Archive Collections – Great War Watercolours

Found in the collections this week are these wonderful watercolours from the Great War

The artist was an Old Gregorian named John Bernard Morrall, who was the great-nephew of prominent Downside monk Dom Alphonsus Morrall. Morrall came to the school in 1892 and left in 1898 before becoming a novice at Belmont for a short period. However, the monastic life was not for him and he soon distinguished himself as an artist. 

In January 1916, at the height of the Great War, Morrall joined the Artist’s Rifles and was sent to France. This unit was a volunteer regiment which trained many men to be officers. Thousands of men passed through the regiment including poet Wilfred Owen before joining other units. Morrall joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and went on to fight in five battles with them.

On March 23rd 1918 he was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, but died four days later of his wounds. His paintings of the Great War are his legacy and his works attracted much attention, so much so that he was offered a position as an official artist for the Imperial War Museum but was killed before he could begin his work. Some of his paintings were purchased by the museum and are still part of their collections today. 

The works we have here at Downside were sent to us in the 1970’s by the sister of Morrall’s fiance, who he was to marry after the war but never made it home. He had sent them to her and she had kept them before donating them to Downside. 

To see the five Morrall paintings held by the Imperial War Museum go to their website here.

To find out more about the monastery library and archives here at Downside click here.

The images below show soldiers at the front; a house on which Morrall has written ‘The four billets where we sleep’; a picture of ‘A Senegalese Camion (truck) Driver’; and a picture of Morrall drawn by a friend.