On 12 August 1914, just eight days after Britain had declared war on Germany, The Illustrated London News launched a new magazine solely devoted to the conflict. The Illustrated War News offered a visual week-by-week chronicle of the war. Its swift launch was newsworthy in itself, but it also appeared in an eye-catching landscape format (until a cheaper portrait size was adopted from June 1916).
Each week, a mix of photographs, diagrams, maps and illustrations covered the war on all fronts as well as at home, at sea and in the air. It covered the role of women (later, through a Women and the War weekly feature), featured portraits of war personalities, advancements in weaponry and scenes of trench life as well as the occasional light-hearted photograph showing a more curious or upbeat scene at the Front.
Often, illustrations from the ILN were repurposed and so the magazine featured pictures by A. C. Michael, Norman Wilkinson, Frederic Villiers (whose sketches from the front were usually drawn up into completed works by Frederic de Haenen), H. W. Koekkoek and the great military painter Richard Caton Woodville.
In its earlier issues, there would usually be a single commentary piece at the beginning; early in the war, Spenser Wilkinson, Chichele Professor of Military History at Oxford University, occasionally contributed a weekly column. As the war progressed, it increased its written features and a lead article, “The Great War”, was written by W. Douglas Newton.
By and large, though, the magazine was picture-led with detailed captions providing information and context. Numbered and bound into volumes, there is a sense that The Illustrated War News was issued with the expectation it would become a commemorative record of the war. The swift publication of that first issue was probably in reaction to the wave of expectation that the war would be over by Christmas. In fact, it would drag on for four more long years, but The Illustrated War News was not to survive the conflict. It ceased publication in 1918 before the end of the war, a victim of paper shortages.