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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Enduring one liners of WW1


Jim Strawbridge

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“If you knows of a better 'ole go to it.”

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather coined this for one of his cartoons featuring Ole Bill and Bert. Every time I see it I feel that it encapsulated something which only the soldiers in the trenches could fully appreciate and understand. Obviously British humour at it's best. That is, when the chips are down make a joke about yourself. I have tried to understand it's appeal many times. Was it reminding Tommy Atkins that his fate was sealed and that there was nothing he could do about it? Was it a case of do what you have to do but no more? Was there a sexual connotation? Or am I looking too deeply into why this particular cartoon was so popular and remains so to this day?

Can you think of any others?

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“If you knows of a better 'ole go to it.”

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather coined this for one of his cartoons featuring Ole Bill and Bert. Every time I see it I feel that it encapsulated something which only the soldiers in the trenches could fully appreciate and understand. Obviously British humour at it's best. That is, when the chips are down make a joke about yourself. I have tried to understand it's appeal many times. Was it reminding Tommy Atkins that his fate was sealed and that there was nothing he could do about it? Was it a case of do what you have to do but no more? Was there a sexual connotation? Or am I looking too deeply into why this particular cartoon was so popular and remains so to this day?   

Can you think of any others?

For me it's the drawing of Ole Bill thatmakes me chuckle everytime, and the fact that he has retained his sense of humour through it all. Not sure about the "sxxxl connotation"!

RObbie :P

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I have the "Fragments from France" issue with this cartoon featured in colour on the front cover. Our heroes are featured helmetless in the hole in question with all means of missiles exploding around and above them. (See image below)

In simple terms, without laughter and esprit de corps the war would have been lost. Laughter helped men retain their essential humanity and thereby endure the unendurable. Its a very British trait of course. I suspect the other combattant nations had this sardonic sense of humour to a much lesser degree. (The British seem to wallow in it, but then look at our football team !)

In the foreward to this volume of "Fragments", the "Bystander" editor writes:-

"If this sketch book is worthy to outlast the days of the war, and to be kept for rememberance on the shelves of those who have lived through it, it will have done its bit. For it will be a standing reminder of the ingloriousness of war,its preposterous absurdity, and of its futility as a means of settling the affairs of nations ?"

I think Bairnsfather succeeded in doing this in spades. The editor's contemporary comments are bang on the money.

Holes are a staple subject for Bairnsfather. I also love the exchange between a young Tommy and an old sweat looking at a 6 foot diameter hole in the brick wall of their rather sad billet :-

Young One "Who made that 'ole ?"

Fed-up One "Mice"

(The rather Les Dawson-like face of the fed-up one is magnificent.)

post-70-1128857043.jpg

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post-7552-1128904964.jpgMy Dream For Years To Come

The most poignant of Bairnsfather's cartoons that I have seen, and to a modern viewer, any pretence at comedy is lost.

I also like H H Munro (Saki)'s last words, variously reported as 'put that damned cigarette out'. It was in keeping with his humour.

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