WW1 Photos Centenary Website: 2014-2018 By Paul Reed

Old Bill Buses Go To War

Motorised transport was an essential part of any army in 1914, but very much in the minority compared the much greater amount of horse transport each nation put onto the battlefield. The British Army of 1914 lacked a great deal of it, so following the outbreak of war and by the time of the First Battle of Ypres, the War Office had commandeered a number of London motor buses along with their drivers, who became part of the Army Service Corps. These buses – which soon became known as ‘Old Bill Buses‘ with a reference to Bairnsfather’s Old Bill character – were photographed during First Ypres still painted in their London colours but by 1915 they were army green, with boarded up windows.

This image shows British troops waiting to board a series of buses to take them to a rest area somewhere in Flanders in 1915. The two men with their backs to the camera are officers, and their kit and the fact they are carrying rifles, reflects the changes that wartime conditions were enforcing; officers now had to try and look like the men to avoid being sniped. The ‘MT ASC’ white signage can be seen on the bus showing how they had now become standard equipment for some of the Mechanical Transport units of the Army Service Corps. One of the crew stands in the rear door, perhaps as he had done as a conductor in the days of peace.

3 responses

  1. I was in the Imperial War museum yesterday and they have one of these buses in the main hall.

    21/09/2012 at 10:27

  2. Valerie Cranham

    The one at the very front looks like he has a musical instrument, possibly bagpipes – as well as two guns, or is that my imagination ?
    Whenever I see pictures like these, I look for my grandfather who served at Mons Retreat, Battles of Ypres, Loos,Somme,Arras and Advance of 1918. Away from home from 1914 – 1919, as part of RAMC 128 Indian Field Ambulance Unit.
    I can’t trace him through WW1 records as they are in burnt record collection, but have found him in the Roll of Honour and have posted a star for him at Imp War Museum .
    Pictures like yours keep me motivated, so thanks for posting!

    21/09/2012 at 13:35

  3. Stuart

    This is an interesting image. It does indeed show the slightly ‘motley’ appearance of troops in, or very shortly to be in, battle – mug hanging from web equipment, bag slung over muzzle of SMLE. Nicely illustrates the point that, when needs must, the rules and regulations tend to bend…

    28/09/2012 at 13:06

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