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Charley's War in Battle

Battle (known variously as Battle Picture Weekly, Battle and Valiant, Battle Action, Battle Action Force and Battle with Storm Force and more over its lifetime) was a long-running British war comic, published weekly by IPC from 1975 to 1988. It was founded* by John Wagner and Pat Mills as a competitor to DC Thompson's Warlord, and written by a whole host of writers that would go on to work on titles like Action and 2000 AD, including Alan Hebden, Tom Tully and Gerry Finley-Day.

Battle marked an interesting transition in British comics. Though it would never quite engender the same controversy as Action and 2000 AD, its war stories typically defied the "Boys' Own" mentality of the likes of Commando, Valiant and Warlord in favour of a more '70s and anti-authoritarian sensibility and willingness to depict the uglier, but equally true aspects of war. Like Action, many of the stories were "dead cribs" — direct rip-offs of popular or iconic films or books. They also made game attempts to do stories set in wars other than WW2, in defiance of conventional wisdom about what would sell. And they (usually) had a policy of doing the research — their aim was that if Grandad was sneakily reading it over your shoulder, he wouldn't turn away in disgust.

While initially successful, Battle suffered from declining readership and editorial changes that saw it move away from war stories and into a more general "action" genre. At the same time, sales were slipping, and by 1984, the comic was approaching cancellation and merger into the re-launched Eagle. It was saved by a marketing deal with Palitoy, the UK licensor of G.I. Joe toys, which saw the comic re-branded as Battle Action Force. The titular team's adventures gradually came to dominate the book (Occupying the valuable centre colour pages, the covers and as much as half the pagecount), but at the same time turned around its sales and kept it alive for several more years.

The death knell of Battle came in late 1986 when the Action Force rights were suddenly revoked and handed over to Marvel UK. After six weeks reverting to the Battle title, it was relaunched in January 1987 as Battle with Storm Force, the focus given over to the titular new story. Even then this wasn't enough, with Battle merging into Eagle in January 1988. Only three stories made the transition; the iconic Charley's War and Johnny Red (both of which were reprints at this point) and Storm Force.

The comic has seen a bit of a resurrection recently, as resolved rights issues have led to the more famous stories being reprinted and the likes of Garth Ennis, a longtime vocal fan (he had a letter printed in it, back in the day), helping to spread the word. In 2015, Ennis resurrected Johnny Red, and in 2018 Rebellion's Sniper Elite tie-in featured an appearance by the Rat Pack. In 2019 the Battle name was revived by 2000 AD with a new story, Operation: Overlord, set during World War II's Normandy Landings, and in 2020 a 100-page Battle of Britain Special was released, featuring stories by the original writers alongside major fans like Ennis and Dan Abnett.

Historical war stories that Battle produced include the following:

  • Charley's War: Pat Mills' and Joe Colquhoun's story of sixteen year old Charley (and later his friends and family), who joins the army just in time for the battle of the Somme. Horrific, extremely well-researched, absolutely no unseemly heroics, and bristling with anger. Alan Moore called it "one of the most emotionally affecting comic strips ever published."
  • Rat Pack: Originated by Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra, a story about a group of convicts released from prison to carry out suicide missions, inspired by The Dirty Dozen.
  • Major Eazy: By Alan Hebden and Ezquerra, about a laid-back, cigar-smoking British officer, based on James Coburn, and with the tone of films like Kelly's Heroes. For a time, Eazy became commander of the Rat Pack.
  • Darkie's Mob, by John Wagner and Mike Western, where a group of soldiers lost in Burma meet renegade Captain Joe Darkie, who leads them on a vicious guerrilla war against the Japanese, and who may not be quite who he seems. Heavily inspired by both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.
  • Johnny Red: By Tom Tully and Colquhoun, about a disgraced RAF "Hurricat" pilot who ends up stranded in Russia and joins the Russian "Falcon Squadron". It was revived in 2015 by Garth Ennis.
  • HMS Nightshade: By John Wagner and Mike Western. George Dunn tells his grandson Davy about his time on HMS Nightshade, a Flower-class escort ship on the dreaded "Murmansk run".
  • Fighting Mann: Col. (retired) Walter Mann USMC goes to Vietnam to track down his son, who's "Missing, Believed Deserted". One of the first British comics stories to tackle Vietnam seriously.

