HENRY LAMB, MC 1883-1960

Jan 28, 2016

Doctor and War Artist

Henry Lamb was born in Australia, but the family moved to Manchester, where his father was appointed professor of mathematics at the university.

Henry studied medicine for four years at its medical school.  However he abandoned it for painting.

He moved to London, and in 1906 began to study at the Art school run by the sculptor, Augustus John and the artist, William Orpen.   He became part of the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists which met to discuss literary and artistic issues.  He was remembered as, “an Adonis, with curly blond hair, a slim figure, and a unique way of dressing in old fashioned silk or velvet garments.  He wore a gold ear ring”. In 1913, he met the painter, Stanley Spencer, and his later paintings were much influenced by his style.

Self Portrait, 1914

Self Portrait, 1914


On the outbreak of war, he was anxious to do something for the war effort.  However he had doubts whether a recurring stomach disorder would make him unsuitable for military service.  With his medical knowledge, he decided to volunteer for hospital work.   After some time in the outpatients’ department of Guy’s hospital in London as a wound dresser, he found himself working in the operating theatre.


Later he travelled to France where he worked in the Hospital du Casino, Fécamp. It was a privately run establishment, financed by wealthy aristocrats and doctors. There he witnessed the casualties from the fighting in Artois and Champagne.  He made numerous pencil sketches of scenes at the hospital and of the soldiers and nurses.

Hospital Sketches in France

Hospital Sketches in France

In November 1915, he returned to Guy’s to finish his medical studies and qualify for a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).   In July 1916, he completed his studies and was commissioned into the RAMC. In September 1916, Lamb was sent to Salonica to work with the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Unit in the Struma valley.

Sketch of a Macedonian Peasant's Farmhouse.

Sketch of a Macedonian Peasant’s Farmhouse.


In March 1917, he was promoted to captain and posted to 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 10th (Irish) Division in Salonika.  His time was spent in the Struma valley where there was little action but a great amount of malaria spread by mosquito infestations.  He would have held daily parades to give out doses of quinine and an evil smelling ointment, Paraquit, for smearing on hands and face.

He was later to paint a canvas illustrating his work there.  In it a group of soldiers stand impassively in a clearing, their collars raised against the damp chill of an early morning and little sense of emotion is evident.  Small details of the soldiers’ lot can be seen: two soldiers in the left foreground slumped on wicker baskets, their heads in their hands, as if the early symptoms of malaria take hold; the crutches for walking wounded; a summary of boredom, sickness and discomfort.

Lamb's Canvas illustrating his work in the Struma Valley

Lamb’s Canvas illustrating his work in the Struma Valley

In September 1917, he was posted with the battalion to Egypt.  There the 10th (Irish) Division joined the expeditionary force, led by General Edmond Allenby preparing for the invasion of Palestine to drive the Turkish army out.    By December, Jerusalem had been captured.

During his spare time, he amused himself drawing sketches of the scene around himself and his fellow officers.

Lamb's sketch of fellow Officers in Palestine

Lamb’s sketch of fellow Officers in Palestine

He was awarded a Military Cross for his bravery tending the wounded during the bombardment of 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers at Jiljila, Palestine in early May 1918.  Four soldiers were killed and eight more wounded.

When later he was asked to paint a large commemorative painting for the national record of the war, the Hall of Remembrance, he choose the Jiljila incident and called his painting,  “Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.”  Eleven figures, caught in the barrage, strive desperately to reach the shelter of the terraces, their hands outstretched as though in pleading, their puttee-bound legs splayed awkwardly  as they clamber for cover.

Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.

Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.

In late May 1918, he was posted with the battalion to the Western Front where he was badly gassed and invalided home just days before the Armistice.

During the Second World War, Lamb was appointed an official war artist.

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