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    In Mourning - Black Crepe Covered Tunic Buttons WWI - & "Alf's Button".

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    During WWI it was permissable in the British army to wear a small square of black crepe wrapped around the second button of the tunic as a sign of personal mourning - officers wore black crepe armbands.

    Photographs of the period sometimes illustrate this practise, & it inspired W.A Darlington?s novel "Alf's Button". It was published in 1920, filmed the same year, a stage play in 1924, and re-filmed in 1930 as one of the first British "talkies". In 1938 the Crazy Gang made a follow up, "Alf?s Button Afloat".

    A teacher pre-WWI, William Aubrey Darlington was an Acting Captain in The Northumberland Fusiliers, havng been commissioned in 1915. He served in the 7th Battalion NF, I don't know if he served in other units.

    In 1916 he was at the front in France when he witnessed a Fusilier get stuck in the mud, being rescued 7 hours later, losing all of his clothes & equipment in the process.

    Darlington sent an account of the to "Punch"& it was published.

    A short while after Darlington was wounded & sent was wounded and sent home, & this is probably when he wrote an initial version of "Alf's Button".

    He sent this to Punch, they turned it down for publication, he sent it to ?The Passing Show? & it was published after being doubled in length to about 30,000 words.

    Doubled yet again in length, to 60,000 words, it was published by "Herbert Jenkins Limited".

    The subsequent films & play were radical reworkings of the original book.

    Edited by leigh kitchen
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    The hero of Alf's Button" is Alf Higgins, a workshy private soldier.

    In the book Alf gets stuck in mud & is rescued, losing clothing in the process. Alf's new tunic, it transpires, has a button made from the metal of Aladdin's lamp, the result of the authorities buying up odds & ends of metal to make buttons, so that when it's cleaned - rubbed - a genie appears & Alf is granted wishes............

    In trouble for having a dirty button because he does'nt polish it so as not to wake the genie, Alf eventually manages to obtain a "bit of black stuff" from the stores for the purpose of covering the button as a sign of mourning for an uncle who he falsely claims has died.

    I sought out the book years ago as it had a connection to the factual practise of wearing a "mourning button" in uniform, I found one - in a rubbish bin. I'd visited a seller of antique books & asked if she had "Alf's Button", she'd never heard of it until that morning when by coincidence she got copy of the book & had dumped it in the rubbish bin - so she gave me it for nothing.

    This brass "button" which has in fact a stick pin, was presumably produced as a souvenir publicity piece to advertise the film of 1920?

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    • 6 months later...

    Sorry, must have missed the last post months ago - could be painted I suppose, but the habit of the time was to wear a piece of black crepe, thin material so once it's pulled taught over the button & then buttoned & unbuttoned a few times, rubbed with fingers & thumbs it could look a bit shiny over the raised design of the button.

    No black crepe to hand, so painted?

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