War Drawings

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, Mackinlay was just 20 years old. In London, there was no possibility for him to sign up for the Australian forces, and he opted to continue his studies. He enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art until, following the introduction of conscription, he was called up by the British army in autumn 1917. A private in the Suffolk Regiment, he was deployed to Belgium in March 1918; a few weeks later, after they suffered heavy losses at Arras in France, he was reassigned to the South Staffordshire Regiment. Like several British artists who served in the regular army before the expansion of the official War Artists’ Scheme in 1918, such as William Roberts (1895-1980) and Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Mackinlay witnessed the battlefield from the inside. He used his pencils and brushes at every available opportunity, not just during the lulls in the fighting and in the protracted periods of inactivity.


Many of his drawings have the look of finished compositions, though they must have been made in haste in the most difficult circumstances. His scenes of camp life, of advancing troops in ruined buildings, and the taking of German prisoners are intensely vivid. Even when he was wounded, Mackinlay continued to draw, in the Casualty Clearing Station in France, then in the military hospital at Netley, near Southampton, where he was sent to recuperate. Even though this work found no outlet in publication or any official commission, these early drawings offer ample evidence of Mackinlay’s humanity, his insatiable appetite to exercise his craft and the imaginative capacity to seize the ‘significant moment’, all of which he would soon put to use in his work as an illustrator.


Timothy Wilcox