• Recovery from the First Peril (2) Travoys at Smol

These characters are not my creation but God's. They have an eternal destiny. They are not merely playing a part for the reader's amusement. They are souls whom Christ
died to save.
                                             Graham Greene, introducing his novel The Heart of the Matter, 1948

Crown copyright © Imperial War Museum

The full title of the painting is Travoys with Wounded Soldiers Arriving at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, in September 1916. It is now in the Imperial War Museum, London. In the interpretation which follows, Stanley Spencer is referred to simply as 'Stanley' and his quotations are printed in red. The © colour photographs are by kind permission of Keith Tizzard, and the two 1916 Salonika photos are from the fascinating scrapbook and album site at www.fulltable.com/SB/index.htm.

Stanley began painting the picture in January 1919 as his war artist commission, the first full work on his return home from active service. Throughout the war, older civilian artists had been sent on visits to battlefields to paint suitable scenes, but only in the last year of the war were proposals adopted for a National Collection in which artists who were already serving would be invited to add their experiences. A committee was formed to set the plan in motion and to identify suitable artists. Some were released early for the purpose, but Stanley, although delighted to have been selected, felt himself overlooked on the Salonika war front, and had to wait for release until armistice with Bulgaria and his repatriation through Italy and France under the Y-scheme for patients who had suffered severely from malaria. Not until almost Christmas 1918 was he back in Cookham on leave and discussing his project with the committee.

His suggestions for Travoys having been approved, Stanley used as a studio the empty stables of Moor Hall in Cookham, the then residence of a Mr Lambert of the tobacco manufacturers Lambert and Butler. The January weather was cold, and the stalls, still graced with the noble names of horses long since gone to the war, were unheated. Stanley called the building an ice-house but at least the space was practical, as the painting is 6 ft by 7 ft (183 x 218 cm), and his boyhood home Fernlea was becoming crowded with several of his brothers returning from the war with their new families.

Stanley had volunteered as a medical orderly in the spring of 1915 (described in the preceding webpage), the fifth of his brothers to join up. After ten months at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol, he put his name down for overseas service. Six weeks training for Field Ambulance work followed, and in the first week of September 1916 100066 Private Spencer S RAMC disembarked with his draft at the Greek port of Salonika from the troopship Llandovery Castle. He was 25 years old, and looking forward to new experiences after the uneventful routine of hospital work at home.

Stanley's new theatre of war was the Macedonian front, which extended more or less along the northern frontier of Greece. It had been hastily organised in 1915 in order to deter the enemy central powers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey - from violating the neutrality of Greece. An ad-hoc holding force of units from several allied armies was landed at the then international freeport of Salonika to spread out as a screen along the frontier - British in the east around Salonika itself, French in the centre, then Serbians, then Russians, then Italians in the west adjoining neutral Albania, the French being in overall command. The rôle of the Army of the Orient, as the French commander grandly called it, was essentially defensive. No-one in government, French or British, expected it to undertake a major offensive, especially after the disaster of Gallipoli. But from time to time commanders ordered local attacks, partly to keep up a so-called offensive spirit but also to improve defensive positions. One of these attacks awaited Stanley a few days after his arrival.

The British zone covered the country about thirty kilometres north of the port of Salonika, to the east of the River Vardar. It was divided by topography into a quieter eastern sector along the Struma river, and the more active western sector adjacent to the Vardar, whose valley acted as the boundary between the British and French armies, and was then, as now, the major highway into Greece. The British front line defending this highway stretched at right-angles to it for some fifteen kilometres along the northern-facing slopes of a ridge of high ground stretching east between the towns of Karasuli near the Vardar and Kalinova near Lake Doiran.

The Salonika front The 2002 photo shows the end of the ridge near the Vardar, which is out of view to the left of the photo. The British trenches lay on the far (northern) slope. The main road shown is the modern motorway into Greece along the valley, but Stanley and his detachment of reinforcements, having dismounted at the railhead at Karasuli, were taken slowly in ration oxcarts along the older track in the lower right. The journey was made at night to avoid the gaps which can be seen in the ridge, where they or the dust set up by their wheels could have come under enemy observation and attracted shellfire, the quiet atmosphere, some man on a horse conducting us to some place in the direction of Kalinova, the oxen swaying from side to side, their heads stretched forward under their yokes...

