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Found: The 22 metre WWI painting lost inside a museum storeroom for 30 years

a detail of a panel painting showing a trench scene and memorial roll

The centre panel of the North Staffordshire Memorial. Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent

A 69 feet long by nine feet tall wall hanging of the First World War, which was thought missing for more than 30 years, goes back on display at the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent

In its scale and breadth of detail the North Staffordshire 5th Battalion Memorial Canvas has drawn comparisons to the Bayeux tapestry, and its recent rediscovery has prompted the Imperial War Museum to hail it as one of the best finds relating to the First World War in the last decade.

The 69 foot (22 metre) panorama of the battlefields of the Western Front, across which soldiers of the North Staffordshire Regiment fought between 1914-1918, depicts places such as Sanctuary Wood, Hill 60, Neuve Chapel and Gommecourt, among others, that have since become by-words for the bloody attritional warfare of the trenches.

The Battle of Loos in 1915 was where Captain Oswald Bamford (of the farming machinery company that became JCB) fell and Hill 60 was where Sgt John Carmichael of the 9th North Staffords was awarded a Victoria Cross.

It also poignantly lists the names of more than 1,000 men who lost their lives amidst these devastated, wore-torn landscapes.

a fill photo of a banner wall hanging depicting scenes from the Western Front during the First World War and a list of the fallen below

The panel painting is an impressive 69 feet long and 9 feet deep Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent.

a detail of a panel painting showing a trench scene and memorial roll

Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent

a detail of a panel painting showing a trench scene and memorial roll

Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent.

a detail of a panel painting showing a trench scene and memorial roll

Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The memorial was originally suggested by the brick and tile manufacturer, turned famous local soldier and recruiter, Colonel Albert Blizzard, and then commissioned by Major Thomas Simpson who managed ceramics company, Soho Pottery, in Stoke-on-Trent.

Then, with the support of the local British Legion, it was meticulously designed and painted in eleven sections by returning servicemen – skilled ceramic designers and painters who worked in Stoke’s ceramic industry – as a way to remember their fallen colleagues.

The painting went ‘missing’ for more than 30 years

It became a regular presence at the North Stafford’s regimental reunions at the Grand Hotel in Hanley until well after the Second World War, with occasional further sightings at regimental dinners well into the 1970s and 1980s.

What then became of the colossal panel painting is something of a mystery and it went ‘missing’ for more than 30 years, until its recent discovery in a storeroom at the Potteries Museum.

References to the painting were uncovered by historian Levison Wood as he researched a book telling the story of the 6,000 North Staffordshire servicemen who fought in the war. His trail led him to The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, where it was eventually ‘found’, rolled up, by a curator who searched among half a million artefacts in the museum’s stores. The museum also uncovered some grainy photographs of the veterans painting the massive artwork.

a grainy black and white photo of people painting a huge panel mural

Returning soldiers who worked in the ceramics industry painted the massive painting. Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent.

a photo of people painting a mural

Courtesy City of Stoke-on-Trent.

A three metre section of the painting is now going on display at the Museum in time for the centenary of Armistice Day. Large sections of the rest of the canvas are in need of restoration and the exhibition is looking to raise funds for the restoration work, which will take place over the next three years.

The wall hanging will then go on permanent display in the museum to mark the centenary anniversary of the Royal British Legion in 2021.

The centrepiece of the painting, the familiar silhouette of a bowed soldier remembering his colleagues, has also been recreated in a two-metre tall ceramic mural, which will also go on display in the museum.

For the Fallen, an exhibition featuring the painting together with objects an archives relating to the end of the First World War, is at the Potteries Museum from September 29 – November 18 2018. 

venue

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Travel back in time and discover the history of the the Potteries, including the world's greatest collection of Staffordshire ceramics. See Reginald Mitchell's World War 2 Spitfire and all sorts of art and craft. Enjoy a light lunch or afternoon snack in our relaxing Café Museum and browse in The…

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