During the Second World War, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler were mortal enemies. Before that, however, the two future leaders fought a mere ten miles away from one another on the Great War's Western Front. And along with their guns, they also brought their paint brushes.
Though they found themselves at the Western Front during the war, their backgrounds couldn't have been more different. Hitler joined a Bavarian reserve force after failing as an artist in Austria, while Churchill, recently disgraced from the failed campaign in Gallipoli, was stationed at the front (in true Churchillian fashion he brought a bathtub along with him).
Above: Adolf Hitler seated at far left.
Hitler would go on to win two Iron Cross medals, get promoted to corporal, and suffer from a shrapnel injury and a gas attack. Churchill, relegated to a brigadier-general, took up his command with a positive attitude and quickly won over his previously skeptical officers from a battalion that had seen major losses during the battle of Loos. The image at left shows Churchill in France commanding Royal Scots Fusiliers in January 1916.
And as described in a recent History Today article by Nigel Jones, the two still managed to find time to exercise their artistic side.
Always subject to depression, Churchill told the poet and diplomat Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: 'There is more blood than paint upon these hands'. Indeed Blunt believed that had it not been for painting, Churchill might have gone mad.
In November 1915 Churchill resigned from government, feeling he could best assuage his guilt over Gallipoli by serving as a soldier. He was promised command of a brigade by his friend Field Marshal Sir John French, but agreed to learn the ropes of trench warfare first, attaching himself to the Grenadier Guards.
When Churchill arrived at the front, Hitler was billeted in the French village of Fournes-en-Weppes near Fromelles. He had already had a vicious 'blooding' in the First Battle of Ypres, after which he was promoted to corporal, decorated with the Iron Cross and served as a regimental runner.
The first six months of 1916 was a period of relative quiet and Hitler took advantage of the lull to paint and draw (he was nicknamed 'the artist' by his comrades), though his earliest surviving war picture is from December 1914, of the ruined church of St Nicholas in Messines (now Mesen), where he was quartered in the crypt.
Just ten miles away was Ploegsteert (known as 'Plug Street' to the British), which had seen bitter fighting. On January 5th, 1916 (Temporary) Lieutenant-Colonel Winston Churchill arrived as commander of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. He and Hitler would never be in such close proximity again.
Adolf Hitler's 'Shelter in Fournes', 1915. AKG Images
Be sure to read the entire article at History Today.