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The Art Of War - The Human Tragedy -

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(generated from captions) As a returned soldier from the First World War, my father had enjoyed the boom years of the '20s and somehow survived the bust years of the '30s and the Great Depression. But then, of course, all too soon it was total war again. I can distinctly remember the gloom that descended on the house in 1939, when war was declared. No euphoric patriotism this time. Memories of the Great War were just still far too raw. For my dad, those four years were a tightly-closed book. But on the other side of the world there was a generation of young German artists, the same age as Dad, who'd fought on the other side who also knew about the horrors of war. But they could express themselves through their art. The reaction against war was greater in Germany than anywhere else. After all, the Prussian hierarchy had not only started the war, they'd lost it. And in protest to a dream of peace and prosperity shattered these European artists expressed their outrage by inventing new and radical art forms that could show the psychological damage they'd experienced. Dadaism, Surrealism and Expressionism were each a modern European art movement that was born of an urgent need to reveal the inner turmoil of the human psyche under stress. The war cripple is a recurring theme in post-war art in Europe. Otto Dix served in Flanders, perhaps in the trench opposite my father. He saw these crippled veterans in a Dresden cafe playing the card game Scat. He says that he raced straight back to his studio to set down an image that would make his outrage clear. Most have lost legs, this one has no arms. He holds the cards in his toes. The cards, by the way, are real playing cards, glued to the surface of the canvas. And here is a bizarre hearing tube in place of a deaf ear. Here's another victim of war, damaged, you suspect, almost beyond repair. And here the trappings of modern warfare seemed to turn men into monsters. It's a nightmare image. German artist George Grosz said "There was not one thing I did in the war "that did not utterly disgust me." This small weatherboard house on the outskirts of Melbourne became the nerve centre of contemporary art in the years leading up to and during the Second World War. This is the living room at Heide. It was once the home of art patrons and Melbourne intellectuals John and Sunday Reed, and it was here at Heide that a group of young artists found out about the radical European innovations in Modern Art. Information about the new art out of Europe had been very slow to filter into Australia. The boom in art publishing is really a post-war phenomenon. That's post-1945. But the Heide group had access to these avant-garde European magazines and it was in these magazines, the 'Cahiers D'Art', the 'Minotaure', the 'Vingtieme Siecle', that they could flick through and find out what was happening at the moment in the art world of Europe. Sid Nolan and Bert Tucker would have flicked through these magazines in this very room probably and fed their hunger for artistic innovation. UNEASY MUSIC Taking his lead from Picasso and the other European Modernists, Albert Tucker draws not so much the look of madness as the feel of madness. Truth to human feelings has triumphed completely over truth to objective fact. Drafted into the army in 1942 Tucker had caught a glimpse of this distressed young man being admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Heidelberg Military Hospital. With the speed of a camera shutter his retentive memory has caught the image because, in the next instant, the patient was led away for treatment. Noel Counihan's horror of this new threat to humanity was no less compelling than Tucker's, but he vehemently believed that a real threat called for the unmistakable punch of a real image. Instead of experimenting with Abstract Symbolism, he turned to Social Realism. As was the case in the First World War, Australian troops went first to the Middle East, to the deserts of North Africa. Here was an artistic challenge for a man who became one of our most celebrated official war artists of the Second World War. Ivor Hele. Sir Thomas Blamey was the Commander in Chief of the Australian Imperial Forces in the Middle East and he knew of Ivor Hele's work. So when Private Hele sailed for North Africa at the end of 1940 he was quickly recruited by Blamey. The appointment - swift and to the point. "Get to the desert and paint this bloody war" was the order. Ivor Hele and his driver have the distinction of being the first Australians to cross the enemy line. Missing a signpost, they went deep into enemy territory before they realised their mistake and beat a hurried retreat. He painted this picture of this digger the day his division moved into Tobruk. He'd marched 50 miles in two days with only one meal. His fatigue is palpable. He's paying Ivor Hele a great compliment posing for him in this exhausted state. Ivor Hele made many drawings in North Africa. He even tried to set up a studio there but he found conditions for painting in oils just too difficult. But he needed these drawings when he got back to his Adelaide studio where he painted his large compositions. This is a drawing that he did of his friend and fellow South Australian artist, John Dowie. This became the central figure and actually the compositional pivot of his large epic picture of soldiers disembarking on the wharf at Alexandria after evacuation from Greece. There would be drawings for all of these figures. This is another one of a young soldier lying on the wharf, exhausted after his ordeal. Here