It graphically presents every ship lost by Great Britain in the defense of “holding the seas against the Axis Powers...holding open the channels of supply and food and war material” from the outbreak of the war to VE day. The inset narrative states that there were on average nearly 3000 British and Allied ships at sea at any given moment, with the Royal Navy patrolling an aggregate of 80,000 miles of trading routes, day in and day out
[This image is available for purchase--in the original and in a 30x40" poster--at our blog bookstore.]
It is a symbol of loss, of heroism, of lives not lived, of lives saved, of valor, of greatness, of will, of the cold black sea, of burning oil, of red waves, and above all, of sacrifice. Of splendid behavior.
It is a terrible picture of what victory demanded of bravery.
It is as much an image of a military graveyard as anything else, a Remembrancer, especially for those who were never recovered. It is a grid, a finding aid, a visualizer, for all of those sailors lost in a sea that is indifferent to particular memory.
I can’t imagine how this image was received by the Illustrated London News reader on that day. Did they suck their breath in at the scope of it, of the gigantic reminder of what all of those ships represented? Was it the sort of image-reading that was forced, a white-knuckle, vacant-chested feeling of sweeping loss? Of loss and gratitude? Of gratitude and finding purpose for all of those sacrifices to the island nation? I suspect that all of those words were in the minds of those readers in 1945–and also for emotions that have no words.
There is also a small inset that shows in comparison the Royal Navy losses for WWI, 1914-1918.
There is also this, an incredible single-page display of British merchant-marine war losses of 2570 ships.
Both images are the work of the incredible G.H. Davis, who provided cut-aways, cross-sections, maps, diagrams an all manner of information to the ILN readers throughout the war. HE was an inexhaustible man of excellent design sense.