Books and Movies: The Lost Sketchbooks, a Young Artist in the Great War

Readers who know the webmaster well know of his passion for exploring the Meuse-Argonne battlefield armed with maps, regimental histories and highly detailed first person accounts.  Thus, when he was introduced to this book, he must admit that he did not know how to respond:  It certainly was not a detailed study of the battlefield such as those published by Paul Braim (The Test of Battle:  The American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign) or Mark Ethan Grotelueschen (The AEF Way of War.)   Also, there are not that many of Mr. Shenton’s sketches from the Meuse-Argonne in the book that can be used for then-and-now pictures.  So, should the book be reviewed in a website devoted to the Meuse-Argonne?  The answer is YES, for a few reasons.  First, Edward Shenton did fight in the Meuse-Argonne.  Second, the drawings and the narrative demonstrate just how the war touched the lives of its participants forever, and that is one of the themes of the “We Forget Today” section of this blog.  Third, a Minister friend reminded the webmaster that different individuals process information differently; and the Webmaster freely admits that he is driven by words much more than visual arts.  Other readers might see things differently.



Lost Sketchbooks Cover


In “The Lost Sketchbooks,” author Rex Passion does a skillful job of combining the artist’s war-time sketches with a brief combat narrative describing what the artist and his unit were experiencing.  He also adds a map at the beginning of each Chapter, so readers have an idea where the artist was when he was drawing

The artist in question was Edward Shenton.  During the war he fought with the 103rd Engineering Regiment, which was part of the 28th Division, AEF.  “During the war, Ed Shenton was a foot soldier who carried everything on has back and followed the orders of his superiors…  When he was at the front, the only drawing tools he had available were a pencil and a sketchbook, and even that was cut in half…  He had to draw on the fly and was proud of the fact that he could create a composition in 30 seconds…”  (Page 10.)  After the war, Ed would become a writer and illustrator; ultimately writing twelve books and almost one hundred short stories and poems, and illustrating at least 135 books written by others.

Author Rex Passion serendipitously met the artist’s son while writing a short biography of Ed Shenton.  Through that engagement, he came into contact with the artist’s numerous war-time sketchbooks and realized that “Ed’s drawings have an immediacy that is seldom seen in professional war artists.”  (Page 10.)  “The Lost Sketchbooks” combines 150 of Shenton’s several hundred sketches, more or less chronologically, with a description of the combat being experienced by the 103rd Engineers.  Maps at the beginning of each chapter also put the actions in context geographically.

The drawings cover Shenton’s state-side training, as well as his training and combat in France during all the major American battles.  In the webmaster’s eyes, the book’s one shortfall is the relative lack of sketches from the unit’s time in the Meuse-Argonne.  The author suggests that one reason for this could be missing sketchbooks.  The section on Fismes and the Aisne-Marne is particularly well-illustrated; with numerous sketches of the towns and villages in the area.  In spite of this, the book is a skillful blending of one young artist’s work–often drawn rapidly and under fire; telling the story of this doughboy’s combat experience with sketches more than words.  Because of that, it belongs on the doughboy book shelf along with other biographies / unit histories.

This book can be purchased from the author at Komatik Press, 95 Jackson Street, Cambridge, MA 02140.