Non-historical titles included:

  • Action Force: a licenced strip based on the UK versions of GI Joe toys. Initially focused characters unique to the British version of the toyline, it was later re-tooled and focused around more familiar American characters.
  • Storm Force: A replacement for the above, Storm Force featured the exploits of a high-tech strike force who fought colourful terrorists and criminals. Also the last original story during Battle's run.

The comic itself provides examples of:

  • Comics Merger: The failed revival of the classic Valiant was folded into Battle early on. Action would also be folded in after its gutting at the hands of Mary Whitehouse and Co, to become Battle Action. Later, Battle was merged into the relaunched Eagle; the resultant merger represented the legacies of over twenty different books.
  • No Smoking: Reprints of Major Eazy removed the major's signature cigars.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Late in its life, as Battle Action Force, the comic was taken over by tie-in material to that toyline, a European rebranding of G.I. Joe. Although in all fairness, Battle was in decline before the takeover, and running the severe risk of cancellation.
  • War Is Hell: Many of the Battle creators (but perhaps especially Pat Mills) wanted to get this across.

Individual stories provided examples of:

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    Charley's War 
  • Aborted Arc: We were supposed to get more of Jack's story, focusing on the Battle Of Jutland, but according to Pat Mills, editorial insisted naval warfare storylines were unpopular with readers, so the idea was scrapped.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Blue's American comrade in the Legion, Lacey, is rather fond of his father's Single Action Army. Its black powder cartridges leave evidence that he stole water from Krotowski's flask.
  • Anyone Can Die: Look, the first part of the series is set during the battle of the Somme. This is a given.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Lieutenant Thomas is executed for cowardice for making a tactical withdrawal during an artillery bombardment. He saves the lives of his men, but his superiors don't see it this way.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The majority of the British officers came from British aristocracy; which also complement their indifference to the soldiers' suffering, inability to adapt on changing warfare, and willingness to order a costly attack even for a few miles. Of course, the same goes to Junker-dominated German officer corps with Zeiss being an exception as Self-Made Man.
  • The Atoner: "Lonely", the Sole Survivor of his original platoon's massacre thanks to an order by Lieutenant Snell, performs a Heroic Sacrifice by marching out into No Man's Land where the Germans are ready to ambush the British, where he's promptly shot, exposing the Germans and their ambush.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Charley and Kate start out like this due to Charley having accidentally wounded himself and Kate's fiancĂ© having died in action at Gallipoli. Once she realises that he's not a coward, they warm to each other and soon marry.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Charley spends his seventeenth birthday in the trenches. His squadmates get him a cake and sing happy birthday to him, all while still wearing gasmasks.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Ol' Bill Tozer was a veteran of the Boer War before the Great War broke out. Having survived the entire thing, he volunteers to go to Russia with Charley and when Charley meets up with him again in 1933, notes that the country needs another war to get the country going again. When the Army refuses to let him re-enlist on age grounds at the outbreak of World War II, he joins the Home Guard instead.
    • Charley's World War II Sergeant, Bert Nickles, is implied to have enlisted just so he could kill people, having concealed the fact that he has only one eye from everyone.
  • The Bully: Grogan becomes this at Ypres to conscripts like Scholar by constantly berating them for not having been at the Somme with him. He even takes Scholar's books and throws them into No Man's Land. Charley becomes a sort of Bully Hunter by standing up for the new guys, noting that they're all supposed to be on the same side.
  • Book Dumb: Charley is this compared to his working-class compatriots, which his first appearances include being easily tricked into enlisting an old horse into the military (unsuccessfully) and inability to add up for his fake birthday (using 1900 without realizing it would make him 16 years old by the comic's time). Though it took a Character Development to make him a hardened soldier, he is still ignorant about other places in London like The Ritz hotel, which he assumed was named after their dugout rather than the other way around.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Smith 70, the platoon's eccentric machinegunner has some pretty nutty ideas, such as training rats to fight, using his machine gun to play musical tunes and rigging up a revolver as a servants' bell for the officers to use. He also describes everything he does as "a bit technical". However, he is an excellent machinegunner. Thanks to some mathematical calculations, he works out a way use his machine gun to lay down indirect fire on a cafĂ© occupied by some Germans in the same manner as an artillery strike.
