War artist gave new view of France's trench life

Morris Meredith Williams’ correspondence with his first wife Alice (far left) along with his paintings and sketches are the basis of a new book by his great-niece Phyllida

Phyllida Shaw is a researcher and a writer who has published an extraordinarily beautiful and sensitive book about life in the trenches during World War One based on the sketches of artist Morris Meredith Williams – who served as an officer in France from June 1916 to the end of the war – and letters home to his wife, Alice, who was also an artist.

How did you come to write this amazing book?

In her will, my great-aunt Grace left me the 15 sketchbooks Morris Meredith Williams drew in while he was in France during World War One and the 800 letters between him and his first wife during the war.

She did so “In the hope I might do something with them.”

My great-aunt was Morris Meredith William’s second wife.

His first, Alice, died of cancer in 1934.

In the book I have included a selection of the letters and the best of the sketches.

 

Morris Meredith Williams was a respected war artist in World War One

How long did it take to write?

It took several years to start the book.

My great-aunt died in 1995 and the letters and sketches were in a small metal cabinet, neatly laid out in drawers. T

he cabinet moved house with me three times, and at last I thought I had better do something, particularly as the war’s centenary was coming up.

I was not sure how I would get it published because I am not a known author, and though Morris and Alice were well known in Scotland after the war, they are not names many would recognise.

Luckily, I allowed one of the sketches to be used as publicity for a lecture by the well-known and respected military historian, Sir Hew Strachan.

He said many soldiers left letters, and many made sketches, but that it is unusual to have both together, with drawings of such high quality and letters in such great quantity.

He wrote a foreword for the book, so it was easier to find a publisher.

I chose The History Press, rather than a specialist military history publisher, because it is not just about war but social history too.

 

Morris'first wife Alice

Who were Morris ...

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