In our post from 26 May 2017, Canadian Captain George B. McKean, VC, MC, MM, made reference to a Bruce Bairnsfather comic, “Well, If You Knows of A Better ‘Ole…”, while recounting an experience in No Man’s Land. Read it again here:
Bruce Bairnsfather was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment when he was hospitalized for shell shock and hearing damage after the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. While recovering, Bairnsfather developed a cartoon character called Old Bill.
Overwhelmingly ill-tempered and surly, humourous “Old Bill” featured in his own comic series, his adventures and misfortunes depicting everyday life at the front for the regular soldier. The “Old Bill” series became a massive hit with the troops and those at home by putting a humorous spin on the war. Recognized for its effect on morale, 2nd Lt. Bairnsfather was commissioned by the War Office to continue publishing the cartoons for the duration of the war. His comics were reproduced both in print and numerous other daily items.
Below is one of the most well-known Bairnsfather comics, printed on a dinner plate, featuring Old Bill and another soldier, huddled in a shell hole while shells burst all around. The soldier has grumbled to Old Bill on the state of his shell hole, to which the veteran provides the wisdom: “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it.”