Villers-Bretonneux, ruins of the church
The ruined church of Villers-Bretonneux is powerfully symbolic of the tragedies of war: the
highest ideals of Western culture and history devastated by modern warfare. Over 3,700
Australian casualties resulted from the allies' attempts to defend the town against German troops
in April 1918, creating a powerful and lasting bond between it and the people of Australia.
Will Longstaff enlisted with the 1st Australian Remount Unit in October 1915 and served with the
ANZAC Mounted Division and the Desert Column in the Middle East, recording his life there in
his paintings. He then served in France before being invalided to England in October 1917. In 1918
he was trained in camouflage work in London and was appointed an official war artist. Working
as officer in charge of camouflage for the Australian 2nd Division in France, where he saw out the
end of the war, he painted a variety of subjects, including landscapes, buildings, battles, and
allegorical scenes. A skilful and innovative camouflage worker, Longstaff took plane flights to note
the effects of the disguises from the air. His thoroughness contributed to the successful
concealment of allied activity and probably saved many lives.
Longstaff is best known for Menin Gate at midnight, one of the most popular paintings in the
Memorial's art collection. In the years following the First World War this painting's tribute to
sacrifice, combined with its spiritualist overtones, struck a chord with many Australians who had
lost family and friends in the war. Longstaff painted the work after attending the unveiling
ceremony of the Menin Gate memorial at the Belgian town of Ypres on 24July1927. This memorial
was dedicated to the 350,000 men of the British and Allied forces who had died in the battles
Painted in London, 1918-19.
Oil on canvas.
On loan from the Australian War Memorial, acquired under the official war art scheme in 1919.