Thursday, May 12, 2005


Kilroy Was Here

The World War II memorial in Washington DC has an interesting piece of graffiti. No, it’s not the painted tags that we see in our cities and railroad yards produced by drug using gang members who in their delusions think they are artists. This is the drawing that turned up all over the European theater of WW II.
There are many stories about where the cartoon character and the words “Kilroy Was Here” came from. What seems to have happened is that an event in Quincy, Massachusetts and another event in England merged when our soldiers were stationed in England in 1940.
First the American part:
The theory that seems most plausible identifies James J. Kilroy who was an American shipyard inspector as the man behind the signature. Women were working as welders in the shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts and apparently were paid by how much work they completed. Inspector Kilroy would draw a chalk line along their weld for the day to distinguish it from tomorrow’s work. The women would erase the line part way so that it would look like they got a lot more work done the next day. Mr. Kilroy caught on to this and began signing “Kilroy Was Here” which stopped the cheating. Other bulkheads were added and later may have been removed for repair or refurbishing and “Kilroy Was Here” was found. Since Kilroy was being found in impossible places, our US troops had the beginnings of an idea. When they arrived in Europe and moved into the French villages, they would leave behind their graffliti, claiming that it was there before they arrived. It would confound the enemy and provide encouragement for the troops that would follow.

Now the England part:
Maybe the slogan, “Kilroy Was Here” happened some other way but the origins of the cartoon have more solid evidence. It almost certainly originated as “Chad” in the UK before the war. It was the creation of the cartoonist George Edward Chatterton. We can guess that in 1940 when US troops arrived the two merged. The “Chad” cartoon was very popular in England and was found everywhere as a social or political commentary with the slogan “Wot, no (…)?” underneath where the blank was filled with what ever what currently rationed or was a shortage. ie. “Wot, no butter?” or “Wot, no Spam?” Some one reported sighting on the side of a British 1st Airborne Division glider in Operation Market Garden someone had written “Wot, no engines?”
As the war continued, Kilroy became the US super-GI who always got there first. Soldiers were drawing him but never admitting it, pretending the he was there before they arrived. It was not so much as Kiroy being there but that it became a challenge to put him in some unlikely place. It’s been said that he can be found underneath the Arch d Triumphe, on the Statue of Liberty’s torch and even written in the dust on the Moon.
A restroom was built for the use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill who were there for the Potsdam conference. It seems that Stalin was the first to use the privy. We he came out he asked in Russian “Who is Kilroy?”
As a war baby, I saw Kilroy in many places in Minnesota. He’d appear on bridges, railroad overpasses, and water towers. I even saw it once on a Harvestor silo somewhere in Iowa. It seems Kilroy is still around. The last time I saw him he was a plastic fellow attached to a bug shield on a pickup.
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