The Battle of the Somme

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Art at Dudmaston

Dudmaston’s strong links with Modern Art began when Sir George and Rachel, Lady Labouchere returned to Dudmaston in 1966 when Sir George retired from his career as a British Ambassador abroad. During the 1950s and 60s Sir George was a keen collector of Modern Art paintings and sculpture. He supported up and coming artists, visiting their galleries and purchasing pieces he liked rather than just well known names. Sir George had a good eye as evident in the galleries he and Rachel set up at Dudmaston which contain pieces by the now well known names of Moore, Hepworth and Matisse.

Whilst Sir George was the British Ambassador in Madrid, Manolo Millares and Antonio Saura formed the El Paso group which communicated, through their art, the feelings of aggression and provocation caused by Franco's regime.

Despite the outspoken views and provocative artworks of the El Paso group, Sir George purchased their work and managed to curate his own exhibition in the city's Museum of Modern Art, all whilst maintaining good British relations with Franco himself. Many of these pieces can still be viewed in our Spanish Gallery today.

The Battle of the Somme

With the beginning of the commemoration of WWI upon us we have been on a journey of discovery at Dudmaston, uncovering many links to the war that we were previously unaware of.

Captain Geoffrey Wolryche-Whitmore, who instigated the gifting of the estate to the National Trust, served on the eastern front. Although he survived the war his story is one of frustration and despair, though more of an inner conflict than a military one. Being profoundly hard of hearing he remained behind the lines, teaching topography to officers and felt that he ‘might have well as stayed in bed’ for ‘all the good I have done’. His letters home recount the numerous sad reports he receives of friends and family who had ‘done their bit’, adding their lives to the awful human loss encountered during the four years of the war.

Through searching our archives we have discovered that there were eight members of the Quatt parish, in which Dudmaston resides, who perished as a direct result of the conflict. Geoffrey often mentions them and sends his personal messages to their families, many of whom were tenants of the estate.

However, he also experienced two very poignant and personal losses; his cousins Francis and Philip Malcolm Wolryche-Whitmore, with whom he had enjoyed a close friendship with throughout his childhood and adult life.

The story of Philip is, we think, particularly relevant to the artwork created by the university students. He had served as an officer but on feeling he wasn’t contributing enough resigned his commission and re-enlisted as a private soldier. Serving at the Somme with the 42nd Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery, he was killed in action on 1 August 1918 and is buried at Bertrancourt Military Cemetery.

Geoffrey’s writes home:

I found a wire from father saying Philip had been killed. Poor Aunt B and Uncle M, they were devoted and so wrapped up in P especially since Francis was killed in B.E.A. I have had no particulars as to how it happened. Our first cousins have indeed suffered. I always think Philip did a real fine thing, when after being an officer, and when all the glamour of war was a thing of the past, he decided to enlist as a private soldier – no-one could do more and I should say no-one would have made a better hand at it, or put up with privations and hardships more willingly. I only hope he wasn’t wounded. They would hate to feel he had been in pain.

The Artists

The artwork has been created by First Year ‘Theatre, Performance and Event Design’ students, on a budget of only £450, drawing on inspiration from the work of leading war poets Wilfred Owen, Woodbine Willy and Charles Hamilton Sorley, who all wrote about the shocking and traumatic horrors of life in the trenches.

Students, Grace Westwood, Lauren Duff, Lucy Hancock, Katie Skeys and Bennie Fung spent a full day at Dudmaston re-creating life-size trenches, an officer’s dug-out, a machine gun post and injured soldiers out of brown paper, giving a touching snapshot into a ‘typical’ day on the notorious battlefield that was the Somme. The attention to detail is a fascinating journey through time for visitors to experience.

Bennie explained: “The original design was inspired by the fact that the history of The Great War itself is such a key part of English culture. Being from Hong Kong it is rare to see such patriotism exhibited in a population and it is truly touching as an artist, or even as a bystander.

"The biggest challenge when rebuilding the set came from the change in the size of the venue.” (From a large sports hall to our Old Kitchen) “The tone of the set is immediately shifted and it was quite challenging to adapt the original designs to the actual room."

Lucy added: “I never expected the response that we’ve received from the…project. I’m happy that it’s been moved here now so that more people can view and enjoy it."

RAF Shawbury

The artwork was initially created with the intention that it would only be displayed for two weeks and then be re-cycled but 660 Squadron Army Air Corps (AAC) of the Defence Helicopter Flying Training School based at RAF Shawbury were so intrigued by the display that they wished to ‘save’ it. The artwork was brought across to the base and installed in the Officer’s Mess in time for a regimental dinner.

However, it could not remain there and when we heard about the story we were curious to know what the plans were for the artwork and contacted the base to find out more. Our Old Kitchen was rather a blank space for 2014, awaiting re-display this coming winter and with Sir George’s patronage of up and coming artists and also the family stories related to the war in mind, we knew that we could perhaps offer it a perfect ‘last resting place’. The squadron were thrilled and, knowing the work of the National Trust as a conservation charity, were keen to for us to give the artwork a final home for more people to see, thus kindly gifting it to the property.

The artwork can now be found in the Old Kitchen at Dudmaston, where it will stay available for visitors to view, Sunday to Thursday each week until the Hall closes on 31 October. The students have asked that after this it be destroyed in memory of those who lost their lives on the Somme. We will try to think of a fitting way for such an evocative and touching piece of artwork to go.

While it is here with us we do hope that you enjoy it.