Whilst I sit drawing in the vineyards around beautiful, historic Evora in Portugal's Alentejo region, I am constantly aware of the myriad birds flitting from one perch to another, down the ground, up into the cork oaks edging the vineyard and off somewhere else. What impresses me is their wonderful camouflage, especially during the winter season. Unless they move, they are virtually invisible. Perhaps I have been paying their aspect closer attention than usual because I have just been reading about Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola, a French artist and soldier fighting the Germans during the First World War.Read More
Frank Anderson's 1915 Gallipoli diary continues recounting his experiences as part of the 10th Light Horse Regiment fighting in the Dardanelles.
Sunday, 8th August - "All day in the firing line, with no prospect of being relieved. We have practically no men here now, all being on our left where the battle has lasted all day." 9th August - "The night passed off quietly in our section, but the awful dim on our left made us ready for an attack any moment. The beach is covered with wounded waiting their turn to get aboard. We are all nearly knocked up having had no sleep for nights. No relief yet."
Wounded and Sick waiting to board boats in Anzac Cove
10th August - "We hear that they are afraid to let the Tommy take over the forward line of defence on Russells Top, so we are to man them indefinitely with the remainder of the Brigade or what is left of them. We are unable to get our dead in and it is heart-breaking to see all our fine fellows lying a few yards away, most of them horribly mutilated. We are all just about knocked out, and the Germans' 77 mm high explosives are damnable. Every day one or two men are hit. Bill Lyall was wounded last night. Amongst all the sadness it came out in orders that Arthur Irwin and myself had our commissions. Fighting continued all day on our left, mostly around hill 971. Wrote Baby the sad news of Dumpty."
11th August - "Today there seems to be a lull on both sides, but our vigilance is not the least slackened. All our supports have been withdrawn and are now on our left, so it will mean a fight to the last man if we are attacked. Water is getting very scarce and we are trying to live on 1/4 gallon of water a day. I have fortunately been been given A Troop and the men seem as pleased as I am. We are all filthy and need a wash badly. The smell from the dead is appalling but nothing can be done."
The next day was mostly quiet, "am terribly weary", and the same the following day, when everyone was consolidating positions and entrenching on both sides, he writes, "My night watch is from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. and find it very hard to keep awake. Felt very seedy." On 14th August, "takes me all my time to crawl around. Felt rotten all day and during night. Bentley copped me in the trenches. He insisted on taking my temperature which was 103.5 so took me down to the surgery and said I had pleurisy, which I cannot credit. I think it is only weakness & want of sleep. Anyway he insisted on sending me, in the middle of the night, to the Field Ambulance on the beach, and they are to send me to a hospital ship in the morning."
"Was brought here early this morning on this floating palace hospital ship, the "Reva"." (16th August)
"I nearly fainted when a real live lady, in the neat uniform of the Red Cross, met me at the top of the gangway and gently led me down to the officers' quarters." From then on, Frank was cared for by these Red Cross nurses, who removed his filthy clothes, bathed him and gave him clean clothes. He recounted every detail of the arrival on the ship, the food, the pure white sheets, the utter delight of being in a civilised place after the hell of the trenches. Since his temperature would not go down for long, he soon found himself shifted to the "Andania", "a huge Cunarder", en route to Malta. Feeling in "a deplorably weak condition and rotten with rheumatism", he was told by the doctors on board that he would need at least three months to get him well again and that he was therefore being sent to England. In fact, Frank's hip had been broken during bombardments in the trenches, although no X-Ray could reveal that at the time, and he walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.
Torpedo scares and rough weather on the trip to Devonport made the first days of the voyage trying, but by the time the ship reached Gibraltar, fair weather had calmed the sea. Soon cold weather made all his joints ache and the morphine kept him drowsy, but by the night of 30th August, he was being checked into the 3rd General London Hospital. That Hospital became his de facto home for the next year, as painful treatments were tried and his body slowly healed.
He was able to spend time out of the Hospital with his fiancee's cousin, Sophy Hassell, whom he had known pre-war. He began to get organised, contacting old friends and linking up with fellow officers to try and lead as normal a life as they could. Frank spent time in Saltash with Sophy Hassell and her friends. In London he was often detailed to accompany people to the theatre, some of them minor foreign royalty. He also took part in the first ANZAC ceremonies held at Westminster Cathedral. Whilst at the 3rd General, he took up photography, which was to be a lifelong passion. Some of his photographs included pictures of his nurses.
