Bairnsfather’s ‘dirty dog’

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s dirty dog ending from Fragments from France (volume 4)

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s dirty dog ending from Fragments from France (volume 4)

Bruce Bairnsfather was a British soldier who made his name as the most popular cartoonist of the First World War with his Old Bill character in the Bystander magazine. Old Bill was a curmudgeonly veteran coping with life in the mud of the Western Front alongside his pals, Bert and Alf. Bairnsfather sent the first sketch in, the magazine printed it, and, Hey Presto!, they had a massive hit on their hands.

The cartoons were collated and republished as a series of Fragments from France books. There were eight volumes, which sold millions of copies across the world and sparked a merchandise frenzy, as well as plays and films. Bairnfather also worked in the US and Old Bill, and his son, were revived in the Second World War as a mascot for the US troops.

I liked this ‘dirty dog’ ending from Fragments from France, volume 4 in August 1917. The bulldog was regularly used to represent Britain and the dachshund Germany (Kaiser Wilhelm had one as a pet). The dachshund was bred to hunt in burrows – the word means ‘badger hound’ – but this one has clearly seen better days.

Last year, military historians Tonie and Valmai Holt published The Biography of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather: In Search of the Better ‘Ole, and began a campaign to seek official recognition for Bairnsfather‘s morale-boosting contribution to the war effort. October 2015 marks the centenary of the first published Old Bill cartoon.

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