From the WW1 collection at Wardown House Museum, an undated photo of a DS&S (Discharged Sailors and Soldiers) float bearing the words “if you know a better 'ole, go to it”.
Those words had been used as a caption by Capt Bruce Bairnsfather, a Machine Gun Corps officer, who had been blown up by a shell at Ypres in 1915 and spent his recuperation time in England drawing cartoons. His most famous one showed two soldiers marooned in a shell hole surrounded by the devastation of war, and one (Old Bill) says to the other (Old Bert): “if you know a better 'ole, go to it.”
It was a cartoon which was said to have made the Empire laugh in its darkest hour, and inspired a West End musical and films, including a British silent version.
In the Luton Reporter of October 29th, 1918, the Palace Theatre in Mill Street kept its patrons in suspense when its advertisement read: “Next week – the greatest show ever seen in Luton. What is it? Look out for the bills.”
And on November 5th, when the Reporter revealed that what was on offer was the silent film, 'The Better 'Ole' – or 'The Romance of Old Bill' – it wrote: “This is one of the Palace Theatre's red letter weeks, the film being “the star attraction of a programme certain to set the whole town talking”.
However, the float was recorded in the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph (July 22nd, 1919) as being included in Dunstable's Peace Day celebrations. The photo may have been taken in Great Northern Road, at the start of the Dunstable procession.