Next morning Stanley awoke to find himself under canvas in his new unit, the 68th Field Ambulance, near one of the vacated local villages called Chaushitsa ('Corsica' to the soldiers) about eight kilometres along the slope of the ridge. He later depicted the orderlies' bivouac lines in the left wall frieze at the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. Its personnel were making forays at night over the ridge and along gullies or ravines to bring back the sick or wounded from the Regimental Aid Posts (RAPs) of the forward infantry battalions entrenched on the far slopes. I used to go with parties of about 10 or 20 men with stretchers to a place up some ravine, Stanley later recalled. One was called Sedemli ravine which was a river-bed sometimes with river and sometimes dry to where one met the regimental stretcher-bearersPhoto: Nikos Paralis.

To his delight Stanley was surprised how 'homely' the locality quickly became for him. As sensitive to atmosphere as ever, he found himself to his relief among good-natured comrades. The landscape recalled for him the biblical pictures of his childhood while its topography reminded him of a favourite view in Cookham, Cockmarsh Hill, there overlooking the Thames, but here the shallow Lake Ardzan. The 1984 photo on the right shows the view from the ridge looking towards a last remnant of Lake Ardzan, drained in 1935. The VW camper van lower right gives some sense of scale.

A bivouac camp at the Front (click to enlarge) The sensation of being in 'homely' surroundings was always a stimulant for Stanley. Memories of events there even in the midst of shelling and bombing would later provide him with those feelings of 'spiritual peace' so essential - as we shall see - to his future creativity.

The slopes of the Karasuli-Kalinova ridge on which Stanley found himself were not only strategically important, covering as they did the main entry into Greece down the Vardar valley, but the ridge was in effect the last bastion before Salonika. If the enemy were to attack and capture it, the way would be open to the whole of Greece, and the Army of the Orient would collapse. This alarming situation was obviously in need of adjustment.

The British front line on the side of the ridge facing the Germans occupied an area of broken ground about a thousand metres wide, enclosing the derelict no-man's-land villages of Machukovo and Chidemli (Stanley's Sedemli). Beyond these villages lay a further complex of high ground more or less parallel to the Kalinova-Karasuli Ridge but occupied by the enemy.

The location of the British front line opposite Chidemli

The photograph shows Chidemli as it is today, and the view is similar to that further west around its neighbour Machukovo. The sloping foreground in the photo faced north and was lined by the British trenches taking advantage of Stanley's 'ravines'. The high ground beyond the village is part of the continuous high ground of the German and Bulgarian front line, then known as 'Machine Gun Ridge'. Peaceful now, the ridge has been re-afforested since those days. But then it was a maze of enemy trenches, machine gun posts and barbed wire, pitted with shell-holes from British guns.

By the summer of 1916 sufficient reinforcements had arrived for the commander of the British sector, General Milne, to plan an assault on a dominating point of the Ridge lying opposite Machukovo called by the French 'Piton des Mitrailleuses' ('Machine Gun Hill' to the British.) If the hill could be occupied and fortified, it would deprive the Germans of their excellent observation over the allied lines, and would drive a wedge in their formidable trench system along the crest of the high ground. Success would mean that the Karasuli-Kalinova Ridge need no longer be the British front line and could be safely turned into a reserve line of defence.

The moonlit night of 13/14th September was chosen for the operation. To support the attack Stanley's section of 68th Field Ambulance was moved west to the abandoned village of Smol on the far left of the sector a mile or so behind the front line. There an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) had been set up in the village church.

Photo: Nikos Paralis The village churches, or what remained of them from the earlier Balkan wars of 1912, like this one near Kalinova, were usually simple rectangular structures comprising a central nave and two side aisles, and with a semicircular apse at the eastern end as the sanctuary to frame the altar. During the long occupation of Greece by the Ottomans, many had been used as mosques. Entrances and windows were usually on the south wall. The empty 8oo year-old church at Smol was still intact except that some of its windows seem to have been knocked out, possibly to give more light and air for medical purposes. Its function as an ADS was to receive the wounded brought by Field Ambulances from the battalion Aid Posts (RAPs), and to provide emergency help before sending them on to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS.)

