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The Charge at High Wood Commission

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Graham Turner paints 'The Charge at High Wood'Painting the Charge at High Wood

Following their charge against German positions at High Wood on the 14th July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the 7th Dragoon Guards take up a defensive position on the road to Longueval.

Discover more about this significant commission, and the events portrayed, below.

Also see how the painting was created with stage-by-stage photos - click on the photo of Graham at work on The Charge at High Wood.

'His painting surpassed all our expectations...'
'The Charge at High Wood' - Oil painting by Graham Turner
Background to the Charge at High Wood painting

William Joseph Powell joined up on 4th September 1914 with his old Boys Brigade friend James Abbott (later his brother-in-law). Both joined the 7th Dragoon Guards but while James remained a cavalry trooper, William transferred to the machine gun squadron and saw action on the Somme, in both the charge at High Wood and the battle of Flers-Courcelette, then the following year at the battle of Cambrai and through to the end of the war. Both men survived the war and remained great friends for the rest of their lives.

In 2016, just weeks before the centenary of the battle of the Somme and Graham's trip to the battlefield to take part in the Charge at High Wood Commemorative ride, a conversation with a customer somehow turned from medieval paintings to the Great War, and how his grandfather had been in the 7th Dragoon Guards and took part in the Charge at High Wood! To cut a long story short, that incredible coincidence resulted in the commission to paint this moment from the charge, a painting that has such a personal connection for the Powell family.

Right - William Powell (on the right) and his friend James Abbott.

Below - William Powell in 1914
Background to the Charge at High Wood painting
Highwood background 2 High Wood was well behind German lines at the start of the Somme offensive, but two weeks after the infamous first day of the battle, major gains had been made in this sector and the opportunity to deploy the cavalry to try to punch through the enemy lines was taken. The 7th Dragoon Guards and 20th Deccan Horse advanced and in the late afternoon/evening were ordered to attack. Notable for the painting was the fact that the crops still stood, and groups of German soldiers were encountered taking cover in shell holes amongst the standing wheat. Another important aspect for the painting was the wood itself, which today dominates the skyline as it would have done before it was eventually pounded to splinters in the struggle for this strategic piece of high ground, before the Germans were finally driven out on September 15th 1916, when Tanks were first used at the battle of Flers-Courcelette. At this point though, High Wood, like the crops, was probably still recognisably a wood.

The cavalry charged through the crops and killed or captured a number of enemy soldiers, but, recognising that they risked being cut off, they were forced to retire and took up a defensive position along the road to Longueval. This is the moment Graham chose to portray in the painting, as this is when the machine gun squadron would have deployed.

The composition is dominated by High Wood itself, and the sky on the left glows with the low evening sun; on the right it is far more threatening, as the British shells rain down on the wood and the German positions. The cavalry are returning from their charge (see detail image below), some horses without riders, and on reaching the road they dismount and their horses are taken to the rear while they take up defensive positions. In the centre of the painting, William Powell manhandles a Vickers gun towards its tripod, as ammunition boxes are unloaded from one of the machine gun squadron's horses.'The Charge at High Wood' - detail from an oil painting by Graham Turner
'The Charge at High Wood' - detail from an oil painting by Graham Turner
A tired James Abbott rides his excited horse towards us, 'encouraging' a German prisoner into captivity with his lance. Lieutenant Colonel Tennant, who took part in the charge, described it thus; 'As each squadron cleared the defile it formed line and advanced at a gallop in the direction taken by the advanced guard, which lay through a broad belt of standing corn, in which small parties of enemy lay concealed. Individual Germans now commenced popping up on all sides, throwing up their arms and shouting 'Kamerad' and not a few, evidently under the impression that no quarter would be given, flung their arms around the horses' necks and begged for mercy'.

Above the action on the ground a Morane Parasol of 3 Squadron RFC circles. Piloted by Captain A.M. Miller it passed low over the German lines several times while the observer Second Lieutenant C.W. Short fired his machine gun at the concealed enemy troops. Before reluctantly returning home in their badly shot-up aeroplane they dropped a sketch to the cavalry showing how the enemy were deployed.

'This painting was created over a period of many months, and proved to be a very time consuming process as the various elements came together. Having done so much background research, visited, and ridden, the very land where the action took place, read the accounts of some of the many brave men who took part, and having such a love and appreciation of horses, creating this painting was quite an immersive and emotional experience for me, and knowing how much it will be cherished by the descendants of a man who lived through it all makes it very special.'

'The Charge at High Wood' - detail from an oil painting by Graham Turner
Graham's client has written a few kind words about the commission:

'His painting surpassed all our expectations. In commissioning him we knew we'd have a painting which would benefit from his reputation for extensive research and attention to detail, but there is so much more. It's an excellent, interesting, active, colourful and thoughtfully composed painting in its own right, with many different narrative's visible within it, not all of which are immediately obvious...'

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High Quality Giclée Prints

'The Charge at High Wood' is available a very high quality giclée print, reproduced on paper or canvas. Each print is individually printed and signed by the artist, Graham Turner, ensuring a result that is as close to the original as possible.

High Quality Giclée Prints
The Charge at High Wood Centenary Ride

In July 2016 Graham Turner visited the Somme to take part in a ride commemorating the centenary of the Charge at High Wood. CLICK HERE to discover more about the only cavalry action of the Battle of the Somme and read Graham's account of his experiences retracing the cavalry's steps a century later.
The Charge at High Wood Centenary Ride

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