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Allies and Colonial Troops

 Cartoon by Simmons in The Bystander, 25 November 1914, pp252-3

Cartoon depicting Allies and Colonial Troops during the First World War.

The men of various nationalities who fought in the First World War had been thrust upon each other by international alliances and circumstances beyond their control, yet they were asked to bond together to achieve a common aim – and their success and resilience in doing so was celebrated by the ILN magazines.

From its earliest issues, The Illustrated London News considered itself a publication with a truly global perspective and paid generous attention to the role of the Allies and troops from around the Empire and British dominions. In The Sphere, Paul Thiriat pictured the gritty determination of the French Piou-Piou, while in Russia John Wladimiraoff for The Graphic and Seppings Wright for the ILN sent back drawings of the Russian forces. The plight of the Belgians and the pluck of its army in retaliating against the invading Germans was the subject of much sympathy and admiration.

The incongruous appearance on the Western Front of the 4,500 Sikh and Gurkha troops of the Indian Expeditionary Force, many of whom fought with great courage at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and at Ypres the following month, created much interest. Occasionally, troops from even farther-flung reaches of the Empire were given their moment in the spotlight, including Fijians and Native Americans, who were featured in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News. Ugandan recruits for the King’s African Rifles were pictured in training in The Sphere in 1918.

Nearly half the eligible male population in New Zealand served during the war. Of the 332,000 Australians to enlist, 60,000 were killed and 212,000 wounded, the highest percentage of casualties suffered by any army in the war, a sacrifice that remains a haunting legacy for those countries.

The rough and tough Anzac provided much inspiration for illustrators and cartoonists, as did the American “doughboys” when they entered the war in 1917. Bruce Bairnsfather spent time with the American troops in 1918, portraying them as confident, well-fed and chisel-jawed. He also visited the Italian Front and produced numerous cartoons of the intrepid Alpini in the High Alps, where the so-called “White War” was waged against the Austrians and where 650,000 troops lost their lives.