Tag Archives: passchendaele

Visions of the Front, 1916-18

Self-taught artist Leading Seaman W L Foster of the Beagle Class destroyer HMS BULLDOG, showing two of his shipmates examples of his art carried out in off-duty hours.Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152802
SEAMAN ARTIST FROM NORTHUMBERLAND SERVING ABOARD THE BULLDOG. 11 NOVEMBER 1943, PORTSMOUTH. (A 20320) Self-taught artist Leading Seaman W L Foster of the Beagle Class destroyer HMS BULLDOG, showing two of his shipmates examples of his art carried out in off-duty hours. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152802 © IWM (A 20320)

In this latest Guest Blog, Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, an AHRC WW1 Expert from the Centre for the Cultural History of War, University of Manchester, talks Art and its importance throughout WW1.

In 1914, Laurence Haward, the first Director of the Manchester Art Gallery, began collecting important works of war art. Haward spoke of modern war not as a romantic adventure or performance of heroic make-believe, but bitterness and courage, folly and waste. The artist, he concluded, was in tune with the meaning and impact of war, and ‘will reflect that world and the human emotions it arouses’. Haward’s words made a powerful testimony for the artists of the period who strove to communicate the sensation and impact of modern war.

THE WAR ARTIST JOHN SINGER SARGENT (HU 56114) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205182180
THE WAR ARTIST JOHN SINGER SARGENT (HU 56114) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205182180

The First World War saw over 2 million soldiers from Britain and the Dominions wounded. Whether conscript or volunteer, officer or other ranks, British or colonial, military medical organisations played a pivotal role in evacuating the wounded from the frontline to the casualties and treating patients in order to return to the front. Artists depicted the chaos of the frontline casualty, the wounded soldier’s experience of pain and helplessness, and medical attempts to alleviate the agony of wounds or the shock of witnessing the death of comrades. Countering such images of pain, were also images of men’s suffering relieved, seen in the efforts of stretcher-bearers and nurses. Doctors also shared the personal cost of the war, with thousands killed and wounded. Artists, many with frontline experiences as soldiers or as medical workers, often confronted what they witnessed as the inhumanity of modern war with gestures of both collective pain and humane attempts to provide assistance. Paul Nash, for instance, depicted ashen-faced stretcher-bearers carrying their wounded burden across a landscape pitted with charred trees (Wounded, Passchendaele, 1918).

Nash, Paul; Wounded, Passchendaele; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wounded-passchendaele-205681
Nash, Paul; Wounded, Passchendaele; Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wounded-passchendaele-205681. Available under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

Under the lurid green sky, almost gangrenous in tone, the arduous journey of evacuation transforms an everyday occurrence on the frontline into an apocalyptic scene.

THE ARMISTICE DAY, 11 NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 42481) The 'Cease Fire', Artists' Rifles, 11th November 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205276911
THE ARMISTICE DAY, 11 NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 42481) The ‘Cease Fire’, Artists’ Rifles, 11th November 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205276911 © IWM (Q 42481)

Combining pathos and intimacy with epic power, Henry Lamb recreated the medical encounter of the First World War in his monumental oil painting, Advanced Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 (183.6 x 212.3cm). Lamb finished the work in 1921, but before that he had worked as a doctor for the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece. This front has received far less attention in the commemoration culture of the last few years, but it held a deep meaning for Lamb. The campaign around the river Struma aimed to push back the Bulgarian advance into eastern Greece. The area was targeted for the liberation of Serbia from the Central Powers. From the position of a medical officer, Lamb witnessed the casualties engaged in the British push across the river towards the strategic city of Serres in Greek Macedonia.

Copyright Estate of Henry Lamb. Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery © All rights reserved.

Advance Dressing Station on the Struma. ©Estate of Henry Lamb. Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery © All rights reserved.  Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holder.

The scene of a dressing station set deep in the forest is modernist in design but bears strong religious overtones that lend emotional weight to the image of helping the wounded. The central group focuses on the relationship between a wounded man and a stretcher-bearer, who attends him with a cup of water, a great relief that many soldiers wrote about as the comfort given between men. Thirst and cold were understood much later in the war as signs of hemorrhage and shock. The bearer’s hand gently touches the wounded man’s head, providing comfort symbolic of the pietà (Christian iconography of Mary cradling Jesus’ corpse).

THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 10195) Jules Arthur Joets, a French soldier-artist, painting an equestrian portrait of Field marshal Douglas Haig at Saint-Omer, 31 December 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245908
THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 10195) Jules Arthur Joets, a French soldier-artist, painting an equestrian portrait of Field marshal Douglas Haig at Saint-Omer, 31 December 1917. Copyright: © IWM.  Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245908 © IWM (Q 10195)

Indeed, the pietà was often used in war-time humanitarian images of nurses caring for wounded men. But Lamb transforms the theme into an effigy of masculine care and the intimate brotherhood of shared suffering. Placed on the ledge of a shallow trench, the stretcher resembles an altar. In the right hand corner is a Thomas splint used for compound fractures, from which soldiers could die. Pathos is also created by the figure on the left, head in hand, perhaps affected by malaria, a common disease of this front, or perhaps a reference to psychological suffering. The central figure stands over the patient, staring pensively into the distance. Made three years after the end of the war, the composition of this painting symbolises the pain and succour of the entire conflict.

THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 27992) Mr. Bud Fisher, the American Cartoonist, working at his desk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205288481
THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 27992) Mr. Bud Fisher, the American Cartoonist, working at his desk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205288481 © IWM (Q 27992)

Henry Lamb was educated at Manchester Grammar School and studied medicine at the Manchester University Medical School. He left his studies for Paris, to attend the Académie de La Palette, where renowned modernists Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier taught. The war compelled Lamb to finish his studies. He received a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was with the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Unit in Salonika from August 1916 to March 1917. He was later sent to Palestine and awarded the Military Cross for his courage in tending the wounded during the bombardment of 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers at Jiljila in early May 1918, an incident he later depicted in an Imperial War Museum commission, Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.

Irish Troops in the Judaean Hills Surprised By A Turkish Bombardment, 1919 (Art.IWM ART 2746) image: An elevated viewpoint of a scene showing an encampment under bombardment at an hour before evening 'stand to'. Dense clouds of smoke drift across the scene from exploding shells. Soldiers run and attempt to shelter from the bombardment, while two soldiers carry a wounded soldier in the lower right of the composition. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15761
(Lamb, Henry) Irish Troops in the Judaean Hills Surprised By A Turkish Bombardment, 1919 (Art.IWM ART 2746) image: An elevated viewpoint of a scene showing an encampment under bombardment at an hour before evening ‘stand to’.
Dense clouds of smoke drift across the scene from exploding shells. Soldiers run and attempt to shelter from the bombardment, while two soldiers carry a wounded soldier in the lower right of the composition. Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM ART2746). Original Source:http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15761. With kind permission from the Imperial War Museum.

In May 1918, he arrived on the Western Front where he suffered gas poisoning and was invalided home ahead of the Armistice. Lamb exhibited a number of drawings and watercolours at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1920. One of these prompted the Gallery Director, Lawrence Haward, to commission Lamb to make this major painting as the beginning of a war art collection for Manchester City Art Gallery.

This was on display among other works at the award-winning Whitworth Art Gallery, co-curated by Senior Curator David Morris and Ana Carden-Coyne (Centre for the Cultural History of War, University of Manchester). Visions of the Front, 1916-1918 and ended on November 20, 2016, although a descriptive video describing the picture is online.

THE MACEDONIAN CAMPAIGN, 1915-1918 (Q 13742) A poster, executed in colour, for a variety show titled ‘Hairlock Combs’, given on board HMS LORD NELSON. It is the work of Commander Millot, quite a notable artist, and Naval Attache on the staff of Vice-Admiral John de Robeck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205248891 © IWM (Q 13742)

 

Remembering the Life of Sergeant Alfred Knight VC

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War 1, a range of collectible coins and stamps have been launched to mark this event. The Post Office Shop blog team has been researching the role of the Post Office during World War One. In this guest blog post, supplied by Voices of War and Peace, Brook Chalmers from the Post Office introduces a solider from Birmingham who their work has uncovered. 

post-56-6-regimentThe General Post Office as it was known in 1914 had an active involvement throughout the Great War. During our research we learnt that the Post Office had its own military arm called the Post Office Rifles Regiment. This regiment saw active service throughout World War One. A member of this regiment, Sergeant Alfred Knight was awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for an act of battlefield bravery.
The Post Office Rifles Regiment first saw active combat on 11th May 1915 when the 1st Battalion was introduced into the trenches during the battle for Festubert. The regiment would then go on to be involved in some of the key battles of World War One including the Somme, Passchendaele and Ypres.

Alfred Knight was introduced into World War One in 1917 as part of the Post Office Rifles’ 2nd Battalion. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of gallantry on the battlefield.

post-30-3381a-recruitment-posterAlfred Knight was the son of Joseph and Annie Knight and was born on 24th August 1888 in Ladywell, Birmingham. He was a Post Office employee in the North Midland Engineering District which was based in Birmingham. Knight then relocated with the department when they moved to Nottingham in 1912. Alfred was still with the department when war broke out.

Alfred Knight enlisted on 26th October 1914 and was assigned to the 2nd battalion of the Post Office Rifles Regiment. Although he joined the regiment in 1914, his unit was not stationed in France until 1917 and the first combat that the regiment saw was during the second battle of Bullecourt. During this battle, Knight returned wounded soldiers to the trenches under severe enemy fire and for this act of bravery he was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant.

Sergeant Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for his acts during the battle of Wurst Farm Ridge, Ypres on 20th September 1917. He was awarded the highest military accolade for demonstrating “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the operation against the enemy positions.” Sergeant Knight single-handedly stormed a German machine gun position and secured it from the enemy.

b4-2-sgt-knight-vcOn 3rd January 1918, Sergeant Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace. Knight is the only member from the Post Office Rifles regiment to be awarded with the Victoria Cross. When his award was announced, Knight quickly became a local celebrity in both Birmingham and Nottingham. He was given civic receptions in both cities and adorned with gifts.

Knight continued to serve in the Post Office Rifles until the end of the First World War. In 1919 he was then re-commissioned to serve in the Sherwood Foresters regiment with the rank of Second Lieutenant. When the Sherwood Foresters were then demobilized, Alfred Knight returned to his role within the Post Office.

Alfred Knight passed away on 4th December 1960 aged 72 in Birmingham. He was laid to rest in Oscott Catholic Cemetary, New Oscott.

Voices of War and Peace: the Great War and its Legacy is a First World War Engagement Centre funded by the AHRC and in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. The University of Birmingham Centre is a joint initiative across the Midlands with Birmingham City University, Newman University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Worcester, and further afield with the University of Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan University and Cardiff University.The Engagement Centre will support a wide range of community engagement activities, connecting academic and public histories of the First World War.