a soldier leans on his rifle as he waits to board a train. This study of Tobruk was made on the spot. The small port was more important than it looks. It was of strategic importance to Field Marshal Rommel. For, as long as the Allies held it, he was denied an all-important supply port to keep his tanks rolling. Tobruk stemmed the tide but El Alamein turned it. Victory in November of 1942 put paid to Germany's dream of controlling the Suez Canal. William Dargie, another official war artist in the Middle East, captures the wide expanse of the desert in this painting of the Australian troops at El Alamein. He shows us what no camera could have shown, the night sky, igniting with artillery flares while at the same time in equally sharp focus we see the Australian troops marshalling in the foreground. These figures have been suddenly lit by an exploding flare. Hence the snapshot impression of men caught unawares in mid-action. UNEASY MUSIC DISTANT EXPLOSIONS You may be able to see our troops here in the middle distance, but in the dark of the desert here are the enemy. Dargie manages to give us a wonderful sense of that vast flatness of the North African desert. Winston Churchill said that "Until El Alamein, we'd never known victory. "But after El Alamein we never saw defeat." DRUMBEAT DRAMATIC MUSIC The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 changed Australia's attitude to war dramatically. Immediately, the Japanese forces fell on South East Asia with frightening and deadly momentum. A little over two months later, in February 1942, Singapore fell. And just four days later Darwin was bombed. For the first time, Australians believed they were in imminent danger of invasion. There is no sense in mincing words, Australia is in peril of bombing attack. Your home, you yourself are in danger as a result of air assaults that may come at any time. John Curtin, Australia's Labor Prime Minister who came into office just two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, made a decision that would've been unthinkable in the First World War. He refused a request from Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt to deploy Australian regiments to Burma. He told them bluntly that Australian troops were to return to the region to defend Australia. With our troops now battling to stem the tide of a Japanese invasion in the South Pacific, Ivor Hele was sent to New Guinea to join them. From the open deserts of Libya to the dense, dark tangle of the jungle. No-one spoke of the war in the Pacific as a grand adventure. Jungle warfare was like no other. Death stalked every step. It was not just the snipers' bullets but also dysentery, tropical ulcers and malaria. Here a new hero emerged, the local Papuans, affectionately dubbed by the troops the "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel". They carried the wounded through almost impossible terrain. Here official war artist, Sali Herman pays tribute to them. Cinecameraman, Damien Parer, brought the full terror of jungle warfare into Australian cinemas. His 'Kokoda Frontline' won Australia's first Academy Award. Yet the jungle presented dreadful problems for him as he struggled to beat the damp, the mould, and, worst of all, the lack of adequate light for filming. Nowhere are the problems facing the cameraman and the war artists better illustrated than when Damien Parer and Ivor Hele recorded the same military burial in New Guinea. Normally, burials took place deep in the jungle, but this one was out in the open on Timbered Knoll, where Damien Parer had enough light to film and Ivor Hele's made use of the open setting as well. See how he's silhouetted the figures against the sky, you don't often see that in his jungle pictures. Hele decided to record the digging of the grave with the three dead non-commissioned officers right in the foreground of his pictures. He can only have been metres away from them. Damien Parer, on the other hand, waited. He waited for the service. And he would have stood over here, filming this way, when many more men had joined the ceremony. Half-way through, it started to rain and Damien Parer makes use of the water running down shiny raincoats, dripping to the ground, as a metaphor for the desolate feeling of burying comrades in the mud of a foreign land. This is the study, or one of the studies, that Ivor Hele made on the spot. He tells us that when it started to rain the soldiers quickly rigged up a shelter for him. They so liked one of these NCOs they wanted a record of the burial to remain. But when he got this back to the studio he must have been uncomfortable about that gap because do you see what he's done. He's filled the gap with another figure, this digger in a slouch hat. Personally, I like this composition. I like that gap. To my mind, it draws attention to the grave. SAD MUSIC In this work, the gap between the wounded and the stretcher bearers seems ever diminishing. As the fighting in New Guinea becomes ever more desperate he exaggerates these exhausted faces. This one, for example, looks weakened by malaria or by fatigue. He's almost a stretcher-case himself. Ivor Hele made his final trip to New Guinea in 1945. By then, the Japanese were on the brink of defeat living in appalling conditions, without reinforcements or supplies. He made this quick notation of two Japanese blasted out of their stronghold. You can see the emaciated state they were in. He tells us that this figure here, lying, running into the picture with his legs here, was so blackened by fire. And when he did the painting in his studio you could see how he's been intent to show how dark this figure was. You can hardly see it, the head is here, the arm and