The long months of recuperation are not recorded in the 1915 diary, for Frank ceased to keep the account after September 25th. His progress was recorded a little in photographs.
Eventually, after a year in hospital, Frank Anderson was sent back to Western Australia, where he was demobbed, on crutches. On 24th July, 1917, Frank Anderson married his pre-war fiancee and great love, Honoria Ethel Hassell, daughter of a prominent grazier family in Albany, Western Australia.
Frank Anderson had survived one of the most brutal war campaigns of the 20th century. As I read his diary, I marvelled at his matter-of-fact statements about the awful situations and experiences. No complaints, no hand-wringing, just the stoic sense of duty to be performed, as best as possible. A spare elegance in his descriptions of events, an understanding of the fearful dimensions of the fight and a lucid assessment of the abilities of his fellow soldiers and commanders. In short, an impressive demonstration to me of an art form - how to live life as best as is possible under very trying circumstances.
Frank Anderson's 1915 diary continues the entries about fighting with the 10th Light Horse Regiment, now at Russell's Top, an area which became know as The Nek.
6th August, Friday - "The attack is to come off to-night and we are all fearfully busy. At 5.30 p.m., the right flank attacked amid a tremendous bombardment but captured two lines of trenches. An awful fight lasted all night and news came through that the left flank was doing remarkably well."
Next day, 7th August - "We were called at 3 a.m. after a sleepless night and took up a position from where we were to charge. All the saps were crowded and confusion reigned supreme. The first line of attack was made up of the 8th as was the second. A squad and A & B troops formed the third line, the remainder of our squadron & C squad made the 4th line. We could hear a big battle going on to our left and we underwent a heavy shelling, which caused a good number of casualties and broke our trenches up considerably. At dawn the first line was ordered out but were mown down before they had gone more than 20 yards. From then on God only knows what happened.
"The trench was full of dead, dying & wounded, some of the second & third lines went out together, only to feed the enemy's machine guns. Still no orders came for us & the suspense was awful. Then the fourth and some of the third got over the parapets, but not one got more than 15 yards away and very few got back. In some remarkable way, Mr. Kidd's troop actually got over and only lost one man. I had no idea what my own troops' casualties were, but knew they were not very heavy. Then the order came to retire, and when we collected back on the Broadway, over half the regiment was missing. It was Arthur that first told me the news of D Troop being wiped out, then we heard of all the rest, Cmdt. Piesse, Mr. Rowan , Springall, Jackson, Dumpty (Frank's fiancee's brother), Phipps, Leo, the two Harpers, Barrycloc, Fenwick, Capt. McMasters, Lt. Hellon, Tom Burges, and in fact everyone that I seemed to know and like, were all dead. Craig, Jim Lyall & Bill wounded and a lot more. In my own troop, Eustace, Sandy & Chipper dead. Arthur and the few that got back had marvellous escapes. Was most anxious about Irwin but he turned up all right. In fact Pat, Arthur, John and myself seem to be the only ones left of our little clique. I can't realise it yet, but my nerves seem to have all gone. How I'll ever write and tell Baby (his fiancee, my grandmother) about it all, I don't know. It is all too awful.
"Major L. acted the coward, as we all expected he would, but the old Colonel was game and is immensely popular. After the first shock was over we started inquiring about our left flank and the sight that met our eyes in Anafagasta Bay was one never to be forgotten. A fleet of 8 cruisers & innumerable torpedo boats were heavily bombarding the Turks while a fleet of eight large hospital ships were in readiness. The transports were too numerous to count, but we could see that our men were gaining ground fast. The Turks had evidently got most of their troops reinforcing the position we attacked, with such disastrous results. But I believe we did our role and achieved more than was expected. We spelled until 4 p.m. almost exhausted, and we then took over the main firing line.
"Things were quiet for the remainder of the night on our immediate front, but the two flanks were fighting most desperately. During the night, the bodies of Mr. Rowan, Leo & Springall were all brought in. Phipps was got in before he died and had time to leave messages to Molly and his mother.
"And so ends the most terrible day I've ever experienced."
(Part 4, published next in this blog, will continue the account of Frank Anderson's experiences in Gallipoli, as recounted in his 1915 diary.)
Along with A squadron, 10th Light Horse Regiment, Frank Anderson was shifted to Walkers Ridge, ("our new position is called Anzac") in early June. Water had to be fetched from 1/2 mile away and fireward very scarce. No mail either. "Wild rumours of every description. We don't even know the truth of our own position."