  • Captain Crash: Smith 70 gets kicked out of the Tank Corps because he kept crashing his tank into people's houses.
  • Child Soldiers: The British Army is more than willing to overlook the fact that Charley is only sixteen when he enlists. It gets worse when his thirteen-year-old brother, Wilf, tries to sign up until Charley steps in and stops him. When Charley goes back to the front, he enlists under an assumed name. Later on, Wilf would volunteer for the Royal Flying Corps as a gunner where he perished in 1917 during a sortie against a German bomber.
  • Cold Sniper:
    • The first story has Kurt, a German sniper who wears steel plating over his face and body who revels in killing Tommies. His own comrades can't even stand him, as they're as fed up with the war as the Brits. He's the first person Charley ever kills thanks to a bayonet to an exposed point where the plates join.
    • Subverted with Len Southgate. He just seems like this when Charley first meets him, but reveals that he only acts that way in front of officers to put them in their place. He gladly teaches Charley the tricks of the trade.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Field Punishment Number One involves soldiers being crucified on the wheels of artillery guns, forced to move rocks back and forth, and being drilled at high speed. In the trenches, the gun wheel is replaced with the trenches themselves.
  • Cool Horse: Warrior, a horse Charley saves in the Somme, and encounters throughout the war. Charley shares a bond with him and reckons that war is no place for a horse.
  • Cruel Mercy: When Snell is hit with an acid sprayer, he begs Charley to put him out of his misery. Charley refuses, leaving him to die slowly.
  • Cut Short: The original run comes to an abrupt end at the end of the Russia campaign in 1919, switching to the Distant Finale in 1933. There were plans for a story arc set during The Irish Revolution with Blue even supposed to appear fighting for the IRA, but Pat Mills' dispute over his research budget led him to quit writing the strip with Scott Goodall taking over and having Charley fight at Dunkirk in 1940 instead.
  • Dark Secret: The Secret of Lost Platoon, according to Lonely, was his platoon wiped out by Roaring Rampage of Revenge by the Germans after deaths from a bomb catapulted by Lonely under the order of Lieutenant Snell during a Christmas Truce in 1915.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit:
    • Oiley gets himself discharged from the army after intentionally getting his foot run over.
    • Lucky attempts to shoot his own foot off to avoid going over the top at the Somme, only for Charley and Pops to stop him. He ends up losing a leg in a subsequent shelling.
    • Charley is accused of this after accidentally shooting himself, when the reality is quite different.
  • Distant Finale: After a Time Skip after the end of the war, the strip ends with Charlie fighting at Dunkirk in 1940.
  • Do-Anything Soldier: Charley has been a regular Tommy, temporary tank crewman, Snell's personal servant, firing squad member, tunneler, stretcher bearer and sniper. Justified Trope since Charley's skill as a Mechanic help him out with the tank, his Improbable Aiming Skills are established as a Chekhov's Skill earlier in the comic, while rest of the work were mostly relatively menial.
  • Downer Ending: Though the series continued for a couple of years under Scott Goodall, Pat Mills considers his own ending to be the important one. It's fifteen years later, and an older Charley runs into "Ole Bill" Tozer and reminisces. Charley's unemployed like so many thousands of others, but he's glad other kids will never go through what he did. And he walks down the street to the dole office, passing a newsboy announcing Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany.
  • The Dreaded: Several examples:
    • "The Drag Man", an officer crippled on the front who walks with a dragging limp, now serving in the MP corps who searches for deserters in London. Mothers tell their children to behave or The Drag Man will get them, giving him a boogeyman like reputation.
    • The Germans are absolutely terrified at the prospect of going up against Senegalese troops, partly due to racist perceptions of Africans as murderous, partly because the Senegalese enjoy carrying a "coupe-coupe" into battle. Blue and his comrades are, at one point, so covered in dirt that they are mistaken for African troops.
    • Telegram boys are feared on the home front, mostly because most of the messages they deliver are KIA letters.
    • Sergeant Bacon's military police comrades flee from ANZAC troops who help Charlie and Ginger because they don't want to go up against "convicts".
    • Scottish soldiers scare the shit out of the Germans as well, with them being referred to as "Ladies From Hell".
    • Charley and Len become this as a sniper/spotter team to the Germans. They're shit scared of being sniped and try to bring them down with a grenade crossbow at one point.