In battle, the infantry battalions used their own stretcher bearers to get their wounded back to their RAPs. From there, motor or horse-drawn ambulances under Army Service Corps drivers and accompanied by Field Ambulance orderlies would normally be used to get them to the ADS. But wheeled vehicles were useless in the broken terrain of Macedonia except along the few tracks, and most of these were unmade. The alternative of stretcher-bearing was usually too slow and tiring for the orderlies, even using the leather straps supplied with the stretcher which they could loop over their shoulders to help take the weight. As a result, ingenious alternatives were invented. Chairs slung each side of mules, called by the French 'cacolets' (Stanley's cacklets), could be used for lightly wounded, as in his panel Convoy of Wounded Men filling Waterbottles at a Stream in the Sandham Chapel (illustrated in the National Trust website.) But the more usual transport for the incapacitated was a device known as the 'travoy'.

Travoys were two long poles slung each side of a mule with the ends sometimes linked in tandem to another mule if there were enough of them, but more usually left free to drag along the ground. The stretcher-straps were used to fasten the stretcher with its occupant to the poles, and an RAMC orderly would cling on to him for dear life as the mule picked its way over the ground guided by an Army Service Corps driver who would normally expect to be in charge of a wheeled ambulance. The pole-ends where they met the ground were sheathed in metal, and the clatter of travoys in motion became a sound which stuck firmly in Stanley's mind. I still wonder what some clanging sound, as if bars of steel were coming together, was that I would hear in the night when out on one of these do's. Any sudden metallic noise would bring back the memory.

Yet in spite of this example of Stanley's sensitivity to noise, the thunder of the artillery barrage which preceded the attack seems to have left no imprint on him, although it was his first experience of battle. The bombardment went on all through the daylight of the 13th. Even neighbouring guns of the French sector to the west of the Vardar River were traversed in support.

By 7.30pm it was judged that the enemy wire was sufficiently cut and the assault battalions moved out from their trenches. The 12th Lancs Fusiliers and the 14th King's Own had the objective of capturing Machine Gun Hill and were protected on the left flank (the Vardar River flank) by 11th Royal Welch Fusiliers and on the right by 9th East Lancs. Opposing them were the German 59th Infantry Regiment, well entrenched and dug in, with 146th Infantry Regiment to its left and Bulgarian infantry battalions in reserve. A number of marked ravines were used by the battalions as they began the climb up the slope from Machukovo under a supporting artillery barrage which was kept up until 2.0am, when it was reported that Machine Gun Hill had been captured.

The first travoys would thus have reached Smol about 9.0pm, and have continued during the night under moonlight. This must have been the period of Stanley's painting. There was one night when I was at Smol near the little Greek church used this night as an operating theatre. I was standing a little away, and arriving were these rows of travoys containing wounded men. The mules Ravine looking towards Machine Gun Ridge and travoys were coming from the direction of the hill away to the right and lining up outside the disused church. In the top of the picture mules look in at an enlarged window inside of which an operation is in progress...The wounded have their faces covered in little squares of mosquito netting for the moment (malaria in the area caused as much havoc in the opposing armies as shot and shell.) Since Machine Gun Hill is not directly visible from Smol, Stanley's inclusion of the hill away to the right in the painting suggests that he must have seen it that night, and this could have only have happened had he been one of the orderlies accompanying the wounded (although he was later to return to the locality - one of his spiritual worlds - having volunteered as an infantryman in his county regiment the Royal Berks.) The photo shows Machine Gun Hill (distant left) as seen from a track to Chidemli. A typical ravine is in the foreground.

A dugout on the Salonika front, 1916.  Click to enlarge. Stanley appears to have made no mention of the depicted incident at the time. But its impact registered. It was a memory of this, he wrote after the war, that I had when I did the 'Travoys Arriving at a Dressing Station'. As these memories crowd I feel how much they belong to groups or special periods. For instance when I was in the 68th I was in Corsica.... and then (after the Smol action) the whole 68th shifts and we go further along to Kalinova (and set up camp) just outside this Greek-Macedonian or Turk-Macedonian village. Here I shared a bivouac with a youth the same size as myself. He was very nice and we found we had other things in common besides being the same height. We dug down a little and made extensive improvements.....

The significance of such incidents is reflected time and again in Stanley's later work. The walls of Kalinova feature in the The Resurrection of the Soldiers at Burghclere, the remnants of his dugout point up a cameo in The Cookham Resurrection. So what of the church at Smol and its travoys? What group or special period of his memory did they belong to?

Stanley's response takes one's breath away. In the midst of the war there was a species of peace made and sustained by those in it but not of it [that is, Stanley is seeing the wounded as temporarily withdrawn from the 'atmosphere' of war to one of more natural peace]...one would have thought the scene was a sordid one, a terrible scene, but I felt there was a grandeur about it...All those wounded men were calm and at peace with everything, so that pain seemed a small thing to them. There was a spiritual ascendancy over everything...Like Christ on the Cross, [the wounded] belonged to a different world than those tending them...I tried to express the fact that these men on stretchers and the orderlies attending them are inserting peace in the face of war by means of the way I display them in the composition...the four wounded [the four waiting : there are others being brought in] I think of as separate groups of nebulae. Each group has the same density but each has a different kind of density...so that in spite of what is going on and although they are conforming to the conditions they are in...nevertheless all seemed to be taking part in some communion of peace...For the feeling they give one, they might be four saints enthroned, the stretcher handles being so to speak ornaments.

'I felt there was a grandeur about the scene' ... 'pain seemed a small thing to them'...'in the war but not of it'...'like Christ on the Cross'...'inserting peace in the face of war'... 'taking part in a communion of peace' - Stanley's comments are, to put it mildly, unexpected. What meanings do they convey?

One immediate answer is that there are probably as many meanings as there are readers. The devout can interpret a phrase such as communion of peace as expressive of Christian worship, the military man will appreciate conforming to the conditions they are in as honouring soldiers obedient to their duty, the space enthusiast might acknowledge separate groups of nebulae as indicative of his astronomical interests, the psychologist could regard in the war but not of it as a symptom of stressed nerves, the social radical will welcome inserting peace in the face of war as support for his pacifist views, the medical man might register pain seemed a small thing to them as marking the use of morphine, and the art-historian will no doubt cast his mind back to early Italian altarpieces on reading they might be four saints enthroned.

If we search for common ground between these interpretations, we are, one suggests, compelled to the conclusion that in Stanley's view his wounded have moved into another state of existence. We recall that an essential element in the early creative feelings he called his Cookham-feelings was the sensation of homeliness, of being surrounded by the protected and the familiar, like a bird-in-the-nest. His wounded have in a metaphorical sense returned 'home', a notion he indicates by later recounting how he heard two of them, lying side by side, discussing the growing of cabbages. He was to reinforce the notion later in his great Resurrection of the Soldiers at Burghclere where he sets some of his figures behind their overlapping crosses so that they appear to be looking out from their cottage windows, or are hanging Victorian-type crossed-framed biblical texts on their walls. In his picture the wounded have returned to a 'peace', a normality, more 'real' to them than any heroics imposed on them by their current circumstance. Stanley's peace is a stillness of the spirit, not merely the absence of war. This notion is surely the one which he is expressing by the way I display them in the composition.

It may help if we accept that in its compositional form this picture, like all Stanley's visionary paintings, recreates a visual reality, and does so by recalling components of that reality with pinpoint accuracy of detail. But in the painting of it, and in his later written or recorded descriptions of it, he no longer 'sees' the picture in down-to-earth reality. His mind has moved or transformed or translated the events and imagery of the picture into his up-in-heaven world, his spiritual thought-world which as artist was more 'real' to him than the material world. So his painting is no longer a straightforward visual recollection, but in its creating has become a manifest of pure feeling, its exact moment of epiphanic inception captured in the precise, if unwieldy, title he gave it. Moreover, Stanley has reached for that feeling not by any form of non-realist imagining, nor by altering the pictorial actualities of his detail, but by modifying the juxtapositions and associations of the detail to create the composition. 

In this painting we are fortunate to have an opportunity of appreciating this technique by being able to compare Stanley's picture with the actual physicality of Smol church through the courtesy of classical scholar Diane Tizzard and her husband Keith. On their 2002 visit to Greece the Tizzards kindly took the trouble to identify, locate and photograph Smol as it is today, so that it is now possible to see how Stanley's depiction ought to have looked had he been concerned only with actuality, and how in fact he modified the actuality in his search for 'vision'.
Imperial War Museum, London
Stanley was handicapped in composing the picture by the loss in action of his kitbag in which he had stored all his Macedonian drawings, a grievous misfortune about which he not unnaturally complained endlessly. So he had to rely on that photographic memory of his. Here is a postwar sketch he made of the scene using his recollection. The attitude of the orderly in the foreground suggests an element of dramatic tension in the activity which Stanley rejected in his search for stillness in the final picture. The drawing shows that Stanley sited the scene on the south side of the church where the windows had been enlarged, and at the eastern end where the apse projected, marked with a large Red Cross.

