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First World War cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather

The Story

"Old Bill" was a comic character drawn by Bruce Bairnsfather, a British soldier who served in the trenches of the First World War and gained fame as a cartoonist. Decades later and a continent away, Bairnsfather marks Remembrance Day in 1958 on the CBC television program Close-Up. Also in this clip, journalist and WWI vet Gregory Clark comments on the short time that is set aside for observing remembrance on the anniversary of the Armistice, and how Bairnsfather's humorous treatment of the difficulties of life at the front connected with soldiers in the trenches.

Medium: Television
Program: Close-up
Broadcast Date: Nov. 12, 1958
Host: J. Frank Willis
Interviewer: Charles Templeton
Commentator: Gregory Clark
Guest: Bruce Bairnsfather
Duration: 17:08

Did You know?

• Bruce Bairnsfather was born in 1887 and died in 1959. He became famous for his cartoon depictions of life in the trenches in WWI, and for his character "Old Bill", a seasoned soldier who sported a bushy mustache.

• Bairnsfather branched out into other areas of the entertainment industry, spending the year 1927 in Canada to make the film Carry on Sergeant. He wrote, produced and directed the silent 1928 film. According to the Canadian Film Encyclopedia, it was shot on a budget of $500,000, making it the most expensive Canadian silent film ever. 

• Gregory Clark, the journalist seen here at the start of the clip and commenting on Bairnsfather's influence, can be heard in the CBC Digital Archives Radio clip describing life in WWI trenches.

• During this interview, Bairnsfather describes what happened on Christmas Eve the first year of the war. Listen to Alan Maitland read Bairnsfather's account of the Christmas truce of 1914.


The First World War: Canada Remembers more