When artist and illustrator Claud Lovat Fraser enlisted in the army in 1914 he had already established himself as a young man with a fine career ahead of him. After a year at Westminster School of Art where he counted Walter Sickert amongst his tutors, he set up a small publishing house with some friends and began to get commissions for greetings cards, bookplates and theatre programmes. After joining Durham Light Infantry, his first foreign posting was in France. To begin with the letters he sent to his parents were quite light-hearted, in a letter dated 11th Nov, 1915 to
“My dearest M” [Mother], he writes “The dug-outs here aren’t so bad. I went into one today that had a fireplace with chairs and tables and quite jolly wall hangings”.
Less than a month later, the reality and horror have begun to overwhelm him, on 7th January 1916 his letter begins
“ I am sure my leave has done me a world of good. It helps one to face troubles and worries with much greater calm when one has had a glimpse of home life and has seen things going so smoothly and calmly at home.”
But by the next day, his optimism has gone, he writes
“I went for a walk in Ypres this afternoon and had a thorough look round. It is rather a horrible sight being both shattered and crumbling. You cannot picture the terrible desolation of it all”
After several near misses in which his comrades were killed or injured, Fraser left his dugout without a mask and was gassed, it was not thought to be serious at the time but must have added to his distress, in mid February of 1916, he was invalided home, suffering from shellshock.
He stayed in the army until his discharge in 1919. After the war, he went back to his art, he had married his sweetheart and had a young daughter, but years of ill health and the physical and mental strain he had been under meant his happiness was short lived . He died in 1921, 2 years after leaving the army, aged 31
His letters are not those of a war hero, there is no hint of extraordinary valour or acts of bravery, but a rather a young man out of his depth, often frightened, lonely and worrying about his chocolate ration and hoping for socks from his Mum.