The Bystander’s Fragments from France

“Fragments from France” are collections of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather‘s First World War cartoons produced for each issue of “The Bystander”, a weekly magazine.

Noel Downing collected and kept 7 volumes of “Fragments” while he was serving with the Welsh Guards in France and they remain in our archive.

The Bystander's Fragments from France by Bruce Bairnsfather, Vols. 1-7

The Bystander’s Fragments from France by Bruce Bairnsfather, Vols. 1-7

Possibly these copies were delivered directly to him at the front line. No doubt Noel appreciated a good joke and Bairnsfather’s cartoons delivered the best antidote to the reality of the war.

After the first volume was published, and over a quarter of a million copies were sold, Bairnsfather became a household or rather a “trench-hold” name.

Captain Bairnsfather’s pictures are “the real thing” […] They make the Old Army laugh. They make the New Army laugh. They make civilians laugh. They make the Press Bureau laugh. They – but what’s the use of saying more? Everybody knows Bairnsfather and his “Fragments.”

From Foreword to Vol. 3

His main characters Old Bill, Bert and Alf were typical British Tommies fighting the Bosche. “Seriously comical and comically serious”, they were shown to the reader as a proof that human nature and humour survive the horrors of war.

As General Sir Ian Hamilton said […], “The creator of Old Bill has rendered great service to his country, both as a soldier and as one who has done much to lighten the darkest hour.”

From Foreword to Vol. 7


  • The Bystander’s Fragments from France by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, Vols. 1-7,  Tallis House, Whitefriars, & 190, Strand, London, 1916 – 1919
  • The Bystander, No. 764, 24 Jul 1918