Posts Tagged ‘first world war’

What does a Bolshevik look like?

October 30, 2017
Portrait of a rabid Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

Portrait of a ‘frenzied fanatic’ Bolshevik by Charles Sargeant Jagger on the cover of War Illustrated in January 1919

War Illustrated magazine left its readers in no doubt where its stood on the prospects of Russia in the control of the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. This ranting maniac was portrayed on the weekly magazine’s front cover for 11 January, 1919, by CS Jagger. Inside, Sir Sidney Low wrote about the revolutionaries as ‘frenzied fanatics’.

I take this illustration to be by Charles Sargeant Jagger, one of the pre-eminent sculptors of the early 20th century. He served with the Artists’ Rifles in the First World War and created several war memorials – most notably the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner (1925). There is a British Pathe film of Jagger at work.

Sir Sidney Low was a journalist during the war and edited the wireless service of the Ministry of Information. He had been knighted the year before.

War Illustrated‘s editor at Amalgamated Press was John Hammerton, one of Alfred Harmsworth’s most successful editors. War Illustrated was relaunched as New Illustrated after the war.

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

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Was Kitchener’s poster effective? Ask Winston Churchill

July 6, 2016
Churchill's Great War partwork from 1933

The third part of Churchill’s Great War partwork from 1933

There has been a theory promulgated by the Imperial War Museum and various writers that the iconic ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster was not very effective in driving recruitment in the First World War and some have even questioned its very existence. The British Library repeats the claims and describes it as an ‘advertisment’, a mistaken description that has been repeated by, among others, Wikipedia and in a concert programme from the London Symphony Orchestra.

One of the features of the book Kitchener wants You, which I wrote with Martyn Thatcher, is a timeline of images that track the poster’s use, and its many derivatives, over the past century. However, I did not come across any examples in the 1930s, until I found a copy of The Great War, a 1933 partwork by Winston Churchill that was published by George Newnes.

The Kitchener poster shown in the third part of Churchill's Great War partwork in 1933

The Kitchener poster shown in the third part of the Great War partwork in 1933

Page 132 of the third part, above, shows the poster with a credit to the Imperial War Museum. The caption reads:

A FAMOUS RECRUITING POSTER.
Lord Kitchener’s recruiting campaign in 1914 was carried out with characteristic driving force. Every town and village up and down the country was placarded with posters urging men to join the colours for the duration of the war. The illustration above was reproduced from one of the most effective of all posters in use at that time.

So, Churchill’s partwork claims that it was ‘one of the most effective of all posters’. Kitchener wants You shows three photographs of the poster, in Liverpool, Chester and Ulster. There is a fourth image, from Cork in Ireland, thar also shows the poster on a wall.

So, Churchill reckons it was effective and there are at least four photographs of the poster in use. That should settle the argument.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

A happy end to a magazine

February 3, 2016
Last issue of Amalgamated Press's War Illustrated on 8 February 1919

No sad ending: the last issue of Amalgamated Press’s War Illustrated on 8 February 1919. Allies from the Empire (to the left) and Europe are portrayed with a statue of Victory

The demise of a magazine is normally a sad time but note the cover line below this image on the front of War Illustrated from 1919: ‘The Happy End’. The cheery angle came about because this issue marked the end of the Great War after more than four years of slaughter. Also, the magazine was about to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of closure with a different name – New Illustrated – the next week. In essence, it was being relaunched with a different name and editorial strategy under its editor JA Hammerton.

Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press had a winning team on its hands under Hammerton and the back cover ran his editorial ‘An end and a beginning’, along with an order coupon for the next issue. Yet, relaunching a magazine is always a challenge – keeping the established readership while attracting new buyers is very difficult.

John Hammerton was one of the most successful editors of his generation. He is best known for his work with Arthur Mee producing magazines and partworks that were then republished as some of the best selling books of the day. These included the Harmsworth Self-Educator, Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopædia and the Children’s Encyclopaedia. In 1933, his Popular History of the Great War was published in six volumes. So, Hammerton set about the task of changing the editorial philosophy of War Illustrated from one of recording a war’s progress to creating New Illustrated as ‘a fascinating pageant of the living history of our own times’.