Despite being able to swim in the very cold water of the nearby bay, he reported catching his first lice, and being unable to sleep because of the extreme cold. By 18th June, the lice were "breeding in the most alarming manner.", while shell fire and shrapenel caused continual casualties, even down on the beach and in the water, where Frank had "a narrow escape" in one attack.
Long bombardments in the trenches killed more and gave everyone very "disturbed nights", in the great heat of mid-summer. "Water is getting terribly scarce and flies are awful." The food too became a great problem, with little fresh meat. Many men were constantly suffering from dysentery.
The war grinds on, with Frank having dysentery or food poisoning, busy plotting plans of the Australian positions, spending 24 hour stints in the trenches followed immediately by 24 hour stints sapping, By 7th July, "it has been ascertained that the Turks have got a supply of gases but we all have respirators and fear them not. Had charge of our section of trenches as Mr. Rowan (Frank's senior) is not well enough. The night was a very nervous one, and an expected attack did not come off." Next day, "there is a report about that cholera has broken out in the Turkish lines so every care is being taken here. Evidently the Turks have brought up some guns from Achi-baba and are giving us the advantage of them."
On 9th July, while in the trenches for 24 hours, "at 6 p.m. received instructions to proceed with Mr. Jackson to take accurate bearings of Snipers Ridge, for the use of the naval authorities. It was most risky work and we both narrowly escaped being sniped. The way our orderly room mutilates their messages is awful." On 10th July, "tried to have a swim but the snipers successfully kept everyone out of the water. The weather is getting hot again and as soon as Achi-baba is settled the better, as there is a tremendous lot of sickness." Cholera had indeed broken out among the Turks, so everyone was inoculated and felt very sore, compounding the sleepless nights waiting for attacks that did not materialise. Meanwhile, "our trench is almost untenable" with even the flies preventing any sleep.
By 20th July, "Mr. Rowan told me that the Turks had received 100,000 reinforcements and that a concerted attack on our position was likely to take place any night. We are making great preparations for defence.. It is expected they will use gas & liquid fire. Pleasant things to look forward to." Next morning, "came out of the trenches very tired, and we were busy all day with one thing or another. As soon as it became dark, I went out with 20 men and erected entanglements in front of our trenches finishing at 3 a.m." The attack did not take place the following day but everyone was so "on the qui vive that we'll all be knocked out for want of sleep.The work in the trenches was most nerve-racking, and greater portion of the night was spent clearing scrub for a good field of fire" - all while Frank was coping with serious dysentery.
By 29th July, "Absolutely nothing doing and am developing beastly liver. Everything gets on my nerves."
By the end of July, Frank was sent to estimate the number of men needed in their new trenches at Russells Top and to "make a sketch of our position, which is an awful one, the stench being awful." "Our new position is a perfect cow, plenty of bombs and dead Turks. We relieved the N(ew) Z(ealanders) in the firing line. 3 casualties." 1st August - "Very weary day in the trenches and we were most thankful to be relieved."
(Frank Anderson's account of his war experiences in 1915 as an Anzac fighting in Gallipoli will continue in Part 3, the next post in this blog.)
I have recently been feeling that I have little time nor energy to create art - care-giving has rather taken over life for a while. However I got a timely jolt yesterday as I watched the PBS documentary that Rick Meyer created,The Ghost Army.
The documentary chronicled the deceptions practised by a total of 1,100 creative G.I.s, who formed the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops to mislead the Germans about troop movements and points of attack as the Allies advanced towards the Rhine after D-Day, 1944. Using camouflage, inflatable tanks and other war materiel, acoustics and phony radio traffic, these inventive men created such convincing "information" that the Germans were frequently mistaken in their assessments of where the Allies were advancing, where they were planning to attack, how many troops were in the area, etc. Most of the G.I.s involved came from artistic backgrounds - many straight from art or architecture school - and after the war, many of them would have successful careers in fashion, photography or art. Among them were fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly and photographer Art Kane.
What impressed me as I watched the fascinating programme was that here were artists in the thick of war, under orders and often in very complicated and stressful circumstances. And yet, and yet, they were still passionate artists. They took with them to France and beyond small painting blocs, drawing paper, watercolours, pen and ink, pencils – whatever they could. Whenever they could snatch a few moments, they drew and painted. No excuses for weariness, stress, lack of time. They kept on drawing and painting, in the French villages, during a brief time in liberated Paris, during operations.
