Picture Postcards from the Great War

The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

 (16) 'Arf a mo, Kaiser! - Bert Thomas

During the First World War, Bert Thomas did a sketch which proved as popular among the troops as Bainsfather's famous drawing titled “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole’ go to it!".

Born on 13th October 1883, in Newport, Monmouthshire, Bert began his working life in Swansea as an apprentice metal engraver, engraving names on doorplates and monograms on cutlery. In his spare time he sketched and soon sold his first cartoon to Pick-me-up . This led to providing music-hall cartoons to the Swansea Daily Leader, Daily Post, News and Echo. When Bert was seventeen the founder of Strand Magazine, Sir George Newnes, M.P. for Swansea, was shown some of Bert's drawings and was so impressed that he published them.

By 1905, Bert's talent for comic drawing was apparent, when it started appearing  in Punch  - who published over a thousand pieces of his work. In 1909, he began a long association with London Opinion where he contributed political and social cartoons. Later, London Opinion allowed some of Bert’s early work to be reproduced on postcards. His humour was usually mild and restrained and gave comments on the passing scene.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Thomas enlisted in the Artists' Rifles alongside other notable illustrators, and it was during this time that he did his ten minute drawing depicting an old soldier, saying, as he paused to light his pipe,  “Arf a mo', Kaiser!" The drawing became a classic and the Daily Mail called it  "The funniest picture of the war" although not everyone agreed with that. Nevertheless, after Thomas donated it to the Weekly Dispatch, it helped to raise over a quarter of a million pounds for the ‘Smokes for the Troops Fund.’

ww1 postcard “Arf a mo', Kaiser!

"Arf a Mo', Kaiser!"

Bert's famous picture also appeared as a fund-raising postcard. It was printed in colour and published by Gale & Polden.

A caption on the back reads:

"Specially drawn by Mr. BERT THOMAS for the 'WEEKLY DISPATCH' TOBACCO FUND, Carmelite House, London. E.C. Every 6d. will gladden the heart of a hero."

The cartoon first  appeared in the Weekly Dispatch of 11th November 1914, as part of the newspapers Tobacco for the Troops Fund. It raised nearly £250,000.


Later in the conflict, Thomas became an official war artist for the National Savings Campaign. In 1918, he drew Britain's largest war poster which carried an appeal to invest in War Bonds.  It covered the front of the National Gallery and was seventy-five feet long. In June 1918, Bert Thomas was awarded the M.B.E. for his war work.


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