First, the changes were announced several weeks in advance with a competition to come up with a name for the relaunched magazine – and a tempting £100 prize. This was at a time when a soldier’s pay was about £1 a week, so such a fortune was great publicity. For a month, the back page ran its editorial focusing on the idea with introductions such as: ‘Some of my readers have asked me to help them think of a title for the successor to the War Illustrated … I am yielding to the requests that have reached me by giving a very brief outline of my scheme.’ (By ‘very brief’ Hammerton means the whole of the back page.)

The War Illustrated was launched to record the progress of the war in photographs and illustrations and was designed to be bound into annual volumes. The format was an A4-ish page size on newsprint. Each issue was 32 sides plus the covers (wrappers in the language of the day) and they were numbered sequentially: issue one, 1-32; issue two, 33-64, and so on. Later issues added a four-page centre section printed gravure, which gave a much better reproduction for photographs and raised the pagination to 36 plus 4.

New Illustrated kept to this format and initially looked little different. The volume strategy was still in place with the new title being seen as a ‘continuous sequel’ to War Illustrated. However, as the issues went on, the martial content was slowly decreased. In April, a marked shift took place with a switch to gravure covers. Hammerton announced:

there is nothing quite so costly as the photogravure process which the New Illustrated is introducing for the first time to popular British journalism

Very good artists were always used, such as Harry Rodmell and Francisco Sancha, and the photographs would have looked amazing at the time. May saw a woman on a cover – Lady Diana Manners dressed as Britannia. Manners was one of the leading socialites of the day, and is better remembered today under her married name of Lady Diana Cooper (or as the great aunt of Tory prime minister David Cameron).

From June, the covers always showed women and colour was introduced with dazzling designs befitting the start of the Jazz Age and illustrations by artists such as Billy Bunter illustrator Leonard Shields and photographs by Lallie Charles – who, with her sister Rita, was one of the most successful portraitists of the early 1900s. The women portrayed were shown in the latest fashions, or at parties or at play in the snow, or using the latest technology in the form of the telephone.

New Illustrated starts to change its name to Record Weekly in 1920 (January 17 issue)

New Illustrated starts to change its name to Record Weekly in 1920 (January 17 issue)

However, depression set in as the economy struggled to switch from wartime to peacetime thinking with millions of demobbed troops looking for work. So the start of 1920 saw another relaunch in progress. The masthead became ‘The Record New Illustrated Weekly’, though with the emphasis still on ‘New Illustrated’. With each issue, the emphasis changed until Record Weekly fully emerged from its chrysalis in March. However, the strategy failed and 20 March saw the last issue.

This might finally have been the end of War Illustrated, had not an Austrian painter called Adolph Hitler come along to give rise to World War II. Hammerton – by then Sir John Hammerton – dusted off the War Illustrated strategy and the magazine rose again to record that conflict in a similar way.

EF Skinner's signature on the War Illustrated illustration (8 February 1919)

EF Skinner’s signature on War Illustrated (8 February 1919)

The illustration for the last issue of War Illustrated is by Edward Frederick Skinner, whose works are held by both the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum. These paintings all depict industry and factories harnessed to the needs of war, but Skinner was a varied and sought-after artist, as the Father Christmas image and the lengthily titled ‘High Priest Coifi riding up Goodmanham Lane to smash the Idols‘ from Little Treasure Island by Arthur Mee (Hodder & Stoughton, 1920) show. The much-enlarged signature here also highlights the crude tones produced by letterpress printing as compared with modern colour lithography.

Cleopatra’s Needle – and a landmark in magazines

May 1, 2015
New Illustrated magazine cover from 1919 showing Cleopatra's Needle by Francisco Sancha

New Illustrated magazine cover from 1919 showing Cleopatra’s Needle by Francisco Sancha

Although New Illustrated magazine makes little mention of the subject of this cover painting, describing it simply as a ‘vivid impression of the Thames Embankment at nightfall’ it was about to become a topical choice. At the focus of the cover is Cleopatra’s Needle, the ancient Egyptian monument that had been brought to England and erected in 1878. This had been damaged in the first German night-time bombing raid of the First World War. On 5 September 1917, the raiders had also wrecked a passing tramcar, killing three passengers. The painting looks to be a direct reference to that incident.

In 1919, the London County Council was debating whether to repair the damage from the air raid. Three weeks after this issue of New Illustrated appeared, the council announced in The Times in an article titled ‘Lest We Forget’, that it would leave the damage in place and instead mount a plaque on the plinth (May 12, 1919). The damage and the plaque can be seen to this day.

