In July 1940, ten months after the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945), Coldstream wrote from London to his friend John Rake, 'I suppose I shall hate being a soldier but I don't feel depressed about going. One's own development in life and art seems to march beside the general state of affairs in a curious way' (quoted in Rumley, 1986, pp.239-40). Coldstream enlisted for the army in July and on 15 August he was posted to Fort Burgoyne in Dover to train as a gunner with the 5th Field Training Regiment, Royal Artillery.
In this small drawing from a sketchbook Coldstream shows some soldiers resting within the fort, which was built on the high ground to the north-east of Dover Castle. The tall pillar and archway probably date from the late nineteenth century when the fort was constructed. Fort Burgoyne played an important role in both world wars as a defensible barrack and as a base for large weapons. Coldstream, however, humorously portrays life as a soldier while off-duty. Coldstream had been a founding member of the Euston Road School which had encouraged objectivity in painting. This objectivity is evident from the inclusion of the bucket in the background, as well as from the mundane activities of the men. Both features contribute to the realistic impression of the scene at a time when, in contrast, the Battle of Britain was raging in the skies over Britain.
Coldstream always used drawing as a mainstay of the process of making his paintings. In this case, his intention is clear from the fact a grid has been pencilled in over the drawing, and some of the ink lines appear to have been copied by a series of pencil dots. Perhaps due to the pressure of army duties, and his move to Loch Lomond after only three months at Fort Burgoyne, it was impossible for him to complete the work, for there is no record of a finished painting.
Lawrence Gowing and David Sylvester, The Paintings of William Coldstream 1908-1987, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1990
Peter Rumley, Sir William Coldstream Catalogue Raisonné 1926-1983 and Artistic Career 1908-1945, Thesis (PhD.) University of Sussex, 1986