Smol church today
Here on the left is Smol church today, dedicated to Saints Michael and Gabriel. The bell-tower, the gate-arch and the glazed gallery along the front are additions from Stanley's day. His enlarged window (actually two windows knocked
at the time into one) are located behind the tree on the right.

Smol church, apse endIn another view (right) we see in the lower left corner the area where Stanley's travoys came to rest on that moonlit summer night (the long shadows in Stanley's painting are from the south-east and suggest a period before midnight.) The canopy shading the windows was not there then.

If one were to have stood where the road is now one would have had a slightly elevated view of the scene. But it is clear from the main picture that Stanley has greatly increased the elevation. His perspective foreshortens the mules and travoys, and so provides the fanlike composition he wants, extended by the ears of the mules as they point inquisitively towards the lit window. 

Smol Church.  Right aisle. In this basic structure, other details fall into place. The two windows which were enlarged and through which surgeons can be seen operating still illuminate the right-hand aisle at the altar end of the church, as shown in the the interior photo. Somewhere in the aisle space shown, in front of the decorated screen at the end of the aisle and as near the window opening as possible, a heavy table, taken perhaps from a vacant house or even maybe the original altar-table itself moved from its normal position, had been set up as an operating table. Bright light has been mounted overhead, bright, that is, in comparison with the moonlight outside, possibly from a naphtha (gas cylinder) lamp but more probably from oil lamps in the church or army issue paraffin lamps in reflectors. Altar-table or not, the patient being operated on would have have given Stanley persuasive echoes of the meaning of bread-and-wine on the communion table, of Christ on the Cross, of a communion of peace, of a spiritual ascendancy over everything.

Outside, Army Service Corps mule drivers, equipped with rifles and some with riding whips, stand by the heads of their mules. The wounded, waiting their turn patiently, are tended by their RAMC orderlies who are unarmed according to the Geneva Convention. None of the medics is holding the bottles of plasma or the saline drips we might expect today, because such treatment was unknown then. Hospital blood transfusions were given occasionally but often uselessly because the grouping of blood understood now had not yet been discovered. Somehow patients often survived. Only in the last few decades has it been appreciated that the body can lose blood until a point is reached when there is just enough left to keep vital organs functioning, whereupon bleeding ceases. The body, if quiescent, is capable of surviving in this state for some time, from which it can with care be nursed into recovery provided multiple complications are not involved
War cemetery near Karasuli
Missing too in the painting is the church apse of Stanley's drawing. It has disappeared to give place to a mule-drawn ambulance waiting to take its quota of patients further down the line to a Casualty Clearing Station. Most would have ended up in hospital in Salonika. Only the desperately damaged would have been sent on by hospital ship to Alexandria (where Stanley's medic brother Gilbert served for a spell) or returned to Blighty. Those who died were buried nearby, the digging and recording of their graves being another of Stanley's duties as an orderly. Their remains were later moved to a military cemetery like the one shown here near Karasuli, or to the major British War Graves Commission cemetery near Doiran.

Framing Stanley's painting in the foreground the tall sort of holly scrub was very profuse in its growth. There were great tracts of country covered with it and, as I have heard, it was evidently an ancient Greek weed. Elsewhere he describes it as great thistles. The leaves are large and have great spikes. They have milky lines all over them like variegated holly leaves have. The flowers are mauve and look like great maces. Whichever way the flowers go the leaves form a kind of halo around them. The plant still grows in Greece, evidence in this picture of a village abandoned and neglected in the face of war [perhaps a botanist would be good enough identify it - is it perhaps Echium (Greek ekhion, recommended as a cure for snakebite, and hence Viper's Bugloss in English?)]
The active orderly of Stanley's drawing has become in his painting the image of a more reflective patient looking on. His right arm has been set in a sling, a detail which Stanley later repeated in the wounded arriving at the gates of the Beaufort at Burghclere . The image suggests a suppressed terror on Stanley's part of the danger of damage to his painter's right hand or arm. Invited to take part in a firework party in later life, Stanley was adamant that I won't even hold the most harmless firework in my hand. It seems likely that the orderly is in fact his clandestine signature to the painting, an image of himself as he stands outside his painting contemplating his transcendence of the actuality he sees.

