Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, had a hunch that this World War One painting by an Italian artist had a local link. Sure enough … our intrepid historian fdiscovers a link to Brockley and Ladywell.
For some time now I have been eager to revisit a hauntingly iconic eve of battle painting from World War One, which I was convinced had a local connection.
The painting was by the remarkable Italian born artist, Fortunino Matania (1881-1963)* whose realistic depictions of First World War trench warfare made him one of the most famous war artists of his time.
The original painting below was first published by The Sphere magazine, a London illustrated weekly newspaper, in November 1916 and prints of it became very popular. It was later presumed lost and has been the source of endless speculation as to its actual whereabouts.
In the painting soldiers – many who would die the following day – are receiving general absolution from their Catholic chaplain, Tipperary-born Fr Francis Gleeson aside a roadside shrine, who is depicted in the painting on horseback.
But the local link was that the soldiers of the Second Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers, were commanded by Lieut-Colonel. Victor Rickard (also depicted on horseback in the painting) who was to be killed in action the following day.
The painting, The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois, relates to an incident in France in May of 1915, when the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers suffered very heavily at Rue du Bois, in the Pas-de-Calais close to Arras. .
Victor George Howard Rickard was born near Gosport c.1873 according to the 1881 census. He was the son of George Pearn Rickard of Dublin and Caroline Matilda Rickard of London.
George Pearn Rickard was a Civil Service Senior Clerk in the Admiralty. Major Rickard, who saw service in South Africa in 1902, took over command of the 2nd Battalion on the 6th February 1915.
By the 18th February he was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel. During his short tenure as commander of the 2nd, and was well respected by his troops.
.Jessie Louisa Rickard, (1876–1963), was an Irish literary novelist. During her lifetime she became a versatile writer who produced over 40 novels, some of which found a large reading public.
She married Victor in 1908. But widowed and with a son (also called Victor and born in 1913) to support, she reverted to writing as a source of income.
She first published The Story of the Munsters (1915) which provided the subject for the well-known Matania picture.In 1925 she converted to Roman Catholicism, instructed by a Vincentian priest, Fr Joseph Leonard, better known now for his correspondence with Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy. wife of the US President John F. Kennedy.
For those interested in reading more about this fascinating author this article is worthing viewing –“That Mysterious Individual Mrs. Victor Rickard”: Jessie Louisa Rickard (1876-1963), Crime Writer?
Lt Col Victor George Howard Rickard. Died 9th May 1915. Aged 40 years. Killed in action by enemy bullet, during the Rue du Bois battle. Grave location, Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez. France
And now the link: George Pearn Rickard was living at 74 Brakespeares Road, Ladywell when he died in 1897 and is interred in Brockley cemetery. Caroline Rickard who died in 1909 is buried with him.
*For readers interested in viewing more of Fortunino Matania’s World War One paintings this compilation by Lucinda Gosling offers an excellent introduction: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/goodbye-old-man/9780750955973/