War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Nov 11th with Stanley Spenser

I was invited to go with the families today to the war cemetery but I could not go. instead I chose to take quiet (today) Shaftsbury Road down to the Courtauld, down to Somerset House to see the Stanley Spenser chapel at Somerset House on the Thames. A fitting way to mark Remembrance Day. Quiet. Communion in paint with the souls of the dead.

Why? Why not be at the war graves today with all the families who so kindly asked me to accompany them? I did so want to be with them but I could not. But what then did I see?

I saw the artist Spenser work his way through his Great War over a decade afterwards as he painted the inside of the Sandham Memorial Chapel from 1927-1932. I saw how he depicted the wards on which he worked as an orderly – he was too short at that point in the war to serve at the Front, that would take attrition you see – the insane asylum which he painted with such compassion, the contact zone of the tea counter – then the trenches in Macedonia (which at that stage in the war would take any man of any height)…

But here’s the interesting thing. Spenser chose not to paint misery. He chose to paint some sort of redemption of the spirit through an Augustinian labour, the calm, the peace of the useful, the quotidian… the rolling of a puttee, the caring of the frost-bitten feet of a soldier, the angel wings of the orderly – bucket under each arm. How interesting. That he would paint some sort of spiritual strengthening through trial. And how appropriate.

After all, no one ever said any of it would be easy.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Nov 11th with Stanley Spenser. It was posted here on November 11, 2013.

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