This last wonderful painting was done later, by artist Arthur Shilstone. He recounted that somehow two Frenchmen had penetrated the guarded area and saw, to their dumbfounded amazement, a seemingly normal, 40-ton tank being lifted bodily by the four American soldiers! Shilstone simply remarked that Americans are very strong.
Just the small selection of work above is the perfect demonstration that every artist can manage to create art, given the will, even under very trying and taxing circumstances. A wonderful reminder for me.
The adage about beautiful art being created against a backdrop of terror and upheavals has always fascinated me. I was thinking of its ironies recently as I sat listening to utterly lovely chamber music, of the most civilised and uplifting, and realised that I was facing a huge and dramatic Julian Story 1888 painting of "The Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy" hanging on the wall of the Telfair Museum of Art Rotunda Gallery. I looked further around the walls and there was another savage battle scene, also painted in 1888 by Josef Brandt, simply entitled "A Battle".
Granted that the chronologies of all these contexts were totally unrelated. The Savannah Music Festival concert featured a wonderful Mozart 1785 Piano Quartet in G minor and Dvorak's 1878 String Sextet in A Major being played by violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Sebastian Knauer, violists Philip Dukes and Carla Maria Rodrigues and friends. The subject of Story's monumental painting was the 1346 Battle of Crecy, a pivotal battle during the Hundred Year War when the Black Prince Edward of Wales killed King John of Bohemia. The 1656 battle depicted in the other painting recorded a skirmish between Swedes and Polish troops. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition for me, during that concert, reminded me that innumerable musical masterpieces, so much visual art, so many other kinds of artistic creation, are produced at periods of huge strife and stress, whether of war, economic distress or personal illness and suffering. To me, the capacity to create beauty and uplifting art at such times is one of mankind's most admirable characteristics.
Daniel Hope has programmed a very special concert on April 1st, in Savannah's Temple Mickve Israel, which perfectly illustrates this capacity to create beauty in the face of unspeakable suffering. Called "Forbidden Music", the programme features music created in the Theresienstadt concentration camp north of Prague by young Jewish musicians before they met their death. Daniel Hope and his wonderful musician friends will be playing a String Trio composed in 1944 by Gideon Klein. Klein was born in the present-day Czech Republic, deported to Theresienstadt (where he organised concerts with his fellow prisoners) and thence to Auschwitz before meeting his death in Furstengrube concentration camp in January, 1945. Another work featured in this programme again underlines this juxtaposition of beauty and terror: Siegmund Schul's Two Chassidic Dances, Opus 15. Schul, a young German composer, was deported to Theresienstadt with his wife in 1941. Whilst there, he composed this and other compositions, testaments to his strength and resiliency. He died in Theresienstadt in 1944, victim of tuberculosis.
The list of works of art of all description that we inherit from men and women of enormous talent and courage is huge. I think it is good to remind ourselves always that whatever our personal travails, we can find inspiration and encouragement from others that - yes, despite everything, we can still be artists and produce work that can be of value to others.
As the West remembers D-Day today on its 65th anniversary, my mind goes back to many earlier years along the Normandy and Brittany beaches and cliffs. As a young woman, I spent many hours in those impressive and eloquent cemeteries that spoke of such sacrifice.
It is heartwarming, however, to see reminders that even today, there is spontaneous gratitude in France, not just on 6th June. When I was in Brittany last October as Artist in Residence with Les Amis de la Grande Vigne in Dinan, I was drawing at the dramatic headland facing the English Channel called Pointe du Grouin.
It is north of Dinan and round the corner, going west, from lovely Cancale, home of such succulent oysters. While I was drawing in the biting wind, my husband was exploring the concrete fortifications and bunkers that remains from the German occupation. Inside, there was scrawled on the wall, "6 juin 44, merci" - "6th June, 1944, thank you". Simple, but telling.
While I was drawing, an elderly, distinguished-looking French lady came up to talk to me. After a long and delightful conversation (despite my watching the light disappear from what I drawing with dismay!!), her husband joined us. He told me of his work with the SAS for the British, remaining in France after 1940, because the British deemed him of more help in France than outside. Both Churchill and General De Gaulle decorated him for his valour after the war. Yet, as I stood up to bid him and his charming wife goodbye, it was he, the wartime hero, who thanked me formally and in most moving terms, for what the British - and Americans - did to save France.