Canadian War Museum
A portion of Arnold Hodgkins' collection of original works painted during and after his World War II service was acquired by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in November of 2019.
A total of 23 paintings and approximately 75 sketches were acquired by the War Museum - a few of which are featured in the image and link below.
One of Hodgkins' most gripping pieces, acquired for part of the Canadian War Museum's collection, is "Victim '43" depicting shell-shocked horror on the face of a solider. A state and expression that can be seen on all sides, during all wars.
"Victim '43" by Arnold Hodgkins
Arnold Hodgkins: World War II
A brief summary of Arnold's war experience is outlined immediately below. To read a more extensive account of his war experience, please see the article below, "Arnold at War".
Arnold was a medic with the Second Canadian Light Field, Ambulance, First Canadian Army Tank Brigade. During his five years In the medical corps Arnold always had a sketch pad at the ready as well as his journal, keeping a record of wartime happenings.
While serving with the Ontario Regiment in Italy he was wounded at Moro River Crossing (1943) and did a lot of his sketches during those many weeks
spent in hospital. When off duty he was continually drawing, bringing home hundreds of sketches, shrapnel in his body and an ache in his heart.
After the War he did a number of paintings using some of those sketches. One of those paintings, titled 'Victim '43'.
Arnold at War
( an excerpt from Ted Barris's book Rush to Danger Medics in the Line of Fire pages 177 - 185)
November 11, 2014 – Port Perry, Ontario
Back on civvy street in 2011, Alannah Gilmore recognized that while she could take the medic out of the war zone, taking the war zone out of the medic was a tougher proposition. When army medic Arnold Hodgkins was demobilized back to Canada after the Second World War, he faced a similar predicament. His experience with the 2nd Canadian Light Field Ambulance overseas had trained his body to respond to medical trauma in the battlefield – more than three years attached to the Ontario Tank Corps fighting from Sicily and Italy to France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany – but it had also created muscle memory of a different sort, his urge to sketch and paint what he saw.
Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, Arnold delved into many vocations – as a junior banker, bookkeeper, truck driver, and construction worker – but his mother encouraged avocations, such as piano playing, sketching, and painting. In 1928, on her deathbed, Frances, Arnold’s mother, entreated him to continue his pursuit of art; he composed his first song, “Lonely,” then “Muskoka Moon,” made famous by orchestra leader Luigi Romanelli. During the Depression he wrote, directed, and performed in musical plays, while helping to feed the family by assisting the local undertaker – embalming and digging graves.
He married Iola Houser in 1934, and they took over a funeral business and started a sign shop in Campden, Ontario. All the while, Arnold continued teaching himself to paint. In the first year of the war, the Hodgkins had a son, Gary, and then Arnold enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.
His light ambulance unit embarked for Britain in June 1941, and while his medic’s kit and manual occupied most of his attention, his daily journal of personal observations, travel commentary, and sketches were always within reach. Training and preparing for an invasion occupied his next year in the U.K. He experienced his first contact with casualties at Newhaven on the south coast, where the first wounded from Dieppe arrived late in the day on August 19, 1942; in his journal he called it, “a thunder in the channel … And the breath of death was blowing. Down the shore where heroes crept.” Then, with broken bones set, wounds packed, and drugs administered among the wounded, Sgt. Hodgkins and his ambulance comrades found comfort in their peacetime hobbies – stamp collections, antique caches, and jewelry making.
“It had been my good fortune to build up rather a widely representative art portfolio,” he wrote, “sketches of Loch Lomond … Edith Cavell’s monument … the grey, time-smoothed multi pillars of Westminster.”
One sketch was a pastel of a young British pilot looking brave, determined, and braced for the unknown. “He was killed in action twelve hours after the sketch,” Hodgkins said.
By December of 1943, Sgt. Hodgkins and his 2nd Canadian Light Field Ambulance unit had moved with their amoured regiment, the Ontario Tanks, from Sicily onto the boot of Italy. They had smashed through the Germans’ fallbacks – the Hitler Line and the Gustov Line – and were advancing toward the German stronghold at Ortona. Members of the Canadian medical corps had handled more than 2,300 casualties during the fighting in Sicily and in the approaches to Ortona another 650 casualties. With a medical officer, a corporal, four combat orderlies, three combat drivers, two ambulance drivers, truck driver, jeep driver, batman, a dispatch rider, and medic Hodgkins also on a motorcycle, the 2nd Field had travelled and treated their armored comrades every step of the way.
A week into December, the Ontario Tanks had dug in north of San Vito while combat engineers prepared a Canadian assault across the Moro River toward Ortona. That gave Hodgkins time to repair a flat on his motorcycle nicknamed “Gariola.”
“It is disappointing to realize that ugly destruction lurks at every hairpin bend of the mountain roads. … Too much depends upon getting men, guns and tanks across [the Moro] to work on [Field-Marshal Albert] Kesselring’s famous line,” he wrote.
As the tankers and ambulance corps awaited the completion of the engineers’ handiwork at the river, Hodgkins’ field ambulance group settled in and around a casa, a farm house (with the farm family going about its daily chores); for several days, a large front room with fireplace in the farm house became the 2nd Field’s regimental aid post. Very quickly, wounded from just ahead of them arrived at the casa.
