Friday, 13 April 2018

The story of the Mont St Quentin Digger - Peronne, France

My painting of the Mont St Quentin Digger - Memorial to the 2nd Division, AIF in France
(acrylic on canvas board)

This is a painting I did of a statue in France. Many may have visited it. It’s the Mont St Quentin Digger – the memorial to the Australian Imperial Force’s 2nd Division.

This statue was unveiled in 1971 but it was not the first to stand there. The original memorial to 2nd Division was paid for by members of the Division and was dedicated in 1925. It depicted an Australian soldier bayoneting an eagle. 

The original statue being unveiled. Note the size of the statue compared to the dignitaries standing around the plinth.

The eagle was the emblem of the German empire and the idea of destroying the German eagle was not unique to the sculptor. 

The images above show a French poster seeking war bonds and a Canadian Army recruiting poster from the First World War.

The sculptor was Charles Web Gilbert, a self-taught artist who was commissioned to create the statue even though Charles Bean – noted historian – thought it was not in the spirit of the Diggers of the AIF. 

The Statue being created. Note Gilbert standing to the left of the statue, an indication of the scale of the work.
Australian War Memorial H15606

But Gilbert's statue was unveiled by Marschal Foch to great acclaim and stood on its plinth for 16 years. Gilbert was in his fifties when he created this statue carting clay and bronze by himself. He worked himself to death and died two days before photos of his creation being unveiled in France arrived at his home.

Unveiling the statue. Marshal Foch pulls the lanyard of the Australian Flag to reveal Gilbert's statue.

During the occupation of the town by German troops in 1940, the memorial was torn down by Wehrmacht soldiers and its fate is unknown. 31 years later and the current statue was unveiled depicting a pensive Digger with rifle slung.

The Digger lies on the steps and the reliefs have been jimmied off their frames and sit at the base of the plinth. The fate of the statue, destroyed by angry German Troops, is unknown.

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No 1 Squadron's F/A-18F.