The obelisk had been presented to the British by the viceroy of Egypt in 1819 to commemorate the victories of Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby over Napoleon’s fleets. However, the government balked at the cost of bringing the 68-feet-high (20.9m) obelisk to Britain. The Imperial War Museum describes the £15,000 transportation costs in a specially-built ship from Alexandria to London, as being paid for by Sir WJ Erasmus Wilson.

This is a fine illustration in a distinctive modern style, and though it is not signed by the artist, he is identified inside as F. Sancha, a Spaniard who had been living in London for about six years and had recently joined the art staff of the New Illustrated. The cover design is a clear split from the art nouveau style that would have been familiar to readers of the many other Amalgamated Press magazines over the previous three decades. Francisco Sancha was a new name to me, but he drew for French magazines such as Le Rire and L’Assiette au Beurre and was the subject of an article by Herbert Furst, author of The Modern Woodcut (1921), in The Studio in 1922. ‘A Spanish Painter in London’ was illustrated by six of Sancha’s paintings and the full text is given at the end of this post. During the first world war, he drew a series of propaganda postcards, “Aesop’s Fables Up To Date”, with German leaders replacing fable characters. He also worked on other propaganda works. His earlier work appears to have been signed as ‘S. Lengo’, his full name being Francisco Sancha Lengo.

One of the Malaga-born artist’s commissions in 1920 was to decorate the reception rooms at the Centro Español in London’s Cavendish Square. This must have been a grand building, and hosted a banquet for the Prince of Wales in 1930. The Spanish Centre fell on hard times, however, having to be ‘rescued from financial difficulties’ in 1986 by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce.

The cover tells another story. For it was the first published using the photogravure printing process, which produces a much finer image than letterpress halftones. In an editorial item ‘How do you like our new cover?’, editor John Alexander Hammerton, one of the most prolific journalists of the era, writes:

I hope my old readers will like the new appearance of their favourite pictorial … That it costs vastly more must be obvious. But all good things are expensive, and in printing there is nothing quite so costly as the photogravure process which the New Illustrated is introducing for the first time to popular British journalism. Readers cannot complain, however, as no part of the extra expense is being passed on to them. But do not, good friends, ask me whether you ought to bind these wrappers in your volume!

The final sentence is a reference to the fact that the magazine was designed in two sections, so the middle 20 pages (numbered in this issue 153-172) could be lifted out and bound into book-like volumes. In the process, the surrounding editorial and advertising pages – and the covers – would be discarded.

Photogravure would be developed in the 1920s and become the foundation for Britain’s photograph-driven weeklies such as Picture Post and Illustrated in the 1930s.

‘A Spanish Painter in London’ by Herbert Furst, The Studio, vol 84, July-December, pp146-151. The six illustrations were: ‘The Wood’, ‘The Boat-House’ (watercolour), Decorations for the Centro Español, ‘Rag and Bone Merchants’ Shanty, Madrid’. The text was taken from the Internet Archive.

To anyone anxious to make his first excursion into what is commonly called modern art, I should strongly recommend the “Sancha” route ; it will lead him comfortably into the regions he desires to explore without the jars, jolts, knocks and buffetings he must surely experience via the famous Cezanne — and the nerve-racking, or wrecking, Vorticist — Lines.

It is not quite easy to say where exactly “ancient ” art ceases and ” modern ” art begins : since the Great War there has been a good deal of frontier-shifting in the political, the scientific and the meta-physical world. One may, however, fairly safely contend that modern art begins where the artist has ceased to pretend that he is a purveyor of nature-substitutes.

At heart, of course, all artists, even the old-fashionedest, have known that they are nothing of the kind and that only the fulsome adulation of the lay mind lent colour to such pretension. The real difference between old and new in this respect is one of ethics rather than aesthetics : the modern artist is more candid. The only mistake he makes is to rub it in too fiercely

Sancha is certainly “modern,” but he does not rub it in. There is in his art no pretence of nature-substitution, but he is engagingly and insinuatingly polite in his candour. You look, for example, at his water-colour, The Boathouse, and think how natural it all is. You have experienced the oily ripple of quiet waters and the weeping of willows ; you have been struck many a time with the pleasant contrast of a red creeper-hung roof with just such a green setting, and just such a sky of autumnal pallor. You know it all. But it is not really like nature : it is like a picture, because it is one : i.e., a carefully thought-out arrangement of scrupulously selected lines and colours. So also with the landscape called The Wood. It is nothing like nature in looks, it is very like her in feeling. You know nature in just such a one of her sunny evening moods. Sancha has made a “record” which upon contact with the mind ” listening in” at the nerve end of your eyes evokes within you a familiar emotion.