A badly burned tank driver was rushed in. One orderly retrieved fresh water for the M.O. to clean the driver’s wounds, while Hodgkins pulled gauze from his medic’s kit. They learned the wounded man’s Sherman tank was hit by a German 88 shell, which blew the hatches off the tank and set the vehicle on fire, killing or wounding the rest of his crew. In minutes, the 2nd Field’s M.O. had sulpha powder covering the man’s wounds and Hodgkins prepared the last step in the treatment.
“A long strip of gauze, Sergeant,” the M.O. told Hodgkins.
Working from the man’s shoulder downward to the wrist and hand, the M.O. wound the dressing firmly over the burned flesh.
“Want me to take over?” Hodgkins asked.
The doctor nodded and began to work on the driver’s other burned arm.
“Water?” Hodgkins asked the driver, and the tanker smiled yes.
Following the first-aid, Hodgkins caught his breath and allowed himself to think about the lives of the men about him in the room. Instinctively, the field medic’s thoughts turned to his refuge. “The old itchiness to sketch something of the fleeting scene assails me. Anything,” Hodgkins wrote later. “And so I sketch it. It is of no value as a picture, but will serve to remind me one day (should Lady Fortune ever break down and dish out) that I have not always slept in expensive hotels.”
Lady Fortune did break down for Arnold Hodgkins and just twenty-four hours later. On December 10, 1943, as the sergeant medic drove his motorcycle Gariola through the Moro River crossing with the 2nd Field crew, his bike ran over a Teller mine that exploded and badly tore the lower muscles in both his legs, and additionally wounded his right arm and head. He was evacuated to the coastal town of Vasto, where surgeons determined they needed to amputate both legs, but Hodgkins protested and instead his legs were salvaged. In Malta for three months to recuperate, the wounded medic craved his favourite pastime, so a nursing sister travelled miles to obtain art supplies so that her patient could return to his sketching.
Returned to England in the spring of 1944, Hodgkins went through difficult rehab. One afternoon, he passed a closet mirror and caught sight of himself. “I am startled to behold the reflection of a stranger,” he wrote. “His face is ghastly white beneath the tan. There gleams an expression of cold flint from narrowed eye-lids. No love, no patience, no peace can be found written on that grim countenance. Only dull, frozen fury…
“My God! Is that me?” he entered in his journal.
Despite the lingering after-effects of his wounds – shrapnel in his legs, a resulting limp, and periodic blackouts – Hodgkins was eager to rejoin the active medical corps during the invasion of France. Hodgkins therefore took a demotion to private so that he could serve with No. 6 Field Dressing Station under Maj. Laurence Alexander, the same medical officer with whom he’d attended the Canadian wounded who survived the Dieppe raid in 1942. Ashore in France in the summer of 1944, with the Canadians liberating France, the then thirty-three-year-old medic happened on a jail in Livarot, where the Maquis (French Resistance) were evening the score with Nazi collaborators. He sketched the dingy prison, the young Maquis guard, the rabid mob eager for revenge, and the shamed collaborators, their heads shorn clean. Then, he showed his sketch to a comrade.
“He does not criticize me for drawing the ugly thing,” Hodgkins wrote. “He knows it is the logical means of removing something off a man’s mind.”
With this sketch and hundreds more in his medic’s satchel, Pte. Hodgkins completed his overseas service with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, returned to the U.K. in time for VJ Day at Piccadilly Circus in London, and was repatriated to Canada in September of 1945. His son Gary was seven when Arnold Hodgkins came home from the war. Family noted that Arnold was not the same man, and that time and war had scarred him.
“Now he walked with a limp and carried a new portfolio of memories,” a friend wrote. The very next month he enrolled in courses at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto (completing the four-year course in three) and launched his career as a professional artist. Upon graduation, Hodgkins operated art studios, gave art instruction, took commissions in portraiture in Toronto; then with his son Arnold developed Deerfoot Art Settlement and Gallery near Leaskdale, Ontario.
It took years, his daughter Carol Hodgkins-Smith said, but Arnold’s war sketches eventually took shape as paintings. Like his sketching after Dieppe, at the casa near Moro River, while recuperating in Malta, and at the prison in Livarot, back home Hodgkins faced his demons by putting the “portfolio of memories” to paint on canvas.
In time, Carol Hodgkins-Smith began displaying her father’s war art privately on the walls of her home in Port Perry, Ontario. In 2014, in time for November 11, Remembrance Day observances, she opened her home to the public to see the art of his wartime journey – soldiers in crisis, a nurse, civilians in flight, villages in ruin. So desperate was Sgt. Arnold Hodgkins to respond to this urge to record what he’d seen, that one evening he pleaded with a French civilian for a table and a small light to allow him to sketch.
“I would gladly pay,” Hodgkins explained. “Non, non, Monsieur,” she replied. “We have no oil, no candles. The Boche, he took everything when he passed through.”
Eventually, a fellow medic found Hodgkins a lighted compartment in an ambulance.
“I try it,” Hodgkins wrote later. “But it is futile. There is far too much to divert from the cool strong flow of reasoning. … Maybe tomorrow.”
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book No. 3. 1942. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book No. 5, 1943. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
William Bell, “Arnold Hodgkins: the man and his art,” essay undated, 10.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book 16, December 7, 1943. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book 17, December 8, 1943. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book 17, December 9, 1943. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
William Bell, “Arnold Hodgkins,” 11.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book 18, May 18, 1944. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
Arnold Hodgkins, War Journey Series, Book 19A, August 28, 1944. Courtesy Carol Hodgkins-Smith.
Rush to Danger: Medics in the Line of Fire