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War Artists from the First World War: The Canadian War Memorials Fund - Page Banner

Sir Max Aitken (who would become Lord Beaverbrook), a 39 year old Canadian had been serving as a British Member of Parliament since 1910. He returned to Canada in 1914 and offered his service to the Canadian government. Beaverbrook secured for himself the position of “Canadian Eye Witness” with the responsibility of reporting the activities of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Canadian War Records Office (CWRO) was established by Beaverbrook in London as a way of documenting Canadian activities during the war and bringing those activities to the attention of the Canadian and British public.

Primarily the CWRO’s purpose was to garner support for the war and to encourage volunteers to join the Canadian forces. This was considered an important task as conscription did not occur in Canada until 1917.

In November 1916, Beaverbrook also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF) to be administered by the CWRO. He recognized the importance of films and photographs for use in propaganda but felt that they couldn't capture the full truth about the war.

He wrote “only paintings could provide the most permanent and vital form in which the great deeds of the Canadian Nation in the war could be enshrined for posterity”. (pg 23, Tippett)

St. Jacques, Ypres
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

A powerful etching of Ypres in the days of transition (May 4, 1916), after the early bombardments and before the entire city was reduced to a succession of rubble heaps with only a solitary wall a few feet high standing here and there. Nothing now remains of St. Jacques.

Remains of St. Jacques, Ypres - May 4, 1916
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Remains of St. Jacques, Ypres, May 4, 1916
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-16
Archives of Ontario, I0003114

The CWMF became a system of patronage with Beaverbrook turning to artists and illustrators to document Canadian subjects. Artists that participated were deemed to be the “King’s Guests” and were given honorary commissions in the Canadian Corps and salaries from the Canadian Government. Expenses were covered by the CWRO.

This eventually led to the hiring of more than one hundred artists of many different nationalities and to the creation of hundreds of oil paintings, sketches, etchings, sculptures and watercolours depicting activities at the front as well as war related activities at home.

Third Canadian Stationary Hospital, France
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Third Canadian Stationary Hospital, France, 1918
After Gerald E. Moira
Reference Code: C 334-2-0-0-6
Archives of Ontario, I0013653

Beaverbrook’s initial expectation was that the contracted artists would all be British. He soon realized that there were Canadian artists with significant talent and they were soon contributing to the CWMF’s collection. Though Canadian artists were in the minority they acquitted themselves well with many memorable images being created by artists such as A. Y. Jackson, David Milne, Maurice Cullen, F. H. Varley and Arthur Lismer.

Beaverbrook wanted eyewitness records that were created spontaneously from sketches drawn on the spot; he therefore encouraged his artists to roam the front lines with freedom to go almost wherever they wanted. However, much to his frustration, only 4 artists were allowed at the front at any given time. This restriction remained in place until the beginning of 1918 when the number was raised to six.

The Road to Ypres Through Vlamertinghe
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The Road to Ypres through Vlamertinghe, [ca 1915]
Lieut. C.H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-20
Archives of Ontario, I0013633

This meant that many artists were held back and had to reconcile themselves to sketching behind the lines where they could be arrested as spies, bombed by German aircraft or experience the German artillerie's interest in a particular area they had chosen to sketch.

The Road to Ypres Through Vlamertinghe
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

This village lies on the main Ypres-Poperinghe road about midway between the desert of Ypres and the half inhabited town of Poperinghe. Night and day traffic of war rumbled through it. This is a fine strong composition etched on a zinc plate, and somewhat suggestive in quality of the rich wood cuts of past ages.

The creation of CWMF was not the beginning of war artistry as many artists from the fighting armies sketched for reconnaissance purposes or just to while away the time. They designed honour rolls and war posters and donated pictures to worthy causes.

However the CWMF did offer the opportunity for many artists to complete work in different mediums when to do so might have been considered an unsuitable way of spending time and resources.

The Barrier, Mont St. Eloy
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

Up to the date of the capture of Vimy Ridge, April 9th, 1917, the "Barrier" was the furthest point to which troops were allowed to go in daylight.

The Barrier, Mont St. Eloy, near Vimy Ridge - April 9, 1917
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The Barrier, Mont St. Eloy, near Vimy
Ridge, April 9, 1917
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-11
Archives of Ontario, I0003110

Vlamertinghe, from the south west, August 1917
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Vlamertinghe, from the south west, August, 1917
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-15
Archives of Ontario, I0003102

By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

This is a delightfully delicate etching giving a view of Vlamertinghe from the South-West. The sketch for this etching was made in August, 1917, and the artist has faithfully recorded the beauty of the scene.