By Bruce Bairnsfather
Bullets and Billets
Fragments from France
A Few Fragments from His Life
FRAGMENTS FROM FRANCE
CAPTAIN BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER
AUTHOR OF "BULLETS AND BILLETS"
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker Press 1917
By the Editor of "The Bystander."
HEN Tommy went out to the great war, he went smiling, and singing the latest ditty of the halls. The enemy scowled. War, said his professors of kultur and his hymnsters of hate, could never be waged in the Tipperary spirit, and the nation that sent to the front soldiers who sang and laughed must be the very decadent England they had all along denounced as unworthy of world-power.
I fear the enemy will be even more infuriated when he turns over the pages of this book. In it the spirit of the British citizen soldier, who, hating war as he hated hell, flocked to the colours to have his whack at the apostles of blood and iron, is translated to cold and permanent print. Here is the great war reduced to grim and gruesome absurdity. It is not fun poked by a mere looker-on, it is the fun felt in the war by one who has been through it.
Captain Bruce Bairnsfather has stayed at that "farm" which is portrayed in the double page of the book; he has endured that shell-swept "'ole" that is depicted on the cover; he has watched the disappearance of that "blinkin' parapet" shown on one page; has had his hair cut under fire as shown on another. And having been through it all, he has just put down what he has seen and heard and felt and smelt and—laughed at.
Captain Bairnsfather went to the front in no mood of a "chiel takin' notes." It was the notes that took him. Before the war, some time a regular soldier, some time an engineer, he had little other idea than to sketch for mischief, on walls and shirt cuffs, and tablecloths. Without the war he might never have put pencil to paper for publication. But the war insisted.
It is not for his mere editor to forecast his vogue in posterity. Naturally I hope it will be a lasting one, but I am prejudiced. Let me, however, quote a letter which reached Captain Bairnsfather from somewhere in France:
"Twenty years after peace has been declared there will be no more potent stimulus to the recollections of an old soldier than your admirable sketches of trench life. May I, with all deference, congratulate you on your humour, your fidelity, your something-else not easily defined—I mean your power of expressing in black and white a condition of mind."
I hope that this forecast is a true one. If this sketch book is worthy to outlast the days of the war, and to be kept for remembrance on the shelves of those who have lived through it, it will have done its bit. For will it not 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?
When the ardent Jingo of the day after to-morrow rattles the sabre, let there be somewhere handy a copy of "Fragments from France" that can be opened in front of him, at any page, just to remind him of what war is really like as it is fought in "civilised" times.
Captain Bairnsfather has become a household word—or perhaps one should say a trench-hold word. Who is ever the worse for a laugh? Certainly not the soldier in trench or dug-out or shell-swept billet. Rather may it be said that the Bairnsfather laughter has acted in thousands of cases as an antidote to the bane of depression. It is the good fortune of the British Army to possess such an antidote, and the ill-fortune of the other belligerents that they do not possess its equivalent.
A Scots officer, writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, hits the true sentiment towards Bairnsfather of the Army in France when he writes:
"To us out here the 'Fragments' are the very quintessence of life. We sit moping over a smoky charcoal fire in a dug-out. Suddenly someone, more wide-awake than others remembers the 'Fragments.' Out it comes, and we laugh uproariously over each picture. For are these not the very things we are witnessing every day, incidents full of tragic humour? The fed-up spirit you see on the faces of Bairnsfather's pictures is a sham—a mask beneath which there lies something that is essentially British."
In a communication received by Captain Bairnsfather an eminent Member of Parliament writes: "You are rising to be a factor in the situation, just as Gillray was a factor in the Napoleonic wars." The difference is, however, that instead of turning his satire exclusively upon the enemy, as did Gillray, Captain Bairnsfather turns his—good-humouredly always—on his fellow-warriors. This habit of ours of making fun of ourselves has come by now to be fairly well understood by even the most sensitive and serious-minded of our continental friends and neighbours. It hardly needs nowadays to be pointed out that it is a fixed condition of the national life that wherever Britons are working together in any common object, whether in school, college, profession, or even warfare, they must never appear to be regarding their occupation too seriously. Those who know us—and who, nowadays, has the excuse for not knowing us, seeing how very much we have been discussed?—understand that our frivolity is apparent and not real. Because we have the gift of laughter, we are no less appreciative of grim realities than are our scowling enemies, and nobody knows that better in these days than those scowling enemies themselves.
Their hymns of hate and prayers for punishment have been impotent expressions of exasperation at our coolness, deliberation, and inflexible determination—qualities they had deluded themselves before the war into believing would prove all a sham before the first blast of frightfulness. They told themselves that, a war once actually begun, the imperturbable pipe-smoking John Bull would be transformed into a cowering craven. More complete confusion of this false belief is nowhere to be found than in these "Fragments." It ranks as a colossal German defeat that successive bloodthirsty assaults upon us by land, sea, and air should produce a Bairnsfather, depicting the "contemptible little Army," swollen out of all recognition, settling humorously down to war as though it were the normal business of life.
