The Battle of Messines
ID numberART03557
Collection typeArt
TitleThe Battle of Messines
Measurementoverall: 137 x 229 cm
Object typePainting
MakerWheeler, Charles
Place madeAustralia: Victoria, Melbourne
Date made1923
Physical descriptionoil on canvas (linen)
CopyrightCopyright expired - public domain
DescriptionThe Battle of Messines, codenamed ‘Magnum Opus’, began at 3:10am on 7 June 1917, after a seven day preliminary bombardment, with the detonation of 19 huge mines that obliterated thousands of frontline German soldiers. For two years, tunnelling companies had worked under enemy front lines packing mines with explosive. Australians contributed to this effort at Hill 60. It was the 3rd Division’s first battle on the Western Front, one of 12 Allied divisions to take part.
It took some years to resolve how to paint the Battle of Messines, it was found ‘too difficult’ to depict the explosion of the mines. In 1921 Treloar suggested that it ‘could show the infantry lying down behind the parados [fortification] of the trenches in the early morning light, with the mines exploding in the distance.’ Wheeler was commissioned and has followed Treloar’s idea to the letter. The explosions light up the billowing smoke above, the signal for the infantry to go ‘over the top’ and commence their assault.
A New Zealand-born Australian, Wheeler had studied painting in Melbourne and was travelling in Europe when war broke out. He returned to London and enlisted in the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for actions at Vimy Ridge in 1916. He completed a number of commissions for the Memorial.