Paul Moeyes

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Georges Scott (1873-1943) – A battlefield promotion (1914)

Illustraties_5Georges Scott (1873-1943)

A Battlefield Promotion (1914)

A French soldier receives a battlefield promotion to 2nd lieutenant. Just like his comrades he is battle-scarred, but he is the only one with a head wound, as if to indicate that he was the bravest among the brave in the past battle. According to the original caption these soldiers defended an advanced post near Roye (south of Peronne). Judging by the torn and tattered uniforms, it must have been a fierce battle. Even the wall behind them is pockmarked with bullet and shell holes. This really brings out the sharp contrast with the group of men on the right of the drawing. The Commanding Officer and his staff look neat, tidy, and spotlessly clean. Clearly they have only just arrived for a brief visit to the front line area. That makes this 1914-drawing so interesting: it pictures bravery in the field awarded, and does not appear to have an ulterior, more critical motive.

As the war dragged on, casualties rose and confidence in army leadership waned an unbridgeable gap between the two groups would emerge: front-line troops felt that the war was fought by the rank and file and that the staff officers who determined their fate led a safe, quiet, comfortable, not to say luxurious life far way behind the danger zones, and were utterly irresponsible and callous in the ease with which they sent soldiers to their death. It was to become one of the main themes in the (anti-) war poetry of the English war poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), and was resurrected years later in the popular BBC comedy-series Blackadder Goes Forth (1989).

Copyright 2016 Paul Moeyes

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