In Wytschaete Woods the trees were blasted apart. He drew them as splinters and stumps. In the Ypres salient, near Vimy, and along the Menin road in 1917, he drew the remaining trees like broken crosses, the sky beyond them no longer full of birds or stars but of constellations that exploded.
At Dymchurch, on the Kent coast, he began to paint the bleak shore. ‘A war artist without a war’ he called himself in the Twenties. Instead of defences against armies he drew defences against the sea, the only bombardment the bombardment of waves. As if his mind had been emptied by the horrors of war, and by the jostling of men and transport, his preoccupation became vacancy. He showed how concrete ramps and army-grey shingle sloped into the grey sea towards France. It was a landscape that replaced the urgency of suffering with the vacant afternoon of no feeling at all.
He drew the sea like a frozen layered mere; as salty levels, flat as the Marsh on the other side of the coast road. Rather than show its flying movement, the way the waves run in to be bayonetted by the breakwaters, he stopped it dead and related it to the steps and wedges of the land.
Once, before the war, he had invented a subject that prefigured this. Wanting clear, architectural shapes, he had drawn pyramids, but instead of setting them on the flat surface of the sand he had placed them in the sea. He saw them as if in a dream against a night sky. Their great bulk, threatened by the humped water, had stood for impossible oppositions – the still and the moving, the live and the dead, the irresistible force and the immovable object.