A challenging commission from a local family has encouraged a district artist to produce a portrait of a Boorowa man who perished in Singapore during World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese.
Murringo-based Therese Crowe recently completed the portrait, painted from a photograph, of Walter Charles Mason, who served with the 2/30th Infantry Battalion, part of the Australian 8th Division, which formed a section of the Allied forces opposing the Japanese invasion.
A company of Walter's battalion was the first Australian unit to engage the Japanese, when it ambushed a large enemy contingent on January 15, 1942, at Gemas, on the Gemencheh River in Central Malaya.
The action was quite successful, and many other deeds of the defenders had a significant effect, but without air support, and opposed by a well resourced and determined enemy, the Allied forces were eventually compelled to retreat down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore.
After a spirited defence of the island, the British-led army units surrendered, and as a result some 15,000 Australian soldiers became prisoners of war.
After capitulation, Walter Mason was among those who formed 'F Force', one of the groups of Allied prisoners who were transported to Thailand to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, a key component of the Japanese war effort.
Due to the inhuman conditions experienced, heavy labour, and lack of proper medical care, the mortality among prisoners was very high.
Walter died in Changi Prison in Singapore, of pericarditis, on March 12, 1944, soon after his unit returned from Thailand. He was 24 years of age.
His gravestone, among so many others in Kranji War Cemetery, carries the inscription: 'Duty Nobly Done.'
Therese Crowe said she felt very privileged to be asked by the Mason family to paint the portrait.
"I usually paint portraits from life, but sometimes this isn't possible," Therese said.
"The essence of a good portrait is to capture the character of the person."
The task had been made easier when she was provided with the story of the person as well as the photograph.
"I really wanted to capture the faraway, pensive look in Walter's eyes," Therese said.
"The photograph was sepia and I was keen to give the portrait more life and colour than a tonal photograph can portray.
"To begin painting I sought to give the portrait a warm undertone.
"After a week or two I then sketched with paints onto the primed canvas using mediums to create depths of tone to mould the face, hat and then uniform."
Therese said this was something which took a few days to complete.
The shade chosen seemed to be the perfect colour for the hat and uniform. After allowing the painting to dry for week or so, it was then time to go over the face with some thin colour washes.
Therese said she could see Walter emerging from the canvas.
She then contacted Walter's younger brother Derrick (the only surviving member of his immediate family), to check the colour of Walter's eyes. Derrick looked up army records, which confirmed 'light brown hair and grey eyes.'
With pictures of Derrick's similar grey eyes as a guide, Therese employed a mixture of colours to highlight the eyes and to lighten Walter's hair.
"I have greyed off the background to bring the figure forward," she said.
"I tried to take a simple yet accurate approach to create the portrait. I did not want a painting style that would divert attention away from him.
"I felt it was important for Walter to be a feature of the painting and to tell his story. Walter is a hero, especially to his family."
Members of the Mason family have expressed their appreciation for the understanding and sensitivity which Therese showed in accomplishing the task.
The portrait will be an article which will be greatly treasured in the future, as a visible reminder of a loved family member, and of the care and skill of the artist which made it possible.
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