We may justifiably ask ourselves if Stanley's careful composition does indeed convey that transcendence? Try for a moment putting a hand to block out the window scene. What remains of Stanley's composition is surely still as powerful as many of his contemporaries' Great War depictions of the pathos and wastage of war. But significant as those emotions were to Stanley, we should remind ourselves that he was aiming for an added dimension. Remove the hand, and that dimension becomes more graspable by reason of the contrast between the waiting wounded on their travoys and the surgeons at their work. Metaphysically, a scene of suffering is being metamorphosed into a form of redemption. The counterpoint, Stanley hopes, will move us into comprehension of the transcendence.

But does it? It did not, for example, seem to have registered with his intellectual Bristol friend Desmond Chute (mentioned in the preceding webpage) who had by 1918 joined Eric Gill's Dominican community in Sussex. Convalescent from the prevailing 'flu epidemic, Chute had arranged in the early weeks of 1919 to break his journey from Bristol to Ditchling to stop off at Cookham for his first reunion with Stanley since they parted in 1916. Stanley looked forward keenly to the meeting, but sadly it did not go well. First, at Fernlea, Chute enthused about a version of one of Gilbert's Crucifixion paintings which Stanley showed him, insisting on buying it on the spot. Then when the pair walked to Moor Hall stables to see Travoys, Chute seemed preoccupied. Convalescent, he evidently did not relish standing in Stanley's ice-house listening to an exposition of a war incident of which he had no experience. Stanley was hurt, I think I tried feebly to interest him in my then-being-done Travoys, but he seemed impatient and anxious to be gone, he had a train to catch or something, I felt a God fell, and a better was set up.

In December 1919 the painting joined others in the major Exhibition of The Nation's War Paintings at Burlington House (the Royal Academy.) On Preview Day, turning from Piccadilly into the courtyard, Stanley was co-opted by an imperious gentleman descending from a cab to carry his bag. At the entrance an attendant stopped Stanley and told him he could go no further. The gentleman, taking his bag, gave Stanley sixpence and went on in. Stanley had to ferret for his invitation card to prove that he was indeed one of the artists on display.

Once more Stanley was disappointed at his painting's reception. As happened with so many of his visionary paintings, it was greatly admired, but not for the reasons he intended. Even his Slade School tutor Henry Tonks, himself a trained surgeon who had helped set up war hospitals in France and had an item of his own in the exhibition, passed it without comment, from which I conclude he does not like it. Although the Committee was impressed enough to invite Stanley to undertake a further war painting, his heart was not in it, and after a couple of test panels he demurred. He would carry his meanings within him, and wait for a better opportunity to manifest them. That opportunity was to come at Burghclere.

So what of the attack on Machine Gun Hill? German reaction in the form of shelling and counterattacks was furious. During the morning of the next day, 14th September, the Lancashire Fusiliers and the King's Own held on grimly to their captured positions, beating off all efforts to dislodge them. Then, about noon, the Germans changed tactics. Bringing in Bulgarian battalions as reinforcements, they attacked the right flank where the East Lancashires were strung out down the hill in a series of protective pockets. One by one the pockets were overwhelmed. By mid-afternoon the battalions on the hilltop were exposed not only to the front, but also to the flank. There was no point in trying to hold on. The order to withdraw was given, and by 4.30pm all the British battalions were back in their original trenches. 70 German prisoners had been taken, and nine machine guns destroyed. ButMonument to the Allies near karasuli British losses - killed, wounded or captured - numbered 586. Similar attacks by other armies elsewhere along the line were to fare little better. The status quo resumed. The French President Clemenceau, asking how his Army of the Orient was faring, was told they were 'digging in'. 'Ah!' he replied sardonically, 'les jardiniers de Salonique', and the nickname stuck - the 'Gardeners of Salonika'.