Again, the ‘Rag and Bone Merchant’s Shanty’, Madrid, strikes you at a first glance as being photographically prosaic in its impartiality. It seems to record the brilliant sunlight and the sordid backyard aspect of modern civilisation with equal indifference. Suddenly you become aware that no camera could cope with the facts or deal with the message the picture conveys. It is a little gem of humour in a setting of naked realism, done in a penman’s rather than a brush-painter’s manner.

A visit to the Centro Español, the Spanish Club in Cavendish Square, which has been extensively decorated by Sancha, further confirms him as a draughtsman of sensibility and skill, of imagination and satire.

The dining room here is covered with a mural decoration drawn in sepia outline only, but with oil colour. It has for its subject-matter views of typical Spanish towns and scenery, Toledo, Burgos, Murcia and many others, all very skilfully done and with clever regard for essentials. I confess, however, that to me monochrome outline in mural decoration is like a drum and triangle “solo”. In the billiard and other rooms Sancha has painted decorative panels with added touches of colour which make real music of his rhythms. Here, he allows us to see him at his best. The canvases are all essentially drawings, and nearly always distinguished by a suggestion of satire or simple fun. Of these pictures, that of the Castilian donkey rider, here illustrated, gives a good idea.

Sancha was born in Malaga about forty-eight years ago. He began to earn his living, after his father’s death, at the early age of fifteen. Trained in Madrid and Paris, he drew for Paris papers such as Le Rire and L’Assiette au Beurre.

He came to London in 1901. England made him a painter; it was here that his eyes were opened to colour. “The Spanish painters,” he says, “know only tone, but nothing of colour.” One might feel inclined to dispute this perhaps, so much depends on the meaning of words.

I know not a few artists who would put Velasquez above Titian as a colourist. Sancha has become well known in this country as a caricaturist. He complains, nevertheless, that drawing for the press has handicapped him as a painter; affirms that he would have preferred architecture as a career, and rounds off this open confession with: “An artist with nothing to do would suit me wonderfully.”

Interpreted, this means that he regards all that part of his occupation which he must give to money-making as an injury to the freedom of his soul, as a despoiler of his art.

Nevertheless, he is, I think, mistaken. It is precisely the draughtsman-like quality of his painting which gives to his art a distinct and attractive individuality, and the philosophic humour of his temperament invests his pictures with a focal interest only too often lacking in modern art.

The First World War in pictures

January 5, 2015
Illustrated First World War based on images from the Illustrated London News

Illustrated First World War based on images from the Illustrated London News

This one-off First World War magazine is based on images from The Illustrated London News, but also has images from Illustrated War News, Sphere, Sketch, Tatler, Bystander, Graphic and Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

The main cover illustration, ‘Goodbye Old Friend’, is part of a drawing by Fortunino Matania, which was published in black-and-white as a spread in the Illustrated London News and was one of the famous images of the time.

The publisher has also put many of the First World War images online. These magazines published many of the most famous cartoonists such as Bruce Bairnsfather, Alfred Leete and Annie Fish. The site has special pages on topics such as the Christmas truce and Father Christmas in propoganda.

The magazine costs £6.99 and £1.40 from every issue goes to the Royal British Legion.

Miss Fish and her Eve drawings for Tatler

December 30, 2014
One of Miss Fish's drawings of Eve, from the popular Tatler column

One of Miss Fish’s drawings of Eve, from the popular Tatler column

One of the pleasures in writing a book about the history of magazines is discovering great talents that were household names a century or more ago but have since faded from the public gaze. One of those is Anne Harriet Fish. Miss Fish illustrated Tatler’s ‘Letters of Eve’ during the First World War and was 0ne of the most popular features of the magazine. The column started in May 1914 and was written by Olivia Maitland-Davidson with Anne Harriet Fish providing the drawings.

The witty, gossipy column of a society girl, like the rest of the magazine, had to alter its approach when Tatler suffered a considerable drop in sales at the outbreak of the war.

