BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER AND OLD BILL

FRAGMENTS F F


FRAGMENTS FROM FRANCE

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No website about Bruce Bairnsfather would be complete without mention of the Bystander (was a British weekly tabliod magazine featuring reviews, topicail sketches  and short stories. Published from Fleet Street, it was established in1903 and ran until 1940 when it merged with the Tatler.) magazine’s  spin off Fragments from France which made him famous and immortalised him as one of the all time great cartoonists. The Bystander used one of his drawings in the Christmas issue of 24th November 1915 which sold out immediately a sensational success. Soldiers in the trenches could identify themselves with the two Tommies in the cartoon “The Better ‘Ole”. The Bystander capitalised on the nations enthusiasm for this publication and on January 5th 1916 a collection of 41 of Bairnsfather’s drawings was published taken from the weekly publication of the Bystander in magazine form entitled Fragments from France with the “Better ‘Ole” in full colour adorning the front cover as well as in black and white inside. It was an instant success and sold out having to be re-printed 9 more times and sold over a quarter of a million copies which was a staggering amount for 1916.

Demand for the Bystander’s new publication was so great that they knew there were on to a winner and further editions were planned. In June 1916 Bystander announced that “More Fragments from France” was to be published, shortly afterward on 1st July 1916 it was released, followed by “Still More Fragments from France No.3” in January 1917. Fragments from France Vol 4. appeared in bookstores in the last week of August 1917. Fragments from France No. 5 was published in July 1918. Fragments from France From All The Fronts No. 6 which was to be the last war time Fragments was released in November 1918. Fragments from France No.7 went on sale in April 1919 and the last publication in the series Fragments Away from France No.8 was published toward the end of 1919.

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The success of these 8 publications was in no small part due to the everyday appeal they had to the Tommies in the trenches, you can just imagine themselves laughing together over the latest edition in their quieter moments. Bairnsfather’s own experience of trench life made it easy for him to empathise with the soldiers and the hardships they endured, and as some have said he was the man who won the war by keeping the morale of the troops up and helping them laugh in the face of adversity. With the publication of the Fragments from France series came spin offs with a lot of Bystander merchandise which included bound volumes of the whole series in a range of bindings from cloth to leather. 9 series of postcards, colour prints, jig-saws etc. Afterward the Bystander signed up Bairnsfather for another series entitled Fragments which was another phenomenal success.

On July 16th 1919, a weekly magazine Fragments was published bound in low quality paper, it was aimed at the downmarket ex-servicemen. Circulation of the magazine boomed, 5,000 weekly copies on 20th September, 6 million sold on 27th September, and 7 million sold by 4th October. Other artists and writers of the day such as Victor Hicks, A K McDonald, Barrabel, Will Owen and W Darlington were popular features. With the last issue being published on 16th October 1920.

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So what made Bairnsfather become an artist and draw Fragments from France

 An article published 4th October 1918 in the New York Times entitled “Artist Bairnsfather tells why he drew ‘em”.

Resorted to art and driven to war by lack of a better job as an engineer.

“You can’t lick a man who laughs while he is fighting, and through the gloom of the war has come the gleam of Bairnsfather’s wit as evidence of the spirit that moves the British Army”

With these words Charles Dana Gibson introduced Captain Bruce Bairnsfather to the members of the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information at the regular weekly meeting held last night at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue.

The famous cartoonist of the British Army told the audience how he came to draw his pictures, and was followed by Major Eric Lankester of the British Beaureau, who described many of the horrible scenes of war out of which the artist had extracted humour for the comfort of the soldiers. Other speakers were Rear Admiral Grout of the French Navy, his Aide De Camp Commander Grancey a descendant of Lafayette, Dr E Tait McKenzie of the University of Pennsylvania, F Gerrard-Robson Director of the Canadian Invalid Soldiers Committee and the Rev. Luke M White of St Luke’s Church, Monte Clair, New Jersey. Many prominent artists attended the meeting among them James Montgomery Flagg, E H Blashfield, Henry Reuterdahl, Howard Chandler, Christy Clair Briggs, Joseph Pennell and Edward Penfield.

Captain Bairnsfather told the artists that he wanted to be an artist all his life, but that he had received so many letters beginning “We regret that we cannot use your -”, that he had given up the idea and had become an electrical engineer “in June 1914”, continued the speaker. “I made a trip to Newfoundland, and returned on a tramp steamer to Liverpool the end of July, just when the news of the probable outbreak of War was in the air. When War was declared I received another letter of regret informing me that my services were no longer needed as an engineer, so for this reason as much as any other I immediately enlisted in the Royal Warwickshires Regiment. Soon I found myself dumped into the Flanders mud and after six months I was still there, and so was the mud. Well, that was the birthplace of Old Bill and of Bert and Alf. I was more of an artist than a soldier, and still I was there. I was able to express what the others felt, what I felt for them, what they felt for me, what we felt for each other and I drew the pictures. Then we shifted to another sector and I glared at the Messine Ridge for six months. At the end of that time I had drawn only two pictures, but one day while in a dugout whilst scraping the mud off my clothes and whilst the Germans were giving us a dose of shelling. I suddenly saw five heads stuck through a macintosh sheet, asking where the last shell had gone. The picture was irresistible. There I began the work.

Shortly after I got a bit of a shelling myself I landed in a London Hospital. While there I received a visit from a representative of the paper that had rejected my first drawing. The paper wanted my work. I drew the one entitled “If you know of a better ‘ole go to it” well gentlemen. I say to you for us English that the United States knows of a better ‘ole and they have taken us to it. If one could only get a car, or a Ford and take Ludendorff and Hindenberg up Fifth Avenue today and then transport them immediately into their own land they would chuck it tomorrow.”

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