The War Illustrated on the County of Kent

This blog post focuses on the only mention of the county of Kent revealed by my search on the August to December 1914 section of The War Illustrated archive (you can find the page on the Internet Archive here).

The page from the 12th of December issue is headed ‘The War-Fired Imagination of Berlin’. Kent is mentioned in the first of three illustrations with captions which speak dismissively of German propaganda. The illustration of crowds of German soldiers massing up a beach apparently ‘represents what the Germans think will happen “when we reach the coast of Kent”’. The mention of Kent specifically, despite the illustration not containing obviously recognisable Kentish landmarks, is interesting. Kent was the county most vulnerable to attack, and the decision to name it suggests a desire to make the danger more tangible to the magazine’s readers.

The other language used in the caption deserves further comment. The illustration is scornfully labelled a ‘flight of fancy’ and the work of a German artist with a creditable ‘imagination’. The German people are characterised as ‘credulous’ for believing the fancies they have been fed. Such claims are said to ‘amuse’ the magazine caption writer. The readers from the time, and perhaps even the British nation as a whole, are also complicit in this view: the writer says that the pictures ‘amuse us’. Part of the amusement stems from the fact that the illustration does not contain ‘one solitary Briton’ to dispute the landing.  This works to downplay the possibility of the Germans landing in Kent, suggesting that if it were to occur, brave Britons would be defending their country.

The claims and tone of the other pictures and captions on the page are worth consideration. The second picture is of a street which is being overrun with armed German troops who are themselves under fire from surrounding buildings. Its caption describes it as more than a ‘fancy’ since it is a ‘pictorial lie’ showing the ‘supposed’ progress of Germans through an unnamed Belgian town. The stepping up of criticism, and the change from a scornful tone to one of outrage, is present as the notion that the Germans would face opposition is said to be a way for the Germans to ‘justify murder and arson’ of the Belgian people by the Germans.

The third picture, of a zeppelin above the London cityscape, returns to Britain, though the caption only refers to England. Like the first illustration, it brings the matter closer to home for the readers of The War Illustrated, even declaring that the country is the object of the Germans’ ‘deepest hate’. The caption’s tone is less scornful than the one which accompanies the first picture, and after the seriousness of the second caption, it does not downplay the threat of Germany ‘dropping deadly bombs’.

We can also reflect on the fact that a magazine which itself made a virtue of its illustrations labels these German drawings as ‘fanciful’. Does this undercut The War Illustrated’s own claims of accuracy? Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that we can take the claim that these pictures are German propaganda at face value. It is unclear where the magazine sourced these illustrations from, or if readers at the time would might also have questioned their provenance.

If you’d like to find out more about the National lottery Heritage Funded  ‘Digitizing the War Illustrated’ project please visit our dedicated page here. Why not explore this complex matter of propaganda and other World War I history in our first workshop on the 27th of June?  Email us at normma.network@gmail.com to book a place.

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