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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

The Art of War: Imagery and Propaganda


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I am interested if anyone can help identify examples of WWI artistic propaganda, and particularly any imagery that distorts real events.

I was inspired by a few discussions of how perceptions of WWI have been overly influenced by individual publications or imagery. There are strong arguments that the Official Histories distorted some aspects of WWI, some of which have only been redressed in recent years by a small but growing army of dedicated revisionist historians. The perception of 'Lions led by Donkeys' as a generic description of the British Army is another arguably distorted view that can be traced to a few key publications that have had a disproportionate influence on commonly held beliefs of WWI. I recently read Stephen Badsey's "The British Army in Battle and Its Image 1914-1918" where he describes the "Two Western Fronts" - the gap between new historical research and that depicted in popular mythology by the media. The early visual propaganda, particularly in the shape of The Illustrated London News and similar newsprint publications seems to me to be one of the prime sources of some of the mythology. Another book highlighting some discrepancies is Peter Kenyon's "Horseman in No Man's Land: British Cavalry & Trench Warfare 1914-1918" Kenyon highlights a few examples, one of which I highlight below;

The picture below depicts Capt Grenfell 9th Lancers winning the VC on 24th August 1914 (the first VC of WWI) . What is particularly interesting is that on the day, Grenfell was involved in 2 actions, one a charge at the German line of infantry and artillery, which was a complete failure. The second was an episode where Grenfell helped save the guns of the 119th Battery Royal Field Artillery. The painting below by Richard Caton-Woodville seems to have combined the two events. Grenfell claims never to have been within 800 yards of the German guns. An interesting piece of propaganda that appears to distort the facts.

I understand that Caton Woodville made an illustration published in the ILN of the Scots Greys charging with Black Watch soldiers hanging off their stirrups in a blatant re-working of his "Scotland Yet onto Victory" depicting the Scots Greys and highlanders charging together at Waterloo here - events that almost certainly did not happen. I have not yet been able to trace an image of the WWI depiction. I am looking for more WWI examples, particularly in paintings that use an excessive amount of artist's licence that distort the facts. Regards MG


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Illustration from the New York Herald, October 31, 1917, depicting a portable flamethrower attack carried out by the British days earlier. Although the drawing is said to be "based on cabled descriptions of the action," the British never used portable flamethrowers in combat, and the devices shown are the German Wex M.1917. During the actual flamethrower attack at Dixmunde on October 26, 1917, the British used a single Livens "Large Gallery" Flame Projector, a weapon over 50 feet long.


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