Kilroy was here
Kilroy was a mysterious World War II soldier who traveled all over the world scrawling the immortal phrase Kilroy was here wherever a flat surface presented itself. Often, the phrase was accompanied by a simple drawing of a big-nosed man peering over a wall. Clearly, the graffiti were scrawled by thousands of different soldiers, not a single one named Kilroy. But did Kilroy actually exist? And if so, did he start the fad?
Unfortunately, no one knows. There have been numerous people claiming to have been the original Kilroy, but none of the claims can be verified.
One claimant is a James J. Kilroy of Quincy, Massachusetts with starting the craze. Kilroy was an inspector at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in that city, and used a yellow crayon to write Kilroy was here on items that he had inspected. The graffiti became a common sight around the shipyard, and was imitated by many of the other 14,000 shipyard workers when they were drafted and sent around the world.
Another claimant is Sergeant Francis Kilroy of the US Army Air Transport Command who, when stationed at Boca Raton Army Air Field early in the war, put up a notice on a bulletin board saying, "Kilroy will be here next week," during a period when Kilroy was ill. Again, the phrase was picked up by other GIs and spread to everywhere from Murmansk to Espiritu Santo.
But there is no evidence to suggest that either of these, or any other claimant, is actually the origin.
The cartoon usually associated with Kilroy has quite a different origin. It is originally British, named Mr. Chad, and apparently predates the Kilroy phrase by a few years. It commonly appeared with the phrase Wot, no ------? underneath, with the blank filled in with whatever happened to be in short supply at the time. (Example: Wot, no spam? One of the gliders carrying British paratroops into Holland during Operation Market-Garden had Mr. Chad with the words Wot, no engines? scrawled on it.) Sometime during the war, Chad and Kilroy met and in the spirit of Allied unity merged, with the British drawing appearing over the American phrase. Chad’s origin is "obscure," but it may have been created by George Edward Chatterton, a cartoonist in civilian life who spent the war years in the Royal Air Force.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton