“Gassed”My personal all time favorite WW1 painting.


Gassed John Singer Sargent

“In 1918, the British Ministry of Information commissioned the American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) to contribute a large-scale work to a planned Hall of Remembrance commemorating Anglo-American cooperation. Travelling to the front in July 1918, Sargent witnessed the harrowing aftermath of mustard gas attacks, which became the subject of this new work, Gassed – a six-metre-long tableau depicting a procession of wounded men stumbling, blindfolded, towards a dressing station.

While this painting, completed in 1919, is not representative of the illustrious portraitist’s oeuvre, it has become widely recognised as an embodiment of the pain of war in a strangely serene and dignified manner. Virginia Woolf, in her essay The Fleeting Portrait, wrote of Gassed that it “at last pricked some nerve of protest, or perhaps of humanity”. It now hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London.”

John Singer Sargent’s painting Gassed hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London; the canvas is over seven feet high and twenty feet long. This impressive painting depicts soldiers blinded by gas being led in lines back to the hospital tents and the dressing stations; the men lie on the ground all about the tents waiting for treatment.

“With mustard gas the effects did not become apparent for up to twelve hours. But then it began to rot the body, within and without. The skin blistered, the eyes became extremely painful and nausea and vomiting began. Worse, the gas attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. The pain was almost beyond endurance and most cases had to be strapped to their beds. Death took up to four or five weeks. A nurse wrote:

I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy war and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the war lasts and what it may mean, could see a case–to say nothing of ten cases–of mustard gas in its early stages–could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes . . . all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.”

This passage is from John Ellis, Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I, (1976), pp. 66-7.

Who was John Singer Sargent?

John Singer Sargent, the son of an American doctor, was born in Florence in 1856. He studied painting in Italy and France and in 1884 caused a sensation at the Paris Salon with his painting of Madame Gautreau. Exhibited as Madame X, people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic.

The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England and over the next few years established himself as the country’s leading portrait painter. This included portraits of Joseph Chamberlain (1896), Frank Swettenham (1904) and Henry James (1913). Sargent made several visits to the USA where as well as portraits he worked on a series of decorative paintings for public buildings such as the Boston Public Library (1890) and the Museum of Fine Arts (1916).

In 1918 Sargent was commissioned to paint a large painting to symbolize the co-operation between British and American forces during the First World War. Sargent was sent to France with the British painter, Henry Tonks. One day Sargent visited a casualty clearing station at Le Bac-de-Sud. While at the casualty station he witnessed an orderly leading a group of soldiers that had been blinded by mustard gas. He used this as a subject for a naturalist allegorical frieze depicting a line of young men with their eyes bandaged. Gassed soon became one of the most memorably haunting images of the war.

While in France Sargent also painted The Interior of a Hospital Tent (1918) and A Street in Arras (1918). John Singer Sargent died in 1925

Funny Families (c.1910) Mr. Tommy Atkins the Soldier and Family

The original card game is dating c. 1870’s to 1890’s. With square corners.
I presume this is the c.1910. With rounded corners.
48 cards. Twelve families are represented, with four members apiece.


The two images above are playing cards drawn from a set called ‘Funny Families’, dating from approximately 1910.

Identified as ‘Miss Tommy Atkins the Soldier’s Daughter’ and ‘Master Tommy Atkins the Soldier’s Son’, the family group is completed by two further cards representing their parents.

‘Mr. Tommy Atkins the Soldier’ and ‘Mrs. Tommy Atkins the Soldier’s Wife’.

These imaginary army children are depicted stereotypically, playing soldiers: Miss Tommy Atkins, with her sword drawn, marches past a line of toy soldiers standing at attention, while Master Tommy Atkins prepares to fire a toy cannon.

Nature v Nurture Letters to nowhere


Image by Truthout.org via Flickr

Nature v Nurture

Imagine a  plant.  I was going to use an orchid but I have a perpetual ability to kill them, so imagine a rose.

Without careful attention to the base of the rose, the soil around the roots and the roots themselves, the rose (unless its a wild rose or a climbing rose – pipe down rose people) will not reach its full potential.

Soldiers in committed (happy!) relationships are not so dissimilar.  So often my other half has told me about a friend arguing furiously with his other half, standing shouting on his mobile outside of their living quarters’ front door.  A lad even went home on a lucrative course that was set to change his life completely – and get him a 20 grand pay rise – purely because his girlfriend made him choose between the new job and his life with her.

The army do not seem, still, to understand that the needs of the girls and women (and men) “outside of the wire” reflect deeply on the men inside the wire.  If they do not reach out and communicate with the partners, the partners feel shut out and alienated, which therefore breeds resentment, thus creating conflict within the relationship, resulting in a soldier with things on his mind when he should be concentrating on work.

Tend the roots, and your flowers will be prize winners.  Neglect them and the neglect will be obvious.

Ways the Army/RAF/Navy could incorporate (and appease) partners:

  • Wife and girlfriend briefings pre-tour (I’m getting one of these though I hear they are v. uncommon!)
  • More social activities behind the wire – at the moment, only married quarter-dwelling wives are invited to social events at the barracks.  Invitations should be open to all officially declared partners.
  • Regular contact – even if it is just emails detailing where partners are / will be (a timetable perhaps)
  • Help and details of someone who can be contacted should we notice symptoms of PTSD in our partners

I am sure there are many more….  feel free to add your own

Credits to Letters to Nowhere for writing this blog post.

Tommy Atkins by Roger Moore

History matters

History matters.

Who was Tommy Atkin’s?

A ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles in a ...

Image via Wikipedia

Tommy Atkins” was a general name given to the British soldier and first appeared in 1815 when “Thomas Atkins” was used as a representative name on specimen forms of the “Soldiers Book” which was, to all intents and purposes, his record file.

The minimum height for infantrymen was 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 5 inches for the cavalrymen. The average “Tommy” was slightly built and at best, semiliterate, which would probably account for the few letters and diaries which exist today to tell us about his life at this time.

Unlike his Boer counterpart, “Tommy” joined the army at a young age and knew little of life outside the regiment. On enlisting he swore allegiance to Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria by taking the “Queen’s Shilling”, a shiny new coin which sealed the contract for the next six years. Thereafter he was owned, body and soul, by the military establishment and was subject to its rules and regulations some of which were barbaric. to say the least. Lord Wolseley called the British Soldier “the worst paid labourer in England”. His military training was hard and laborious and he was soon turned into an “unthinking” machine. The British military ruled by fear and this worked well in as far as “Tommy” never considered retreat or surrender. He was disciplined to follow orders without question.

He existed on a diet of meat and potatoes and occasionally vegetables and this was washed down with the inevitable mug of “char” and when he could afford it, a pint of beer. His duties were to dig trenches, build sangars, mount piquet duty and fight to the death when told to. Living conditions were far from comfortable in the hot African sun and there was a lack of fresh water despite the often heavy rainfall. To add to his discomfit he was often confronted with scorpions, snakes and spiders. Despite all this he was the most courageous soldier as can be substantiated by the many awards for gallantry that he received during the Natal campaign, the highest of which was the Victoria Cross.

His day started at about 3.30 am. By 4 he was on parade with bare feet, a cleaned rifle, and his emergency rations of tinned meat or “bully” and biscuits at the ready. Breakfast was at 6 o’clock consisting of bread and jam followed by a cup of tea affectionately called “gunfire”. An occasional tot of rum was issued to the men and for those who were literate, the cost of posting a letter to England at this time was twopence.

Christmas food for “Tommy” Turkey or Chicken with Potatoes and Onions and this was followed by a pint of beer and finished off with a small piece of cake. Various forms of recreation were enjoyed, race-running, tug o war etc. The British soldiers besieged in Ladysmith were not as lucky and had to survive on quarter rations of biscuits and horsemeat, washed down with polluted water from the Klip River.

TOMMY by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

NSRW Rudyard Kipling

Image via Wikipedia

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship‘s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

Tommy Atkins witten by Pte Smith Black Watch.After the Battle of Magersfontein

Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)

Image via Wikipedia

“ Such was the day for our regiment
Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder-
A drawing-room General’s mistake

Why weren’t we told of the trenches?
Why weren’t we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column
May Tommy Atkins enquire….”

Pte Smith of the Black Watch, December 1899.

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