Sunday, 21 April 2013

First Impressions at Anzac Cove

Anzac Cove, Turkey, with the Sphinx Rock in the background

 I arrived at Anzac Cove on Friday 19th April via a night in Istanbul and Dubai. It was a long journey by plane. I couldn’t imagine how long that journey must have been by boat for the New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing in 1915. I have made this journey with about a dozen New Zealand Defence Force band and honour guards.  We have met up with people from Veterans Affairs and the Australian contingent who are all staying at the hotel in Canakkale.

I met up with New Zealand historian Ian McGibbon yesterday as we walked the New Zealand trail, retracing the perilous plight of the NZ regiments as they climbed through a hail of bullets to take the highground of Chunik Bair. I found some of those bullets as we walked. I also found a human rib bone. The entire area where the Anzacs occupied and fought during the campaign is now classified as a giant cemetery. The beautiful Turkish wild flowers, alpine pines and miniature holly bushes, playful birds and turquoise seas lapping against the stony shore still can’t hide the feeling of what this place actually is.

I have locked down a couple of themes for the Gallipoli series of paintings I have come to research. As the guard rehearses at the memorial over the coming days before Anzac day, I will walk and talk with Ian and trek through the bushes to find the overgrown trenches so I can set my compositions in the exact area, surveying the ridge lines and Turkish trenches as they would have appeared in 1915.

My first impression of Anzac Cove is sadness at the hopeless plight of all the men that landed at such an impassable landscape. It felt familiar, like I’ve been here before. The unstable and eroding rocky cliff faces of the ghostly sphinx feature still watch the shoreline.

Military Historian Ian McGibbon at North Beach. Gallipoli

El Alamein, a toast to fallen friends

'El Alamein, a toast to fallen friends’ 2013, oil and tin on canvas and board

This painting is dedicated to all those who served in the North Africa campaign of WW2, including Mr Wagstaff (pictured below). Thank you for sharing detailed accounts of your experiences as a gunner at El Alamein. Sharing a beer with you in Darwin on the way back from our trip to Egypt, gave me the idea of a 'toast' in this painting. Farewell. Ubique.

Mr Tom Wagstaff

In October 2012 I had the honour of travelling to El Alamein, Egypt with 22 North World War II Africa Campaign Veterans, to commemorate their 70th anniversary of the campaign. My job on this tour was to research and produce a painting on my return that captured events from the tour while acknowledging their service in WWII.  I am pleased to announce that I have now completed, 'El Alamein, a toast to fallen friends.'

I chose to paint the portraits of Mr Tom Wagstaff and Mr Keith Matthews, two of the special men on the tour who I was lucky enough to get to know and befriend.  Both are drinking a toast to their fallen friends with a bottle of Egyptian beer 'Stella', the beer of choice for the New Zealand soldiers in 1942. Behind them is the El Alamein War cemetery as it appeared on the day of commemoration. The 25 pounder gun crew dug in amongst the headstones is a ghostly vision of what the veterans may see, as the rest of the NZDF staff and caregivers walk with them through the rows of sand coloured head stones, reading so many names. 

Looking at the veterans’ far away eyes, it’s clear they see the faces and remember the voices of their friends they trained with, friends they sailed with to the other side of the world and friends they fought in the desert with 70 years ago.

I have made the gun from sheet metal, constructing the metal around the gunners. I wanted to highlight the gunners and surround them by steel, showing the fragility of the bravest men as they confront and operate the heavy metal equipment of war.