"Fed up"? Yes, that is the word by which to describe, if you like, the prevalent Bairnsfather expression of countenance. But the kind of weariness he depicts is the reverse of the kind that implies "give up." Au contraire, mes amis! The "fed-up" Bairnsfather man is a fixture. "J'y suis," he might exclaim, if he spoke French, "et il m'embete que j'y suis. Je voudrais que je n'y sois pas. Mais j'y suis, et, mes bons camarades, par tous les dieux, j'y reste!"
If the enemy should read in the words "fed up" a sign that our tenacity is giving out, he reads it wrong; grim will be the disillusionment of any hopes he may build upon his misreading, and even grimmer the anger of those whom he may have deluded.
These verdammte Englaender are never what they seem, but are always something unpleasantly different. We are the Great Enigma of the war, and in our mystery lies our greatest strength. Let us be careful not to lose it. Those who would have us simplify ourselves upon the continental model, and present to the world a picture of sombre seriousness, are asking us to change our national character. Cromwell asked the painter to paint him, "warts and all." Bairnsfather sketches us—smiles and all. And who would take the smiles off the "dials" of the figures you will see on the pages that follow?
IN ONE OF THE CHOICEST LOCALITIES OF NORTHERN FRANCE.
TO BE LET (three minutes from German trenches), this attractive and
containing one reception-kitchen-bedroom and UP-TO-DATE FUNK HOLE (4ft. by 6ft.), all modern inconveniences, including gas and water. This desirable Residence stands one foot above water level, commanding an excellent view of the enemy trenches.
EXCELLENT SHOOTING (SNIPE AND DUCK).
—Particulars of the late Tenant, Room 6, Base Hospital, Bonlog c.]
What is this slimy dismal hole Where oft I'm lurking like a mole And cursing Germans heart and soul? My Dug-Out
Where is it that beneath the floor The water's rising more and more And where the roof's a broken door? My Dug-Out
Where is it that I try to sleep Betwixt alarms, when up I leap And dash through water four feet deep? My Dug-Out
Where is it that I'll catch a chill And lose my only quinine pill And probably remain until—— I'm dug out? My Dug-Out
My Dug-Out: A lay of the trenches.]
[Illustration: General Sir Frampton Prendergasp R.S.V.P. P.T.O. SOS a rising and successful general, who is plotting an offensive
The General . . . Cyrus Moffat
Nancy Prendergasp, his daughter, who has gone in for nursing, unknown to her father. She is in love with ——
Featuring Miss Sybil Fane
DICK MANVERS a lance Corporal in the pay department, who, after extensive & painful researches, has invented a new bomb
Dick shows his new bomb to the General who decides to use it in the offensive
But is overheard and seen by Captain ADRIAN BLACK an unscrupulous adventurer in the pay of a powerful Government
That night he is seen by Nancy substituting PLUM & APPLE for The new explosive
END OF PART I
WILL FOLLOW IMMEDIATELY
Flanders Film Mfg Co—Milwaukee, Wisconsin. U.S.A.]
[Illustration: The Offensive begins. The new bomb is found to be equally explosive in spite of Captain Black's dark deed
Nancy, who fears disaster, steals her Father's private Howitzer and races to the Offensive
Black throws every obstacle in her way
"Dont you know me Dick?"
The General, who has been doing a bit on his own, becomes the unwilling witness of a touching scene
The General having heard their story, orders the arrest of Captain Black
How Dick Manvers Got His Star.
Every familiar feature of the Film is happily caricatured by Captain Bairnsfather in his amusing page of pictures. The hero, the heroine (with smile), the villain, the heavy father, all of the most approved pattern—everything down to the meticulous inaccuracy characteristic of the American film in matters of detail, is shown with the good-natured sarcasm befitting a master of satire as well as of humour, while the story tells itself with breathless enthusiasm.]
[Illustration: LEARN To FIGHT
Anyone with a taste for Fishing, or Moth Collecting can learn to fight.
Anyone can put a hook in a worm, or a pin in a moth. WE DEVELOP THAT INSTINCT, and by our Postal Course of Instruction, will help you to earn big money by fighting
Bayonet work, bombing, & asphyxiation.
This sketch shows the work of a former pupil. Try this exercise yourself on a friend, and tell us the result. We will at once tell you your chances of success.
A lieutenant writes:—
Unfortunately I had not got as far as your chapter on Upper Cuts or I feel sure I should not be where I am now
Clearing Station GezainCourt.
The demand for fighters exceeds the supply
The Asphyxobomb School of Instruction
Tips for Tommies.
Now that the war has become a world business, we must at any moment expect the appearance of this sort of thing in our papers.]
* * * * *
With the three noted exceptions, punctuation anomalies were retained to match the original drawings. The exceptions are in the books printed explanations, not in any cartoon.
Page 5, period added to illustration caption ("Jack Johnson" shell.)
Page 112, single opening quote changed to double. ("You wait till I)
Page 125, period added to title of picture to match rest of format (That Provost-Marshal Feeling.)
Pages 93 and 98 were halves of the same comic. They were reattached to aid readability. The original text can be found in the html version.