Old Bill Handsworth Original of Bairnsfather Hero ( typed copy)


                                 ” OLD BILL ”



The ” Weekly Dispatch ” ( London ) claims to have established by means of a photograph the identity of the original of Captain Bairnsfather’s ” Old Bill, ” this hero of so many of his best cartoons and the exemplifixation of this cheery spirit of the old British Army,” Old Bill ” who is said to have been photographed by Captain Bairnsfather in the trenches, was Acting Tramway Inspector Patrick Rafferty of the Birmingham Tramway Department, stationed on the Handsworth route.” Rafferty was a soldier who loved soldiering for soldiering’s sake. He had served his time the Royal Warwicks and been transferred to the Reserve when, in the middle of 1909, he joined the Birmingham Corporation Tramways, and thence onwards until 1913 served as a motor-man, when he became acting inspector, promoted for merit. At the outbreak of war, on leaving to join his regiment in the Isle of Wight, he stood at the back of a tramway-car going from Handsworth to the city and breezily called out to his mates who were wishing him ‘Good luck and a safe return’ ‘ So long boys ; we’ll soon have this job over and then I’ll be with you again ‘ Alas! Rafferty, for all his qualities was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet; the job was not destined to be over soon and he was not destined to return. He lies poor fellow somewhere in France or Flanders with two years soil over his head – so much they know in Birmingham- but he did his duty and played the game as those who have him in tender recollections knew he would and in the Valhalla of humble patriots he has a place and a niche than which even the greatest among he can wish for no finer reward.”’Soldier habits persist, and they recall of Rafferty that his buttons were always well polished and there was an almost fastidious neatness about his get up. He had the old soldier’s naïve faith in the prowess of British arms and didn’t believe that any other nation could produce soldiers to touch ours. He smiled at the idea of the Germans, ‘ miserable underfed blighters ‘ as he conceived them, standing up to a regiment of British Regulars. Old Bill doted on being in the picture. He liked music and was a member of the Tramway band. His instrument was the big drum, no doubt chosen because it made the most noise and set our hero apart from the rest. How he thumped that drum– the Homeric energy of the man– the genial, agreeable concert of his performance these are reflections that in no wise diminish his stature but round off the pleasant shadow it cast. ” It was characteristic of Old Bill to that when leaving the Isle of Wight for France he should have wished to send a message to his pals in Birmingham, and it was equally characteristic of Old Bill to choose as a means of communication a sealed bottle thrown into the sea, which bottle with its hasty scrawl in due course turned up at Birmingham. ‘He always had plenty of savvy ‘ is the comment of his mates on this incident. ‘Trust Old Bill to get round a difficulty.’

(Birmingham Mail  Nov 1917)