In January 1917 the Commander in Chief of the forces in the Middle East requested an official artist to record events in this region. Campbell Dodgson suggested McBey, who had previously travelled and painted in North Africa.
McBey was appointed for six months, on similar terms to Muirhead Bone, at £500 per year plus expenses (see pp29-31). He sailed in May and by 24 June was at Port Said.
The original plan was for McBey to send home his drawings in batches, which could be reproduced in volumes in a similar way to Bone's. A book of reproductions was also proposed, particularly for American use. However, there were long delays in the first batches reaching England: the first batch was handed in to HQ by McBey on 16 August and still had not reached London by late October. The file includes lists of drawings sent in each batch.
McBey also had problems because of lack of transport available to him, but by Feb 1918 he had access to a car.
Correspondence also concerns the publication of 'The Desert Campaigns', by W T Massey, illustrated by a number of his sketches, published by Constable & Co.
Several exhibitions were also planned at Colnaghi's. Once the pictures started arriving, Yockney attempted to place reproductions in numerous magazines and newspapers, with varying degrees of success. In particular, Clement Shorter, or 'The Sphere', was critical and questioned the value of expenditure on such a scheme.
A volume of 'British Artists at the Front' devoted to McBey was planned, but never produced, although arrangements went so far as to discuss who should write the introductions.
On occasion, the Treasury also questioned the potential financial benefits of the scheme, and the file includes justifications of McBey's employment.
The file includes a colour reproduction of 'The Long Patrol: Tracks Discovered' (IWM: ART 2937), annotated 'Studio' (not in the 1918 special number of the Studio, 'The War Depicted by Distinguished British Artists')
McBey's regular reports include information on current works, for example (308) mentions his pencil and oil portraits of General Allenby, a photograph of one of which is at (324).
In late 1918 McBey was given permission to work in oils, and there was some concern that the work in oils was reducing the number of watercolour and drawings which were the main body of his work.
McBey was recalled in early 1919 and embarked for home on 3 February. The file covers final details of expenses claimed, and a series of presscuttings from the 'Morning Post', which published extracts from McBey's account of his time in the Middle East.
Martin Hardie of the Victoria & Albert Museum requested that the V&A might have some of the rough sketches relating to drawings in the IWM.
Correspondence also concerns a request to reproduce some of the drawings in Hector Dinning's book 'From the Nile to Aleppo' (George Allen & Unwin); McBey's production of a replica drawing of 'Rachel's Tomb', the original of which had been lost by the Ministry of Information; a career synopsis of Lieut Gen Sir Edward Bulfin, subject of a McBey portrait (IWM:ART 2472); and McBey's gift of the etching 'The Surrender of Jerusalem' (IWM:ART 4164), which had some damage caused by his dog; details of this work are at (454).
There are also requests for reproductions and copies of works, and presscuttings relating to McBey, including saleroom prices and an obituary at (475).