War Illustrated

The War Illustrated

The magazine The War Illustrated describes itself as ‘a pictoral record of the conflict of the nations’.
From August 1914 onwards, the ‘picture-record of events by land, sea and air’ appeared weekly, filled with
photos and drawings of the war.

The pages shown below are taken from the first volume, which was published
between 22 August 1914 and 13th February 1915.

The magazine gives a fascinating insight into the way in which
many British people understood the Great War. It also gives some idea of the way in which society was changing
during the course of the war.

Indians and Africans in the Trenches

Africa Helps Save Europe

New-formed Friendships that Will Not Fade

The Terror by Night: our Gurkhas at Work

Sikhs and Gurkhas Cut up the Germans at Lille

The Fervent Loyalty of Indian Princes

The Flower of our Indian Army in France

Helping the Allies of the Great British

Anti-German Propaganda

Brave Britons Captive among Coward Germans

Coward Work of Germany’s Military Murderers

Dying British Soldiers Tortured by Germans

Prancing Prussians Performing the Goose Step

The One Solitary Instance of German Chivalry

German Appreciation of French Art Treasures

Women During the Great War

Remember that these are all from the first few months of the war – read the essay to see how things would change during the
course of the four years of the war

Angels of Mercy Prepare to Play their Part

Brave Nurse who Protected British Wounded

French Womans Fearlessness

Women’s Healing Work among the Wounded

Manly Courage Rewarded by Womanly Devotion

The British Troops

British Machine Guns Mow Down German Column

British Soldiers Waist Deep in Flooded Trenches

Human Moles in the Fields of War

Burrows from which Battles are now Waged

Irish Guards Kneel at Prayer Before Rushing Upon the Germans

Guards Brilliant Capture of Machine-Guns

French Night Attack on German Heavy Guns

No Surrender!

Furious Charge of British Cavalry at Mons

Thanks to Katie Hawks of Cambridge University for supplying these images.

The Theatre At War

If you want to print out this resource, click on the ‘text only version’ link in the top-right hand corner of the page.

During the dreariness of the First World War, the predominant colour was
brown – whether khaki uniforms, the mud of the trenches or the mud of
the earth in which volunteers were digging for victory. People, both civilians
and servicemen were desperate for colour, for an escape from the war, however
temporary. Unlikely as it may seem, plays and shows took place in army camps
in Britain and abroad, performed both by the troops themselves and by touring
troops of professional actors. Many of the shows performed were very much
‘light entertainment’, but Shakespeare was frequently performed,
both in the trenches and for the civilians back home.

This resource contains a number of extracts describing the different situations
in which theatre took place during war time, focusing on the way in which
Shakespeare was understood during the First World War. During the 400 years
since their first production, Shakespeare’s plays have always been interpreted
following the concerns of (find out more about this in Dr Jean Chothia’s
essay on ‘Shakespeare in Production’ ).
How do these writers, writing during the First World War, view Shakespeare
and his works? Are the opinions they hold about the meaning and effects of
Shakespeare still held today?

Extract One

Basil Dean, an actor who volunteered for the army early in 1914, recalls how theatre was
used to keep up the troops’ morale in difficult times during those early months.

The story really begins much earlier than that – in the early months of the First World War
to be exact, when thousands of young men brought up in the ways of peace found themselves trudging
through the countryside, dummy rifles and wooden cartridges made in Japan in their hands, and the
certainty of victory in their hearts.

The Colonel of my training battalion was an elderly dyed-in-the-wool volunteer, brought up
in the days of dark green uniforms and shiny black leather accoutrements and accustomed to
shouts of “Saturday night soldier!” from impertinent small boys as he marched his self-conscious
troops through the streets of Victoria’s England. Now, in the frosty autumn days of 1914, he
found himself leading eager recruits up and down the green hills of North Wales and through
the beech-brown lanes of Cheshire, his conception of the warfare that lay ahead made up of
romantic notions of what went on in the Crimean War, coupled with an enthusiastic study
of the Boer Commandos, with Mr Kipling somewhere in the background of his min for inspiration.
Nevertheless, he understood the need for maintaining the morale of young men brought up in homes
where bloodshed was only read about, never imagined as a personal experience. There was no radio
in those days, just a few inadequate cinemas showing out-of-date silent films in near-by villages.
To make matters worse our battalion was still under canvas, the tents surrounded by deep trenches
full of muddy water, and winter rapidly approaching. As he stumbled and lurched his way forward
at the head of the line of march the Colonel’s mind was full of schemes for keeping us out of mischief.
I like to think of him as the first Welfare Officer of the British Army, but of course Florence
Nightingale was that. All the same, he was a gallant old man.

