image: View across an onion field in autumn with sixteen Italian prisoners-of-war gathering in the crop, supervised by a single British soldier at the near edge of the field. The PoWs are wearing clothing marked with a distinctive red spot on the jackets and trousers. On the horizon a tractor loosens a furrow of earth for the prisoners to gather the crop into wicker baskets. On the right stands a horse and cart where the crop is being loaded.
The minute observation and naive quality of Ford's painting combined with his caricature depiction of the Italian's faces make this an unsettling image. Ford himself worked on the land in Hampshire during the war and his paintings are concerned with the conservative values of British agricultural and village life. This scene of a quintessentially British autumnal landscape with horse-drawn cart is literally uprooted by the new technology of the tractor and the busy, but out-of-place, Italian prisoners. Harvesting was traditionally a time when everyone worked together but the British soldier in this painting stands resolutely apart from the activity, emphasising the wartime dislocation of traditional agricultural life. The urgent need for increased wartime production and the lack of manpower in the countryside meant that many PoWs in British camps worked on the land. They were paid a small amount which allowed them to buy comforts such as cigarettes and extra food. However, their ambiguous role as co-workers/enemies caused unease in rural communities which can be felt in this painting.
War Artists Advisory Committee purchase