Untold Gallipoli stories shared through artworks

Louisa Baillie contemplates her latest work with some flowers, something she wants to showcase...
Louisa Baillie contemplates her latest work with some flowers, something she wants to showcase more in the future. Photo by Christine O'Connor.
Louisa Baillie is taking her grandfather's memories and experiences from his time serving as a medic in Gallipoli and turning them into her own art exhibition.

''Stationed at Gallipoli'' opened on Saturday, and is a collection of Mrs Baillie's works of art. Mrs Baillie (49) said the inspiration for the exhibition came from not knowing about her grandfather Montie's time in Gallipoli and wanting to share her new-found knowledge with other people.

''With the information, I want to share it in a way that helps people feel a little more peaceful from it,'' she said.

''It was a dreadful, grisly time yet people like Montie still managed to be able to see the beauty in such moments, despite being in a rugged war zone.''

Mrs Baillie received a direct descendant ballot nearly a year ago, which allowed her to travel to Gallipoli earlier this year for the Anzac centenary commemoration.

It was there she really discovered her appreciation of what her grandfather had done for his country.

Mrs Baillie knew before travelling to Gallipoli there were several untold stories she felt needed to be told, and her artistic style finally had a platform to shine through. She just needed the ''how'' aspect.

''I did not wish to simply describe the bloodbath that went on, nor the response of grief,'' she said.

''In the end I focused on the landscape and environment the lads were in, since that was a very dominant part of their sensory, the everyday.

''Mrs Baillie received the impression her grandfather saw beauty in parts of the landscape and that beauty refreshed him.

She speaks very passionately when referring to her grandfather's service in Gallipoli.

A Dunedin student as well, her grandfather studied medicine at the University of Otago. He enlisted in the army as a medic, but was desperate to finish his exams before he left.

Mrs Baillie put much thought into her depiction of her grandfather's letters. She wanted to make sure every detail she used in her artwork about the war was true and accurate.

''As I developed the works I discovered extra linking detail ... for instance, drawing No 3, Pope's Hill, has two men sitting in the foreground, in their bivvy, sharing a laugh,'' she said. That drawing was based on a photo taken with Montie's camera.

By going through the letters her grandfather wrote, Mrs Baillie has learnt just how valuable having these stories in her life was.

''I realise now to have not had those stories for so long really limited our family's understanding and appreciation of what he [Montie] had done,'' she said.

''It's really given us a sense of why he did what he did, and why he went to war. I always wanted to understand that.''

The connection to Otago in Mrs Baillie's works is as significant to the artist as it was to her grandfather. Montie was in his third year in medicine and he had so many connections and friendships with other Otago lads.

Montie often referred to these ''Otago lads'' in his letters. Montie was writing about the everyday, about his mates, she said.

He talked about the situations they had to manage and what they had to get through. Moments when they could be having some down time and enjoying each other's company were strong features of Mrs Baillie's work, as opposed to the gruesome situations the men were facing.

''Heading down for swims in the sea were standard process for the lads because, of course, the Anzacs were on the sea side of Gallipoli,'' she said.

''The only way the men could cool down [because water was in short supply] was to head down to the beach.''

That seemingly simple task was anything but though, as the snipers and the way the amphitheatre of the cliffs was, meant that the men could actually be killed by shrapnel or snipers in the water. But the temperature was so high, they did it anyway, she said.


by Ollie Ritchie 

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