Artists of the Great War
Illustrator, cartoonist, war artist and printmaker, Will Dyson was one of the robust minds of his time: a political radical, a comic genius and, above all, a sensitive draughtsman.
Born in Alfredton, Victoria, into a family where his father actively participated in the local Labor Party and his two elder brothers worked for a socialist newspaper, Dyson inevitably absorbed their political views. Self-taught as an artist, he began publishing illustrations and caricatures in the late 1890s and 1900s. In 1909, Dyson and his wife, artist Ruby Lindsay, sister of his great friend Norman, moved to London at a time of profound change and struggle in British politics and industry. Dyson seized the opportunity to support trade unions and the working classes, drawing editorial cartoons for the labour newspaper The Daily Herald.
He also addressed the threat and then the reality of the Great War, using graphic satire to attack the Kaiser and German militarism. A staunch nationalist as well as a socialist, Dyson also lobbied to be allowed to draw at the front, and was finally appointed Australia’s first Official War Artist in December 1916. His war drawings are compassionate representations of the lives of ordinary Australian soldiers rather than heroic battle scenes. He not only depicted the war from the battlefront, but also exposed the wounds of war behind the lines. Welcome back to the Somme 1918 shows the return of the AIF in March 1918, when diggers famously reassured the local citizens: ‘Fini retreat ... beaucoup Australiens ici’ (‘The retreat is over … many Australians are here’).
Will Dyson Welcome back to the Somme 1918, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of the Australian War Memorial 1989