Bert Thomas was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, in 1883, the son of a monumental sculptor who had worked on the Houses of Parliament. He left school at the age of 14 and worked as an apprentice to a metal engraver in Swansea, during which time he began to draw cartoons, selling some to local newspapers.
In 1900, his work was noticed by Sir George Newnes, MP for Swansea and the founder of The Strand, who began to publish some of the young artist’s work. While working for an advertising agency in London, he began to contribute cartoons to a number of well-known magazines, including Pick-Me-Up, London Opinion, The Sketch, The Bystander and The Graphic.
During the First World War, from 1916, Bert Thomas served in the Artists’ Rifles as a private, along with his good friend, Harold Earnshaw. Prior to this, Thomas produced one of the war’s most popular images. “’Arf a Mo’ Kaiser”, showing a cheeky Tommy pausing to light a cigarette, was drawn in just 10 minutes for the, “Smokes for Tommy” campaign run by the Weekly Dispatch, raising a quarter of a million pounds for a fund that bought tobacco for men at the front.
Thomas was also appointed the official artist for the War Bonds campaign and his designs were hung in enormous 75 x 30ft posters across the National Gallery and the Royal Exchange in London.
Thomas was a regular contributor to Punch as well as to The Sketch and The Bystander. A chain smoker himself, his characters were often pictured with a ubiquitous cigarette stuck to their lips. One of the great “black and white” men, Thomas’s Times obituary fondly remembered him as, “Stocky and short, and as friendly as a Toby jug, Bert Thomas, in his check waistcoat and trousers, at once suggested the countryman.”