J. M. Sketchbooks


The images presented in this collection are from a set of two portfolios of watercolour paintings, and pen and ink drawings, created by a British soldier at the Front during the First World War. These sketchbooks have been a part of the University of Victoria Special Collections' holdings since at least the 1960s, but little is known about who made them or how they came to be in Victoria.

A Mystery

According to the dedication contained in Book 1, the artist bound the images into two portfolios and presented them to his daughter, Adele, sometime after the 1918 Armistice.

Unfortunately, we know little more about him than what appears on this dedication page.

What do we know about the artist?

  • He was a member of the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery (the regimental crest and motto appear at the top of the page);
  • He was based in France and Belgium (specifically around Ypres and Menin) between 1917-1918;
  • His daughter's name was Adele;
  • He survived the war (one of the images is dated 1920);
  • His initials were J.M.

Their subject matter ranges from Comic . . .

Several caricatures poke fun at both Britain's elite and its class structure. Military leaders and the War Office also come in for a good deal of ridicule.

As a group these comic images tell us a great deal about, at least this soldier's, attitudes towards social class, authority, tradition, and the army during the war.

. . . to Tragic

A variety of somber images suggesting the horror and carnage experienced by those at the Front.

Among these images are depictions of trenches, dressing stations, and horses dying from lethal gas deployment, and the damaged landscape of the battlefield.

Although the artist's identity remains a mystery, it is clear that J. M. possessed a rare talent to convey the absurd, the frustrating, and wretched aspects of war.

To view the JM Sketchbook Collection, click the tab below.