Sargent’s Gassed headlines USA exhibition

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America’s National WWI Museum and Memorial celebrates the opening of its new, $5m Wylie gallery space with an exhibition dedicated to John Singer Sargent’s monumental painting, Gassed.

The 21ft-long work, on loan from London’s Imperial War Museum, depicts a line of blinded British soldiers making their way to a dressing station near Arras, while other wounded men lie on the ground.

Redolent with loss

The exhibition, which runs from 23 February to 23 June, also includes preliminary sketches, maps showing the dressing station’s location and objects relating to the chemical warfare that took place across the Western Front.

The huge painting has lost none of its ability to shock and is redolent with the waste of life and youth that was such a feature of the First World War.

On seeing the work for the first time, Sir Winston Churchill, himself a veteran of the trenches, wrote: ‘With all its brilliant genius and painful significance… how the field of national psychology must have been harrowed by events which had taken place during the war.’

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MoD searches for relatives of missing Bedfordshire soldier

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is trying to trace relatives of a World War One soldier who died in France in 1918.

Sergeant Edward Norton was born in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, in 1881 and lived in Luton. He enlisted in the Bedfordshire Regiment, but was later transferred to the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.

Clues unearthed

In July 2016 human remains were discovered in Gavrelle, northern France, close to where Sergeant Norton went missing. Researchers also discovered a shoulder title from the Durham Light Infantry.

The battalion’s records show six men died during that month; four officers and two soldiers. After analysing the artefacts and accoutrements at the site, the researchers believe the remains are ‘likely’ to belong to one of the two soldiers.

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Not unknown

A grandson of the other soldier has been traced, but the team have been unable to find any relatives of Sergeant Norton.

Louise Dorr from the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) said: ‘He is to be buried in France on 15 March.

‘Rather than bury him as an unknown soldier, I would love to be able to identify him so that his headstone may bear his name.’

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Epic Nevinson painting leads Sotheby’s sale

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One of the greatest works produced by British war artist Christopher (CRW) Nevinson will go on sale at Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Sale on 21 November.

Entitled A Dawn, the powerful image depicts a unit of French infantry, bayonets fixed, marching through a town centre.

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Vorticist masterpiece

A gripping example of Nevinson’s thought-provoking Vorticist style, the painting was first exhibited at the artist’s 1916 solo exhibition to an audience that included Sir Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.

Simon Hucker, Sotheby’s senior specialist in modern & post-war British Art, said: ‘Nevinson’s A Dawn ranks alongside the Tate’s La Mitrailleuse and the Imperial War Museum’s French Troops Resting as the very best of the artist’s war paintings, works that define our vision of the Great War.

‘With the majority of Nevinson’s most important works in major museums, the term “museum-quality” can be applied with total confidence to this profoundly powerful painting. The auction represents a very rare opportunity for collectors.’

A Dawn was last on sale in 1964. It will be offered with an estimate of £700,000-1m.

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Welsh memorial for 1917 VC winner

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Some 100 years after he won the Victoria Cross in Belgium, a soldier from Ceredigion has been honoured with a memorial in his home county.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Pugh Evans received the award for his actions on 4 October 1917 when he singlehandedly captured a machine-gun emplacement.

Severely wounded, he went on to lead his troops from the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment to attack another enemy position.

Evans was later promoted to general and was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Belgian Order of Leopold and the French Croix de Guerre, in addition to being mentioned in dispatches seven times.

Lucky man

His citation stated the officer had observed an enemy gun emplacement that was causing casualties and had rushed at it firing his revolver, forcing the German gunners to surrender.

His grandson, Christopher Evans, told the BBC his grandfather always felt he had been lucky; both to have survived the war to have been awarded the VC.

The memorial is in Llanbadarn Fawr, near Aberystwyth.

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Photos tell tragic tale of submarine battle

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On 1 February 1917, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare; with its U-boats torpedoing ships without warning, allowing passengers and crew little or no chance of escape.

