected into two books: This Army & This Army vol. 2, both published by the army’s Canadian Public Relations Group. Coughlin was awarded an MBE for his work.
“Herbie” cartoons entered Canadian civilian life. Offered by the Canadian Public Relations Group, they appeared in thirty-five Canadian newspapers, including the Evening Telegram, under the title “Active Service” and the British Columbian under “This Army”.
Bing added another character called Beannie” a toque wearing, mustachioed somewhat more sophisticated version of “Herbie”, but this character didn’t catch on.
According to Roy Beamish with the conclusion of the war in sight, Coughlin was planning a postwar career as a cartoonist and appears to have been preparing “Herbie” for a post war life. Unfortunately, “Herbie” didn’t make the transition. Like other characters created for the specific conditions of war, Ted McCall’s “Freelance” comes to mind the post war world was too different for them to find a place in it.
However, the story of “Herbie” had one more chapter. MacFarlane insisted that he and Coughlin partner to do a collection of “Herbie” cartoons. The result which appeared in 1946 was a best seller resulting in two printings. The 1959 printing was a 20th anniversary edition commemorating the beginning of World War Two. “Herbie” has appeared in other books down to this day, but this book should be considered the definitive version of this remarkable wartime character..
Bing Coughlin’s “Herbie” in cartoon portrayed the everyman slightly naïve Canadian soldier the way Earl Birney in his novel Turvey portrayed the same type character in words. Both works were very successful in touching the hearts of the Canadians.
BOOK GRAPHIC COLLECTION:
Content panel cartoon & Cover book front & back:
This Army Maple Leaf Album. Car., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944.
This Army Maple Leaf Album No. 1. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, Fourth printing January 1945. A reprint of This Army Maple Leaf Album.
This Army Vol. 2, Another Maple Leaf Album. Car., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1945.
Content panel cartoon & Cover dust jacket front:
Herbie. Ed., & Writ., Doug MacFarlane. Car., Bing Coughlin. Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., no date. MacFarlane provided the accompanying text.
Content panel & strip & Cover book front & back:
Herbie and Friends: Cartoons in Wartime, Ed., Barry Browland. Natural Heritage/ Natural History Inc., 1990.
BOOK TEXT & GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
The Maple Leaf Forever. Eds., & Memorialists, Barry D Rowland & J. Douglas MacFarlane. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 1987.
The Maple Leaf Scrapbook: Souvenir Book printed in Belgium at cost price to forces overseas. No editor. No date: No. 3 Canadian P.R. Group, no date: Herbie cartoons 12-16.
Content full page cartoon:
The Maple Leaf, 3-39, 9 May 1945 Special Victory Edition: “WHERE ISH TH’ SARGINT MAJOR –HIC!”: Back page. A full page cartoon panel (387 mm h X 254 mm w)
Canada’s Newspaper Legend: The Story of J. Douglas MacFarlane. Writ., Richard MacFarlane. ECW Press, 2000: 48, 50, 94.
The Maple Leaf Forever: The Story Of Canada’s Foremost Armed Forces Newspaper. Writ. & Ed., Barry D. Rowland & J. Douglas MacFarlane. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc. 1987.
The Maple Leaf Scrapbook: Souvenir Book printed in Belgium at cost price to forces Overseas. Belgique: No. 3 Canadian P.R. Group, no date: “Bing Coughlin”: 12 -16.
This Army; Maple Leaf Album. Car., Bing Coughlin. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944: It was later renamed This Army; Maple Leaf Album No. 1. “Forward.” Writ., Lt. Gen. E.L.M. Burns: 3. Writ., Lt. Gen. C. Foulkes in reprints. “You Asked For It.” Writ., Lt.-Col. C.W. Gilchrist: 7-8. “A Word From the Managing Editor.” Capt. J. D. MacFarlane: 9. “You’ve Got To Live It First.” Writ., Major R.E. Beamish:61-63.
This Army; Maple Leaf Album, no. 2. No. 2 Canadian Public Relations Group, 1944: “Ancora!” Writ., Lt.-Col. C.W. Gilchrist: 7 – 8..
Maclean’s, 1 June 1945: “Battle-Front Humourist” Writ., Royd E. Beamish.. 10+.
“Canadian Is Creator Of Popular Character.” Writ., Douglas Amaron with Canadian Corps in Italy. Canadian Press, 4 June 1944.
The Maple Leaf, 13 May 1944
I told ya so! No matter how much air ya put in the tires she still sinks. The Maple Leaf Scrap Book:16.
Coughlin’s cartoons appeared under the title “This Army” in many daily newspapers.
The Maple Leaf Forever, 1987
Herbie and Friends: Cartoons in Wartime. 1990: 30.
A 1947 effort by Bing to create a post war “Herbie” reproduced in Legion, Oct. 1991: 34.
Maple Leaf Reunion, 1969. The Maple Leaf Forever, 1987: