The Forgotten War

To commemorate VJ Day, Conservation Officer Ana Flynn shares the story of her grandpa Harry Gregory and the long, long road home from Burma.

For most, the Second World War ended on 8 May 1945 with VE Day. For my grandpa and his family there was still no end in sight. My grandpa had not been home for 5 years and did not return until 1946.

My grandpa, Harrold Harry (the story is, his mum got flustered at the Christening), at 6’2” was a gentle giant. He made miniature furniture to scale and teddy bears for the church fete. He was a mechanic and always smelt of engine grease. When he got home he would wash his hands with green Swarfega, which he mysteriously still needed to use even after his heart attack when he was only meant to do paperwork!

My mum was 5 when he went to war and her brother Michael was not yet born. He was 5 years old before he met his dad.  He sent home sugar and a doll in a sari from India and that is really all I know of his time in the war. Like most men of his era he never spoke about what had happened. To my shame, it is only recently that I ever thought to find out.

My grandpa Harry, My mum Patricia (5) and my gran Violet before Harry left for Burma

Harry’s part in the War
Harry started as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment) but transferred to the Royal Engineers in 1940 where he could put his mechanical skills to use. He became an A.S.M (Artificer Sergeant Major) this is the equivalent of a warrant officer 1st class, the highest of non-commissioned ranks. He was offered a commission but refused it, he didn’t see the point, he just wanted to get the job done and go home!

Harry before he went away?

At the beginning of the Second World War as more complex weapons and vehicles were developed, it became increasing difficult for the Army to provide men proficient in their maintenance and repair. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was developed to meet these challenges. The unit was comprised of dedicated technicians, mechanics and electricians; and drew its personnel from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Signals.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery remarked that REME would ‘keep the punch in the Army’s fist’. The unit went on to provide a vital service, keeping the Army moving and fighting in all theatres.

The REME units were attached to different divisions. Harry’s was attached to the 6th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division. In 1942 he was in the 21st Field Park Company – these were the units that were the supply point for all materials and engineer stores, used by the Field Squadrons/Field Companies and only occasionally did they become involved with combat.

Where did he serve?
The 2nd Division were based in Yorkshire, and following returning from France were sent to India in 1942 under command of Major-General John Grove. I have no idea if Harry was in France if so, he never mentioned it but both the 2nd Division and The London Fusiliers were evacuated from Dunkirk.

My grandpa arrived in India after Burma (now named Myanmar) had been lost to the Japanese and was stationed in Northern India. The Asian Pacific war had been going on with China since 1937. The British and Allies became involved when Japan had invaded Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour in 1941. It was by far the largest war front involving troops from every continent of the globe.

Harry’s unit on arrival in India 1942 after the loss of Burma

In late October 1942 the 6th Infantry Brigade was temporarily detached from the division and reorganised as an independent brigade group, complete with its own supporting units. They served in the failed Arakan Campaign, re-joining the rest of the division in India in June 1943. It is possible that the REME unit was part of the support team keeping the tanks running.

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC), a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre, under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The training, equipment, health and morale of Allied troops under British 14th Army’s Lieutenant General William Slim was improving, as was the capacity of the lines of communication in North-eastern India.

An innovation was the extensive use of aircraft to transport and supply troops, as supplies had been an issue from the beginning of the war. Partly because the war in Europe had priority for equipment and supplies but also due to the lack of infrastructure within Burma, with few pathways that would generously be called roads. The rivers were inaccessible in most places due to steep inclines or rapids making them of little use as a supply line. The troops with few supplies and in tropical conditions, were more likely to die of Malaria or other tropical diseases than they were by the enemy. As the war in Europe slowly drew to its conclusion, the authorities finally turned their attention to the needs of the troops in Asia.

“I understand that you believe you’re the forgotten army. That’s not true … The truth is nobody ever bloody well remembered you!”
(Lord Mountbatten far east commander , addressing men in Burma in 1943)

Harry in his uniform in India/Burma?

In 1944, the Japanese launched an invasion of India. The 2nd Division was sent to join the 14th Army’s XXXIII Corps at Dimapur to fight its way down the road to relieve the besieged position at Kohima. Kohima was relieved on 18 April but heavy fighting continued in the disputed position. Until, under increasing pressure from a buildup in Allied forces (the 2nd Division had been joined by the 7th Indian Infantry Division in early May) the Japanese, having run out of food and supplies, were forced to withdraw and the Battle of Kohima was to all intents concluded at the end of May.

