Artists and common soldiers Memories of the battle of cambrai - november 20th - december 7th 1917

John Nash and Ewart Alan Mackintosh, a painter and a poet, both fighting during the Battle of Cambrai (20 November – 7 December 1917). Both depicting the Great War from which so many did not return. With one difference: they were artists and left behind their memories for the world. Did their paths cross with the famous British Mark IV tank Deborah D51, and its eight crew members? Nobody knows, but they all faced the same horror of the war and their fates may have been entwined.

Deborah D51, destroyed by shells on 20 November 1917, on the first day of the battle of Cambrai. Eight crew members, four of whom died.
Deborah D51 was displayed for 17 years in a barn, shewill soon be the centrepiece of the Cambrai tank 1917 museum
Ewart Alan Mackintosh fell in action on 21 November 1917 in Cantaing sur Escaut, on the second day of the battle of Cambrai.
John Nash, 30 December 1917, involved in the 1st Artists Rifles counter attack in Marcoing, near Cambrai.

John Nash – war artist. It was in 1918, in a peaceful seed shed in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire that John Nash painted his most famous canvas ‘Over the Top’, his depiction of the 1st Artists' Rifles at Marcoing on 30 December 1917. Nash was involved in the action, one of only 12 survivors of an 80-strong counter-attack at Welsh Ridge. His poignant canvas depicts British soldiers in heavy winter coats scrambling up from their trenches, marching stoically towards their fate. Two are already dead. The clouds threatening the survivors in a dark atmosphere. This canvas is on display at the Imperial War Museum, London.

The Imperial War museum where the canvas "Over the Top" from John Nash is displayed. IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh – war poet. A Scot born in Brighton, Mackintosh signed up in 1915. He was sent to the Somme, where he penned his first great poem, ‘In No Man’s Land’. On 16 May 1916, he saved two men wounded on the battlefield at Arras. This action earned him a Military Cross, but the loss of two soldiers, amongst them David Sutherland inspired his most famous poem – ‘In Memoriam’ – that carries the dedication: “So you were David’s father, and he was your only son”.

The Military Cross

Wounded a few months later, he returned home to convalesce and fell in love with his nurse, Sylvia Marsh, to whom he became engaged. Nevertheless, he re-enlisted and set off back to France, from where he explained to Sylvia, in October 1917, that “the dead men’s hands were beckoning, and I knew that I must go. The dead men’s eyes were watching, lass, their lips were asking too. We faced it out and paid the price – are we betrayed by you?”

On the second day of the Battle of Cambrai, whilst serving with the 4th Seaforth Highlanders, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet, close to the Saint Hubert Chapel in Cantaing, where in November 2007, a monument in his memory was erected. He left to the world some 300 poems. And is buried in Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquières.

Chapel St Hubert in Cantaing sur Escaut

In Memoriam by Ewart Alan Mackintosh

So you were David’s father,

And he was your only son,

And the new-cut peats are rotting

And the work is left undone,

Because of an old man weeping,

Just an old man in pain,

For David, his son David,

That will not come again.

Deborah D51 – Mark IV tank

About 500 metres from the Orival wood cemetery in Flesquières, in the British Hill cemetery you will find the last resting places of:

- Gunner Frederick Tipping, age 36

- Lance Corporal George Charles Foot, age 20

- Gunner William Galway, age 25

- Gunner Joseph Cheverton

These four members of Deborah’s crew – and a member of another tank’s crew – fell on the 20 November 1917. They were on board one of the 476 British tanks involved in the Battle of Cambrai, the first-time tanks were used in war on such a massive scale. Disabled by German artillery, the tank was abandoned at the edge of the village of Flesquières, near Cambrai.

In 1998, the tank, buried at a depth of some two and a half metres, was discovered in a field near the village. This astonishing relic, an Historic Monument, is now set to become the centrepiece of a new museum display that tells the story of the Battle of Cambrai, of its crew members and of the men, artists and common soldiers, who fought during the battle of Cambrai and during WW1.

The village of Flesquières is home to the new Cambra tank 1917 museum facing the battlefields and beside the British Hill Cemetery

Did John Nash or Ewart Alan Mackintosh and Deborah’s crew meet? We will never know, but they all lived a common history shared by millions of Europeans.

The Cambrai tank museum will be inaugurated on November 26th 2017

The Cambrai tank museum now home to Deborah, D51

Author: Delphine Bartier - Nord tourism. E mail dbartier@cdt-nord.fr

Bibliography - "Deborah and the war of tanks 1917" by John Taylor. Pen and Sword.


Nord Tourisme

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