P.E.I. artist brings Island soldier's story to life through sketches

The life of a First World War soldier from Tyne Valley, P.E.I. is brought to life in a six-minute video, told through a series of sketches by an Island illustrator.

'I've often wondered if he was that way before he went to war, I don't know'

This is the portrait of Pte. MacArthur sketched by Jordan Cameron. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The life of a First World War soldier from Tyne Valley, P.E.I. is brought to life in a six-minute video, told through a series of sketches by an Island illustrator.

Veterans Affairs Canada received a request in 2016 to honour Pte. James MacArthur, from his granddaughter Norma Malone who has put together a binder full of materials about his time in the military.

MacArthur's first taste of battle was at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. (Submitted by Norma Malone)

"I was just awestruck with it," Malone said.

"I thought they did a fantastic job of re-creating his life while he was overseas and even after he came home."

Gruesome sights 

MacArthur's first taste of battle was on April 9, 1917, at Vimy Ridge.

"As a stretcher bearer, they saw some pretty gruesome sights," Malone said. 

"They had to go out in the middle of fields where there was gunfire being exchanged and try to bring back the wounded soldiers for medical treatment."

Norma Malone has put together a binder of material about her grandfather, Pte. James MacArthur from Tyne Valley, P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The video includes one scene on the battlefield where — for the first time — he sees two dead German soldiers, one of them decapitated.

"I just hope it will give an appreciation for what these soldiers did endure, make it a bit more real for people," Malone said.

"Sometimes it's said the stretcher bearers are the unsung heroes of World War One, that they didn't get much recognition."

This sketch of the stretcher bearers in the mud was one of the most challenging for illustrator Jordan Cameron, but also one of his favourites. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Award for bravery

MacArthur was wounded on Aug. 8, 1918.

"Even though he was wounded, he still managed to carry another wounded soldier off the field," Malone said. 

"For that my grandfather received a military medal for bravery in the field."

MacArthur received a military medal for bravery in the field. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Malone said when he got home, her grandfather would sometimes talk about the war, blurting out stories, as she describes it.

"To me, he seemed like a quiet man," Malone said.

"I've often wondered if he was that way before he went to war, I don't know."

The video also includes her grandfather singing the 105th Battalion's marching song

"The day that I taped him singing that song was in 1968, he was 82," Malone said.

"He would often be sitting there and just blurt a song, so I taped him."

Draw My Life

Illustrator Jordan Cameron worked with Confound Films, hired by Veterans Affairs Canada, to bring MacArthur's story to life.

"I hadn't seen a Draw My Life video before so I did my homework and looked some up on YouTube and got the gist of what the idea was," Cameron said. 

"I thought it was a good medium to tell that story."

Jordan Cameron was hired by Confound Films to do the sketches. It took more than five hours to get the illustrations needed to make the six-minute video.

The production crew started with a script, with a list of key points to turn into illustrations.

"They film over top of a person drawing the photos that go along with the narration," Cameron said.

"They turn it into a time lapse so you can see the pictures unfolding at the same speed as the story's told."

In another scene, MacArthur and some other soldiers come into a town in Arras, France after three days without food and break into a grocer's. MacArthur faced a court martial for the act and was given field punishment. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Cameron drew for more than five hours as the camera rolled.

The technique is not without its challenges.

"Trying to get the illustration done all in one go when we're using permanent markers, just to make sure it's nice and bold for the camera," Cameron said.

"I'm used to starting off with a pencil and being able to erase my mistakes."

In one scene in the video, a German soldier surrenders to MacArthur. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Some of the sketches were also more challenging.

"My favourite sketch in the video is the one of the soldiers carrying the stretcher through the mud," Cameron said.

"Even just reading the description, I thought how am I going to do that and then that one came together really well and that was the first take."

'Very special'

Cameron says he was "blown away" by the final product.

"When you're sitting there drawing the pictures, you're not really sure how it's going to unfold," Cameron said.

"But the narrator they chose was really fantastic and they ended with him singing, so that was very special."

Malone now has the sketchbook that was used to make the video about her grandfather. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Malone now has the sketch book, with the drawings used to tell her grandfather's story. 

"It's a short video, it tells a lot in a few minutes," Malone said.

"Every Remembrance Day always is personal, but this year, when it's the 100th anniversary of the Great War ending, it is personal to me for sure."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog.