“I have never known a time so full of opportunities for women. I have never known life to be more interesting.”
Barbara Loxton, August 1944
Barbara Loxton was an anomaly; a freelance artist who travelled the combat zones of Europe with sketchbook and paintbox. Chance brought her London, where she had trained at the Chelsea Polytechnic in the late 1920’s and an escalation of the conflict prevented her return to her children in South Africa. Fascinated by all she saw, she began her record of drawings and letters of the war-torn world of Europe.
She travelled the combat zones of the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, in the bitter winter of 1944 – 1945, when the paint froze on the brush as she drew men’s portraits. An astonished US Army newsreel cameraman film made a film of her as she crouched drawing in the falling snow. She went into Southern Holland with the Canadian Army and then to the British Casualty Clearing Stations in Nymegen. Welcomed by the surgeons, she drew in the operating wards. Unprecendentedly, the British Army gave her a jeep and a driver for a week with unrestricted access to the entire front and battlegrounds of the Reichswald, where she drew the soldiers encamped in the forest under the guns, and came with them during the Battles for Cleve, and then, with the US Army into Jülich.
She was the only South African war-correspondent to have visited the front in this sector of Europe.
After the collapse of Germany, she chronicled the catastrophe of war among the civil populations of Holland and Germany and the Allied Armies efforts to cope with the chaos. She travelled in Holland, recording stories of privation and survival. Based in Munich, she went to Prague in the Russian zone and to Berchtesgaden in Austria: then to the ruined cities of Hamburg and Brunswick and finally to Berlin where her article on the civilian situation in the Russian sector was blocked by the Russians.
These eloquent drawings are supported in vivid detail in letters, notebooks, and diaries, giving names dates and places. She had an eye for the ridiculous and there are often comic accounts of danger and exhilaration, and personal stories of the people she met: what they were finding to eat, to clothe themselves, how they were supporting life. Her maternal eye focussed on the women and children. On the children of Holland’s neat villages, running around among the tanks as they rolled into battle, the exhausted and starving mothers and children of Germany tramping the roads with no homes to go to, the families living in the ruins of buildings, the starving children in the hospitals of Berlin.
The archive consists of 179 drawings, 3 notebooks/diaries, 93 letters, broadcast scripts and some article cuttings, and a book synopsis. There are also maps, Dutch and German and Allied publications, battlefield memoriabilia, and some stationery from the litter in Hitler’s Chancellery .