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.
Richard Talbot Kelly fought with the Royal Artillery in the First World War (1914-1918) as part of an 18-pounder gun battery crew. As a Forward Observation Officer he had a front row seat of the battlefield.
He had already fought at the Somme in 1916, and at the Battle of Arras earlier in 1917 before the Battle of Passchendaele, which began on 31 July 1917. He was also an artist, and his watercolours and drawings and published memoirs illustrate the war from a very different and personal perspective.
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.
Richard 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 Second World War 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