'The Ghosts of the Slain', illustrated by Joseph Southall

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Date:1915

Description:This antiwar pamphlet with illustrations by Joseph Southall was written by Robert Leonard Outhwaite, a farmer and one-time Liberal MP who became a fellow member of the Independent Labour Party. Whilst most of Southall’s wartime energies were consumed by pacifist activism in Birmingham, his artistic output found a new outlet in print caricature.

Outhwaite’s text offers a clear message of Christian pacifism, expressed in a Biblical style, which provides Southall with an ideal opportunity to articulate his own ideology. Southall’s draughtsmanship might lack the savagery which characterizes much First World War protest in print caricature, but nevertheless his work communicates the same embittered passions and he encapsulates his meaning with a confidence and clarity of purpose, expertly using simple techniques to often startling effect.

The first illustration depicts ‘all those who sit in the high places and cast the people into the pit’. A diplomat and a businessman push a blindfolded officer towards a precipice, whilst a fashionable society woman looks on and a cleric of the Established Church appears as the priest who ‘blessed our banners and bade speed to our swords’. Apart from Death, who gleefully accompanies this performance on his drum, only the diplomat sees what is happening; the others all have their eyes covered.

In the eponymous print 'The Ghosts of the Slain', the massed ranks of the ghosts of dead soldiers rise from their graves and troop into the diplomats’ marbled hall to confront those who bear responsibility for their slaughter. The picture represents ‘the moaning of those who perish…the voices of the dead rising in accusation’ against ‘those who sit in the secret places and have ensnared them with lies’. One official cowers in shame, whilst another buries his face in his hands and turns to the wall to hide his guilt. Southall’s politics of international solidarity are reflected in the fact that German helmets can be seen on the heads of some of the ghosts. This enforces an essential theme of the text: that in this war ‘man goes forth to kill his brother’ and that war is a form of collective madness. The playing cards strewn on the floor are a sign of the failed political gambling casually indulged in by the global power-brokers. Meanwhile, quietly in the centre background of the illustration, Southall positions a grieving woman mourning the loss of a loved one by his graveside; this is ‘the wailing of those left desolate’.

The work is subtitled 'A Vision of the Future'; it foretells that the people will act on behalf of the slain and that they will judge the ‘Kings and legislators’, the governments whose actions caused the war. The subsequent restoration of peace and prosperity is then finally brought about in the last picture, a contrasting image of a rustic idyll, in which ‘Labour espouses Liberty and inherits the fruits of the Earth’.

<small>Illustration from The Ghosts of the Slain, by R.L. Outhwaite with drawings by Joseph E. Southall, (Manchester: National Labour Press, 1915)</small>