Incredible ‘cannon fodder’ cartoon found in 1921 census predicted ‘next war’

·2-min read

A civil servant defaced his 1921 census return with an astonishingly prophetic political cartoon depicting officials in top hats “counting cannon fodder” for the “next war”.

Arthur Vince, a 28-year-old tax officer for the Inland Revenue in London, used his ink sketch to predict that the world would go to war in 1936.

The cartoon features three men in top hats – deemed to be the elite – being served a cup of tea by a maid, sitting around a table with a piece of paper in front of them containing the words “War 1936”.

An annotation says they are “counting available ‘cannon fodder’. Next war 1936 from 1921 census returns!”

1921 Census
A 1921 census record shows Harold Orpen, a former captain of the King’s Regiment, had to type his responses due to injuries sustained in the First World War (National Archives/PA)

Mr Vince was only three years out with his forecast, the Second World War beginning in September 1939.

Tragically, it is believed that Mr Vince’s son Bobby, included in the 1921 census aged just one year and four months, was among those killed in the war predicted by his father.

Mr Vince was one of several people who used their census returns for political protest, with others lamenting living conditions and the cost of the exercise.

Historian David Olusoga told the PA news agency: “This is somebody not just complaining about the indifference of the elite – he is actually making a prediction in 1921 that turns out to be accurate.

“Most tragically of all, his own son, a baby boy of 16 months at the moment of the census, dies in the Second World War that his father predicted in 1921.

“These are stunning, absolutely incredible moments when someone from the past – an anonymous person who we know very little about – speaks to us through the census.”

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