George Bissill - Miner, Soldier and Artist

From coal miner to WWI trench tunneller

Working in the mines and digging tunnels under enemy trenches in the First World War might sound like unusual sources of inspiration for an artist, but George William Bissill turned the hard, dangerous work he did into art. 

Although his career had enabled him to escape the mines, in his work George was drawn relentlessly back underground, depicting male figures, bent and labouring within tunnels.

George was born in 1896 and spent his childhood in Langley Mill, Nottinghamshire. George preferred to draw and paint, but his father was a miner and George was expected to follow in his footsteps. Around the age of 12 George started work in the mines as a pony driver.

He developed a fear of being underground and on the outbreak of the First World War, aged 18, he joined up to escape the mines. However, during his time in the army he was transferred to one of the Royal Engineers tunnelling companies, where his mining expertise made him useful for constructing tunnels under enemy lines. This was highly dangerous work, and at one point, while digging under enemy lines, he was trapped underground for 3 hours. 


Depicting – to show or describe something in pictures or words
Enabled – made something possible
Expertise – skill or expert knowledge
Inspiration – something that makes people want to be creative
Outbreak – sudden unpleasant event
Pony driver - person in charge of hauling carts of coal by pony to different working areas in the mines, and loads of rock to the pit bottom
Relentlessly – something difficult that keeps going
Royal Engineers – skilled soldiers and engineers who work alongside all parts of the army

View other relevant WWI My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

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Document icon Learning article provided by: National Coal Mining Museum for England | 
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