  • Dr. Jerk: "Dr. No", an army doctor who simply prescribes a laxative to any injury and sends soldiers with career ending injuries back to the front. For example, he sends a soldier who has lost his trigger finger back to the front as a mortar loader. Turns out he's such an asshole because of the pressure he's under.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Given that it's World War One, many characters die suddenly and quite shockingly. Ginger gets blown up by a shell when he's laughing about a joke sign that someone has put in their trench and Charley's mother dies of Spanish Flu thanks to her immune system being weakened due to her time as a munitions worker.
  • Eagleland: Mixed Flavor with Type 2 Boorish leanings. Many American characters are portrayed negatively, especially their racist policy towards African American soldiers, one of the whom happened to be part of few good American characters and an acquaintance with Charley. While Blue—British Foreign Legionnaire—had good views on American Legionnaires, he saw Wes Lacey as an exception rather than a representation since he was the one who framed Blue for drinking Krotowski's water. Despite his action, he did have a Redemption Equals Death moment when he gave his life fetching water bottles from dead Germans before he was mowed down by rifle rounds.
  • Evil Brit: Surprisingly, for a work where The Hero is English, there are also plenty of examples of villainous Brits. Captain Snell is the most obvious example, as he gets his first platoon wiped out because of his callousness and sets out to kill Charley later on.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Lieutenant Thomas makes a tactical withdrawal to save the lives of his troops. He's so well respected Charley and Weeper refuse to participate in the firing squad at his execution.
    • Bill Tozer did show decent attitudes towards his subordinates despite his gruff exterior, especially to Charley and other soldiers. The reason he didn't show it was that he would not be able to perform his duty properly if he became too connected with his soldiers when they die.
    • Grandpere Duval held Blue's Foreign Legion unit together as a respected Legionnaire Sergeant with general decency towards his soldiers than abusive Lt. "Monkeyface" Volmar.
  • Foil: Oiley and Ginger. While both of them are afraid, Ginger was more of a Lovable Coward with enough bravery to stay in the fight and a good pal to Charley. Oiley tries to bribe Charley to keep him safe, endangers everyone else then injures himself to get sent home.
  • For the Evulz: During a Christmas truce, the Lost Platoon begin launching supplies in a catapult to the Germans in an act of kindness after they've run out of food. Snell orders Lonely to load a bomb into the catapult and launch it over. The Germans retaliate with a bayonet charge that kills everyone, barring Lonely and Snell. Snell shows no remorse for his actions, thinking that it was a funny prank.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The Christmas Truce of 1917, which is initiated by Bruno on the German side. The Tommies and the Jerries, with one exception, all socialise and the nearest thing to any antagonism is a friendly boxing match between both sides' respective sergeants. Bruno ends up being punished for this, by having his leave cancelled, so he ends up being killed in action, having never met his child.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Other than Snell, Colonel Zeiss, and other villainous characters; both the British and the Germans are made up of human beings ranging from people trying to survive to genuine sociopaths.
  • Happily Married: Kate and Charley married in 1917 and shown to care for each other. Both of them eventually had a son, Len, who later served in Second World War before Charly enlisted to save him.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • After being wounded, Charley has a mental breakdown in a field hospital, believing himself to still be in the trenches. He snaps out of it when Sergeant Tozer is brought in with a broken arm.
    • Earlier, Ginger's death puts Charley into a deep depression until Sergeant Tozer's own Freak Out in private shows Charley that even the most experienced soldiers are feeling the pressure.
    • Ol' Bill Tozer becomes a depressed wreck of a man after Snell demotes him to Private after collapsing on a gruelling route march. He gets better when he gets his stripes back.
  • Hero of Another Story: The focus would sometimes switch to other characters to portray different battles in the war, starting with Blue, a French Foreign Legionnaire.
  • I Call It "Vera": Ol' Bill Tozer carries a mace early on in the story, which he names Elsie, after his wife.
  • Ignored Expert: Invoked Trope by Lieutenant Thomas during a raid into a German trench, where he discovered that German's dugouts and shelters are deep enough to survive bombardments for a massive operation but also knew that the Command would not listen to him and would have him court-martialed if he told the truth to his men. Consider the massive stalemate and casualties for Battle of Somme along with its indirect role in his execution thanks to a battle that he retreated against a direct order to hold position, his insight became a Harsher in Hindsight.