One day, during a more than usually tedious exercise when all the songs had died in the men’s
throats and depression had settled like a cloud upon the marching column, the Colonel called me
to his side. He knew that I had been an actor and a producer of plays, for he lived near
Liverpool in peace-time and had modestly supported our efforts to found the Liverpool Repertory Theatre.

“How about some shows for the men?” he demanded, abruptly.

“Shows, sir?” I replied, pretending not to understand.

“Yes. You’re an actor chap, aren’t you? Can’t you get up some concerts or plays?
Tell you what! We’ll have a competition. Each company shall get up a show; then you
and I’ll pick the best team for a battalion concert party and play ’em against other units!”

This was certainly a sportsman’s way of tackling the problem.

p.22-23, The Theatre at War, Basil Dean (George G. Harrap and Co Ltd, London)

  • Why was it so important to keep up the troops’ morale?
  • What does this extract tell you about the attitudes of soldiers and civilians during the first months of the war?
  • Why was could theatre have such an influence in the training camps?
  • Can you make a guess at the influence Mr Kipling (i.e Rudyard Kipling, not the cakes!) has had on the Colonel.

Extract Two

Some theatre in the trenches was organised by people like Basil Dean, professional actors turned soldiers
who were using their skills to keep up morale. As the war went on, others realised that theatre could play
an important role in supporting civilians and soldiers.

Actress Lena Ashwell set off to tour the camps of France with a troop of actors, convinced that theatre
could do its bit to keep up moral among the troops. Similar concert parties, usually including musicians,
singers, actors and perhaps a magician, toured the army camps both in Britain and abroad. Although they
were kept away from the front lines, travelling between the different camps could be dangerous.

As they moved from the well-lit theatres of London’s West End to improvised huts in army camps,
Lena Ashwell realised that theatre, particularly Shakespeare, could have a very different resonance during a war.

Once, in the Harfleur Valley, Colonel Worthington, addressing a packed crowd of Canadians during a church service suddenly broke into Henry V’s speech delivered to the troops at the siege of Harfleur: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” It was a curious and illuminating experience, a link in our history, to hear that speech delivered at the very place where Harry of England had inspired a flagging, pestilence-stricken army, by a Canadian to those English-speaking men who had come in their thousands from a land hardly known in the time of William Shakespeare.

pp.207-8 Myself a Player, Lena Ashton (1936, Michael Joseph Ltd, London)

  • How does the Colonel use Shakespeare here?
  • How do the soldiers respond?
  • How do Lena Ashwell respond?

Extract Three

Repeatedly, Ashwell presents theatre as a way to cure shell- shock. She describes how a visit to the theatre cured one soldier who had spent too long in the trenches:

At one time he was sent down for a rest from the line, and was unable to find any. He could not sleep. He walked about by the sea and saw nothing but dead bodies in the waves; he came back to London, and went from church to church and from sermon to sermon, hoping that he might escape from his misery. One day he passed a theatre and went in. He came out cured; he is now writing plays himself. (p.181)

One man, who had been an actor, was deaf and almost unable to speak from shell-shock; his headaches were intolerable. When first admitted to a rehearsal, he sat motionless in a chair, deaf and indifferent; when the others walked over his outstretched legs, he gave no sign of life – he was, to all intents and purposes, mentally paralysed. Gradually the interest of the rehearsals got hold of him, and it was not long before he was one of the most active workers in the productions and played many parts. (p.183)

  • How do you respond to these stories?
  • Why might Ashwell have been keen to show that theatre could cure illness?

Extract Four

Lena Ashwell presents Shakespeare as able to reach out to men with little formal education, who have never even heard of Shakespeare as a writer. The war becomes an opportunity for education and cultural exchange.

It’s worth knowing that in 1916 it was announced that a copy of Shakespeare’s works would be given to each soldier disabled in the war, in memory of Lord Kitchener.

So many only know the name of William Shakespeare and nothing of his works. Once in a hospital there was a weary, mournful patient, who was too full of pain even to care to be interested, and when the visitor distributed the books, he languidly consented to take the smallest, a little copy of Twelfth Night, issued by the Chiswick Press. His neighbour, who was not quite so wretched, encouraged him by saying, “Go on, matey; you don’t ‘ave to read it!” The following week the visitor was collecting the books and the languid man said he would like another of the same. The visitor asked what book it was, and who was the author. His answer was, “The book was called Twelfth Night, by the Chiswick Press. (Lena Ashwell, Modern Troubadours, Gyldendal, London, 1922)

  • What point do you think that Ashwell is trying to make in this extract?

Extract Five

If Ashwell presents Shakespeare as curing the illnesses of war, in exchange, the war seems able to cure the ‘illnesses’ of 19th century productions of Shakespeare, which had emphasised extreme realism of scenery (rabbits on stage in one production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example). The ‘deadened’ imagination is now revived by the war-time audience’s imagination.

The dressing-rooms were tents as a rule, bell tents. There was no scenery and of course no furniture. They had to rely always upon the imagination of the audience, and never found that fail. It was quite sufficient to explain that the Army blankets represented the corridor of an hotel, or that the same blankets were to convey the impression of the great hall of Macbeth Castle, and immediately the audience understood. … I often wonder if the great attention to detail in the production of plays, the magnificent scenery, the intense realism of the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, may not have had a tendency to deaden the imagination. (p.43)

  • How would you describe Ashwell’s attitude to the constraints of theatre in war time?
  • Do you think that the type of production describes here has had a lasting effect on British theatre?
  • Do you agree with Ashwell about the advantages and disadvantage of realistic stage sets?

Extract Six

Again, Ashwell presents Shakespeare as being ideally suited by war-time productions. Shakespeare ‘gets to the soul of every man’, but in the army camp, at ‘the hour of trial’, ‘the judgement of man’ is clear, and ‘slipshod sentimentality’ has no place. And, ironically, soldiers respond more strongly to Shakespeare than to real life.

There is something in the rhythm of Shakespeare, in the splendour and fullness of the language which raises the mind and exalts the spirit, which gets to the soul of every man, whatever his class or education, whether he is a cockney or comes from the farthest parts of the Empire. In the hour of death, the judgement of man cannot by hypnotised into the belief that murders are trivial things, and that robbery and selfishness are noble. The slipshod sentimentality which tried to make out that the wages of sin is an enviable success, and that there is nothing to hope for from the goodness of man, is useless in the hour of trial. The sight of murder is meant to fill the human soul with horror, and one major said that he had been in many battles since he came out in August 1914, but nothing had given him the cold horror that he had experienced at the murder of Duncan.

  • Do you agree with Ashwell about the power of Shakespeare’s language?
  • Why do you think she repeats the Major’s comment about Shakespeare’s effect on him?

Extract Seven

In turn, the actors appear to portray Macbeth as ‘cowardly, cruel, ambitious, imaginative’. The Scottish king is viewed in the same way that the German Kaiser was so often portrayed in British propaganda. This is no doubt unintentional on the part of the actors (unlike the open propaganda of using Henry V) – it is simply that they now perceive a flawed king in the way that the German ruler has so often been represented to them.

At Rouelles in the great Cinema there were about 1500 men drawn from all ranks, all grades of society, all parts of the Empire, in a place where they were accustomed to the Cinema, and we knew if we lost hold of their attention and interest it would be impossible to regain it. We were all frightened – if we should fail! We held them from start to finish. There was breathless quiet throughout, and the reception at the end was terrific. The stage was merely curtained with red curtains, and we had a soap box covered with red cotton to sit on. We had only the splendid costumes of the period and the plaintive music of the trio to help us. Paget Bownman was splendid as Macbeth, very real in his conception of the cowardly, cruel, ambitious, imaginative man. Mr Bowan’s powerful imagination made the audience see with him the influences that beset Macbeth, and his diction is remarkable, and he had a speed of clear delivery which is most unusual, and tremendously important in the playing of Shakespeare.

Extract Eight

Siegfried Sassoon wrote about his own memories of attending a concert party given to the troops, and Ashwell quoted it in her memoirs.

They are gathering round…

Out of the twilight, over the Grey-blue sand

Shoals of low-jargoing men drift inward to the sound, –

The jangle and throb of a piano … tum-ti-tum …

Drawn by a lamp they come

Out of the glimmering lines of their tents, over the shuffling sand

O, sing us the songs, the songs of our own land,

You warbling ladies in white.

Dimness conceals the hunger in our faces,

This wall of faces risen out of the night,

These eyes that keep their memories of the places

So long beyond their sight.

