Wednesday, May 24, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The First World War Chronicles of H. W. Cooper, Part One

H. W. Cooper ca. 1917, Elgin County Archives
     I recently came across a vast repository of some remarkable pen and ink drawings from the First World War in the Elgin County Archives, and wanted to do a bit of a different post that would allow me to include as many of them as possible. Each one provides a unique glimpse into life during the First World War and the Canadian soldier's experience, and it is fascinating to see these snapshots of moments in time through the artist's perspective. It's not immediately clear how ECA became the home of so many of these valuable records, but we're lucky to have them in safe keeping close to home. Here is ECA's biography of artist H. W. Cooper, 1893-1976:
As a child, Herbert W. Cooper lived with his family in Australia, where he attended boarding school and worked in a mining camp. At some point he emigrated to Canada where, preceding and during the first two years of the First World War he served as a Quarter Master Sergeant and military recruiter at a military depot in Toronto, while also working as a freelance illustrator and writer for Macleans magazine.
In 1916, Cooper was posted to active war service in Europe as a non-commissioned officer with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving as a Transport Staff Sergeant with the mounted ambulance corps in Belgium and as a Quarter Master Sergeant in France.
In January, 1918, Cooper was assigned to the Topographic Section, Intelligence Branch, Canadian Corps Headquarters, France, where he worked constructing scale models in clay of the Canadian front lines, based on maps, aerial photographs and other materials.
In July, 1918, Cooper returned to front line duty, first with the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) and then with the Canadian Corps Survey Section working as an observer, flash spotter and document runner.
From December, 1918 to January, 1919, Cooper was posted to Canadian Corps Headquarters in occupied Bonn, Germany and was then transferred to Jodoigne, Belgium, where he served until early April, 1919 when he was transferred to the Canadian War Narrative Section (CWNS), Canadian Corps Camp, Bramshott, Hants, England.
In June, 1919, Cooper was transferred with the CWNS to Ottawa, Canada. His letters indicate that he planned to continue serving with the CWNS until early autumn, 1919, when he intended to seek his discharge papers and relocate to New York City to seek work in “the advertising business” as a copy writer/ illustrator.

     Further, here is their description of the collection of Cooper's records:
Fonds consists of pen and ink drawings and letters depicting scenes of daily life involving the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France, Belgium and Germany during and immediately after the First World War. Includes descriptions and images of Albert, France; Neuville St. Vaast, France; Notre Dame de Lorette, France; Lievin, France; Ypres, Belgium; Camblain L'Abbe, France; Mont St. Eloi, France; Andenne, Belgium; Bonn, Germany; and Cologne, Germany; as well as descriptions of Cooper's work with the Canadian War Narrative Section in Bramshoot, Hants, England and Ottawa, Ontario in 1919.

     Without further ado, I will let these works speak for themselves:
Church and Statue, Albert, France, ca. 1916-1917
Soldiers at Rest and Play, ca. 1916-1917

The Most Comfortable Spot on a Winter Night, ca. 1916-1917
In the Underground Y.M.C.A., ca. 1917
Some Signs on a Street Corner- Lievin, France, ca. 1917
Artist Acknowledging Gift of Socks, ca. 1916
Scenes in Ypres, Belgium, ca. 1917
French Kids Doing Homework in an Estaminet, ca. 1917-1918
Refugees, ca. 1918
Sentry Guarding German Prisoners of War, ca. 1918
     I hope you enjoyed these fantastic works and their realist portrayals of the people and places we read about so often in First World War history. If you're interested in seeing more, check out @HWCooper510199 on Twitter to see more of the drawings, and stay tuned for next week's discussion of Cooper's wartime letters!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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