Ballarat artist Edwin Joseph (Ted) Cannon was killed in action in France in 1916. An intelligent, witty, and talented artist, he attended the Ballarat Technical Art School in 1912 when he was just seventeen years old. Artists Amalie Field (later Colquhoun) a fellow student, and H. H. Smith principal of the Art School, part of the School of Mines (SMB) Campus came to know and respect him.

Ted was awarded First Prize in the 1913 Ballarat Exhibition. He was noted for his black and white work, industrial design, and his cartoons and caricatures. His was later employed as a cartoonist by the Ballarat Star newspaper. Although he was awarded the Victorian Education Department Senior Technical Scholarship in 1915 he joined the AIF and was soon on his way to Egypt with the 6th Infantry Battalion which embarked from Port Melbourne on 23 November 1915.

Ted’s letters arrived from overseas accompanied by his sketchings of the war around him. They were published regularly in The Courier and the SMB Students’ Magazine. He wrote of the hardships encountered such as ‘salty bully beef and dirty creek water’, the agonising loss of ‘a good few pals’, and difficulties with clothing and hygiene.

Ted sketched enemy gun emplacements during the battle of Poziers on the Western Front, and earned a reputation in the Scout Platoon. His words in a letter written back home, and submitted to the University of Ballarat Honour Roll by military historian Amanda Taylor, illustrate Ted’s bravery and worth to the Australian High Command. 

Ted wrote: “Did I tell you in the last letter that I was a scout? If I didn’t do so then I do so now. It’s a good game too. Just suits me right down to the ground. All through our tour of duty in the trenches I have had a sort of roving commission observing the enemy’s doings, etc, from the tops of trees, battered buildings, and all sorts of funny places. It’s a bit awkward at times if a sniper gets on you when you’re about 30 or 40 feet above the ground in a tree – you often ‘miss the step’ on the way down so hastily. If you happen to have left your telescope or your compass up top in the excitement, it further complicates matters. I got in that fix the other day. Hurried down and left my compass behind. I sat down behind the tree and viewed the surroundings for about half an hour, and then made at least three attempts to get up, but before I’d get near half-way the sniper would spot me and put up a quick-firing record. I beat him in the end, though, by sitting behind the tree and writing a few letters. By the time I had finished writing he’d ‘chucked it up’ as a bad job and turned his attentions elsewhere … Very often, when I am dangling by my eyebrows from the limb of a high tree, trying my best to draw with one eye to the telescope and the other one on the pad, I wish I were back home again drawing bulrushes and willow trees from the banks of the Lake [Wendouree]. Some of the sketches I do here wouldn’t pass muster with Mr Smith I’m sure. In places my line gets jerky and dissipated looking. This is due to a sudden cold sensation shooting through my anatomy as a bullet whistles through the tree or a shell bursts in the vicinity’.

In the line of duty at the Old Mill at Verbrandenmolen in the Ypres Salient Ted Cannon was hit by machine gun fire, sustaining severe abdominal wounds. He died on 14 September 1916 and was buried in the military cemetery at Lijssenthoek.

Ted Cannon’s entry in the University of Ballarat Honour Roll can be viewed at the web address below and was the source of the information for this article.

A French Brewer singing "The Marseilles", Sketched from life by Red Cannon