A shave is now a painful thing
To everyone concerned;
For half the barbers are in France,
The other half interned.
But Heaven wisely hath decreed
That, as a general rule,
The barbers sell us CHAIRMAN too
And keep our tempers cool.

5½d for 10

EVERY day throughout the First World War, The Northern Echo carried an entertaining and poetic advert for Chairman cigarettes tucked away at the bottom of the one of its four pages.

Somewhere, there must have been a poet, no doubt in a smoke-filled attic, penning daily rhyming ditties like the one above, which appeared on the morning of Monday, November 11, 1918, before anyone knew that the armistice had been declared.

Armistice is a word from Latin – “arms stand”, it literally means, so that weapons are not being pointed horizontally, and threateningly, at anyone. It means a total but temporary suspension of hostilities, agreed by governments, to enable proper peace negotiations to begin.

Armistice is therefore different from a ceasefire, which is a military command for a temporary suspension of hostilities, usually to enable something like the burial of the dead to take place.

The word “truce” is at the bottom of the league table, and it is an Old English word, based on “truth” and “trust” feuding or quarrelling parties agree to a temporary suspension of hostilities.

So relieved was our ditty-writer to learn that an armistice had been agreed that for November 12’s paper, he composed a Chairman Peace Rhyme and omitted, for the first time in 279 rhymes, the name of the product he was promoting:

The roar of conflict sinks and dies;
The smouldering embers slow expire.
Now breathes the longed-for voice of Peace;
Now glows again the homestead fire.
A deep contentment fills my soul,
And pride of country swells my bliss.
’Tis good to be a Briton now!
’Tis good to live in times like this.

5½d for 10

However, he soon recovered his composure, and for November 13’s he composed another Chairman Peace Rhyme, but this time with the product placement in place:

What matter now the pangs of earth!
What matter all the grief and pain!
In the sweet hour of Victory’s birth
Old England is herself again.
Ah! Happy land, to choose the right,
And reck not what the risk might be.
I smoke my CHAIRMAN with delight,
For Britain, I am proud of thee!

5½d for 10

After the emotional joy of the armistice, the world was getting back to normal. In fact, the poet only penned four Chairman Peace Rhymes and then he returned to knocking out the daily ditty. This is No 320:

Now Sister Susie heaves a sigh
Her knitting days are ending,
And comforts to the lads no more
Fair Susie will be sending.
But once the boys are home again
And done with war-time’s rackets,
The best of comforts she can still
Provide in CHAIRMAN packets.

5½d for 10

The Chairman Rhymes offer an interesting insight into life 100 years ago, and while their literary merit is not great, there are some nice lines – the one about the longed-for voice of Peace starting to be heard in November 12’s offering is rather good. Perhaps a university could offer me a huge research grant to research these back-of-a-fag-packet poems.