On show after 100 years: The roll of honour carved by Henry Moore for his old school pals

Henry Moore with Reclining Figure and Mask. Picture: Henry Moore Foundation Archive

It was the war they said would be over by Christmas, but the inscription carved by Henry Moore at the foot of Castleford Secondary School’s roll of honour tells its own story.

Moore fashioned it, from oak, before he was sent to fight, as the youngest man in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles.

Henry Moore's roll of honour for Castleford School. Picture: Henry Moore Foundation

On November 30 1917, a gas attack at Bourlon Wood in northern France, during the Battle of Cambrai, reduced the regiment’s number from 400 to 52.

Exactly a century later, his list of classmates will go on public show.

Moore survived the Great War and went on, via the Leeds School of Art and the Royal College Art, to become the most revered British sculptor of the 20th century.

Yet the roll of honour for his old school in Yorkshire stands alone in its fascination.

It was his first commission, from his old art teacher, Alice Gostick, and on the back he scrawled his name and a caricature of the headmaster, T.R. “Toddy” Dawes.

But the front, where the war’s end date should have gone, was never completed.

“In that sense it is an unfinished work,” said Sebastiano Barassi, head of collections and exhibitions for the Henry Moore collection.

“All he carved were the numbers 19, which tells us only that people expected it to be over in 86 years.

“But in 1914 they had thought it would be over by Christmas.”

Moore, the son of a Castleford miner whose parents disapproved of a career in art, had left the local school and gone on to train as a teacher when he was commissioned to produce the plaque, which contains the names of all the alumni who served, including his own.

It still belongs to the school, and though it has been on long-term loan to Leeds Art Gallery, it has seldom been displayed.

But on the centenary of the gas attack that nearly claimed Moore’s life, it will become the centrepiece of an exhibition celebrating his earliest work.

The retrospective, Becoming Henry Moore will be staged at the Institute named in his honour in Leeds, as part of the Henry Moore Foundation’s 40th anniversary.

“There are quite a lot of works from his school days, which he kept as part of his personal archive and which have not been exhibited before,” Mr Barassi said.

“He kept very little from his Leeds days, sadly. Most were from the Royal College in London - paintings and sculptures that were made as part of his course work and which are not part of his traditional history.

“It was a period in which he developed the ideas he carried on through his career.

“It was also a point at which he was experimenting and looking at the work of other artists - Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso, and also works from the British Museum, which he visited regularly as a student.”

Moore’s wartime experience had a lasting and profound effect on him.

After recovering in hospital, he saw out the next year as a physical training instructor, returning to France as the Armistice was signed.

He later recalled that the war “passed in a romantic haze of trying to be a hero”, and wrote to a friend, Arthur Sale, that eventually “the sight of a khaki uniform began to mean everything in life that was wrong and wasteful and anti-life”.

It was an ex-serviceman’s grant that allowed him to study at the Leeds School of Art (now Leeds Arts University), which set up a sculpture studio for him.

There, he met another Yorkshire sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, and the new exhibition will include work by her and by artists who worked alongside Moore, including Frank Dobson, Jacob Epstein and Leon Underwood.

The Battle of Cambrai, in which Moore’s regiment fought, was a strategic raid on a German supply point and had been initially considered an Allied victory, for which church bells rang out in Britain. But it was followed immediately by a German counter-offensive and ended with around 90,000 casualties on both sides and the loss of 197 Allied tanks.

• Becoming Henry Moore, runs from November 30 to February 18 at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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