Jaded and gay, the ladies sing; and the chap in brown

Tilts his grey hat; jaunty and lean and pale,

He rattles the keys … some actor bloke from town …

‘God send you home’; and then ‘A long, long trail,’

‘I hear you calling me’; and ‘Dixieland’ …

Sing slowly … now the chorus … one by one.

We hear them, drink them; till the concert’s done.

Silent I watch the shadowy mass of soldiers stand.

Silent they drift away over the glimmering sand.”

  • How does Sassoon portray the effects of the concert party?
  • How does the soldier’s viewpoint differ from the actor’s?

Extract Nine



It is difficult to realise that before leaving France I saw Hamlet performed by soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force within a few hours’ distance of the firing line. An officer of high standing who saw the play hit off the situation: “Our men do not live by bully beef alone; they need some food for the mind, and there is nothing better for them than the great thoughts of our great writers.” The play was performed in costume, with scenery painted in camp, and with not a word misplaced or forgotten in the rendering.

Four scenes were chosen – the Ghost scene, the room in the castle where Hamlet decides on revenge; the great soliloquy and the graveyard. The cast was chosen on the spot, neighbouring towns and libraries were scoured for copies of the play, as there was no time to send to England. Luck turned out way, copies were secured, and in a town close by was a branch of a Paris theatrical costumier. Horatio looked more like Henry VIII on the Field of the Cloth of Gold than the friend of Hamlet – whilst Hamlet’s costume reminded one more of Madam Tussaud’s than of Sir J. Forbes-Robertson, but on active service one cannot be particular.


The Colonel Commanding the Base was informed of what was in progress on the Saturday evening; he suggested scenery. Imagine the burst of joy when we discovered a sergeant-major who had been stage carpenter. We went together to the YMCA, where the play was to be performed; there we found two A.S.C. men working at the stage, and actually preparing footlights. The thrilling moment in the preparation came when two privates of the London Scottish offered to paint the scenery if we could find paint and brushes. The difficulty of bringing together all the equiptment left us until Monday morning before we began, and I still wonder if there is anything in military or civil life to approach the calm confidence of these men who were to play Hamlet that night, and at 10a.m. of the same day were faced with a few poxes of dry paint, some brushes, and several square yards of canvas stretched on tent poles; but they did it, and just before the play began, the last scene was carefully slung up, still wet.

Long before the time of starting, a great queue assembled. The colonels and officers of the battalions represented honoured the production by their presence; also the matrons and nursing staff of the hospitals, and over a thousand men gained admission. The doors and windows of the hut were opened so that the crowd outside could hear. Yet, during this growing excitement we were shutting out the thought that any one of our company of actors and stage-hands might be called on duty any minute, for most of them were standing by waiting to go to the firing line. The curtains were drawn and, instead of the usual respectful silence that greets the opening of a scene in Hamlet, there were yells of full-throated applause!

Hamlet was embarassed by the cheers of the gods at the splendid fresh colours in the scenery, for many of those men had not seen stage colours since they left home, and for the time being Hamlet’s scenery outshone Hamlet. Before the play was half through, we breathed easily and knew the experiment to be justified. The life behind the scenes was distinctly of the emergency type. A careless gunner smudged out of existence a whole tower of Elsinore with his shirtsleeve. Men accustomed for many months to obey suddenly found themselves in command. One was told to stitch up a hole in silk hole with a darning needle; another wanted a belt; “Give him a puttee”. “My face is too white for the footlights”, “Here, stick on some red distemper”; and I believe the red distemper is still “stuck on”.


The company got itself together in an hour; it learnt its parts from two books
in the spare time allowed in three days; it painted and erected its scenery,
in less than 12 hours and acted, in a way that baffled the keenest critics, to an
audience whose vociferous approval would make any actor – Shakespearian or variety
– green with envy. Hamlet will long be remembered; a 6ft 2in Horatio, limping with a
convalescent ankle could not, through physical disparity, keep himslef within his shadow;
the Ghost wore a fine suit of old French armour shrouded in white muslin. The procedings were
brought to a close by Henry V, clothed in all his shining accoutrements before Harfleur.
Flashing his great sword he cried out the famous speech before the battle: –

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

And so on, right through breathlessly to

The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit; and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

The effect was electrical. Had the bugle sounded the charge every man would have rushed out of that buiding on the instant, as he was. All the latent warrior spirit of our race seemed to leap to a flame. As we went out into the still night our hearts were stronger, our minds brighter, our courage high, and in the quiet stars above brooded the certain promise of victorious and lasting peace.