Head of a Soldier, Bois de Trones, 1916
16 1/2 x 11 inches
Mall Galleries Memorial Exhibition, 25 May - 5 June 1976
A 21-year-old student at the Royal College of Art, Lawrence voluntarily joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, and embarked for France in early 1916 as temporary Second Lieutenant of the 19th battalion. Between February and June, the company made their way towards the front line, stopping in Vielle-Chapelle and Lacouture to build reserve trenches, repair existing ones, and carry out general field maintenance. But it was not until his battalion marched from their camp in Mailly Wood through No Man's Land on 6 July 1916 that they witnessed the savagery of the Somme on such a vast scale; just days before, an unprecedented number of British lives were taken on the opening day of battle. An account of the 19th battalion's service, written by Captain CH Cooke and illustrated by Lawrence, recalled the 'infinite tragedy' of the scene, where tens of thousands of bodies 'lay in shell-holes, in bits of trenches, but chiefly in the open. Those not in the open seemed to have dragged their mutilated bodies in to the partial shelter or ruined pieces of trench'. It was 'tragedy enough to sicken the most callous'.
By July 15th, the battalion was in Bray, awaiting orders for trenchwork in Trones Wood; Lawrence seems to have planned a large painting of a wounded soldier attended by his comrades. There are two known drawings by Lawrence dated '15 July 1916', both inscribed 'Le Bois de Trones', and both of a wounded soldier, one of multiple figures. This picture appears to be for one of them.
Lawrence did not return home until March 2017, when he was posted to the IV Corps school in London as instructor, and upon discharge, continued his studies at the Royal College of Art.