XXXIII Corps then tasked the 2nd Division to advance south down the road towards Imphal with the 7th Indian Division, following up the retreating Japanese forces over the rough terrain to the east of the road. On 22 June the 2nd Division made contact with the 5th Indian Infantry Division advancing northwards from Imphal and the siege of Imphal was relieved. Both battles were some of the fiercest fighting of the war with Kohima labelled a miniature Stalingrad, due to the ferocity of the fighting on both sides. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd Division in the large cemetery for the Allied war dead at Kohima reads –

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,

For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

The only thing I remember my grandpa saying about his time in India is that he marched from India and across Burma.

The family back home his only connection to his newborn son.

The eventual end of the War
1944 commenced with the British forces once again undertaking a limited offensive in the Arakan. This time, the Japanese counter attacked as part of a major offensive to invade India. The British forces did not retreat this time, but formed ‘boxes’ and fought tenaciously. This included the ‘Battle of the Admin Box’, where the 7th Indian Division successfully resisted the Japanese offensive, with XV Indian Corps defeating the advance. This was, however, only the pre-cursor of the main offensive directed at Imphal and Dimapur. Major battles were fought at Sangshak, Kohima and at Imphal; all intense, fierce and savage encounters. The Japanese were comprehensively defeated and retreated in chaos.

The 14th Army followed up the Japanese retreat, with then General Slim launching his masterstroke with the crossing of the Irrawaddy River to threaten Mandalay, but then striking at Meiktila. The victory of the 14th Army at Meiktila, with the subsequent capture of Mandalay was in many ways the most decisive of any British military victory on the ground in the Second World War. The Japanese Burma Army was destroyed as a fighting force, allowing a two-pronged thrust to capture Rangoon. Meanwhile, XV Indian Corps had fought an amphibious war down through the Arakan. This included the capture of the island of Akyab, the landings at Myebon, Ramree Island and Ruywa, and the battles of Kangaw and the An Pass, as fierce and savage as any in the campaign. The Japanese 28th Army was forced to retreat through the Arakan Yomas and breakthrough 14th Army to escape, which not many did successfully.

The Homecoming
The Burma campaign ended in September 1945 but this was still not the end for Harry. The 6th Brigade (again reorganised) sailed to Singapore in December 1945. The division  disbanded in India in October 1946 and my grandpa could finally go home.

My gran used to tell us the story of when he came home. Michael was born after Grandpa left, and only knew him from a photograph in his scout uniform that was hanging on the wall. Harry arrived after the children were in bed and when Michael came in in the morning he saw Grandpa’s Burma hat on the bed head, which looked like his scout hat in the photos and ran over shouting “Daddy.”

My grandpa went on to have a happy life unlike so many of his comrades. He died at home holding the hand of his beloved Violet in 1994 after meeting his first great grandson. Many never got that chance and some of the horrors experienced by the prisoners of war that survived scared them for life.

With the 75th anniversary of VJ day the Burma Star Association finally closes its membership. My grandpa was a member and it was probably the only time he was able to be with people that understood what he had seen. Some things are best forgotten, but the valour and comradeship of the many troops from the many nations that fought together for our freedom is not one of them.


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to help us continue  providing our services to the public, and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate.  Thank you.

Recalling the opening of Segedunum Roman Fort to the public 20 years ago

Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time in June 2000. In June 2020, we were set to celebrate the Fort’s 20th anniversary in the venue, but as the coronavirus pandemic had already forced the closure of all our museums and galleries, we could only mark the occasion online, the real live celebrations postponed to a later date. On Monday 27 July 2020, Segedunum once again welcomed back its visitors.

During lockdown, we have collected memories from our staff and Friends of the opening day in June 2000 which we would like to share with you here. If you were there at the opening, we’d love to hear your memories of the day. Please get in touch by emailing info@segedunumromanfort.org.uk

 

“From the reception desk, I recall seeing the re-enactors of the Ermine Street Guard impressively marching down from the Metro station and, equally impressively, a huge throng of expectant visitors flooding towards the front doors. It was a great day, exhausting but hugely rewarding, as we helped people enjoy the experience of the tower, galleries, reconstructed bath house and Roman remains. Everyone was particularly struck by the timeline video reconstruction showing the changes on the site through the Roman, coal mining and shipyard phases. The Roman Gallery was a real ‘wow factor’ too, with its fort Headquarters building design, the reconstructed cavalry barrack interior (complete with stuffed horse) and state of the art touchscreens. Segedunum had returned in triumph! That day set the tone for our summer. Visitors flocked from the community, the region and from around the world to the new attraction telling the story of the fort at the Wall’s beginning – Wallsend.”
Geoff Woodward, Museum Manager

“I helped put the objects in the cases, so the days before the opening had been very busy and on the day itself I was just glad everything was in place. At the opening ceremony, I remember standing at the back of that large marquee – it was very hot in there with all those people and I was dressed in an infrequently-worn formal suit for the occasion, so I was glad that I ended up near a cooling fan. We had an interactive in the Roman gallery that required pulling on a rope; by the end of the first day it had already worn through and was in need of replacement. It had been tested beforehand, of course, but not with the level of enthusiasm of our visitors!”
Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology

“I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The weather was pretty good and it was very well attended. I hadn’t seen Segedunum when it was finally finished, but before the other guests arrived, had my own personal tour with Graeme Stobbs, the Assistant Keeper of Archaeology, a very good guide. There were the usual speeches and a media presence and everyone was delighted by the new Museum. I think that the Tower was the main attraction, a unique feature for the area. It gives an absolutely splendid view of the river and the local area. It helps to interpret the layout of the Fort and you can see how the river makes a perfect ending to the Wall. It was a unique experience for me as I had never been to a totally new museum before it was opened and I feel very proud to have helped with the set-up and creation of this wonderful Museum.”
Liz Elliott, Office Administrator at Arbeia Roman Fort at the time

“I was involved in the 2000 development of Segedunum as the North Tyneside Council officer rep. My main memories are of the ambitious plans we had to organise a fantastic opening ceremony. The original plan was to invite the Mayor of Rome to open the museum and to have him sail up the river in a Roman Galley as he was a very well known character at the time – Franceso Rutelli. However, unsurprisingly, that came to nothing and instead we were able to get the local Italian Honorary Consul. Commemorative scrolls were given to invited guests and I can remember that colleagues in our office were enlisted to put them in envelopes the day before. I also remember my only meeting with Royalty occurred after it opened when Prince Philip visited the site in 2001. At the 10th Anniversary celebrations, a commemorative badge was presented to guests. I still have mine.”
Mike Halsey, Friend of Segedunum

“In the car park, a massive tent had been erected, in which the formal speeches took place before the Museum was declared open. Following on from the speeches, all the visitors were invited onto the fort itself where a traditional Roman ceremony was carried out by members of a re-enactment group, flanked by the Ermine Street Guard soldiers. An offering was made to the gods using a replica Roman altar to bring good luck to the Museum. Many successful events and activities have happened over the years at the Museum and tens of thousands of visitors have passed through the gates in that time. I am sure you will agree that nobody could have predicted what the situation would be as the 20th anniversary arrived to find the much acclaimed Museum closed to visitors in the same situation as it was on 16 June 2000. The main difference being that, in 2000, everyone knew when it was opening; now we are in the lap of the gods and perhaps it is time to hold another offering to the gods like the one that was performed on 17 June 2000 at the opening ceremony.”
Ken Hutchinson, Chair of the Friends of Segedunum

If you’d like to know more about the Friends, please email secretary.segedunumfriends@gmail.com

Read Bill Griffiths’ recollection of opening day

 

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to help us continue  providing our services to the public, and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate.  Thank you.

 

William Chapman Hewitson – Naturalist, Author, Illustrator, Benefactor and Oologist

Over the last few months I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the fascinating authors whose works I encounter while performing my role as the librarian at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library. One of the names that crops up on a regular basis is that of William Chapman Hewitson. As well as being a writer on the natural world, his name appears as the benefactor who donated many of the rare books that belong to the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s wonderful library.  For this blog I thought I’d undertake some research into Hewitson. This is what I discovered.

William Chapman Hewitson was born in Newcastle on 9 January 1806. From his early years he developed an interest in the study of the natural world that would become a lifelong passion.  Among his friends were the marine biologist Albany Hancock and his brother John, taxidermist and naturalist. He also knew the zoologist Joshua Alder and the geologist William Hutton.

Portrait of W.C. Hewitson

Hewitson was a founder member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle Upon Tyne which first met on 19 August 1829 and he played an active role in this organisation, becoming an Honorary Curator of Entomology. As a young man he had formed extensive collections of British coleoptera (beetles) and lepidoptera (butterflies).

Another of his interests at this time was the study of birds and their eggs. The culmination of this work was the publication of “British Oology: Being Illustrations of the Eggs of British Birds, with Figures of Each  Species….” published between 1831 – 1838.  For  this  two volume  work Hewitson personally produced the exquisite colour illustrations of the eggs that are included.  It is also thought that the word “Oology”, meaning the study or collection of birds’ eggs, was first used in this publication.

Guillemot eggs illustration from “Oology”

Hewitson was also a keen and adventurous traveller at a time when such exploits could be fraught with risk and danger. In 1832 he undertook a journey to the Shetland Islands and in 1833 he and his friends John Hancock and Benjamin Johnson went on an expedition to Norway. Their object was to collect all kinds of natural history specimens, but more particularly to visit the breeding places of those birds which migrate to this country for the winter. They sailed from Newcastle in a Scotch brig and landed at Trondheim seven days later. Here they packed their baggage on a cart and set off on foot for the Arctic Circle. They suffered considerable hardship at times and often had to subsist on the birds they shot, but they reached their goal in safety. After spending three months in Norway they returned home bringing many treasures with them. Included in their collections were the eggs of the Capercaillie, Fieldfare, Turnstone,  and Golden-eyed Duck which at that time were unknown in Britain.

In the summer of 1845 with his old friend John Hancock for his companion, he went on a naturalist’s expedition to Switzerland and the Alps, where he obtained, by a combination of capture and purchase, a fine series of diurnal lepidoptera, and the materials for a paper upon them which he contributed to the journal “Zoologist”.

During this same year Hewitson had inherited a considerable sum of money. This legacy enabled him not only to travel but also to relinquish his profession as a railway surveyor and dedicate himself to his natural history studies on a full-time basis. In 1848 he moved from Hampshire to Oatlands Park in Surrey where he commissioned the famous Newcastle architect, John Dobson, to build him an impressive mansion. He married Hanna Higgs on 3 June 1852, but sadly, she died in early 1854. There were no children from the marriage.

The passion for entomology that was a central component of Hewitson’s life resulted in him writing and illustrating a number of important works on this subject.  These included his noted five-volume publication “Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies….” that appeared between 1856 – 1876. This included 300 coloured plates drawn by Hewitson that vividly demonstrate his considerable artistic talent.

Illustration from “New Species of Exotic Butterflies”

Other works that Hewitson authored on the subject of lepidoptera include “Illustrations of Diurnal Lepidoptera”, “Equatorial Lepidoptera” and “Genera of Diurnal Lepidoptera”

William Chapman Hewitson died on 28 May 1878 at Oatlands, leaving no heir to his fortune.  He made a bequest of £3000 to the Natural History Society of Northumbria and also bequeathed 166 books to the Society’s library. This is one of the most significant donations from an individual to the collection.  Among the titles are some of the most treasured and important works in the NHSN library, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species….” and a copy of Edward Lear’s lavishly illustrated “Parrots”.

Illustration from Edward Lear’s “Parrots”

In total Hewitson bequested £51,200 to a range of bodies including the Newcastle Infirmary, this equates to over six million pounds in today’s prices.  His estate at Oatlands was bequeathed to his closest friend, John Hancock, while the British Museum was left his butterfly collection, some pictures, and watercolours, in addition to his stuffed birds. He was buried at Walton-on-Thames.

I hope that you have found this blog as interesting to read as I found it to write. William Chapman Hewitson was a fascinating character who made a significant contribution to the study of the natural word and also proved to be an invaluable supporter of the Natural History Society of Northumbria and its library. All of the books that are mentioned in the blog are available to view at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library, which is free to use and open to everyone.  At the moment the Library is temporarily closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further information about the library can be found at https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/collections/library-and-archives

I would like to thank the Archive of the Natural History Society of Northumbria for the use of their portrait of Hewitson, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library for the other images used in this blog.


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

Meet Neville – Customer Service Assistant at Discovery Museum

Long-standing front of house staff member of Discovery Museum, Neville, shares what life is like inspiring the public with tales of local history, and his favourite object in the museum.

What I do

“I have been interested in history and how things work since childhood. I am a customer service assistant at the Discovery Museum, part of the front of house team.

We’re the first point of contact with our visitors face to face; it’s my job to meet and greet people, tell them what’s on offer at the museum, direct them to facilities like the café, shops, toilet and suggest donations. In general, just let people know what to expect from the museum and what exhibitions are on display, but that’s just the start!  I’m also one of Discovery Museum’s first aiders.