  • Insane Admiral: Snell was bad enough to start with, but a head wound from a ricochet from his own revolver leaves him with brain damage, which causes him to go insane and try and kill Charley. He fails and is locked back into the mental institution he had been in until some genius decides that he's fit to go back into action. He decides to lead a mad charge on the Mons just minutes before the end of the war getting his entire platoon, barring Charley and Ol' Bill killed before trying to kill Charley.
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: When Charley returns to London to recover from being injured in the Western Front, he discovers that his no-good brother-in-law stole jewelry from the victims of a Zeppelin air raid. As punishment, Charley forces him to donate every penny he's made from fencing his ill-gotten gain to a soldier's relief charity.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Colonel Zeiss sends a wave of cooks, stewards and other rear echelon personnel in as the first wave of Operation Wotan. Knowing that their morale and abilities in combat are poor, he fully expects them to both get slaughtered and surrender. When they do, Zeiss sends in his Judgement Troopers to capture the British trenches when they're caught off guard.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • Ginger scoffs at Charley's suggestion of sending "lorries with massive guns on the front" into battle instead of horses. A couple of episodes later, the platoon is aided by tanks.
    • Zeiss' tactics and Judgement Troopers were criticized by German brass for his "breakthrough" for endangering their battle plans due to the result of having a bulb salient, which caused the senior officers to withdraw an entire unit. This would change in 1917, where the Sturmtruppen would use his fast-attack and mobile tactics.
    • Bill Tozer proudly proclaims that there won't be a second world war, because the Germans will be completely wiped out.
  • Jerkass:
    • Charley's brother-in-law, Oliver "Oiley" Crawleigh, is a cowardly, amoral opportunist who gets his toes run over by a tank to get out of the army and, on returning home, begins profiteering by means of selling the property of civilians killed in Zeppelin raids, selling fake identity papers to deserters and selling fuel from deliberately crashed planes. Charley comes to blows with him often over this.
    • Adolf Hitler is portrayed this way, as opposed to the usual Big Bad portrayal he gets in most media. Since he's not had his post-war experiences yet, he's simply portrayed as an ambitious, if sloppy footsoldier with aspirations of becoming an officer who spouts Patriotic Fervor, much to the annoyance of his fellow soldiers. During a truce, when everyone else mingles, Hitler stays in the German dugout on his own.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Turns out that Grogan was, in his own roundabout way, somewhat right about Scholar. Once Grogan dies, Scholar starts acting more pompously especially once he gets commissioned as an officer.
    • Zeiss maybe a Colonel Kilgore, but he was right in pointing out that his fellow (aristocratic) officers are just as willing to commit atrocities of his level to achieve victory despite their talk of Honor Before Reason.
  • Karmic Death: Snell only died at last battle of First World War, where the combination of his insanity and callous nature wiped out an entire platoon except for Charley and Tozer, both of whom were "volunteered" into Russian Civil War as part of the deal for the surviving company. He left to die by Charley after an incident with an acid sprayer.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: The French send Senegalese soldiers charging into battle armed with nothing but machetes. This goes predictably badly when faced with machineguns.
  • Mirroring Factions: The German soldiers have the same attitude to the war that their British counterparts do. Some of them are given character focus to a certain extent. A notable example is when Charley's platoon captures a German trench and finds a young soldier chained to his machinegun. He explains that he did it himself because of his fear that he would flee the battle and didn't want to be seen as a Dirty Coward by his superiors. Charley convinces Pops not to kill him because he's around the same age as Pops' two sons who had died in action. It's kind of a heartwarming moment until Snell walks up and shoots the poor kid in the face.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Nijinksy, a Russian family, was a victim of being associated with Germans to an angry mob who assumed their surname as Germans until Charley saved them. Foreshadowing enough, the last issue had Blind Bob confusing the Germans and Russians in terming the enemy of Britain during World War 1 due to his time as a British Grenadier during the Crimean War.
  • Mundane Utility: Smith 70's Vickers machine gun is water cooled, so it's often used as a field expedient way to boil water for tea.
  • The Neidermeyer:
