Date of birth: 4 February 1886
Place of birth: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Date of death:12 December 1960
Place of death: Perth, Western Australia
George Courtney Benson began documenting the First World War well before he was commissioned as an official artist in April 1918. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in September 1914 with the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade. Soon after, Benson embarked for service with the advance guard; he was one of the first enlisted Australian artists to reach the Dardanelles. Prior to the Allied landing at Gallipoli, Benson made sketches from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. His panoramic drawings included Turkish trenches and strategic features of the terrain.
Benson’s artistic pursuits began in Melbourne at the National Gallery School in 1903, studying under such luminaries as Bernard Hall and Fredrick McCubbin. He subsequently found work under the well known poster designer Harry J Weston, accompanying him to Sydney to work on the Bulletin for a year. Upon returning to Melbourne, Benson further established himself as a deft illustrator and cartoonist by working on publications Sporting and Dramatic News and Punch.
Benson made topographical sketches of the salient landmarks of the Gallipoli peninsula prior to the Allied landing and later served with the British Expeditionary Forces in France, before taking up his commission as Officer in Charge of Camouflage with the 4th Division in London. Following war’s end, Benson worked for the Australian War Records Section in London, sharing space at the St John’s Wood studio with other official artists Frank Crozier, Will Longstaff and James F. Scott. Benson returned to Australia in 1919 to complete a number of commissioned paintings for the Memorial.
During the First World War, Benson avidly documented his travels and experiences; from his military training at Broadmeadows, Victoria, to the “Egyptian types” he encountered in Cairo; his time at sea and at Gallipoli, in France and Belgium. After the war, he collated a selection of sketches into a scrapbook comprising of over 140 drawings, now held in the Memorial’s collection (ART03605).
In 1931, Benson was commissioned by the University of Western Australia to paint the ceiling beams of Winthrop Hall. He went on to carry out further mural commissions in Perth, while also working as a critic and cartoonist for the West Australian newspaper.
Benson vied for a second commission with the Australian War Memorial at the beginning of the Second World War, by then in his mid-50s, but his age was seen by the Memorial as a “handicap”. Despite not being appointed, he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces and worked as a camouflage officer until 1943.