“Old Bill” Halifax LW467, KW-W

by Clarence Simonsen



Wireless operator Norman Lea in his RCAF Halifax “Old Bill”

Charles Bruce Bairnsfather was born in Murree, India, on 9 July 1887. Following schooling in both India and Britain, Bairnsfather signed up for a period with the British Army Royal Warwickshite Regiment. Bored with Army life, he next enrolled as a student at the Hassall School of Art. 

On 12 September 1914, his old regiment, 3rd [reserve] Battalion, recalled his services and he was promoted to Lieutenant. Assigned to command a machine gun section, he was appalled by the horrors he experienced at the front. Bairnsfather began to draw sketches of day-to-day trench life from the perspective of the average soldier, and one day “Old Bill” was born. The most famous cartoon ever published showed Old Bill in the middle of No Man’s Land, silencing an uneasy British companion with the remark; “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it.”

The British Government, recognized the propaganda potential of the cartoons, and chose not to return Bairnsfather to the battlefield. He was sent on drawing assignments to cover the U.S. and Italian forces.

 Between the two wars, numerous plays and films were produced based upon the Old Bill character.

In April 1939, “Old Bill Stands By” was published and sold 20,000 copies. Old Bill was older, had put on a little weight, he had aged just like his creator.


One of the cartoons that appeared in the April 1939 “Old Bill Stands By” With caption –

“It’s All Right for A Crisis. But It Would’ave to Be Let Out For A War”


Note -

In the background on the wall, Bairnsfather has re-drawn his original famous cartoon of Old Bill in WW I trench – stating “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it.”


Bairnsfather continued to produce books and drawings, although he never seemed to regain his World War One popularity with the British.  Strangely, he would regain much more with the Americans in England.

In early 1942, Bruce Bairnsfather was appointed as an official cartoonist with the American Forces in Europe. Wearing the American uniform, with the rank of captain, he began his duties in Northern Ireland in April 1942. Drawing on walls without any approval had been a habit in WWI, now the Americans surprised him when they ask if he would paint murals on the mess and living quarters walls.
Image Image
[U.S. Air Force photo] Mess mural 1942

“Hum, Mice Again,Eh?”  [U.S. Air Force]



Capt. Bairnsfather painting his most famous “Nose Art, on 305th Bomb Group, 422nd Bomb Squadron, B-17F, serial 42-29673, named “Old Bill”


The B-17 left the U.S. 19 March 1943, assigned to the 305th B.G. on 6 April.


Photo – [John Woolnough 8th Air Force collection]



On 15 May 1943, Old Bill returned from a raid to Heligoland bearing witness to the head-on attacks by the Luftwaffe.


On 25 July 43, the crew was presented with awards during a ceremony at Chelveston, England. The original nose art was saved and placed in Officers Mess.



Image The Canadian nose art “Old Bill” was painted on Halifax LW467, KW-W by an unknown artist in No. 425 Squadron. The aircraft was delivered to RCAF in late January 1944 and completed a total of 27 operations. The last eighteen of these operations were flown by the crew of pilot J.W. [Woody] McDonald.

On 27/28 June 1944, Old Bill returned from a raid on the V-1 rockets site at Wizernes, and parked beside the spare Halifax KW-U, LW680. As Halifax MZ683, KW-A, attempted to land with three engines, the pilot lost control and crashed into the spare Halifax, which was fully loaded with fuel and bombs. With both aircraft burning fiercely Air Commodore A.D. Ross, OBE, took charge and all crew were saved. During the rescue two 500 lb bombs exploded and A.C. Ross was struck in the right wrist, which cut off his hand. For his actions he was awarded the George Cross. Old Bill received a twisted wing and popped rivets, but after repairs went to No. 297 Squadron of RAF. The Halifax was struck off charge on 4 November 1946.

Bruce Bairnsfather died on 29 September 1959 at age 72 years.



B43 'Ole Bill'

watch video please click below and enjoy

B43 'Ole Bill', now preserved and displayed in the Imperial War Museum, was one of some 1,300 London motor buses which saw service on the Western Front in the First World War.

Built early in 1911 and allocated to Clay Hall Garage, B43 worked mainly on Routes 8 (Willesden-Old Ford) and 25 (Victoria-Seven Kings) before the war. One of the first B-types to be requisitioned by the Army in October 1914, it served in France and Belgium throughout the war and, in 1919, was repurchased by the London General Omnibus Company. With a group of thirty-five ex-Service drivers, it was inspected by HM King George V at Buckingham Palace on 14 February 1920, thus becoming the first bus His Majesty had ever boarded. Now named after Bruce Bairnsfather's famous wartime cartoon character 'Ole Bill', who is portrayed on the brass radiator cap, and operating from Dalston Garage, B43 returned to work with the LGOC, again on Route 8 and also on Route 9 (Barnes-Liverpool Street . In the mid-1920s it was retired from service, fitted with a new body and handed over to the Auxiliary Omnibus Companies Association, whose badge may be seen on the sides and rear of the vehicle. 'Ole Bill' thereafter appeared regularly in Armistice Day parades and at other special events and functions until 30 April 1970, when it was generously presented by the Association to the Imperial War Museum.


The part played by London buses in operations on the Somme and Ancre, and at Amiens, Antwerp, Loos and Ypres, is reflected by the various battle honours now borne by B43. In October 1914, a London Scottish battalion, carried to the front in B-type buses, became the first Territorial unit to go into action, this being commemorated by the Regimental insignia which appears on the cab and the left side of 'Ole Bill'. Mounted above the cab is the badge of the Royal Army Service Corps which, as the Army Service Corps, operated these buses in France and Belgium.


B-type buses on the Western Front

Although more than 57,000 mechanised vehicles were in service with the British armies on the Western Front by November 1918, the Service Corps had been able to muster only 1,200 at the outbreak of war as against 165,000 horses available to the British Expeditionary Force on mobilisation. Many of these 1,200 vehicles were lorries or ambulances built by AEC and based on the B-type chassis, the latter having been selected in 1913 as one of the standardised types for future use by the Army.

The valuable part played by these buses in the operations of the Royal Navy Division before the fall of Antwerp on 10 October persuaded the Army to requisition a number for its own use, and on 18 October 1914 the LGOC allocated 300 B-type buses for army service. 150 of these, manned by volunteer crews, arrived in time to participate in the first battle of Ypres 19 October - 22 November 1914. By the end of the war, over 900 B-type buses representing nearly one third of the total fleet of these vehicles had seen service in France and Belgium. 


The first B-type buses to reach France still bore the red and white livery of the LGOC, complete with destination boards anda advertisements.  Soon, however, lower deck windows were boarded up, stowage racks and tool boxes were added, and all buses were painted khaki.  Each bus had a service load of 25 fully armed men, some buses were converted into ambulances and wireless equipment vehicles, whilst others were fitted with a roof and cages on each side to serve as mobile pigeon lofts.

Apart from buses, many vehicles with an AEC built B-type chassis were used as lorries, vans, field workshops, armoured cars and anti-aircraft gun carriages.

The success of these buses helped in effecting the rapid movement of whole divisions during the critical days of the war, being able to mobilise the troops quickly to strategic points.

Old Bill's dimensions and performance

Length - 22 ft 6 inch

Width - 6ft 11 inch

Height - 12 ft 5 inch

Unladen weight - 4 tons

Top speed - 20 miles per hour




Enter your email address:


site  zoomshare  web