    • Most officers tend to fall under this category, but the worst of all the Lieutenant Snell. He actually makes Charley wait until he's had his tea before reading the message Charley had risked his life to bring him, asking for support for his overwhelmed comrades. This is just after knocking Charley out and using him as a human shield. To him, soldiers are simply expendable and the war is just a sport with him holding a Bodycount Competition with other officers while they shoot wounded Germans during ceasefires. He even gets Charley's unit wiped out on the final day of the war in one last, pointless push that finally resulted in his death after being corroded by an acid sprayer. Mills considers him the Big Bad of the strip.
    • Lieutenant "Monkey Face" Volmar is Blue's hated commanding officer in the Legion, who—according to Blue—tend to punish his soldiers for disobeying his orders even if they are often inflexible and futile to achieve. He develops a deep personal hatred towards Blue and their coming to blows is what leads Blue to desert. Not that the French officer corp was better since they sent in a group of untrained Sengelese soldiers to the front as part of the "test" to see their performance in trench warfare, which their lack of knowledge in dealing with machine guns nearly got them annihilated.
    • Sergeant Bacon is an NCO example. As a military police NCO, he makes the lives of Charley, Ginger and Weeper hell when they get temporary respite from the trenches back at the camp. He is in charge of administering "Field Punishment No.1", which involves drilling soldiers at high speed in full kit, lugging rocks over and back and lashing them to the wheels of artillery pieces for up to two hours a day. He also arranges "parties", which is basically tying the offending soldier to a tent pole and administering a beating. He's also a coward, with the implication that he joined the Military Police to avoid being sent to the front.
    • The Scholar is a milder example in that he started out as a regular Tommy and got recommended to go on an officers' training course. When he returns, he shows his inexperience and is pompous around Charley.
    • Most of the training staff at Etaples are horrible individuals, who take sadistic pleasure in putting experienced soldiers through Training from Hell to the point where the entire camp mutinies.
  • No Indoor Voice: Sergeant Tozer is bombastic on the field of battle. It's noted if his shouted insults don't provoke the enemy, then nothing will.
  • No Scope: Charley asks Len if he'll be issued with a scope for his rifle when assigned as a sniper. Len tells Charley that there's a shortage of scopes, so he'll have to make do with iron sights.
  • Not So Stoic: Sergeant Tozer, in spite of epitomising the Sergeant Rock trope, is as scared of dying as the rest of the troops. When Charley overhears him having a Freak Out in his own dugout, he confides in Charley that he lets it out in private before a big battle so that the men won't see him do it and lose confidence in him and that keeping it all bottled up is actually bad for him. This advice helps Charley out, as he was having a Heroic BSoD of his own after the death of Ginger.
  • Old Soldier:
    • Charley befriends a blind Crimean War veteran known as Blind Bob when he goes home on leave. Bob's blindness is compensated for by his keen sense of hearing, making him ideal for listening for Zeppelins.
    • Pop is the oldest soldier in Charley's platoon and fought in Boer War. He would have stayed at home had it not for death of his two sons in a gas attack and a wife to factory accident.
  • Political Officer: Russian Civil War arc had Red Army fielding commissars ranging from frontline fighters like Rosa and ideological overseers like Zumarov, latter being a chagrin for Spirodonov due to his dislike for those who do not take pro-active role in combat that led to an argument where it became a source for Grodno to report to the brass of his "disloyalty".
  • Rank Up: Later in the series, Charley gets a promotion to Lance-Corporal and, very soon after to Corporal. Snell becomes a Captain. In the final run of the classic stories, Bill Tozer is promoted to Sergeant Major.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Snell's final revenge on Charley is to volunteer him to be sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks at the end of the war. Subverted with Sergeant Tozer, who volunteers for the assignment.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: After Snell has Tozer demoted for collapsing on a gruelling route march (Snell spent the entire march on a horse), Charley gets revenge on him by serving him a rat for his dinner.
  • Riches to Rags: Kate came from a well-off family, who would have opposed her marriage to a working-class man like Charley had it not for the death of her fiance and shortage of eligible bachelors due to the war. Unfortunately, the Great Depression in 1930's hadn't made their new life easier.
  • Scenery Gorn: Again, much of the series is set in the Somme.
  • Scope Snipe: Charley hits a German spotter through his binoculars.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The epilogue for the Somme arc shows British Tommies deserting in droves and surrendering to Germans during the winter of 1916. The Germans note that they weren't far from doing this themselves.
  • Sergeant Rock:
