My great uncle, Lance Corporal Harold Kingsley Edge, died at the Battle of Cambrai in northern France on 1 December 1917. He was twenty.
To mark the centenary of his death, four generations of my family – from Harold’s sole surviving nephew, to his two young great-great-great-nieces – gathered on Saturday night at the the nearest pub to the small farmhouse in south Cheshire where our and Harold’s forebears once lived.
We don’t know much about Harold himself because his grief-stricken mother could not bear mention of his name after his death, and stories were not passed down. But we do know that he was a talented and dedicated artist. Unlike so many of the young men who died in the carnage of the First World War, he left behind him a tangible legacy, in the form of paintings that have been passed down the family ever since.
To mark his centenary, we brought all these surviving artworks together for a one-night-only private retrospective of the work of Harold Edge. None of us had ever seen them all in one room before, and it gave us an opportunity to celebrate our lost relative, rather than simply mourn or commemorate him.
I’m reproducing as best I can all the artworks here. We agreed that he showed remarkable technical proficiency, particularly in the seascapes which were his natural subject, living as he did at the family butcher’s shop in New Ferry, close to the mouth of the Mersey.
In some of the work – an Art Deco portrait of a young woman in motorcycle goggles, or an Expressionist image of a tree – he was clearly attempting to take his practice further and find his own style. He died before he could do so.
As far as we know, Harold intended to pursue a career as a painter. Would he have made it if he had survived? Many promising young artists, then and now, have found it impossible to make a living and end up giving up their dream. But for Harold, his premature death means he is an artist for ever. These remarkably proficient (and, in a couple of cases, exquisite) paintings serve as a permanent reminder of the budding talent that was snuffed out on the battlefield.
As one of my cousins put it, that makes him a kind of James Dean of watercolours. That would mean nothing to Harold, of course, but I think it’s a fine way to remember him.
The caricature on the right is not by Harold – it’s of him. From the inscription, it’s a birthday present. It’s signed H Cross, who was clearly an artist friend. There are a couple of watercolours with the same signature in Harold's autograph book.
We received wonderful hospitality from the Carden Arms – which serves meat supplied by Edge & Son, the family firm established by Harold's grandfather John Edge and now run by his great-nephew Callum.