legs go back there. But what really caught my eye when I saw this was the face of this dead Japanese. Because you can see his face so clearly, you can recognise him as a person who once had another life, who would've had parents, perhaps a wife and children. And Hele tells us that he desperately tried to survive because he crawled a short distance in this appalling state. Hele said of these gruesome pictures, "For the present, I honestly couldn't do another dark picture "or I'd go crazy." There were different horrors in store for those who served out the war behind bars. I was stunned when I first saw the drawings in this box. Made by an intern at Janowska concentration camp in Poland. I felt almost as if I was seeing the origins of Expressionism. They're drawings made in the grip of an anger so strong that passion seems to have taken control of the pencil. This is not reality moderated by an art form, this is reality straight up. No concessions here to art or to craft. The paper used for these drawings had been filched from a drafting office where Bernard Slawik, who'd been an architect, was assigned as a member of a work brigade. Because to record anything was to die, he carefully hid his drawings under a loose tile in the drafting office. It seemed that he needed the cathartic act of drawing to stay sane. One day, he noticed, or he thought he noticed that the tile had been moved. So he decided to risk escape, thinking he had nothing to lose. It was mid-winter and snowing heavily and already dark when he made his run for freedom. And resourcefully he buried himself into a deep snow drift, using the snow for insulation. And in this subterranean cavern he managed to hold out for three days until the sniffer dogs had been called off. In 1948, he came to Victoria where he stayed until he died in 1991. And it was only after his death that his wife Alma discovered these drawings when she was sorting through his studio. I didn't go into the studio before because I thought that was his private domain. And when he died, I went in, because there were architect's things and... which I left behind and I feel guilty up to now. And I concentrated on those drawings. It was an extraordinary experience because then I saw what he went through and he never talked about it. He didn't want to worry me, he protected me all his life. Slawik added notations to some of the drawings after his escape. He tells us that once a week interns were forced to run an obstacle race. Here they carry piles of bricks, here a heavy beam. Anyone who fell or faltered was shot. The growing pile of shoes shows that many didn't make it. These high-heeled shoes remind us that some of these victims were once fashionable young women. They were supposed to take off the shoes because it was leather and they wanted the leather. People who took off shoes knew that that's it. It was inhuman, it was... His pencil has nearly torn through this page. He's acting out the horror of genocide onto this piece of paper. Probably that's why he never showed them to anyone. They're really personal exorcism yet he had to keep them with him for all of his life because they represented such a really stark chapter of his life. You can't produce something which you don't feel. And it comes so flat out, but not in that case, because he... he felt it so strongly. In contrast with Bernard Slawik, this was made by someone who does want to show us what it was like at the Liberation of Belsen. Official war artist, Alan Moore, shows us what thousands of civilian prisoners, mostly Jews, suffered in Belsen. 'Blind Man in Belsen' picks his way through the dead and dying. And SS guards remove the skeletal remains by the lorry-load. They were forced to face the full iniquity of their crime. TENSE MUSIC For many Australian servicemen, the Fall of Singapore was one of the darkest chapters of World War II. Like the prisoners in the European concentration camps, these prisoners of war, served out the rest of the war far from the frontline. One of these was official war artist, Murray Griffin. He'd been recruited to record the war in the Pacific and he was with his division in Singapore when 15,000 Australians surrendered in early 1942. He joined the 8th Division on the 16-mile march to Changi Prison Camp where he stayed till the end of the war. He set about almost immediately recording life in Changi, painting mostly on paper but every now and then, scrounging a board from here or there. The nail holes in this board show us that this board once had a previous life. This is the dysentery ward in Roberts Hospital at Changi. It's redolent of heat, humidity and misery. Griffin tells us that these seriously ill men had to stagger up and down two flights of stairs to get to an outside latrine. Drawn at the end of 1943, we see the state of what was deemed to be the fitter men who were returned to Changi from the notorious Burma-Thailand Railway. Nearly one fifth of the Australian dead in the Second World War were prisoners of war. Of the 40,000 who died, 8,000 died in these camps. Yet even so, it's said that the men's determination to stick together and to help one another resulted in a higher than average survival rate amongst the Australian prisoners. Some of these painters, all men, have left us first-hand experiences of war. But we've yet to see how women viewed the war, recruited for the first time as official war artists in the Second World War. And what of those who remained at home in supporting roles, working in munitions factories and camouflage units, or in the Civil Constructional Corps? Some of these paintings, painted far from the frontline, have since become icons of Australian art. But that's our next story.