With nights drawing darker and the days colder and thoughts of when will it snow again ever present, reflections of winter and watching war films as a wee girl with my father, having just returned from a foreign land on business, are rekindled. Whether it was the colours of epic explosions or the excitement of machine gun fire, war was a romantic notion and my father’s passion for war films passed to the next generation.
My grandmother often talked about ‘The War’ unsurprisingly as WWII ended only 23 years before I was born and memories of rationing were still in their mere infancy at 14 years. She mostly talked about how my Grandfather who died when I was four, was ‘never the same after The War’ – he was ground crew on Lancaster Bombers in Lincolnshire, badly injured when hit by the wing of a Lysander aircraft and I guess waited in vain for friends to return from bombing missions – how could he be the same, was anyone?
N.B. 10th December 2013 – “Two Years after retiring, my Dad died of kidney cancer. He spent his last few moments, my mum at his side counting in the lancs from some hellish raid or other; F Fox, V Victor, B Baker and so on. I guess it troubled him whether a lanc was lost with all its crew…” Extract about my Grandfather from my uncle’s newly published wonderful book ‘Wrapped in Rugby’, Douglas S. Bruce http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wrapped-Rugby-Douglas-Scott-Bruce/dp/1492154326
To this day ‘Where Eagles Dare’, MGM, 1968 remains one of my favourite films. The wind howling round the Bavarian Alps, the beautiful glare and hardship of the inexorably falling snow, hues of blue from azure to midnight, brilliant orange explosions, brilliant Richard Burton; cool Clint Eastwood a ‘second rate punk’, the fairy tale ‘Schloss Adler’ with its warren of hallways and monumental fireplace, a secret aspiration to be Mary Ure’s MI6 agent ‘Mary Ellison’ and that cable car! From beginning to end with its dramatic score and the faint rat-a-tat drum beat crescendo in the opening seconds it is still one of the most exciting and gripping films I have seen. (My family recently discovered a forgotten memory that my father had once shared a lift in the Inter-Continental Hotel, Budapest, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1970s not long after ‘Where Eagles Dare’ was made – in our excitement that such movie royalty had briefly entered life’s theatre we foolishly asked “was she really beautiful?” and in his concise, ‘Meldrew-esque’ way he replied “yes” and swiftly moved on to mention how charming they both were while sharing a lift conversation with him – through his simple affirmation we knew she was truly beautiful!)
As I grew older the romantic excitement of war increasingly paled and was replaced by horror after spending many years viewing the reality of war through documentaries. What most prevails is the individual suffering of so many caught up in the decisions and actions of so few. Over 60 million dead during WWII, the holocaust, the painful displacement of people and their loss of everything they once knew, the horror that their eyes transmitted, not to mention the incalculable loss of wildlife, livestock and pets, in many of our present cosy bubbles how can we truly understand what war and such loss is like? We can’t.
I began to try representing individual suffering through my work and create memorials to lives lived and ways of life lost, both human and animal not just through war but disasters, environmental destruction, to empathise with reality and not the Siberia of statistics. Some years ago I had watched an English soldier relating a particular experience in a WWII documentary. Towards the end of the war, in battle he had shot a German soldier dead on a road. When he went over to check the body, he saw it was just a young boy and placed in the buttonhole of the boy’s uniform was Edelweiss still blooming. Edelweiss does not last more than a couple of hours when picked fresh off the mountains so he knew that the boy had come down from his mountain home that morning to war. Tears of futility fell down the old man’s cheeks.
This memory was the catalyst for creating ‘TV screen III – East Meets West, Forests’ Memories’, that and a passion for forests. Drawn in colour Biro, this piece took five months to produce and was inspired from stills of films such as ‘Band of Brothers’, 2001, HBO, ‘The Red and the White’, 1967, Miklós Jancsó, ‘Come and See’, 1985, Elem Klimov and of course Lily in a starring role as the white wolf or the faithful dog. This drawing was made to symbolise and consider that both good and bad people exist within all sides of a conflict and to imagine the conflicts as well as the facets of ‘life’ witnessed by mighty forests across Europe. It ultimately represents how nature fights back and survives no matter what human destruction is plied on it and in the end how futile war is and how little we learn from our mistakes. Viva nature!
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