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At the outbreak of the First World War Nevinson was attracting critical attention as a committed Futurist and an avant-garde artist in London. The conflict on the Western Front suddenly provided him with something his art had lacked previously, serious subject matter. He was the son of a distinguished war correspondent, Henry Woodd Nevinson (1856–1941) and this journalistic background appears to have informed the son’s approach to his art.

With his father’s assistance and encouragement Nevinson joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and went to Dunkirk in November 1914, three months after the outbreak of war. As an ambulance driver, stretcher-bearer and orderly he experienced at first-hand the reality of modern warfare. The wounded and dying, removed from the battlefield, lay in sheds where the medical attention available was simply unequal to the numbers of soldiers brought from the trenches.

Nevinson witnessed scenes of indescribable human suffering and horror. This provided him with the ‘news story’ which the soldiers experienced but which was not widely known back in Britain. Avant-garde art had met with much adverse comment from critics in the years leading up to the First World War, but with new subject matter Nevinson began making images which struck a chord with critics and the public alike. The pictures did not attempt to show objective reality, nor to comment, nor to infer a moral. Like a photo-journalist he witnessed the reality which few then had and in a series of paintings and related prints he was the first to bring back the story.