Captain Bruce Bairnsfather (1887-1959) was a British humourist and cartoonist during WW I. Prior to the war, Bairnsfather who was born in India, worked as an electrical engineer, then drew advertising sketches for Lipton’s tea, Players’ cigarettes, Keen’s mustard and Beecham’s pills. In 1914, he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and served with a machine gun in France. After he was hospitalized in 1915, with shell shock and hearing loss, he began to draw cartoons about life in the trenches. His most famous character was “Old Bill”, who was an old soldier with a walrus moustache and balaclava. His cartoons were great morale boosters for the troops. The most famous of the cartoons shows Old Bill and another trooper in a muddy hole, being shelled – Bill advises – “If you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it”. He also wrote cartoons for the Allies during WW II.
In 1948, Bairnsfather visited Chatham while on a lecture tour of Canada and the United States. He spoke at Chatham Vocational School and afterwards enjoyed the companionship of old veterans in both the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes of the Chatham Armoury. During the course of the festivities that night, he drew the famous “Old Bill” cartoon on the wall above the bar in the Sergeants’ Mess, where it remains today. He was given a quart of ‘good scotch’ in payment for his artwork. Shortly before his death in September 1959, Bairnsfather reproduced the cartoon for an Old Soldiers event, at the request of his “Chatham friend”, Staff Sgt. Percy Taylor.