In the spring of last year John Singer Sargent’s iconic work was displayed at the National World War 1 Museum in Kansas City.
The famous photograph shown above, also from the Imperial War Museum Collection, may have inspired Sargent. The image was taken at an Advance Dressing Station near Béthune, France on April 10th, 1918.The gassed soldiers are from the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, a territorial force formation, which single-handedly stopped a German advance towards the vital rail center at Hazebrouck. The 55th had been paired with the Portuguese 2nd Division, which quickly broke into a full rout, leaving the ‘terriers’ alone in the line for over three days. Although the combat was intense, they didn’t yield.
Field Marshal Haig wrote in Despatches: “This most gallant defense, the importance of which would be hard to overestimate”.