Louis Vasco

Caricature of artist, 1916Loius Vasco enlisted as a Sapper, or engineer, but his calling was art.

At 33, he married and then six months later boarded a troopship bound for the Western Front.

He found time to sketch. First it was the men and boys on board who were sharing this mission, and later in the summertime of France. Vasco was so inspired he took out his watercolours and filled letters to his wife Gwendolyn with charming French farmyard scenes. He promised to bring her to France ‘apres la guerre’ (after the war).

Born Vasco Loureiro in Brixton, London, he grew up in Melbourne and studied art at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1902-1905. His father, Artur Jose Loureiro was an accomplished artist, originally from Portugal. They emigrated in 1885.

Vasco later moved to Sydney, drawing caricatures for a shilling for ferry passengers. After his Tasmanian mother Maria Huybers passed away in 1907 he sailed abroad to America, where he again used his skill to draw a face in a few simple lines on a postcard. He also travelled to Europe and Papua New Guinea retuning back to Australia before the conflicts began.

He married Gwendolyn Dunlop around the time he enlisted in Brisbane on 11 May 1916. His original typed attestation form stated he was not married and she was his ‘lady friend’. The form had been adjusted to a ‘yes’ for marriage and to his ‘trade or calling’ of ‘caricature artist’ was added  ‘and draftsman’.

Vasco left Australia for Devonport, England on 11 November 1916, arriving some 80 days later on the troopship Suevic.

As part of the 11th Field Company Engineers, his responsibility included constructing the lines of defence, temporary bridges, tunnels and trenches, observation posts, roads, railways, communication lines. They were also involved in constructing buildings, showering and bathing facilities.

But a minor spinal injury forced his return to England for treatment and a subsequent infection took his life on 3 August 1918. He died of Meningitis at Saint Albans, Herfordshire.

Louis Vasco’s last drawing is a self-portrait dated two months before he passes away, “A study in blues, Vasco on the rocks”.

Gwendolyn Vasco, received her husband’s personal effects, which were packaged up and sent to her in Brisbane. Many of these items are now kept in the Australian War Memorial.

Gwendolyn, after her months of grief, took again to playing the 12 string mandolin which she loved and travelled around Australia performing. She passed away, age 76.

More from the State Library collection
World War I sketches
Letters from England and France

Australian War Memorial
View items returned from war

Digitised Newspapers (Trove)
The Sydney Morning Herald, 1926, ‘A mandolin player

An Anzac and some of his friends. "The Donks"
'An Anzac and some of his friends. "The Donks"'

Taken by official war photographer Frank Hurley, this image and its title are equally captivating  because it's such an ordinary photo of a young man looking after his animals in such  extraordinary circumstances. I can just imagine him saying something like 'Must be almost time to feed the donks' - an unremarkable job if he was at home, perhaps he was a farmer. Something else again at War in the Middle East. See pic.

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