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Henry Moore and the First World War

During World War One Henry Moore served with the 15th (County of London) Battalion London Regiment, also known as the Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles. He voluntarily joined the Battalion in February 1917 at the age of 18 and a half.

Less than a year into his military service, Moore fought at the Battle of Cambrai in France. 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the battle, which took place between 20 November and 7 December 1917. The Henry Moore Archive holds a fascinating collection of letters that Moore sent from the front to his former art teacher Alice Gostick, back in his home town of Castleford. The letter illustrated in our image gallery predates the battle and clearly describes the action steadily increasing on the front line.

“We had it very quiet the first few days but after that things smartened up a little, we had a few selections rendered by the German big guns, the chief feature in them being the whizz-bang. The noise even during a small ‘strafe’ is hellish ”

Henry Moore in a letter to Alice Gostick

6 October 1917

The Battle of Cambrai saw Moore’s regiment reduced from some 500 men to 200, in part as a result of the use of mustard gas by the German troops on 29 November 1917. This was to mark the end of Moore’s active service, as shortly after retreating he began to display symptoms of mustard gas poisoning. Having walked some ten miles to the field hospital, he was duly stretchered and sent back to the UK to convalesce. He spent around six weeks recovering in the Landsdowne Road hospital in Cardiff.

Though his active service was short-lived, it was gruelling enough to leave him a changed man, like many of his era, having witnessed the grim reality of the conflict at first hand. Moore’s art was inevitably influenced by these experiences. Our exhibition, Becoming Henry Moore, explores his development as an artist, and includes examples of how events such as this played a part in shaping his work.