Having visited France many times and picked up various bits and pieces, I've always wanted to create an artwork to commemorate the country's experience of the war.
All the images used are drawn entirely from my own collections and photographs.
The war rocked France, and as their territory was being invaded in 1914 they learnt bitter lessons in modern warfare. Their armies were still wearing traditional red and blue uniforms as if fighting 19th Century campaigns. But they learnt fast, as the new Poilu grey/blue uniform encapsulated the spirit of stubborn resistance.
One word can define France's First World War: Verdun.
The Germans attempted to capture the strategic forts on the hills in front of the town of Verdun in 1916, pinpointing the town as a symbolic part of French culture.
The French resisted, but the price was incalculable.
It almost destroyed the country and its army, and if anything sums up the folly and utterly senseless slaughter of the war then this is it.
I've read all about the battle, but I could never find the right words to describe what happened to the people involved. Whenever I go to France I think of Verdun and I'm gripped with sadness. It was worse than the Somme and Passchendaele and had catastrophic implications when France was invaded again in 1940.
For this collage I've gathered together various pieces that I've either bought in France or over here. I have quite a few medals and postcards and a few unusual bits.
I've also trawled through my photos to find the many French war memorials I've seen in towns and villages.
I've noticed their memorials can be striking and bold. Often featuring defiant soldiers, with heads held high, they are artistically much more inventive than our own. Inside churches, they also have colourful and elaborate plaques and memorials.
I'm very pleased to finally have put this together, especially in time for Armistice Day.
Have a look below for a few of the items that I've used.
|A rare French army postcard. Sent to a Monsieur Adrien Bayle, presumably by a relative who was in a hospital.|
|Henri Barbusse. The French author who wrote the famous book Le Feu (Under Fire) in 1916. Having joined up aged 41, he served for 17 months and endured all war could bring, thus writing his enraged and detailed account.|
|Although this shell fuse is British, it was dug up from the Western Front in France. The 'iron harvest' is still a common sight on the battlefields.|
|The French Victory Medal. All the Allies awarded their soldiers one of these and each country had their own version. This is the reverse of France's medal.|
|An example of a striking French war memorial, time hasn't weathered this defiant Poilu.|
The image of the soldier I've used in this artwork, was from a tiny photograph I picked up in a brocante fair in Auvergne last year. I've done a little bit of research on it, which I'll share with you another day, watch this space!