Volunteering at the Northern Ireland War Memorial – Bryan de Grineau the war artist

As part of my volunteer post at the Northern Ireland War Memorial I’ve been cataloguing the archives, and we’re just finishing up the cataloguing of the London Illustrated News.  The London Illustrated News was the first weekly illustrated news magazine in the world and began in May 1842, as the title suggests it specialised in reporting stories with illustrations and photographs.  Although the editions from the 1930’s and 1940’s have far more photographs than illustrations, there are regular sketches from the war illustrator Bryan de Grineau.  I hadn’t heard of him before I started this project , so took to the internet to find out more.  It turns out that de Grineau’s father was also a famous illustrator, and he trained under his father rather than attending art college.  His early work was at a car magazine, The Motor and he also worked producing posters and advertising for car manufacturers as well as drawing at races around the country.


Image courtesy of http://www.motoringart.info

During the Second World War he worked as a War Artist since he had already produced sketches during his service in the First World War.  A lot of the battle scene illustrations produced were from details given by servicemen present, like this lovely detailed illustration of the battlefield positions of a motorised army unit.  De Grineau wasn’t at the actual events because you can’t really sit quietly sketching in the middle of a battlefield!  One of my favourite illustrations is this one from 1945 of the mobile headquarters of General Dempsey parked in the grounds of a château.  The delicate detailing of the château architecture contrasts with the military vehicles.  I particularly like the duck in the bottom right corner, it looks as though it just came from a swim in the lake and wasn’t expecting to find huge military caravans parked in its path!


A lot of the illustrations are also very informative, letting the public know about issues that affected military servicemen and other ‘behind the scenes’ peeks that you wouldn’t expect to otherwise see.  As I have a particular interest in textiles and the history of fashion I was really excited to come across this de Grineau illustration from November 1945 showing the allocation of civilian clothing to de-mobbed servicemen.  Since clothes rationing was still in place uniforms were exchanged for a suit, coat and hat, a pair of shoes, a shirt with two collars, tie, and 2 pairs of socks.


I really connected with this illustration, I think it’s because my grandfather served in the Second World War and was de-mobbed a month before this illustration was published.  I can imagine him at the Olympia exchanging his military uniform for his new civilian outfit and then catching the train home with his spare collar and socks wrapped in brown paper.


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