Throughout the Great War, The War Illustrated provided its readership with a written and visual account of the War’s events as they unfolded week-by-week. The magazine relied predominantly, and increasingly, upon photographs. However, its most lasting legacy were its illustrations. These were produced by a coterie of war illustrators. Stanley Wood was one of the most prolific of these artists; with a distinctive style. I would argue that he was particularly good at conveying the drama through the horses in his images. His horses are always very expressive.
The front page of the 1916 Christmas edition was no exception. I have recently noticed this image appearing more regularly, and I felt it might be interesting to say something about it, and to explore why (in a purely practical sense) it may have endured. Of course the first point is what it shows, and when it was published. Here is what I said about this in Soldiers and their Horses:
“It depicted a trooper smiling kindly, even a little indulgently, as he shared his precious ‘Christmas Box’ with his horse. This scene may not have had the glamour of a cavalry engagement, but it did offer consolation at a time of year when separation from loved ones was felt all the more keenly.”
The second point of note is its replication. Sharing Rations initially appeared as a front page image at a prominent time of the year. It was then reproduced as a postcard, and as a poster. It was possible to buy these images, and to keep them. To purchase the image as a print (often by ordering it through the publication in which it appeared) that could then be framed and displayed at home. An inexpensive form of home decoration! This poster format is how Sharing Rations is most often seen today.
Postcards, in the days before the telephone, were a popular way of keeping in touch. Not only sent when on holiday, they were used rather like a text or email today. A quick line to just say “hello”, to make arrangements, or to pass on news. Postcards were inexpensive. They were also decorative – and above all small! Items that were easy to re-purpose as a bookmark, put into an album, slot into a diary, or just store somewhere safe. Perhaps this is another very practical reason for the survival of some of these more popular images of the soldier-horse relationship?
Want to find out more about how the soldier-horse relationship was portrayed? Find out more in Soldiers and their Horses: Sense, Sentimentality and the Soldier-Horse Relationship in The Great War, Routledge, 2020.