The Tatler was edited at the time by Edward Huskinson, himself a former cartoonist. He kept the magazine’s ‘light’ approach but aimed the humour at men in the armed forces and their families at home. The problem affected most publications – as demonstrated by circulation figures from the Financial Times, which saw its sales half during 1914, from an average of 15,000 a day to 7,000. Tatler‘s owner, Shorter, also owned the Sketch and another society weekly, the Bystander.

The Bystander changed its cover masthead to depict soldiers guarding the coast and then a man in uniform back at home in Blighty, rather than just society types sitting around chatting and reading.

Tatler Eve illustrator Anne Harriet Fish photographed in about 1915

Tatler Eve illustrator Anne Harriet Fish – Annie Fish – photographed in about 1915

Annie Fish’s unusual style created a ‘great vogue’ that was copied by designers of hats, coats and handkerchiefs; a play based a scene on a Fish drawing; a New Bond Street galley held an exhibition of her work; and a dozen short films used the drawings, with titles such as Eve Resolves to do War Work. The Eve illustrations were published as books, as were Maitland-Davidson’s columns.

The British Library lists 16 books written or illustrated by Fish, including Gilbert Frankau’s One of Us … With pictures by Fish (1917); The New Eve. Drawings by Fish written and designed by Fowl. Reproduced from … ‘The Tatler’ (1917); Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Rendered into English verse by Edward Fitzgerald. With decorations by Fish (1922); Lipstick by Lady Vincent (1925); and All’s Well that Ends Swell. Auto suggestion for sensitive souls (1939).

Jazz Age dancers by AH Fish on the cover of Vanity fair, December 1927

Jazz Age dancers by AH Fish on the cover of Vanity fair, December 1927

Fish also worked for Vogue and did 30 covers portraying high society at play for Vanity Fair. These art deco style covers ran through the 1920s, depicting the bright young things, flappers and ballrooms full of elegantly dressed dancers in the Jazz Age.

In among the books above, Fish’s fame crossed the Atlantic, with a 1920 work of her drawings with text by American writers. It was published in New York with the title: High Society. The drawings by Fish. The prose precepts by Dorothy Parker, George S. Chappell, and Frank Crowninshiel. Condé Nast now owns both the Tatler and Vanity Fair.

One of the Condé Nast blogs by Shawn Waldron noted that the High Society book portrayed:

… a world populated by young-old matrons, astoundingly mature young girls, Victorian lady remnants, resplendent captains of industry, pussy-footing English butlers, amorous nursemaids, race touts, yearning young lovers, swanking soldiers, blank and vapid bores, bridge-playing parsons, and middle-class millionaires.

The blog also noted that the April 2010 issue of Vanity Fair carried a photograph of Hayley Bloomingdale, an American socialite, wearing a dress by designer Carolina Herrera portraying a print based on Fish’s drawings.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

A Home Chat about ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’

December 17, 2014
'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' is identified as the Tommies' favourite in this September 1914 article from Home Chat

‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ is identified as the Tommies’ favourite in this September 1914 article from Home Chat

The first world war soldier’s song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ has been much heard in the commemorations for the 1914-18 war. What’s a surprise to me is how quickly the song became established as the forces’ favourite.

This page is from the weekly women’s magazine Home Chat from September 19 – just weeks after the war had broken out. It’s already ‘The song our soldiers sing’.

Of course, the war changed the content and feel of magazines and the article here gives the music and words to the 1912 music hall song over three pages, with a credit to B Feldman & Co, of 2-3 Arthur Street, London WC.

The introduction contrasts the Tommies’ choice of marching song with the Germans’ choice of ‘Da Wacht am Rhein’ and ‘Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles’ and the marching songs of the French ‘Piou-Piou’. The French ‘were mystified’ at the choice of a song that seemed ‘sad’ and held no reference to ‘flag or country, or war or military glory’. For ‘Tommy Atkins likes to swing along to a music-hall song with a good rousing chorus’ and ‘Tipperary’ comes out on top.

There’s no mention of Ivor Novello’s ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, which was written in 1914 and is referred to in several later Punch cartoons.

Home Chat cover from 19 September 1914 with a front cover story about supporting the Queen's Guild, which had been set up as a way for women to back the war effort

Home Chat cover from 19 September 1914 with a front cover story about supporting the Queen’s Guild, which had been set up as a way for women to back the war effort

Home Chat was printed and published by Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press in Farringdon Street, which runs across the eastern end of Fleet Street, on which the Tipperary pub is located.  But the pub was not aways the Tipperary, or ‘the Tipp’ as regulars call it.

