The Helping Hand

August 14th, 2013 | Photos, Web Gilbert

Web Gilbert created nine war memorial sculptures – more than any other Australian.

Here is another, “The Helping Hand”, which is at Shepparton, in central Victoria.

It depicts a soldier, having just climbed up and out of a trench on the field of battle, turning to help a comrade out.

Like so many of Gilbert’s sculptures, it is shrouded in mystery.

The best article I have read about Gilbert is “Web Gilbert’s War Sculptures”, in the Victorian Historical Journal, Volume 70, No. 1, June 1999.

It has this to say about “The Helping Hand”.

“…it is scarcely believable, in spite of what he (Gilbert) says in his letter of 24 June 1922, that it depicts a real event. A charging man having just gone “over the top” would risk being shot in the back if he turned to help a comrade up. And a soldier unable to hoist himself out of the trench would likely not be much use as a fighter. Veterans would have known this – but Gilbert was not a veteran. The concept came, no doubt, from Gilbert’s creative imagination – which, of course, does nothing to detract from its value.”

Personally, I am not convinced that such an event could not have happened. Even my own limited reading about the First World War has taught me that far less likely things than this did indeed occur. Presumably, if the soldier had not turned around, he would have been shot in the chest. Does it really make that much difference?

To further boost Gilbert’s case, the following words are engraved upon a bronze plaque beneath the statue.

“The statue depicts…Pte John Raws reaching to help his brother Robert from trenches at St Quentin. Both were from Adelaide, and later killed in action at Pozieres.”

So, what to believe? I certainly don’t know.

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