Panoramic view of the battlefield leading towards Passchendaele, Ypres, August 1917
Watercolour by Lieutenant Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly MBE, MC, RI (1896-1971), Royal Field Artillery, 1917.
As part of an 18-pounder gun battery crew, Talbot Kelly took part in many of the major offensives of the Western Front, including the Battle of Loos (1915), the Battle of the Somme (1916), the Battle of Arras (1917) and the Battle of Passchendaele (1917). He regularly served as a Forward Observation Officer, tasked with spotting where the artillery shells were landing. The unique vantage point of the battlefields that this job gave him, obviously inspired his illustrations.
His watercolour of the flat, barren and waterlogged landscape shows how difficult the terrain was that the British and Commonwealth armies had to fight over, and why holding the series of ridges and high ground around Ypres was so essential.
Talbot Kelly was wounded on 5 August 1917 during the Passchendaele fighting. He was standing and talking to another officer when a shell burst nearby. Initially he appeared to have survived unscathed, but the force of the blast had actually caused internal damage and he was sent home to recover. He later wrote of the incident: 'One does not hear the shell that gets one. If the ground had not been a bog and as soft as it was it is absolutely certain that I would have been blown to bits.' He returned to serve on the Western Front in April 1918.
Talbot Kelly continued his military career after the Armistice, but he also continued to work as an artist. He left the army in 1929 to become Director of Art at his old school in Rugby. He became particularly known for his paintings of birds. He served again during the World War Two (1939-1945) as Chief Instructor at the War Office Camouflage Development and Training Centre in Farnham. He died in June 1971.
NAM Accession Number
Not NAM Copyright, Artist's Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection