Sil­ver Cross of St Ge­orge David Row­lands, war artist

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THERE are many ways of record­ing wars and of­ten they are tran­si­tory – news­pa­per re­ports, for ex­am­ple, or TV bul­letins. War artist David Row­lands has been lay­ing down our mil­i­tary his­tory in a more per­ma­nent way – as oil on can­vas.

His evoca­tive paint­ings show both the ter­ror and courage of the bat­tle­field, bring­ing it to life in stark re­al­ity. The in­jured lie dy­ing, the fight­ing sol­diers have fear, de­ter­mi­na­tion and ex­haus­tion etched on their faces – ev­ery crease in their uni­form and ev­ery blade of grass picked out in al­most pho­to­graphic de­tail.

As well as paint­ing for­mer bat­tles – which he re­searches metic­u­lously, in­ter­view­ing vet­er­ans, study­ing uni­forms, equip­ment and tac­tics, and when­ever pos­si­ble, vis­it­ing the bat­tle­field – he has also been embed­ded with many reg­i­ments in their more re­cent con­flicts.

David’s in­ter­est in the mil­i­tary started as a boy, when he would sketch sol­diers and their equip­ment, draw­ing bat­tle scenes at school and vis­it­ing reg­i­men­tal mu­se­ums. Af­ter univer­sity in Manch­ester study­ing ge­og­ra­phy, he started work at the Read­ing Room at the Na­tional Army Mu­seum in Lon­don, mov­ing to Bris­tol to work as an artist in 1977.

Pub signs and por­traits of dogs fol­lowed un­til a friend’s fa­ther, a for­mer sol­dier, of­fered to take a spec­u­la­tive paint­ing to the Royal Reg­i­ment of Fusiliers, who then com­mis­sioned David to paint the Bat­tle of Mons, where the reg­i­ment won the first two VCS of World War I.

This was in 1983 and led to many other his­tor­i­cal paint­ings in­clud­ing the Bat­tle of Water­loo, which was com­mis­sioned by the Duke of Welling­ton’s Reg­i­ment and now hangs in the of­fi­cers’ mess.

“Slowly I be­gan to make a name for my­self,” David says.

His ta­lent and at­ten­tion to de­tail led to com­mis­sions in war zones all over the

world, join­ing the sol­diers on the front line. He started in North­ern Ire­land in the 1980s, and his ca­reer is now a his­tory of the Bri­tish Army in its con­flicts around the globe: 1991 in the first Gulf War along­side many dif­fer­ent units, in­clud­ing the Army Air Corps and 22 SAS Reg­i­ment; and 1993-95 in Bos­nia with United Na­tions troops dur­ing the civil war – an ex­pe­ri­ence which David says left him quite shaken up.

While he was there in 1995, both the Royal Nether­lands Ma­rine Corps and the French For­eign Le­gion com­mis­sioned him on the spot to paint their ac­tiv­i­ties.

His work has taken him to Afghanistan, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and North­ern Kenya, trav­el­ling by Army Land Rover, Chi­nook he­li­copters and on foot. His com­mis­sions have been many and pres­ti­gious. He’s also seen sights along the way which have nat­u­rally had an im­pact.

“I have been in mor­tal dan­ger quite a few times, es­pe­cially in Afghanistan, but you try not to think about it. Be­cause I’m much more used to it, I don’t re­ally get scared any more. I’m also lucky not to get PTSD; some do.”

David would say his most no­table paint­ings were his first (shown right, cen­tre), as it got him on the lad­der, and a more re­cent work stands out: a 9ft by 6ft paint­ing for the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to high­light the con­tri­bu­tion by Scot­tish men and women to ser­vice in the Bri­tish Army. It de­picts scenes cov­er­ing the last hun­dred years from the start of World War I and was un­veiled in Oc­to­ber 2015.

One of David’s works, “Zero Al­pha – Airstrip Se­cure”, was pre­sented to HM The Queen at Buck­ing­ham Palace for her Golden Ju­bilee and the 60th An­niver­sary of the Royal Air Force Reg­i­ment, while an­other, of tanks of the Queen’s Royal Lancers in ac­tion in Iraq, was un­veiled by the Queen in 2005.

His di­ary of his 1993 trip to Bos­nia was drama­tised for BBC Ra­dio 4 in 2010, and a com­mis­sion from the Royal Mint has also seen his work on the £2 coin in 2015.

Just now, David is work­ing on the as­sault across the Sam­bre-oise canal, France, Novem­ber 4, 1918, the last ma­jor ac­tion on the Western Front dur­ing World War I, and it is due to be un­veiled at Cam­brai on 3rd Novem­ber 2018. As he has be­come more fa­mil­iar over the years with the uni­forms and equip­ment of the sol­diers, a paint­ing prob­a­bly takes him about two months to com­plete.

“But while I’m do­ing that, I’m usu­ally re­search­ing the next one down the line, and an­other,” he says.

More of David’s work can be seen on his web­site at www.davidrow­lands.co.uk.

Bat­tle of the Alma.

David Row­lands ex­pertly brings bat­tle­fields to life with his evoca­tive paint­ings.

Fight­ing the Tal­iban in Musa Qal’eh.

Lieu­tenant Mau­rice Dease VC and Pri­vate Sid­ney God­ley VC, 4th Bn The Royal Fusiliers at Nimy, near Mons, 23rd Au­gust 1914.

Op­er­a­tion Tor Shezada.

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