    • Sergeant "Ol' Bill" Tozer is typical of this trope. As an NCO, he does distance himself slightly from the men so as not to get too attached, but stands up for them when Sergeant Bacon tries to give them any shit. He tells Bacon that while his troops are dirty, it's honourable dirt from battle. He comes to respect Charley's courage and the pair of them become Fire-Forged Friends over the course of the war.
    • Charley himself takes on this role as a Corporal. His experience in the field gives him a cooler head when he returns from his second stint of convalescent leave and the newer guys in his section look up to him.
  • Shadow Archetype:
    • While technically on the same side, Blue can be seen as a darker version of Charley had he been born on the wrong side of the tracks. They do have enough in common for Charley to sympathise with Blue and aid his escape from The Drag Man, especially based on their experiences in battle and in being under the command of an officer only in it for personal glory.
    • At Passchendaele, Charley's unit is faced off against a German unit that is given a sympathetic portrayal. Smith 70 has a counterpart named Schmidt 69 and Sergeant Tozer settles his differences with the German Sergeant in a friendly boxing match during a truce. To an extent, Adolf Hitler can be seen as an Evil Counterpart to Charley in that they are both incredibly brave, have a special bond with a particular species of animal (Horses in Charley's case. Dogs for Hitler) and are given Character Focus.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The strip shows the psychological effects of the horrors of World War I on soldiers frequently. Charley himself suffers from serious PTSD by the end, with one part of the story going into detail regarding his Heroic BSoD after being wounded. Even during the Distant Finale, he still has nightmares about his experiences in the trenches a good fifteen years after the war's end.
  • Shown Their Work: Pat Mills has always been known for this, but Charley's War took it to an extreme that the reason Mills quit the strip was due a dispute with Battle's owners over his research budget.
  • Skewed Priorities: Snell orders a game of cricket to continue while being shelled by the Germans because he doesn't want to lose to the enlisted men.
  • Tank Goodness: Mark I tanks are used during the Somme to break the German lines. Unfortunately, they are deployed in too few numbers, with poor tactics and are too unreliable to make a difference as a Superweapon Surprise. Later in the war, tanks are deployed more liberally as the technology improves.
  • Time Skip: Entire story arc revolving around Fred Green's visit to WW1 Memorial after 1982 in search of Charley, who saved his life after surviving a plane crash. It took him 65 years to remember his surname, but Charley's fate remained unknown after First World War. While Charley remained alive after First World War in future comics, whether or not Charley remained alive by 1982 was left hanging with the story ending in Second World War due to Pat Mills being replaced with Scott Goodall and Joe Colquhoun's illness before his eventual death.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: The Scholar becomes more obnoxious after Grogan's death, leading Charley to realise that Grogan might have been right about him thanks to becoming pally with Snell, who helps him with an application for officer training. When he returns to the front as a 2nd Lieutenant, he is outright snobbish towards Charley.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Skins was turned out to be a British-born German who joined the military as an alternative to conviction after accidentally killing a man who insulted his heritage. This allowed him to disguise as a German soldier, and distinguish German military units. His brother was not lucky as he was conscripted into the German army, where he was eventually killed by a scared British soldier, during his visit to his grandparents just before the war broke out.
  • Training from Hell: When Charley's platoon are sent to Etaples for retraining, conditions are so harsh that it's considered worse than the trenches.
  • The Von Trope Family: Defied by Colonel Zeiss. He is very quick to correct anyone who refers to him as such. Other German officers resent him for not being of noble birth and see his tactics in battle as distasteful. He's very much a Combat Pragmatist and Frontline General, with him personally leading his Judgement Troopers into battle and executing prisoners.
  • War Is Hell: World War I is not given a romantic portrayal. People die left, right and centre, the ruling classes are shown not to care about the men in the trenches and several characters are left with horrific injuries and psychological damage.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Some of the Germans get characterisation from early on, but the most notable instances occur when Charley goes up against a German platoon while working as a sniper. One guy is even waiting on the news of the birth of his son. They even fraternise during an unofficial Christmas truce.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end of 1917 during the Christmas truce, we're told what eventually happens to the German soldiers given characterisation and Charley's sniping partner; Len is killed by a German sniper the following summer while on the German side, Gregor is paralysed six months later and lives until 1971, Bruno's leave gets cancelled and he's dead within two months, having never met his son and Adi, well, we all know what happened to him.