The building is on a site that was a monastery in 1300, on an island between the Thames and the Fleet rivers that fed into the Thames. The Fleet still runs under the pub. The Boar’s Head pub was built there in 1605 and survived the Fire of London in 1666 because it was built of stone and brick. In  about 1700, the Dublin-based SG Mooney bought the Boar’s Head, making it the first Irish pub outside Ireland and it was fitted out in an Irish style. It claims to be the first pub in England to stock bottled Guinness and later draught – and could also lay claim to being the narrowest in London.

In 1918, the printers who came back from the war had the pub’s name changed to The Tipperary, after their marching song. Today, the Boar’s Head is kept as the name of the upstairs bar. The pub has been owned by Suffolk-based Abbott brewer Greene King since the 1960s.

Home Chat was founded in 1895 and was one of the magazines that made a fortune for Alfred Harmsworth and enabled him to become the newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe.

Kitchener or Cavell – the WWI coin controversy

January 24, 2014
Royal Mint's Kitchener coin is based on Alfred Leete's cover from LOndon Opinion

Royal Mint’s Kitchener coin is based on Alfred Leete’s cover from London Opinion

The Royal Mint has announced several coins to mark the Great War, one of which features Kitchener’s face with the words ‘Your Country Needs You’ – an image by Alfred Leete for London Opinion magazine. It’s sparked a row and a petition campaign for a coin featuring the executed First World War British nurse Edith Cavell. Kitchener is a hero for the organisational skills that underpinned the British empire in the Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, India and, of course, in defeating Germany. However, he is also a controversial figure, and not just for introducing concentration camps during the Boer War.

In 1968, Leeete’s Kitchener image was revived for the Back Britain campaign, which riled Daily Mail columnist Anne Scott-James:

To invoke Lord Kitchener – an arch imperialist, a foul personality, a man who quarrelled with politicians, viceroys, officers and men, and who had the Mahdi’s head made into an inkstand – is to revive the crassest attitudes of World War I … Let’s hope the Kitchener campaign will be laughed out of court, for the British have grown up since 1914 and remained wonderfully civilised through all the agonies of World War II.

Anne Scott-James in the French pub in Soho from a Daily Telegraph biography

The journalist Anne Scott-James in the French House pub in Soho from a Daily Telegraph biography

Scott-James was one of Fleet Street’s most experienced journalists, having been woman’s editor on Picture Post during the war, editor of Harper’s Bazaar and a star columnist on the Sunday Express. She was married to Osbert Lancaster, who had designed the jacket for Philip Magnus’s 1958 biography, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist. Her mention of the Mahdi’s head refers to the 1899 controversy over Kitchener having the body of Mohammed Ahmed, leader of the Sudan uprising, taken from its tomb and thrown into the Nile. The desecration was defended on the grounds that a cult might grow up around the grave and lead to another uprising. Magnus describes how the ‘great howl of rage’ in the press over the skull being taken caused Kitchener to write to Queen Victoria expressing his regret at any distress he had caused and saying: ‘I had thought of sending [the head] to the College of Surgeons where, I believe, such things are kept. It has now been buried in a Moslem cemetery.’

Cavell is the antithesis of Kitchener. She had run a training school for nurses in Belgium for seven years before the Germans invaded and she treated combatants of all nationalities. Her downfall was in helping allied wounded escape to Holland. While papers in Britain called for vengence after her execution, Cavell herself was reported as saying as she awaited her fate: ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.’ She was hailed as a heroine and martyr with statues just off London’s Trafalgar Square and in Norwich, near where she was born. The Cavell Nurses’ Trust that helps nurses in time of need was set up in her name in 1917.

The Royal Mint’s Kitchener coin commentary does not even mention Leete and it gets its facts wrong, stating: ‘This design was selected to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War because the poster [my emphasis] has come to be strongly associated with the outbreak of the war.’ But this image was produced by Alfred Leete as a London Opinion magazine cover. Only later did it become a poster (and never an official one with the ‘Your country’ wording). It’s a surprise that the Royal Mint is inaccurate on such a point and such errors damage its credibility when it says how carefully its committee has made it choice of subjects.