Sou­venirs an in­sight into war hor­rors

The West Australian - - NEWS - Liam Croy

When Mark Tur­ton ap­proached the Mu­seum of Perth last year, he thought it might be in­ter­ested in a few of his grand­fa­ther’s sou­venirs from World War I.

Per­haps they would want to in­cor­po­rate his di­ary or one of his chalk­board de­signs into a fu­ture ex­hi­bi­tion. Per­haps not.

Cu­ra­tor Shannon Love­lady wanted the en­tire col­lec­tion — and now she wants the world to see it. An Artist at War tells the story of Reg Wal­ters, a WA sign­writer by trade who served in the Mid­dle East with the 10th Light Horse Reg­i­ment.

It gives fresh in­sight into the life of Dig­gers abroad, par­tic­u­larly what they did for fun.

Mr Wal­ters joined the war in Egypt shortly af­ter the evac­u­a­tion from Gal­lipoli.

He came home as a cor­po­ral nearly four years later and lived to the age of 81 in Trigg.

A ta­lented artist and writer, his ob­ser­va­tions add colour to the his­tory of his reg­i­ment in and out of bat­tle. He drew chalk­board signs to amuse his fel­low sol­diers or let them know what was hap­pen­ing, be it re­cre­ation or re­mem­brance.

Live mu­sic, games, draw­ing com­pe­ti­tions and ser­vices — his signs could be the only ev­i­dence these events took place.

“The men were stranded there for a while so they had these ac­tiv­i­ties to boost morale,” Mr Tur­ton said.

“He didn’t talk about the war much but I feel that they were in this ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion and he was go­ing to do what he could to boost morale. He was that sort of per­son in a quiet way.”

Mr Wal­ters’ di­ary re­in­forces a much bet­ter known as­pect of war — the hor­ror. Long pe­ri­ods of train­ing and wait­ing made him ea­ger for ac­tion, but the tone of his writ­ing changed once the wait­ing was over.

“It was con­sid­ered a great win for us,” Mr Wal­ters said on Au­gust 7, 1916.

“But af­ter be­ing in ac­tion for the first time and see­ing a mate killed along­side me it makes one won­der how ever such a mad and hor­rid state of af­fairs can ex­ist.

“But one must not be sen­ti­men­tal here. The other man is out to kill you, so it is best to get him first.”

Mr Tur­ton said his grand­fa­ther, a man of “quiet moral­ity”, would be shocked peo­ple were so in­ter­ested in his work.

An Artist at War opens on Thurs­day.

Pic­ture: Nic El­lis

Mark Tur­ton with his grand­fa­ther Reg Wal­ters’ di­ary, satchel and pho­to­graph from World War I and repli­cas of chalk board posters.

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