IN common with so many Scots, my family tree was badly shaken in the storm of the First World War.

My great-grandmother’s branch, the Gilkisons, was particularly affected, with two deaths in 1916 that left behind a well of grief still be detectable years later.

Interestingly, however, the war was also responsible for an extraordinary burst of creativity by one of their number that is still making an impact 100 years on, connecting generations of our family and contributing to society’s understanding of the conflict.

Despite being born 60 years after his death, I feel I know Archie Gilkison, my great uncle and one of the finest cartoonists of the First World War, whose beautiful, thoughtful, challenging work was published in these very pages more than a century ago.

I’ve been aware of Archie’s work for as long as I can remember, having been introduced to it as a child by my late grandmother, his niece. Later, when I became a journalist, I started to feel a different type of connection. The more closely I looked at the cartoons, the more I researched the war, the more awe struck I became at my great uncle’s ability to respond to the events of his time with such biting sophistication.

His work had been forgotten outside of the family for almost 100 years when I showed a rare book of his work to experts four years ago. It was only then that I started to glean the significance of the ink drawings Archie had done in his late twenties and early thirties, that appeared in newspapers between 1914 and 1916, including the then Glasgow Herald and Evening Times.

I’d always suspected the work was good – even an untrained eye could appreciate the flair and prowess of the ink lines. I couldn’t believe it, however, when Professor Laurence Grove, director of the Stirling Maxwell Centre for the study of text and image at the University of Glasgow, described Archie as the “Wilfred Owen of cartooning”.

Not bad for a self-taught artist born to a humble family in Dumbarton in 1885. After leaving school, Archie was apprenticed to a firm of document writers in Glasgow where he wrote and cartooned under the nickname “Baldy” for publications throughout the UK, including the London Opinion and Bristol Echo. He also spent time in the US, writing widely about his experiences, and was a prolific poet. His father, John Gilkison, and two of his brothers were also writers.

But following the outbreak of war it was Archie's talent as a cartoonist that really shone through.

“Gilkison’s work is an astounding discovery of international importance,” says Prof Grove. “Through him we live the war first hand.

“He is one of the rare cartoonists working between 1914 and 1918 that is critical of war - the majority of his peers were creating satirical or funny strips aimed at taking people’s minds off the bad news.

“Gilkison approaches the horrors of war in a very direct manner. In terms of cultural output he can be compared to Wilfred Owen, who was saying - in a very elegant way - that war is a bad thing. Gilkison does the same thing in his cartoons.

“Both Owen and Gilkison put the war into the sort of context people didn’t really get at the time.”

Poetry was more popular in the early twentieth century than it is today but still read by relatively few; newspapers, the medium through which Archie’s work reached the public, were the mass communicators of the day and the only source of news about the war for most, though government censorship was common.

Circulations grew exponentially from 1914 onwards and cartoons were a key element of the propaganda machine that sought to keep morale high on the home front.

One particularly interesting aspect of Archie’s work is how it changed as the war progressed. At the beginning of hostilities there was a lightness of touch; in one cartoon drawn just before Christmas 1914, Santa is seen putting toys in the stocking of a little boy who says he can’t accept them if they were made in Germany.

By the time of the battle of the Somme, however, in the second half of 1916, the mood and tone of the work has grown much darker. One stand-out drawing called The Reason Why - which appeared in the Glasgow Herald - depicts a German soldier lying dead in on the battlefield of the Western Front, another prescient work features the grim reaper pointing towards a future full of retribution and recrimination for Germany.

There is patriotism in the work, but it does not glorify war.

“Gilkison has a very particular way of evoking emotions,” explains Prof Gove. “The diagonal composition of the dead German soldier in The Reason Why makes us focus on the agony of the face. It is an image that is 50 years ahead of its time and reminds me of posters created during the Vietnam war. He has a way of making us look at something and just shiver - he touched hearts and minds.”

The quality of the drawing, meanwhile, says Prof Grove, is “phenomenal”.

“Gilkison’s fine lines compare with the great etchers of the 17th century,” he adds. “The only real difference is that he was working in the 20th century newspaper industry.”

In the four years since uncle Archie’s talent was rediscovered, his work has been included in books, commemorations and exhibitions, including a major one at the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow exploring the history of comics and cartoons where he was displayed alongside giants such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Seeing him gain such recognition has been truly wonderful, especially when I think of my grandmother, who would have loved to have seen her uncle’s work exhibited. The fact that the cartoons now have a permanent home at the University of Glasgow, where they can be accessed and used as a resource for ever more, also fills me with pride.

I feel a deep sense of loss, too, however. At the peak of his powers as an artist in 1916, as the death toll mounted at the Somme – a battle that would eventually kill 420,000 British soldiers and almost 500,000 Germans – Archie was called up.

He’d had consumption as a child and often suffered bouts of ill-health. He should never have been conscripted but by that point the army was desperate.

In October 1916 Archie was sent to Berwick to train with the Royal Scots, from where he would be sent to France. A chill he caught developed into pneumonia, however, and he died aged 31 on 2 November before making it to the front line.

To make matters worse, his brother John, a journalist, also died in training just weeks later. Their four remaining siblings were devastated. My great-grandmother, Esther, who had brought up the family when their parents died young, apparently never got over the loss of her beloved brothers.

Most poignant of all, perhaps, is that Archie appeared to predict his fate, the same fate that befell so many young men of his generation, in a poem to accompany a watercolour he painted of a Scots soldier piping comrades over the top:

"I heard the piper blaw/Wi my ain een I saw/What ye can never knaw/For I was Fey wha followed."

As the country falls silent at 11am tomorrow to mark 100 years since the Armistice, I will think of Archie – artist, journalist, soldier, brother, uncle – with pride and sadness.

The terrible war that was the creative catalyst for his talent led to his death; but it ensured, too, that the brilliant, beautiful work he produced will live on.