Sons and Fathers
'When [my father] was wounded at Somme he was brought home and placed in a chair outside the front door, dressed in uniform by his mother because he couldn't lift his arm...The women in the neighbourhood who had lost husbands or sons - [who had only been] told that they were missing or killed in action - queued up to ask this 19-year-old what had really happened to them...it was a horrendous thing to have to do.'
'When [I] read sentences from [Wilfred Owen's and David Jones's] poems, occasionally it sounded just like my father talking. The poetry makes me feel - because of the shared experience - very close to my father.' - John Walker
Walker associates the sheep-skull headed soldier with his father. A skull is an empty shell, a husk. Walker's soldier/father figures are physically and mentally shells of their former selves.
The artist has heard of soldiers at Verdun who bleated like sheep on the way to the front, 'lest their officers think the soldiers were unaware of their fate,' and has recalled a comparison of officers to 'Judas sheep': sheep kept to entice other sheep into the abattoir.
A sheep's skull also carries older associations with sacrificial animals, which was why early Christians chose the sheep as the symbol of Christ as a sacrifice to God, and is probably why Walker puts a figure with a sheep's skull against the background of crosses on page 25.
On the last page of Passing Bells is Walker's familiar image of himself at his easel, but this time his head is a sheep's skull too, a sign of loving identification with his father.