  • Working-Class Hero: Charley comes from a blue-collar background, as the son of a cop and a munitions factory worker. He worked at a tram depot before the war, having little education and is described by several characters as being "not too bright". As befitting the trope, he's easily the most upstanding character in the comic.
  • Young Future Famous People: Charley ends up going toe to toe with Adolf Hitler at the battle of Passchendaele.
    Darkie's Mob 
  • Anti-Hero: The entire Mob, especially Captain Joe Darkie, are not known to be moral paragons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering on Downer Ending, everyone but Samson and Shorty survived by the end of the series with Joe himself managed to avenge his parents' death by killing the General. Rather than going back home, two of them continued their guerilla war with their final fate left unknown with the only clue being Shorty's journal that was found in deep jungles a year after the end of Second World War.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Darkie is a ruthless Blood Knight and his "soldiers" are basically stragglers who viewed him as the only hope to survive behind enemy lines, but they are relatively better than Japanese who regularly commit war crimes on both the Burmese and the British prisoners.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Joe Darkie is a half-Japanese, but he had no issues using slurs against the Japanese. Justified Trope since his parents were executed by the Japanese Army out of disgust for their mixed marriage.
  • Gonk: Joe was drawn to have a few facial differences from his impressed British soldiers even by his brutish appearance standards, which had more to do with his Japanese heritage.
  • Kukris Are Kool: Joe himself has a Kukri, which he also throws it in some cases, to dispatch Japanese units.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Thanks to being a team made up of stragglers and a downed pilot being led by ruthless Captain with personal agenda.
  • The Reveal: Joe Dakee, or Joe Darkie, is a half British- half Japanese whose family left Japan due to having suffered discrimination for their interracial heritage. Due to impoverished life in a village, he turned to banditry and briefly worked for the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) until an officer executed his parents in Burma. He then took the British army uniform and formed his own unit, Darkie's Mob, for revenge.
     HMS Nightshade 
  • Bittersweet Ending: Of course. The Nightshade sinks off Dover with all but two hands (and Dogfish) lost, and, too damaged to salvage, she lies there still.
  • Cool Ship: The "Flower"-class corvette K-70, HMS Nightshade, of course.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Justified example. The ship's adopted mutt Dogfish can hear incoming planes before the crew do, and he gives them enough notice to man the guns in time. He also dislikes Parsons, and the feeling is mutual.
  • Retirony: Poor ol' Never-Gonna-Make-It Brown, who else? Only a day after being discharged due to his injury, he's hit by a bus and killed instantly.
  • Sole Survivor: We learn quite early that by the 1980s, George Dunn is the only survivor of the HMS Nightshade. By the end of the story we find that only he, "Never-Gonna-Make-It" Brown and Dogfish didn't go down with the ship.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Parsons chose the Navy over prison, and rumours spread that he's a murderer. They're true, incidentally. He's also a bully and generally petty and cruel.
  • Villain's Dying Grace: Parsons floods the magazine to prevent the whole ship going down, and he dies smiling.
  • Winter Warfare: The Nightshade does two Murmansk Runs in the dead of winter. The crew have to constantly de-ice the deck because they run the very real risk of the collected weight of ice overturning the ship, and the metal becomes so cold bare skin will freeze to it instantly. And they have to pray for bad weather, because that's the only thing keeping U-Boats and the Luftwaffe away.

    Rat Pack 
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The four Rats were all convicted of various offences.
  • Boxed Crook: The Rat Pack were a group of convicts released from prison to undertake suicide missions.
  • Crossover: After the Rats left Taggart gravely injured at the hands of the Gestapo, they were for a time led by Major Eazy instead.
  • Darker and Edgier: The series was deliberately darker and pulpier than the title series of DC Thomson's Warlord - rather than an aristocrat who secretly volunteered as a commando on suicide missions, they were a gang of ruthless working-class criminals forced into it, often at gunpoint. And instead of being True Companions, the Rats not only hate Taggart, they usually hate each other as well.
  • Flat Character: The series was not the project of any one particular writer and didn't usually do continuing storylines, so Character Development is generally ignored in favour of action.
  • Suicide Mission: The Rats' whole purpose - as they're already convicts, they're considered expendable.
  • The Squad:

Alternative Title(s): Battle Action