Barbara Loxton’s drawings, together with the diaries, notebooks and letters home that describe them, form an acutely observed and sympathetic record of the drama, the humour, the courage and grim endurance of human beings caught up in the maelstrom of war. Where official War Artists generally concentrated on the big picture, Barbara drew in close focus. Her people have faces, and frequently names, written on the back or recorded in letters and notebooks.
“Geoffrey Long gets high up in a building & draws from eagle’s eye. I am still drawing people & incidents.”
Berlin diary August 1945
Her status was unusual, Although accredited, she was not maintained by any publication. She had to support herself, by sellling her work where she could; to The New York Times, The Leader, South African Magazines, and by broadcasting to South Africa.
The drawings fall into 3 categories:
Before she became a war correspondent, she sent illustrated articles to the South African Magazine for which she used to illustrate, but hoped to find better reception from the War Artists Commission and local publications.
“I am full of plans to paint all aspects of London in wartime and that is what is keeping me busy.”
She drew how people had adapted themselves to living under bombardment, and, once accredited, visited civil and military defences England.
“I had an urgent desire to see these hateful bombs shot down…… they came steadily, red lights approaching in their own enveloping roar, drowned by deafening crash of gunfire all along the coast barring the way. ….I stood in the darkness and cold with my knees shaking like pistons and the sky splitting around me, but too exhilarated and excited even to be aware of the ear splitting guns.”
The Battle of the Bulge and the Sweep into Germany
The Battle of the Bulge was fought in appalling conditions of snow and flood over the winter months of 1944-1945: the bulk of the drawings and letters are from this period. January to March 1945 was, for Barbara, a period of great intensity and sense of purpose. Many of her drawings are signed BRMC, the initials of her maiden name, reflecting the exhilarating sense of freedom that filled her.
In November 1944 she traveled to the US Army frontline hospitals on the German border north of Metz, and from January 1945, along the Frontline in France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Southern Holland and into Germany.
She travelled with the US Army to St Vith and Aachen, drawing portraits in the snow and ice with her brush freezing to the paper. Transferring to the Canadian Army she went into liberated South Holland, then spent most of February with the British Army in Nymegen and the Reichswald, drawing in the Casualty Clearing stations and operating theatres, among the soldiers encamped in the forest, and in the shattered villages as the battle went forward.
“The Colonel was very surprised to see me and said I ought not to be there, the village being under shellfire, but since I was, he showed me…the mound which was part of the Siegfried Line…and offered me lunch.”
At the end of February she re-joined the US Army again and walking behind the flame throwing tanks, as they took the Citadel of Jülich, sketching as she went,.
On the 1st of May 1945 she returned to Holland. The V2 flying bombs were still falling and the last ditch battles being fought, but in Tilburg orange flags were flying. There was dancing in the streets, everyone sporting orange favours, and singing Oranje Boven. After capitulation she went deeper into Holland with the Relief organizations.
“The streets swarm with children in rags; filthy, thin, white and hollow eyed. There is no food in their houses…”
Having less time for drawing she collected stories of the hunger winter and life under Occupation and many drawings were lost during the chaos. She drew the repatriated POWs, Forced Labourers and DPs and the desolation of the Rhineland towns and the people on the roads.
“Released soldiers, farmers, tramping with heavy packs. Families. Thick shabby clothes, children piled on baggage in miniature wagons, pulling and pushing, Principally women.”
To Hamburg and Brunswick in June, drawing in the devastated areas and on the roads, then to a base in Munich from whence she made excursions into Czechoslovakia and Austria.
“Atmosphere changes in Russian dominated territory. Rougher, tougher: tunics, bulgy pants, high boots. Summer weight and crumpled: not smart, but formidable. Horses, wagons, v little motor transport. Mostly German captured and Russians like riding on the front mudguards.”
In Berlin from 14 July – 5 August, she drew the disintegrated city, the hungry refugees on the roads, and, in the hospitals, children.
“Tiny ones in the first room, little skeletons with stretched white skin, no crying, only eyes can move. Older children in the next room whimpering, child with hunger oedema in passageway.”
At his invitation, Barbara drew in Professor Sauerbruchs’ operating theatre while he informed her about conditions in the Russian Zone, which led to a threats by the Russian administration to the doctors, who were not allowed to speak to foreign journalists .