The artist Stanley Spencer worked at The Beaufort War Hospital as an orderly for ten months during 1915 and 1916. Despite feeling intimidated by the institution, Stanley took to the work and worked hard. He was an unusual member of staff, already a recognised artist who had trained at The Slade in London.
Stanley never forgot his time at The Beaufort, it is immortalised in his wonderful paintings at the Sandham Memorial Chapel Burghclere. He saw the chapel as his magic box, his own Sistine Chapel, where he could paint the story of his war. The paintings are not of the glory or drama of war, rather of the ordinary day to day life of soldiers and orderlies. The paintings show the work of the hospital – scrubbing the floor, filling the tea urns, washing the lockers.
We are fortunate in that Stanley also wrote about the hospital in his notebooks which are in the Tate Gallery archives. He is insightful, amusing in his descriptions of the patients and staff. His paintings and his notebooks help us to understand Stanley’s feelings about the institution, and the war. According to his biographer, Kenneth Pople: Hell for Stanley is existence in a state of unimaginativeness, imperviousness to spiritual enticements.
Stanley found solace in his inner life, working out a reason for being where he was, and finding redemption in menial work. His home village of Cookham is never far from his thinking – In his painting, his letters, and his notebooks.
The Beaufort Archive at The Glenside Hospital Museum has more information about Stanley Spencer, his work, and his time at the hospital. We are very grateful to the family of Kenneth Pople for copies of their material.
Stanley Spencer by Kenneth Pople- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stanley-Spencer-Biography-Ken-Pople/dp/0002153203
Journey to Burghclere by Paul Gough – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stanley-
The Sandham Memorial Chapel -http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sandham-memorial-chapel
The Stanley Spencer Gallery – http://www.stanleyspencer.org.uk/
The Tate Archives – http://www.tate.org.uk/research/archive