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Cartooning the First World War

15 August 2014

Cartooning the First World War
‘The All-Important Question’, Western Mail, 30 July 1914 EUROPEAN POWERS: Shall we form a ring around these two or fight each other?

Cartoons depicting the events and challenges of the First World War have been brought back to the public's attention by historians at Cardiff University.

The Cartooning the First World War project, led by Professor Chris Williams, Head of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, is digitising the entire wartime output of the Western Mail and News of the World cartoonist Joseph Morewood Staniforth, who produced around 1,350 pen and ink cartoons throughout the four years of the war.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, forms part of the national commemoration of the centenary of the First World War and aims to make the cartoons accessible to researchers and the general public.

Until now the cartoons have only been available to view on microfilm and many are scratched and dirty. Volunteers have helped to clean the images and write short commentaries to make their meanings clear to modern audiences. The cartoons are available to view via an interactive website where users are encouraged to upload their views on the possible meanings of the cartoons.

"These cartoons offer a unique insight into the way the war was understood by the British public. In some ways they were ahead of their time, a visual diary that was accessible to everyone, like a blog of today. Through the project, the series of cartoons will be brought together for the first time and it will be fascinating to see readers' reactions to give us an indication of how people would have reacted to them during the war," said Professor Williams.

The project recently ran a competition with all schools across Wales where pupils aged 11-14 responded to the cartoons by creating their own visual interpretations of the war. Project Officer, Dr Rhianydd Biebrach, said: "It was great to see how these teenagers had engaged closely not only with the images themselves, and the way in which Staniforth worked, but also with some quite sombre themes surrounding war and conflict." The winning entry will be unveiled at the project's conference taking place on November 13-14 in the Swansea Waterfront Museum.

A travelling exhibition, which has already been displayed at this year's National Eisteddfod and at the Wales Millennium Centre, will be touring locations around south Wales in the autumn, and can be seen at Bedwellty House, Tredegar, until August 17.

For more information about the conference contact Rhianydd at

A selection of the images can be viewed on our Facebook page.