THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT THE SOLDIER WHO MADE THE EMPIRE LAUGH
Thursday December 21st 1916
It is always disappointing to be dull when others hold their sides, to be the only one when one does not see the joke. We regret un-feignedly that when the Empire laughs we must remain dumb.Captain Bairnsfather’s cartoons have always been looked for with eagerness by the public for many months past by civilians and soldiers alike who nearly all unite in a chorus of praise that ”It is like what trench life must be”. That it shows a unique British sense of humour and so on.Mr Kipling one may say created The British Soldier in the shade of Private S Ortheris and Soldiers Three, what is the result on the public on reading these works. They think no soldier a ”Real Soldier” unless he has plenty of the worst language. Young soldiers model themselves on Private Ortheris with what result they may acquire his vices and outlook, virtues. Readers of Mr Wells last book will remember the cockney soldier of the new army who could not open his mouth without using the word ”Bloody” not because he liked it but became Ortheris, his ideal of a soldier, did so and the disgust that he unleashed on his followers, soldiers when preferred – shall we say Wordsworth’s Ideal; we know a Battalion takes a soldier such as Bairnsfather’s, takes as his type would be most summarily dealt with. Nothing so quickly lowers moral as slovenliness and nothing more difficult to check than the gradual degeneration due to trench life; and yet we have an army officer who invariably depicts his men to whom his book is dedicated use the very type which this army is anxious to suppress, can it be wondered at the young soldiers try to look like a ”Bairnsfather type”. We can all remember the Gibson Girl but do we want our daughters to look like ”Eve” in another of our illustrated contemporaries; yet ”Eve” is delightful because she is not degenerative she is impossible.Bairnsfather’s Alf and Bert are disgusting because they are possible, it is not with CaptainBairnsfather’s humour that we quarrel for his are invariably amusing, it is because he standardises almost idealises a degraded type of face.We cannot but enter a protest against a cruel a caricature of the men who endured the first winter in France. The men we know joked and swore like many other Gallent Men, out there they prided themselves as being the smartest Battalion in the Brigade.Not the one that most resembled one of the Bairnsfather’s drawings.Of the two books before us Bullets and Billets (Grant Richards 5s net) and Bairnsfather Fragments from his Life ( Horder and Stoughton 3s and 6d net)- The former little book of sketches of a type which we are all familiar, they are well enough done to be pleasure to read but most interest lies in the pictures.The latter is most elaborate life of the artist by a friend, a life not remarkably varied as to deserve such an award- If We May Call it So.