Neville at Madame Tussards at the Visit England Awards for excellence 2006 – Silver Winner

Why I like my job

“I really enjoy meeting new people and making them feel welcome; it is rewarding work, and no two days are ever the same. I’ve got 20 years of experience and knowledge now, and endeavour to make their visit as enjoyable as possible, so that they leave with not only a good impression of the museum, but of Newcastle and the people of the North East. At least that’s the hope! Good customer service skills are essential.

Neville taking a museum tour

“As Discovery Museum is part of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) group I often share information about other TWAM venues in the area and offer ‘tourist information’. I’m often found conducting specialised guided tours for historical societies or community groups visiting the museum and I really enjoy sharing the heritage of our area.

My favourite object

“Many colleagues think that my favourite object is the Turbinia ship (Charles Parson’s speedy steam-turbined trailblazer) but it’s not.

Turbinia, Discovery Museum’s largest exhibit. The world’s first steam turbine driven vessel and for a time the fastest ship in the world.

“I think the most underrated item in the collection and one often overlooked is the Jury Rig Propeller made by the crew of the steam ship Kennet in 1899. If there is one item that shows what people can achieve when faced with a near catastrophe, this is it.

[TWCMS : 1995.341] Jury propeller from the steam ship Kennet, made from iron, wood and concrete, successfully fitted and used when she lost her propeller in mid-Atlantic in 1899.

Sketch of the Jury propeller

“The story goes that travelling between Italy and South America the Kennett lost its own propeller in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After spending three weeks making a new propeller out of wood and metal from the ship, the crew spent a further week installing it. With the additional help of some hastily made sails they travelled a further 1,200 miles to reach safety at a very speedy 4 miles an hour!

“As well as the ship being made in the north east (Hartlepool) some of the crew also have a north east connection.

Crew of the Kennet with the propeller.  Members of Kennet crew hold propeller: L – R – Chief engineers 2nd & 3rd engineers, first mate second mate & Captain

“I find my job very rewarding. I have a passion for the venue and what its collections offer the visitor – I don’t think it’s something that you can fake!”

*At the time of writing, Discovery Museum is closed because of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Neville has been temporarily transferred to work as a Newcastle City Host on Northumberland Street, Newcastle. He continues to use his customer service skills helping people navigate the new distancing guidelines in the city as the lockdown eases.  Neville will return to his usual duties when the museum re-opens in September 2020.


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

From Hornel to Peploe: Early Modern Scottish Art in the Laing Art Gallery

Art historian and curator Alice Strang takes a look at early modern Scottish art in our collection.

Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933), The Little Mushroom Gatherers, 1902, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: C649

Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933) was one of the celebrated ‘Glasgow Boys’ who were at the forefront of the Scottish art world of the late nineteenth-century. He was born in Bacchus Marsh, Australia but grew up in Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. He trained at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh and at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. On his return to Scotland in 1885, Hornel became friends with George Henry (1858-1943) with whom he travelled in Japan from 1893 to 1894; the trip was to have a profound impact on both artists’ work. In 1901 Hornel declined election to the Royal Scottish Academy and purchased Broughton House in Kirkcudbright, which became his home, studio and gallery for the rest of his life.

The Little Mushroom Gatherers of 1902 is a fine example of the paintings which Hornel made after the flush of radicalism demonstrated at the start of his career. His sister Elizabeth, with whom Hornel lived, arranged for local children to sit for him. He would devise various activities for them to recreate, in this instance gathering mushrooms, but in others picking flowers, chasing butterflies and playing with balloons, for example. Hornel would set these scenes in local woods and beaches, with an emphasis on childhood innocence, idyllic weather and beautiful natural surroundings. In The Little Mushroom Gatherers three girls are carefully rendered absorbed in their task. The colours of their clothing blend with those of their environment, seen in detail in the tree at the lower left and more freely represented in the background hills. Areas of representation and abstraction play with notions of pattern, surface, depth and volume, recalling lessons learnt from Japanese art and combining innovation with tradition. The painting was purchased for the collection in 1915.

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938), Comrades, 1905, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: G1311

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938) was born in London to Scottish parents. She studied at Edinburgh School of Art and received tuition from her brother, the better-known John Robertson Reid (1851-1926). Reid exhibited for the first time at the age of sixteen, when her work included in the Royal Scottish Academy Annual Exhibition of 1877. On returning to London in 1881, Reid regularly participated in group exhibitions there and in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris. She travelled in France, Belgium and Norway and developed an assured Naturalism with parallels to the work of artists including Jules Bastien-Lepage (1884-84) and George Clausen (1852-1944). Her first work to be acquired for a public collection was purchased by Dudley Art Gallery in 1894.

