Bairnsfather, Brushes, Bullets, Bayonets and Billets!

In Military History

I was interested to note some of the comments on Joe\'s blog which expressed hope that Bruce Bairnsfather\'s work would be collected and published in a similar way to that of Bill Maudlin's. Well… we aren\'t publishing a book just on Bairnsfather, but he will feature largely in our book, Brushes and Bayonets: Cartoons, Sketches and Paintings of World War I, which publishes in 2008. Written by Luci Gosling, it will collect 250 illustrations from the Illustrated London News Archive, showcasing a variety of artists: alongside Bairnsfather are W. Heath Robinson, Fortunino Matania, Raphael Kirchner, and even an early appearance by Mabel Lucie Atwell! Luci has carefully selected images that cover a variety of themes, but also show the wide range of styles included in the newspapers and magazines of the time.

To tide you over until publication (!), you can take a look at Bairnsfather\'s own wonderful book of 1916, Bullets & Billets, full of sketches and cartoons, now available for everyone to enjoy at the Gutenberg Project. The book begins with a foreword:

Down South, in the Valley of the Somme, far from the spots recorded in this book, I began to write this story.

In billets it was. I strolled across the old farmyard and into the wood beyond. Sitting by a gurgling little stream, I began, with the aid of a notebook and a pencil, to record the joys and sorrows of my first six months in France.

I do not claim any unique quality for these experiences. Many thousands have had the same. I have merely, by request, made a record of my times out there, in the way that they appeared to me.

He was right, his experiences were not unique, and neither was his way of recording them, sketching was quite common among soldiers trying to relieve the monotony of the trenches, and attempting to capture and explain their surroundings and their life for family and friends. Some of them, like Bairnsfather, then submitted their drawings to papers back home. Yet among the many wonderful artists that came out of the horror of the war, he still shines, because his characters, like Old Bill, are just so very human. Reading his autobiographical account, it is interesting to see how his drawings do convey his sense of humour, and his fixation with strawberry jam…!

Below are a couple of images from the book, just to give you a taste of what will be included. The first is a cover drawn for The Bystander by Bruce Bairnsfather (The Illustrated London News Picture Library). The second is an illustration by Archibald Wells for the front cover of The Sketch Christmas Number 1914, which shows a British officer, billowing a Union Jack patriotically in his wake, escorting two stylish ladies. Appearances suggest that the two women may be symbols of Britain\'s French and Russian allies, bringing a suitably cosmopolitan flavour to a festive issue. Christmas issues of all the archive\'s magazines were lavish affairs, often in colour and each vying to out-do each other. This is a typical example of an early wartime cover, typically upbeat and jaunty, while the soldier, a girl on each arm, reaps the rewards of his service with feminine attention (The Illustrated London News Picture Library).

unmarried_menrom6

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