Nevertheless, the efforts of the allied soldiers were not in vain. Greece was not invaded, and its government under Venizelos, if not its then King (who had favoured the Germans), remained grateful for the allied intervention. At a high point of the Karasuli-Kalinova Ridge where it overlooks the Vardar Valley, a national monument to their cooperation stands. The busts are of the allied war leaders. Lloyd George is on the right as the photo is viewed.

And Smol?
Smol village in the year 2002
As a result of postwar events, Turkish populations long settled in Greece were repatriated in an exchange with Greeks uprooted by the Turks from Asia Minor. Greek refugee families from the devastated Smyrna (Izmir) settled in Smol village in 1923. Diane Tizzard reported that the oldest inhabitant, then aged 93, remembered arriving as a boy. Only four dwellings were habitable. Names, of course, have since changed. Salonika is now Thessaloniki, the River Vardar is now the Axios, Karasuli is now Polikastro, Chidemli is now Metamorfosi, Machukovo is Evzoni, and Smol is part of Mikro Dasos ('Small Forest') although its older name (Smol or Smoli) is still recognized locally.  

Morning coffee at Smol Today the village is the thriving centre of a prosperous farming area. The local dentist is writing its history. The residents were amazed to learn that the church of which they are so proud features in a painting by a great English artist in a London museum.

Internet satellite images of the area (e.g. by entering the name Mikro Dasos into the search panel of www.panoramio.com) indicate the sheltered position of Smol church behind a ridge and explain why it had not been damaged, even though only some 1500 metres from Machine Gun Hill, which shows up as a rugged brown peak to the north. If Polikastron (Stanley's Karasuli) is entered into www.panoramio.com, an overall view of the region indicates in the distance the formidable landscape of the former battleground.

And the painting itself? Let us leave a reminiscing Stanley with the last word. When I did Travoys, I still determined that a painting was to be a refuge to me, and I found that through having that purpose in view not only did it not separate me from making a true war picture but brought me nearer the truth...It was possible even in war to establish to a greater or less degree a peaceful atmosphere, and of hope, and some sort of constructive life was sustained in this way. I was impressed with the calm way the wounded men spoke to each other about some cabbages they had been trying to grow, for instance. As far as was possible a homely atmosphere was being preserved in spite of what was happening. After the war, when I tried to remember the compositional drawing I had made at the time but which was lost when my kit was stored for the final move into Bulgaria, it seemed a kind of lesser crucifixion, I mean not a scene of horror but a scene of redemption from it, and I was as right in making it a happy picture (that is, uplifting to the spirit) as the early painters were right in making the crucifixion a happy painting, as they often did.



Readers might be interested to compare Stanley's approach to his subject in Travoys with CRW Nevinson's treatment of the same topic in his La Patrie of 1916 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery.)

Both artists had been fellow-students at the Slade. When they left in 1912, Nevinson continued his studies in Paris where he came under the influence of the Futurists and Vorticists. Unfit in 1914 for military service, he joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit and served as driver, stretcher bearer and hospital orderly. Invalided out in 1916, he became a war artist in 1917.

In their pictures, both use the same perspectival focus on a lighted area, anticipated but not immediately attainable by the figures involved. But whereas Nevinson specifies the piteousness of humanity in an atmosphere of angry irony, Stanley stresses the spiritual aspirations inherent in their universality. There is a quality difference in their two approaches.

It would be interesting to know if Stanley saw Nevinson's painting before beginning Travoys. They certainly met up again in 1920, but as Stanley began his painting almost immediately after his London meetings with the British War Memorials Committee in December 1918, it seems unlikely. In any case, he had sketched it while in Macedonia, and already had it in mind.

As a student at the Slade, Stanley had been half-mockingly and half-enviously nicknamed 'Our Genius', a fact Nevinson generously acknowledged in a letter in 1939 after they met up following an interval of some years, by which time Nevinson was an establishment figure in art circles : Stan, I would like you to know how glad I am that we have met again. My gratitude to you is boundless. It has been an experience to me to talk and share not only jokes but those problems which eat at my energy.You have a clarity which is superb. I feel like a giant refreshed when in your company...As you know, I consider you the only man with that indefinable touch of genius. I felt it for Picasso years ago....I have met most of the so-called great men during the last twenty years, so I hope you will accept this bouquet in the spirit in which it is offered.

Spencer = Picasso?  Not to Stanley. Picasso?, he replied to a questioner, I can draw better than Picasso.