Home Art War Art The Moveless Latch (1944)
The Moveless Latch (1944) E-mail
Written by Michael LeBlanc   

moveless_latchEric was fascinated by the ingenuity that both sides of the conflict expressed in the Allied landing preparations and the German fortifications. The title of the watercolour “The Moveless Latch” is from a John Masefield sonnet. It calls to mind the immense waste of time, energy and material involved in the construction of these edifices.

Fourteen thousand heavy, concrete bunkers were built. Their brief use (during the first day of the landings), and their subsequent uselessness made a deep impression on the artist:

One hour, or two, or three, in long years scattered,
Sparks from a smithy that have fired a thatch,
Are all that life has given and all that mattered,
The rest, all heaving at a moveless latch.

The photo on the left (Collection of Margaret Bridgman) was taken at the scene. A Toronto Star article from July 15, 1944 (“War Artist Finds Out Eyes On Him All Time”) by Gregory Clark describes Flight Officer Aldwinckle's “day at work in Normandy about a month after the invasion:”

…choosing his site the artist unlimbered his packsack, set up his easel, chose his pots of color and sat himself down [but in a short time he collected a group of onlookers and] in a moment Aldwinckle felt hot breaths on teh back of his neck. He finished the broad blue swaths of sky. He started with the burnt sienna in broad strokes for the foreground. Then over the fields came a martial figure with a red and black armband. It was a military policeman, a provost's man. “Have you got authority,” asked the provost politely, “for whatever it is you are doing?”

Aldwinckle produced his special artist pass, signed by the highest in the land, allowing him to paint anything and everything anywhere and everywhere. It is a noble pass. But the provost, after studying it, was of the opinion that the major, his boss, lord of this small but particular realm, would be obliged if the gentleman would come along…

[After a visit with the Major, Eric returned to his chosen spot.]

…When he arrived back on his eyrie, Aldwinckle found the news had spread and there waiting like gulls when the fish are being cleaned were 30 or 40 troops of various denominations ready to watch a war artist at his craft. Eric set up his easel again and spread out his materials, but by now the boys were really crowding around like the crowd at the wieght guesser on the midway. and after a few despondent strokes with his brush Eric decided the light had altered, the view had changes, the sparkle had vanished away from that particular beach of Normandy. Over the fields stood a great German concrete gun emplacement with a ceiling 40 feet thick and walls 20 feet thick and only a small narrow slit through which the gun could poke its nose. Eric repacked and wandered across the fields unattended. Nobody followed. He got into the gunpit via the gun slit. He was at last alone. He was in the privacy and quiet and repose almost equalling that of his Star [Building, in Toronto] studio. But from below on the beach somebody had spotted him.

Someone with binoculars tirelessly watching in all directions both up and down for signs of the enemy had been startled and excited to see through his glasses a furtive form laden with some sort of baggage entering the gun pit. Eric got his easel set up, spread his colors and water bottle and drawing paper out in the privacy of the gunpit. And up the cliff posthaste came tow motorcyclists armed with Sten guns. Into the gun slit they peer cautiously. “What authority,” they inquired with that awful politeness of the military police, “have you for doing whatever it is you are doing.?”

Aldwinckle explained. He produced his pass signed by Eisenhower, Montgomery, Dempsey, Broadhurst, or a reasonable facsimile of the same. No good. The port commandant would like to see for himself and issue a proper pass. After all, in wartime, the world is divided into very tiny principalities. So Eric disjointed his easel, packed up his paper and stowed them away in his packsack and went down the cliffs again. The day was near done. It was 4 o-clock. The buckshee driver was to pick him up at 5.

By the time Eric had satisfied the port commandant and got a little piece of paper ennobline him and his art in this small kingdom, it was nearly five when he regained the cliff tops. He decided to hell with painting. In his packsack he had a camera. He would make some photographic memoranda of the scene to file away so that if ever he could catch this mood and this desire again he might sit up here…

The painting was completed later in the studio, using one of these photos for reference.

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Nothing Uninteresting

The Work and Life of Eric Aldwinckle

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Macleans: Do you like living in the city you are now in, or have you plans for ultimately moving out to the country, down south, on the sea, where?


EA: I am actually living in the country now, but I have hopes of moving about 500 yards due east. Your last question seems a little anxious, so as soon as I acquire the place I want I will let you have my address and telephone number.