The sixtieth anniversary of the First Day on the Somme (July 1966) both enraged and inspired a number of young writers and artists. These included Pat Barker who created her trilogy based on the history of the Great War.
Chance took me to the country lane that connected the villages of Auchonvilliers and Beaumont-Hamel. I came on two cemeteries that contained the remains of the majority of one battalion of London volunteers. This led me to a search for the truth about this massacre and the search, in turn, had results in both written and sculptural form.
THE SOMME: SERIES ONE
The first works were a series of drawings made over three days on the site of the Front Line at Beaumont Hamel. These resulted in a number of reliefs made of plywood and painted. Aluminium parts were either war debris or castings made in the foundry at Chelsea School of Art. The two sculptures “Wayland” and ‘Y Ravine’ were also made while I was teaching at Chelsea.
The influence of the waste of life of the Somme Battle (1916-1917) extended to two series. The first consisted of painted reliefs and the second cast in bronze.
SERIES TWO: LUXEMBOURG
The second Somme series came ten years later. They are all still-lives inspired by a shallow excavation made near the Lochnagar mine crater at La Boisselle. Removing the top-soil revealed the detritus of daily trench life. The trench happened to be the German Front Line but I wanted to make the still-lives representative of ordinary soldiers of every nationality.
JACOB’S LADDER AND FIELD MARSHALL DEATH
There is a difference in time of completion, (Jacobs Ladder – 2013 and Field Marshal Death – 2016) but the two are related. They are made of the same materials – steel, cast-iron and bronze. More important, each sculpture refers back to the period when I researched a section of the Northern end of the Somme battlefield, the cliffs along the Ancre Valley from Aveluy Wood to Beaumont Hamel. The research took place over several summer blocks, spread over the years 1968 to the mid nineteen seventies. The aim was observing, surveying and getting to know the ground by drawing and crude mapping as well as making written notes. Spending so much time in one place I could see where the nature of the tragedy lay, in the superior use of the defenders of both the ground and underground (the solid and largely shell-proof nature of the chalk)