Photography: 98for98: The century in photographs: today, 1915

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This image of a group of Pierrots crowded into an open-topped bus to advertise a West End show continues The Independent's season of images from the Hulton Getty Picture Collection. The success of the Pierrots - the happy clowns with the sad faces - reflected the spirit of the times, summed up in the 1915 hit song, "Pack up your Troubles in your old Kit Bag". People yearned for fun and frivolity at a time when the euphoria which greeted the outbreak of war was disappearing in the face of the grim reality of death and destruction.

The government attempted to lift spirits by introducing a new war honour, the Military Cross, in January. But often those awarded honours would subsequently be killed in action: the young British aviator, Reginald Warneford, died in a mission 11 days after he was awarded the Victoria Cross. One of the greatest fallen heroes was Edith Cavell, the British nurse, who was executed. Happy to die for her country, were said to be her last words.

The government was aware that ending voluntary conscription could seriously affect the public mood. Instead newspapers were filled with morale-boosting stories about the hard work of the people, most especially women.

High-quality theatre it may not have been, but the Pierrot troupes were one of the few entertainments allowed during the hostilities, which also saw laws set to limit the consumption of alcohol. Pierrot troupes lost popularity after the war, but were assigned to immortality by the musical lampoon of the First World War, Oh What A Lovely War.

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