image: a landscape in the snow. On the left, a red earth trench lined with duckboards stretches away from the viewer. A group of soldiers clamber from the trench, going 'over the top'. Two lie dead in the trench and another has fallen lying face down in the snow. Those who have survived plod forward towards the right without looking back. They walk beneath a grey, stormy sky, with clouds from shell and gunfire in the distance.
‘Over the Top’ is one of very few officially commissioned works depicting a specific and clearly identifiable action. The painting commemorates the 1st Artists’ Rifles involvement in an attack on the morning of 30th December, 1917, at Welsh Ridge, near Marcoing (south west of Cambrai). The unit was recalled from ‘rest’ in response to a German attack and hastily committed to action. The consequences were disastrous and the Artists’ Rifles suffered heavy casualties. In a sense this action was typical of the hastily arranged and badly planned local counter-attack. Nash’s soldier figures climbing out of the trench, shoulders hunched over, walking out into the snow seem resigned to their fate. This battle experience profoundly affected the artist and his painting. The simplicity and directness of this image is a valuable visual complement to the historical accounts of the event to be found in the unit history and battalion war diary.
Ministry of Information Commission, Scheme 2