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JM Staniforth’s cartoons lightened the dark days and recorded the propaganda of war. Helen Morgan from Abergavenny Local History Society reports


One cartoonist more than any other captured the mood of the nation. World War I lasted 1,561 days and during that time Joseph Morewood Staniforth produced more than 1,300 cartoons for the Western Mail and News of the World . JM Staniforth, as he was known, used pen and ink to produce elegant, tightly-crafted black and white images that not only recorded his response to the challenges of conflict but also suggested something of the nature of Welsh (and British) public opinion.

Like most cartoonists he used stock characters to represent nations. Britannia symbolised Britain, John Bull represented England and Marianne (from the French revolution) is revived. His most famous caricature, however, was the stout and matronly Dame Wales (Mam Cymru) in her traditional costume whom he had created as a counterpart to John Bull in 1906. Dame Wales was normally the voice of reason and would often be depicted talking in Valleys vernacular as she challenged the more educated figures of authority.

It was said that his cartoons “did much to lighten the dark days and to fire the patriotism of the people” says Dr Rhianydd Biebrach.

Following the lead of Lloyd George, Staniforth promoted the distinctive contribution made by Welsh troops and Welsh people to the war effort. Sometimes he posed St David alongside Britannia giving his blessing to the Welsh Guards, Welsh Horse and Welsh Army Corps. He even took advantage of Prince Llewelyn’s dog, Gelert, to illustrate demand for more troops.

Not everyone supported the war. The Rev Thomas Rees attracted hostility by suggesting that German culture was not as “barbaric” as suggested in the media. Staniforth filled his pen with vitriol against the South Wales miners who went on strike in July 1915. Likewise, the Irish republicans who took part in The Easter Rising in Dublin and conscientious objectors who resisted conscription.

Women were mostly acknowledged for their contribution to the war effort and the difficulties in the absence of their men, bereavements and shortages. New opportunities on the land and in factories brought greater freedoms and they were soon wearing trousers — which must have been any social illustrator’s dream. Little wonder perhaps that he approved the granting of the right of (some) women to vote in 1918.

Helen Morgan

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