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'From the Mill to the Front' exhibition at The Foxlowe Arts Centre in Leek

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: August 20, 2014

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An exhibition outlining previously unpublished paintings recalling the life of mill workers who were conscripted during the First World War has been opened.

The Exhibition called 'From the Mill to the Front' is showing at The Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek, until October 3, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm.

Commissioned some years ago as illustrations for a book, this exhibition of the late Eric Lockrane's hitherto unpublished paintings to accompany the story of the journey made by thousands of men, young and older, from their cloth cap lives in Mill towns up and down Britain's industrial landscape to tin hats in the trenches of Flanders.

It is a powerful local contribution to the 100th anniversary commemoration of the First World War.

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Eric's fine, expressive and evocative draughtsmanship captures the horror of the foul, dull, churned-up colours of an almost featureless landscape blasted and destroyed by thousands of shells, bombs and mines.

The personal effects of war, including gas attack, are depicted in the lined, weary and unsmiling faces of the men and boys, aged prematurely by their experiences.

On Sunday June 28, 1914, Europe was at peace, as it had been for over 40 years.

The strange mix of international diplomatic, political and military incompetence and miscalculation brought about by the murder on that day in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was briefly reported in Britain in part because the consequences were unimaginable.

Sarajevo seemed far away and why would Britain be involved in a war between Austria and Serbia? It was after all summer and Bank Holiday time.

The Stock Market suffered a blip and then recovered and by Tuesday 30th June the murders of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were relegated to Page 7 of the Times.

Just over a month later on August 4th, every major country in Europe was involved in what was to be a terrible technological killing system stretching across miles of trenches from the Alps to the Belgian coast and elsewhere in the world. Railways delivered the troops to the battlefields, massed artillery and machine guns made sure that further supplies of men would always be needed.

The naïve, patriotic, adventurous enthusiasm of young and older men doing their bit for King and Country against the Kaiser meant fathers and sons, uncles and brothers volunteered in their hundreds of thousands for military service: eventually when the killing exceeded the rate of volunteer recruitment to the army, conscription was introduced.

By the end of the war almost one million British soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Germany, France and Russia suffered even greater losses.

Eric's illustrations bring the pitiless, mundane, filthy and random nature of life and death in the trenches together.

Whether the men are filling sandbags, passing by the decaying remains of dead soldiers poking out of the muddy walls of the rat infested trenches or waiting to go over the top into the no man's land world of shell holes, barbed wire and shrapnel, there is no respite.

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