Before the First World War, Nevinson was an enthusiastic supporter of Futurist theory which celebrated the dynamics of the new machine age. He was also associated with the Vorticists in Britain but never joined them officially. He joined the Red Cross in 1914 working with the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit near Dunkirk and his earliest paintings depict French troops.
La Patrie portrays an horrific incident he experienced when his unit came upon a goods yard full of dead and dying French and German soldiers. They had remained untreated as the casualties exceeded the medical facilities at the front. It was a baptism of fire for Nevinson whose first job was to tend these dying men. When La Patrie was shown in London in 1916 a critic wrote:
"La Patrie will stand, to the astonishment and shame of our descendents, as an example of what civilized man did in the first quarter of the 20th Century".