Ashley George Old
was an artist best known for documenting the lives of prisoners of war forced to construct the Thailand-Burma railway. He trained at Northamptonshire College of Art, then the Clapham School of Art.
During World War II he was stationed in Singapore, and when it fell to the Japanese in February 1942 he was taken prisoner and sent to work on the aforementioned Death Railway
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Thailand–Burma Railway and similar names, was a railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma , built by the Empire of Japan during World War II, to support its forces in the Burma campaign.Forced labour was used in its construction...
The brutal POW camp conditions and medical treatments in River Valley Road Camp, Changi Prison
Changi Prison is a prison located in Changi in the eastern part of Singapore.-First prison and POW camp:...
and Tamuan were documented by Old in a series of drawings and paintings. Many of these were buried in the ground and retrieved after the war. They eventually found their way to the State Library of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria is the central library of the state of Victoria, Australia, located in Melbourne. It is on the block bounded by Swanston, La Trobe, Russell, and Little Lonsdale streets, in the northern centre of the central business district...
in Australia where they form part of the Major Arthur Moon collection and can be viewed using the link below.
Often the works are of horrific subject material but contain a haunting beauty. The Major Arthur Moon collection catalogue cover shows a painting of a beckoning hand titled 'Bomb wound (air attack)' and is compared in the narrative to Picasso's Guernica as a truly extraordinary image of war.
Some paintings, such as the birthday card for Major Moon (also showing Edward Dunlop
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Ernest Edward "Weary" Dunlop, AC, CMG, OBE was an Australian surgeon who was renowned for his leadership while being held prisoner by the Japanese during World War II.-Early life and family:...
), even manage to find humour in adversity.
Old was a contemporary of fellow POW artists Jack Bridger Chalker
Jack Bridger Chalker is an artist best known for his work recording the lives of prisoners of war in World War II....
, Philip Meninsky
Philip Meninsky was the son of Bernard Meninsky. Despite an early passion for art, at his father's wish, he initially trained as an accountant, before being called up for National Service....
and Ronald Searle
Ronald William Fordham Searle, CBE, RDI, is a British artist and cartoonist, best known as the creator of St Trinian's School. He is also the co-author of the Molesworth series....
, all of whom risked their lives on a daily basis to make these historic records.
Old and Meninsky were reunited in 1995 after 50 years as guests of the Imperial War Museum for an exhibition Victory in the Far East
– held 15 August to 15 December 1995.
Until his death in 2001 the artist remained both deeply traumatised and enchanted by his experiences in the jungle while a POW. These conflicting emotions are evident in many of his later works; both horror and beauty are shown in the woodlands scenes below. These were painted at Cupid's Green, near Hemel Hempstead, in 1959. The artist spent many months there observing and recording the area's change from an old market town to one of the post-war 'New Towns'.