Langstaff’s Spirtualist Theme

Image from a hotel wall, Menin Gate at Midnight by Will Langstaff, 1927. (P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Image from a hotel wall, Menin Gate at Midnight by Will Langstaff, 1927.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Presence and Present

Ypres (Ieper) one of my favorite places to visit, not only as the small city is paramount to many of my immediate interests of the Great War, but now having visited often I simply like the town. The square with its shops for browsing, grazing and watering, the canal and the ramparts, good friends and good visits. Just a pleasant wander – the buildings – so to for its other histories – remember there is a city museum here that can take one well beyond the pain of the Great War’s few years.

But, however, it is the Great War that brought me here first – the Menin Gate Memorial, the Last Post, St. George’s Chapel, the Cloth Hall, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the In Flanders Fields Museum…and of course the nearby gatherings of loss. All so very powerful. My first visit here was in 2004…and at our place of temporary residence there, upon the wall, was a copy of the Will Langstaff’s painting, Menin Gate at Midnight. The painting was completed possibly in a single session in 1927 after the artist, Langstaff attended the dedication of the Menin Gate Memorial, 24 July 1927. Langstaff’s vision was that of soldier ghosts wearing steel helmets rising from the nearby cornfields near to the memorial. Similar works by Langstaff, all publicly held, include Immortal Shrine (Spirits at the cenotaph Whitehall, 1928. Australian War Memorial), The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge (Canadian soldiers, 1931. Railway Committee Room, Parliament of Canada), and Carillon (New Zealand soldiers, 1932. New Zealand Archives).

Menin Gate Memorial. (P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Menin Gate Memorial.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Menin Gate at Midnight is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra having been purchased in 1928 for 2,ooo guineas (~£21,000) by Lord Woolavington. The painting was shown at Buckingham Palace to King George V and members of the Royal Family. Afterwards the painting was exhibited at Manchester and Glasgow before proceeding to Australia where it also toured to large crowds at paid venues. Two-thousand prints were created under the supervision of artist Langstaff of which 400 prints were given to the emergent Australian War Memorial to raise monies for a museum.

James Buchanan, philanthropist. Vanity Fair 1907. Caricature by Spy. (Wiki Image)

James Buchanan, philanthropist. Vanity Fair 1907. Caricature by Spy.
(Wiki Image)

The philanthropist James Buchanan, 1st Baron Woolavington, was born in Brockville, Ontario, Canada but raised in Larne, County Antrim, Ireland. A successful businessman he had made a considerable fortune bottling Scotch whisky, beginning in 1884, known as the Buchanan Blend or Black and White Whisky. Buchanan’s success was known to the tables of the British House of Commons, Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York and by 1909 was the best selling Scotch whisky in England. Apart from his original blend and other whisky ventures Buchanan invested in bottle manufacturing, tea chest manufacturing and was a racehorse owner and breeder. His land holdings included properties in Kenya, Argentina and a 20,000-acre British Columbia fruit farm that he co-owned with Lord Abderdeen. Married to Annie Eliza Bardolph Pounder in 1891, Annie served as a nurse in London during the Great War and died in October 1918. No record of her burial was found in Commonwealth War Graves records.

Spiritualism became an important post-war movement in Britain following the Great War as the nation struggled with its collective grief. Most families had suffered loss and two well known Spiritualists were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Both men lost a son in the Great War. Captain Arthur Alleyne Kingsley Conan Doyle, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, died 1 November 1918 and Lieutenant John Kipling, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, died 27 September 1915.

And so one always wonders, as one does, when they allow themselves to free-form through the connectiveness of history – that one chance of happenstance – spirits on a wall – to Langstaff – to Buchanan – to nurses and the wounded, to fathers and their lost sons, whisky and cornfields – so long ago and yet here we are…one painting on an Ypres hotel…whether spirts roam or not…the communication is in the presence and present.

The cornfields near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

The cornfields near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)


About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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