National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 2 (I:2), December 1963

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Click figure 5 here for an enlarged image

David Milne: 1918-19

by R. F. Wodehouse, Curator of War Art

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On 19 February 1919, Milne's records show hill on probation and on strength of Argyle House, the headquarters of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada. This was probably only a paper transaction. While still on probation he is shown attached for War Records to Ripon, where he painted seven works. The first dated painting is 25 February 1919 and the last is 17 March 1919. Next he moved to Bramshott Camp where he was attached as from 19 March 1919. There he painted ten works showing the Bramshott-Witley area (Fig. 4 ) and Bordon. The earliest date shown is 20 March 1919 and the latest 21 April. While he was there an important paper transfer took place: he was formally taken on strength of Headquarters, Overseas Military Forces of Canada, London and ceased to be an infantryman of the 8th Reserve Battalion. Five days later we have the first dated painting done in the Seaford area. A total of eight were painted here, the last dated 10 May, just a week before he left for France. In all, the Canadian War Memorials Collection has thirty-seven paintings completed by Milne of camps and training areas in England, done between 14 December 1918 and 10 May 1919.

On 17 May 1919, Milne left England for France with the status of official war artist. It is not clear when he was given the acting rank of lance-corporal but it was probably about this time. To illustrate his movements on the Continent a sketch map indicates the battle areas which Milne painted (Fig. 5). Milne went directly to the Vimy-Arras area and wasted no time for we have a painting dated 19 May showing Vimy Ridge from Souchez. He stayed in this area until late in July and the last dated painting we have is of 30 July showing Arras. During May he worked from the north end of Vimy Ridge and the suburbs of Lens southward to the east of Vimy Ridge and to the east of Arras (Fig. 6). The month of June was taken up almost entirely with painting Vimy Ridge itself together with villages and locations of headquarters to the west (Fig. 7) and areas of fighting to the east. It would seem that he visited Ypres and the Somme during July, for we have a view of Ypres dated 6 July and one of Courcellette dated 26 July (Fig. 8). He completed Vimy Ridge and Arras during July (Fig. I). The last dated work in the Vimy Ridge-Arras area is a view of the Cathedral in Arras dated 30 July.

He next moved to Ypres and Passchendaele. There is some confusion as to just when this took place because his first dated work in this area is labelled 29 July (Fig. 9) .Be that as it may, the dates on other paintings continue to show him working in the Salient until 20 August. Apparently he then travelled south to the Somme area again to paint the sugar factory at Courcellette. One of two works done there is dated 24 August. On his way north he painted two scenes to the east of Arras. These are dated 29 and 30 August and appear to be his last pictures before he returned to England on 31 August.

Seventy paintings by Milne date from his trip to France and Belgium. Fifty-two of these are scenes in France and eighteen are of Belgium. An analysis of his work in France shows the following: thirty-six scenes of the area of Vimy Ridge or areas nearby, three scenes connected with the battle for Hill 70 and the suburbs of Lens, three scenes of the Somme battlefields and ten scenes of Arras town and early stages of the advance to Cambrai. It is curious that while in the Arras area he made no paintings of the other major battlefields to the east connected with the fights for the Drocourt-Quéant Switch, the Canal du Nord, or Cambrai. It may be surmised that these were adequately covered in the overall plan by other artists painting earlier in 1918.

Eighteen Belgian paintings depict three scenes of the Passchendaele area, three scenes of Mount Sorrel, nine areas near St Eloi and Messines Ridge to the south and east of Ypres, and three scenes of the town of Ypres itself. There is no record of Milne having painted in the north of the Salient on the sites of the Ypres battles of 1915. Again this is possibly due to some overall plan of Konody's to limit Milne to definite tasks.

Milne spent the month of September in England and apparently did no further work as a war artist. By 26 September he is shown on strength at a concentration centre at Buxton, and he sailed from Liverpool on the SS. Belgic to Canada on 4 October 1919. The same day he is shown taken on strength of No.2 District Depot, Toronto. Processing for discharge took place during the voyage and he was released from the service on the day of his arrival in Toronto on 14 October 1919.

In addition to the works in the possession of the National Gallery, four other war paintings are known to exist. These were works retained by Milne, which failed to meet his own high standards, and the backs were used for other sketches. They are in the possession of Mr Douglas Duncan, Toronto. This total of 111 works comprises all the known war paintings of Milne and constitutes a magnificent group done during his first large commission.

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