Nicknamed Der Magische Guertel, or the Magic Girdle, the operation aimed to starve Britain into submission.

All ships trading with Britain were seen as targets, including those from neutral countries such as Norway, Denmark and the United States. The targeting of American ships ultimately brought the United States into the war in April 1917.

Even hospital ships were targeted by German forces during unrestricted submarine warfare, provoking worldwide outrage. Ships like HMHS Rewa, torpedoed in January 1918, were unarmed and painted with the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross but were still sunk.

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Wrecked on the coast

To mark the anniversary of this turning point in the war, Historic England has published a selection of images that depict U-boats that were wrecked on the Cornish coast following in the end of the First World War in 1918.

The submarines had been surrendered by Germany and were on their way to be used as gunnery targets by the British Royal Navy.

They had been stripped of their engines and, buoyant and hard to tow, some sank or were wrecked on the British coast.

The photographs were taken in 1921 by naval officer Jack Casement (pictured above).

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Submariners’ memorial

Also marking this year’s anniversary, the National Submariners’ memorial at Temple Pier on the Thames has also been upgraded to a Grade II* listing.

Unveiled in 1922, it commemorates the one third of the Submarine Service’s total personnel who lost their lives during the First World War – the highest proportion of any branch of the armed services.

Roger Bowdler, director of Listing at Historic England, said: ‘The declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917 was a decisive moment in the First World War. Germany’s tactic led to devastating losses for many nations but it also horrified the world.

‘It was seen as uncivilised, ungentlemanly and ultimately brought the might of the United States into the war. By commemorating this day we can better understand its consequences and remember the many people who lost their lives in this way.’

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Royal Navy Museum marks centenary of WRNS

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Second World War WRNS with their kit

The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, is marking the centenary of the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) with an exhibition entitled Pioneers to Professionals. Women and the Royal Navy.

On show within the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the display opens on 18 February and charts the history of women and the Royal Navy from the age of sail to the present.

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WRNS working on depth-charges during the First World War

Untold stories

Drawing on the collections of the National Museum of the Navy, in addition to loans from other museums and private individuals, the exhibition shines a light onto an area of naval history that has all too often been forgotten.

Among those whose story is told are Hannah Snell, who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Royal Marines, and Ann Hopping, who went to sea on Royal Navy ships in the 18th century.

The exhibition also explores the role of women during two world wars and considers the realities of everyday life in today’s Royal Navy.

For more about Pioneers to Professionals. Women and the Royal Navy, click here.

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Belgian memorial for Hertfordshire Regiment

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The Hertfordshire Regiment will soon gain its first memorial outside the UK. The new monument will be constructed at the site of the 1st Battalion’s attack near St Julien on 31 July 1917 – the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.

About 620 soldiers went into action that morning, but within two hours all the officers and 75 per cent of the other ranks had been either killed, wounded or captured. The memorial is scheduled to be unveiled on 31 July this year.

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Poignant moment

Dan Hill from remembrance group Herts at War, which has been campaigning for the memorial, said: ‘We’re putting together an unveiling day with an interactive battlefield walk, to tour the field exactly 100 years to the day on from when it happened – very poignant.’

The £5,000 monument will be brick-built, bearing plaques in English and Dutch describing the battle and its importance to Hertfordshire as a whole.

Hill added: ‘The 31 July 1917 is quite simply the most important day in Hertfordshire’s military history, so to be able to commemorate it like this feels tremendous for all of us.

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‘We’ll have at least 30 descendants of people that fought there on the day, as well – it’ll probably be the most Hertfordshire people there since the day of the battle – and we’ll also have live streaming so people back home can watch the unveiling as it happens, which I think is important.

‘To turn the clock back 100 years and take descendants out 100 years on, that’s exactly what we’re all about, and a fitting act of remembrance for these soldiers who gave their lives for us.’

Herts at War is interested to hear from whose relative may have fought that day, or anyone who is interested in attending the unveiling. For more information click here.

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