In Balcony of the troopers’ ward, 14th Australian General Hospital, Abbassia Lambert portrayed the wartime courtship of a soldier and a nurse. The two protagonists stand apart in their separate worlds, and yet are visually drawn together. The trooper wears the standard blue trousers, white shirt and red tie issued to convalescents and coyly holds his slouch hat in his hand while the nurse looks shyly downwards. They stand on a balcony in the dappled light of the late afternoon. Lambert placed these two figures within a decorative structure of geometrical forms – the horizontals of the ceiling beams, the verticals of the veranda columns and window frames, and the two bold red rectangles of the screens around the bed. He described the painting as a ‘study of afternoon sunlight effect’ (AWM file 449/009/078).
In his official history, Gullett said that ‘no womanhood has ever presented a richer association of feminine tenderness and sheer capacity’ than the Australian nurses during the First World War (Gullett 1936, p.645).
Balcony of the troopers’ ward was perhaps Lambert’s expression of his gratitude to the female nurturer, and also of the power of love and human kindness in the healing process.
This painting is unusual among Lambert’s war work in that it is an illustrative work showing an aspect of the role of women in war. While working in Palestine and Gallipoli Lambert mostly painted landscape sketches; and when he turned to portraying contemporary life during wartime, the works he produced were essentially masculine images of ‘sweating, sun-bronzed men and beautiful horses’ (ML MSS 97/4, item 6).