The Second World War touched many lives in many different ways. One of the ways it touched my life was through my father. So this month is one of those times when thoughts of him lie close to the surface of my mind.
He was a young man when he entered the British army – we had a picture of him, smiling, in his uniform. Beyond that we know very little. His war was something he did not talk about. All we have had are little bits of information that fell out, rarely, in conversation.
But that did not mean that we could not see some of its effect on him. He was a man who was suspicious of grand words and emotional speeches, and of leaders who demanded an unquestioning loyalty. He taught, shared the tools for and encouraged people to think critically, to question and to wonder, to look for their own answers. He wished for peace, but believed that war was sometimes necessary.
And so when I see these paintings, I think of who he was, what he might have seen and known, what he thought, and what he tried to share and to teach.
There are images of men engaged in terrible battles, in far away places.
Images of men struggling to get their weapons into place, so that they could fight.
Images of women, recording what they did, encouraging them to take on new roles so more men could go to war.
There were messages to those at home, messages to watch your words, to do your part for the war effort, to support the troops.
And finally there was this: the haunting stare of the overwhelmed, exhausted soldier.
These artists allow me to see part of what I think my father saw: that war is difficult, demanding, dark and dangerous. That its reach extends far beyond the armies that fight. That it changes the world, for good or ill or in some complicated mixture of both.
And I am grateful that these and other war artists give me this opportunity by sharing what they have seen. They allow me to catch a glimpse of the war that helped make my father who he was.