An interest in capturing moments of daily life developed into depicting narrative scenes, as in Comrades of 1905. Reid painted it whilst living in Polperro, during ten years spent in Cornwall. Its impressive scale – the canvas measures 62.3 by 92.5cm – belies the intimacy of its subject matter, the bond between an elderly man and a young girl. They are seen holding hands on a bench beside an outdoor market and their clogs suggest a scene observed in Belgium. The child nestles a doll in her lap and looks at her companion. Rather than returning her gaze, he looks into the distance, apparently lost in thought. Behind them a sun-dappled market is laid out beneath a canopy of trees, providing glimpses of stall holders and customers.

Comrades was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1905 and in the International Exhibition in Rome of 1911. Comrades was presented to the collection in 1934 by local businessman George E. Henderson (1844-1937), who bequeathed the remainder of his collection to the Laing following his death five years later. Although traditional in subject matter and technique, Comrades is by a successful Scottish artist of international standing, who was a pioneering woman in her profession.

Francis Henry Newbery (1855-1946), The Lady of the Carnation, c.1919, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: C606

Francis Henry Newbery (1855-1946) did much to advance the cause of women artists in Scotland, especially whilst Director of Glasgow School of Art between 1885 and 1917. Born in London, Newbery trained at Bridport School of Art in Dorset and the National Art Training School in the English capital. Following his appointment to the Glasgow post, he turned the institution into the most advanced of its kind in Britain, not least for the employment and enrolment of female staff and students. Newbery married the artist and designer Jessie Wylie Rowat (1864-1948) in 1889, a Glasgow School of Art pupil and teacher.

Rowat is believed to have designed the dress worn by the sitter in The Lady of the Carnation in about 1912. It was painted the year after Newbery’s retirement in 1918 and following the couple’s move to Corfe Castle in Devon. The unusually elongated format of the canvas emphasises the silhouette of the model, allowing her high-waisted, full-length outfit to be seen to its best effect. She leans against a mantelpiece which reaches up chin-height, on which she holds the pink carnation of the title. Silver candelabra flank her, whilst a marble or plaster relief provides contrast to her brown hair. The focal point of the painting is the model’s face and bare skin, made visible by the lace-lined v-neck of her dress. The material is thought to be lightweight silk-cut velvet, of black on a jade-green ground. Apart from highlights in the sitter’s lips and the flower’s petals, the palette is low-toned and the lighting subtle, in an image which celebrates universal female beauty as well as the achievements of the artist’s wife. The Lady of the Carnation was purchased for the collection from Newbery shortly after its completion.

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Yellow Tulips and Statuette, early 1920s, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: B8110

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the four artists known as the Scottish Colourists, along with F. C. B. Cadell (1883-1937), G. L. Hunter (1877-1931) and J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961). He was born in Edinburgh and studied periodically at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School in the Scottish capital. He lived in Paris between 1910 and 1912, where he was able to see the latest developments in French painting at first hand and was elected a member of the avant-garde exhibiting society, the Salon d’Automne. On returning to Edinburgh in 1912, his new work was received with scorn but after World War One he established a successful career, based on regular solo exhibitions in Scotland and England. Peploe was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927, the year in which the Tate acquired one of his paintings; international exhibitions included those in Venice, Paris and New York between 1909 and1931. A brief period teaching at Edinburgh College of Art ended due to the ill-health which resulted in his death in 1935.

Peploe is most celebrated for his still-life paintings, a genre in which he said he could ‘never see mystery coming to an end.’ His post-war reputation was founded on an extraordinary series featuring tulips, then roses, which he painted in his studio at 54 Shandwich Place in Edinburgh’s West End. Yellow Tulips and Statuette of the early 1920s is a fine example of the way in which Peploe carefully orchestrated a cast of objects including flowers, fruit, ceramics and objects d’art. Characteristic close cropping means that yellow tulips spill into the left-hand side, whilst a barely glimpsed orange is just visible on the far right. The statuette of the title is fully realised, but has to share attention amidst the evenly painted, often outlined in black forms by which it is surrounded. Two and three dimensions flow throughout the composition which contrasts blocks of high colour with swathes of black and dark blue, in a spatially ambiguous setting. Tulips and Statuette is an assured, accomplished painting, which illustrates the progress of modern Scottish art during the interwar period. It was purchased for the collection in 1948.

Author info:

Alice Strang is an award-winning art historian and curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Website https://alicestrang.co.uk/


As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.