If you watched the episodes of Downton Abbey that took place during World War I, you probably remember a pocket-sized toy which Matthew carried into battle as a good luck charm.
The Butterick Company offered directions for making a set of twelve different “bundoos” in its Delineator magazine, November, 1918. I can certainly imagine groups of young women having stitching parties to make good luck mascots for the boys at the front. The charms were light-weight, soft, and flat enough to be tucked into a soldier’s tunic or pocket – and, equally important, small and light enough to be put in an envelope and mailed overseas.
The title of the accompanying Delineator article was, “Wish Them a Merry Christmas: Every Soldier Needs a Charm and a Chuckle,” by Bernice Brown, with illustrations by Agnes Lee.
Only a few of the available mascots were illustrated, but the article itself is filled with references to superstitions of the World War I era that may surprise you. It’s also a good example of the tone of many war-time appeals to women.
“Everybody is superstitious. You have counted white horses, haven’t you, and wished on a load of hay and tucked a four-leaf clover into your oxford, even though you knew somebody was looking? . . . You have wished on the first star and been reasonably confident that your wish was recorded on the books of the Fulfiller of Wishes Department.”
Dreaming About a Paris Bus: a Death Omen?
“Of course, there are still a few people who whisper about ‘bad omens’ and the ‘evil eye’ and how unlucky is it to have your path crossed by an inky feline. Those persons are stupid and unprogressive pessimists. . . . We can prove, too, that baleful omens are impotent and quite easily tricked. For instance, there is a rumor in France that to dream of a Paris auto-bus is fatal. One American bid farewell to all his friends because the night before he had been tormented by such an omen.
” ‘You’ve never seen a Paris bus,’ insisted a friend. ‘What did the spook look like?’ The phantom auto was described. ‘That’s just a new tank the British are using,’ explained the friend. Accordingly, the bad omen was double-crossed and the American soldier is alive today.”
Mascots for Soldiers and Sailors
“Mascots, however, are invaluable. Everybody should have one, especially soldiers and sailors. Early in the game our friends the ‘Tommies’ decided in their favor, and today no ‘comfort-kit’ is complete without a ‘bundoo.’ They are worn under the neck and inside the shirt, buttoned into a pocket, or, in moments of stress, grasped firmly in the left hand of the brave.
“The Tommy likes his mascot made of a wishbone and a monkey-nut [i.e., peanut] on which are painted eyes, nose and a mouth fearful enough to terrify any invading Hun spirit.”
“One Hundred Percent Lucky” Charms for World War One
“From a great variety of mascots we have chosen five for this page which we are convinced are one hundred percent lucky. These we recommend that you make . . . and send in your Christmas letters to the boys to whom you wish all the special good luck in the world.
“Instead of writing a meager postal-card, make them a mascot. It may take you a little longer, but who wouldn’t spend two hours if, as a result of her effort, she could make a soldier chuckle for two minutes?
“We recommend first the wish-bone mascot.
“This works in any branch of the service, but we should say it was especially adapted for the Navy because of the span of its pedal extremities. Sailors would appreciate why a nautical mascot must stand thusly when the ship is plunging under him…. Lucky Jack is made of brown felt with blue-jacket covering; …letters cut of paper pasted on; beads for the eyes; mouth of hair or silk, cap and collar of white felt or paper. [The legs and feet are presumably the ends of the wishbone.] “
“The white mule mascot…is enhanced by a colored felt saddle and head-piece; eyes pasted on; mane and tail made of raffia; body of mule cut double and sewed to hold card with verse.
“The scarecrow we recommend for anyone of the Signal Service.
“He is cut quite simply from black felt; face painted on paper of silk and pasted on. Hair may be made of yellow wool or raffia; hands and feet of raffia; white buttons. The following verse is sent with him:
For many years without a gun
I’ve fought black pests alone.
If you will take me on with you
I’ll help you halt the Hun.
[The “black pests” are, of course, the crows he scared away from farmers’ crops.]
“Peter Rabbit will suit a Southerner.”
“All the boys south of the Mason and Dixon line appreciate the rabbit foot. If one foot is good, why not four? Peter Rabbit is made of white felt, red bead eyes, red mouth, black whiskers; features sewed with black thread or marked with a pen. Or the rabbit may be made of brown felt with a white cotton tail, pink eyes and mouth; black whiskers.”
“We should send [Old Witch] to all engineers who, at a moment’s notice, conjure up bridges across rushing streams. With the power of Old Witch added, . . . soon they will be bridging the Rhine and into Germany. ” Her hat has a slit to fit over a button; her broom is a match-stick and raffia.
” ‘Treat ‘em Rough,’ the pirate, is a favorite. We should send [Treat ‘em Rough] by all means to the ‘one you love best.” He sleeps with one eye open and never takes vacations. He is the most sure-fire, on-the-job, energetic mascot we know anything about.” He is made of felt with embroidery rings in his ears, toothpick or paper covered with foil for his knives, and fastened on the back with a little safety-pin.
Make All Six Mascots Several Times Over
“. . . Make one for the boy who used to carry your books home from high-school . . . and the boy you taught to waltz, . . . and the boy who used to put on your skates and who taught you to do the ‘Dutch roll’, and the boy you used to say was teacher’s pet. He’ll need lots of luck.”
“Englishwomen send their brothers and sweethearts a lucky gold-piece. The Italian soldier carries a tiny bit of coral . . . as a charm against the ‘evil eye,’ and the American soldier continues to be a devoted believer in the horseshoe….”
“You can see how essential the mascot has become. It is no new development of modern warfare along with the seventy-five mile gun and the ‘cootie.’ The ancient Greeks depended on it quite as much as the long-range javelin and the battering-ram.” [Soldiers in the trenches were plagued by lice, which the Americans called cooties.]
Women’s Duty: Knitting and Working and Smiling
“There are times when all of us like to depend on some power outside ourselves. . . . On ninety-nine occasions we are reasonable and sane and sensible; on the hundredth we would give half our monthly salary for a good, reliable, sure-fire mascot.
“The lives of our soldiers are full of ‘hundredth’ occasions….The knowledge that someone is wishing for him and caring for him will work wonders….No army wins that doesn’t believe in itself, and it only believes when ‘every woman to a girl’ is behind it . . . knitting and working and smiling.”
Mascots for Morale
“In fact, every boy in the service should have a mascot this Christmas. We can not send boxes – such are the fortunes of war – but we can write to them and a mascot fits very neatly into an envelope….Perhaps these little charms may seem fanciful and insignificant, but every boy who tucks one inside the O.D. shirt will feel a new warmth and an added courage where before, perhaps, there was a touch of loneliness.”
NOTE: World War One ended on November 11, 1918. Shortly after this November magazine article hit the newsstands, making “Bundoos” was no longer necessary for the war effort.