Laying the duckboards, France 1917

Units
Place Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Ypres
Accession Number ART03592
Collection type Art
Measurement framed: 92.2 x 118 x 10.5 cm; unframed: 76.5 x 102 cm
Object type Painting
Physical description oil on canvas
Location Main Bld: First World War Gallery: Western Front 1917: 3rd Battle of Ypres
Maker Bell, George
Place made Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Date made 1923
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Description

Depicts soldiers from a Pioneer unit laying a duckboard track across muddy fields in a war damaged landscape, probably in the Ypres Salient, France in 1917. The soldiers are wearing sandbags around their legs instead of puttees. A soldier's grave, a tin hat on an upturned rifle are in left foreground. The Pioneers were a battalion attached to a division, with the men were trained to carry out light engineering and infantry duties. When reproduced in the publication, 'Australian Chivalry' in 1933, this work was accompanied by the following text; ' Wooden slats nailed crosswise onto longitudinal beams to form short ladder-like lengths were known as 'duckboards'. The [duckboards]...laid down in succession as shown in this painting, became duckboard 'walks' between important points over the quagmire which at times, especially during the terrible Somme winter of 1916-17, was so deep that an unknown number of men drowned in it. The fact that the surface tracks were completely open to fire was a risk preferable to venturing across mud , but actually carrying and laying the sections was a hated task...the boards were also used on the bottom of the trenches and sometime supported on frames slightly above the floors to allow at least some of the water and slush the opportunity to drain away. Where duckboards were available and used in these situations the incidence of the medical condition known as 'trench feet' was markedly reduced'.