Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 16:09 UK

Brushes and bayonets

By Lucinda Gosling

War heroes come in many forms and not all earn the accolade on the field of battle.

During World War I, a band of artists and illustrators used their talent with ink, paint and brushes to boost morale and help the Allies towards victory, creating illustrations and cartoons in some of the country's best-loved magazines.

How artists boosted morale and the war effort in World War I

Now, over nine decades since they were first published, more than 250 images from the Illustrated London News which houses some of the most important of these magazines, have been brought together in a book celebrating the role of illustrators during the Great War.

In an age before the internet, television or even radio, newspapers and magazines held the monopoly on mass communication, and those who wrote - and indeed drew - for the most popular papers and periodicals earned not only a good living but in a handful of cases, global fame.

Grumpy but endearing

One such artist, Bruce Bairnsfather, was dubbed, "the man who won the war" by General Sir Ian Hamilton.

This was partly a tribute to Bairnsfather's creation for The Bystander magazine, a grumpy but endearing soldier called "Ole' Bill", but also because Bairnsfather had the added cachet of being a soldier himself.

He was the real deal, serving as a captain in the Royal Warwickshire regiment, a fact which only added to his popularity and turned him into something of a pin-up for his magazine.

Detail of Female Munitions Workers by Fortunino Matania
Artists tried to show the reality of life at home as well as at the front

Displaying a deadpan mix of stoicism, cynicism and human vulnerability, Old Bill struck a chord with both the British on the home front and the soldiers fighting abroad and soon, Bairnsfather was in demand with other armies - the French, the Italians and the Americans, who all hoped that his morale-boosting magic would work for their own troops.

Another magazine, The Sketch, had its own star artist.

William Heath Robinson produced hugely popular cartoons reaching seemingly new heights of crackpot inventiveness each week as he drew the Germans using magnets to attract the brass buttons from British soldiers' braces causing their trousers to fall down, or fiendishly shepherding flu germs into British trenches.

He was inundated with letters from soldiers at the front, conveying their appreciation for his light-hearted take on life in the trenches, with most unable to resist making suggestions for new inventions themselves.

Ninety years on, his inimitable ideas still provoke anything from stifled giggles to full-blown guffaws.

Forgotten names

Heath Robinson remains one of Britain's best-loved illustrators, and those with even a passing interest in World War I or cartoons will have heard of Bairnsfather.

Most other illustrative "greats" contributed to one or other of the ILN magazines; among them, George Studdy, H M Bateman, Lawson Wood and Mabel Lucie Attwell.

However, there remains a contingent of artists who have since disappeared into obscurity.

Some contributed the more serious, reportage illustrations published by magazines like The Illustrated London News and The Sphere, recreating every aspect of the war, from munitions factories to valiant charges on the battlefield.

Others took up the comic baton with as much enthusiasm as their more famous contemporaries. Whatever their speciality, names like Wilmot Lunt, Frederic de Haenen, Christopher Clark and Alick Ritchie, have been lost in the mists of time.

But, whoever they were, famous or forgotten, their legacy lives on as an invaluable and multi-faceted visual chronicle of the Great War.

Having hidden in the ILN archive for so long, it is time for these illustrations to be discovered by a brand new generation.

Brushes and Bayonets, Cartoons, sketches and paintings of World War I by Lucinda Gosling is published by Osprey



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