IN 1920, THE New Zealand official war artist George Edmund Butler presented a painting to the New Zealand Government for the proposed National War Memorial Museum. It is titled Butte de Polygon with the subtitle, Thy Father and I have sought thee sorrowing. Luke II: 48. It depicts an aged couple standing over a soldier’s grave in the wasteland of the Western Front. In the background is the Butte de Polygon at Polygon Wood, to the east of Ypres, in the half circle of hills savagely fought for in the battles of Ypres from 1914 to 1918. This ground was occupied by the New Zealand Division in the winter of 1917–18.
What the picture depicts was the hope of every New Zealand family that had lost a loved one in the First World War. They needed to believe that it was possible to travel across the world and visit a battlefield where their boy had fought and find his grave. The difficulties can be imagined, but Butler understood the powerful emotional impulse of what he portrayed, encapsulated in the words of the subtitle. Most would never be able to attempt such a journey but every family in New Zealand wanted to believe that it was possible and that once there they would find a grave or memorial on the battlefield where he fell.
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