The Memorial’s Research Centre holds some of Arthur Streeton’s personal correspondence. Streeton was a lively and prolific letter writer who often enlivened his correspondence with pen sketches of people and landscapes. The letters held in the Memorial’s collections were found in the personal papers of Lady Ethel Turing. Turing worked for the British Red Cross and was a regular visitor to the 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth.
Streeton had moved to England in 1897, hoping to make a name for himself in Europe as an artist. He was 47 and living in London when the First World War began – too old to enlist. However, keen to volunteer, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and worked as an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital. Streeton was one of a number of artists, including fellow Australians George Coates, Tom Roberts, and A. Henry Fullwood, who worked as orderlies at this hospital.
Here Streeton saw the terrible effects of war. The hospital at Wandsworth particularly catered for men with severe facial injuries and shell shock. Streeton was quite affected by his time spent working in the hospital and he was eventually discharged because of the toll it took upon his health. Despite this experience, Streeton’s letters to Lady Turing are light-hearted in nature. They reveal many social aspects of life at the hospital, as well as much about Streeton’s personal relationships at that time. They contain cheery images of gardens, flowers, military bands and soldiers at recreation or convalescing; in particular, they reveal his growing interest – it was to become a lifetime passion – for gardens.
Streeton was appointed an Australian official war artist on 14 May 1918.