Saturday, 22 June 2013

Life, Death, and Bread and Jam at Sandham Memorial Chapel

And so to London to see Leonard Cohen at the O2, but first a stop en route to see Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere in Hampshire - a return trip for me, having paid homage there a few Octobers ago, but a first visit for my companion.

Sandham is a 1920s Grade 1-listed chapel built as a memorial to Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who died in 1919 from malaria contracted during the Macedonian campaign of the First World War.  It houses a
series of paintings by Stanley Spencer, inspired by his own war experiences as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps, in Beaufort Hospital in Bristol and in Macedonia.  It's forbidden to photograph the paintings because the low light levels in the Chapel would require flash photography, but no matter, I've pinched a few of the National Trust's photos off t'internet.

This is a view of The Resurrection of the Soldiers behind the altar, in which dozens of soldiers  bring their white wooden crosses to a Christ in white sat in the middle distance of the picture.  I especially like this scene because as well as men, it shows animals as part of the resurrection - specifically, mules - quite a controversial  viewpoint at the time of its painting.  

I also love the altar cloth which is woven with the words 'I am the Resurrection and the Life' horizontally and 'We are Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On' vertically.

There are quite a few heart motifs in the paintings and my favourite is in the picture Tea in the Hospital Ward (look at the plate in the foreground).  Spencer's favourite food was bread and jam.

Another favourite thing of Spencer's at Beaufort Hospital was to hide between the huge baths 'to escape tiresome duties or simply to work alone and undisturbed'. 

The paintings are full of allusions - orderlies who resemble angels, one with buckets for wings, patients in Christ-like poses, mosquito nets like chrysalises.  

I feel a bit of a connection with Sandham, in part because my grandmother, Hilda Hill, worked as a volunteer at Beaufort Hospital during WWI.  I didn't realise until years after her death that Spencer had been posted there also, so I don't know if they coincided, but I do believe that if they did, they would have known each other.  Like Spencer hiding between the baths, Hilda was a free spirit - for instance, she once smuggled apples in her apron for the wounded soldiers and had to hide behind a curtain when the sister came into the ward, only to drop the apples and send them rolling over the floor.  I like to imagine them having a laugh as they went about their respective tasks.  

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