Vaughan spent the war as a non-combatant labour in the Pioneer Corps. He was stationed first in Wiltshire, where he made the present work, then moved to Derbyshire and finally transferred to Eden Camp in Yorkshire. Despite the exhausting daily routine of road building, stacking corn and filling sandbags, a complete lack of privacy and being unable to find and adequate workspace, Vaughan nevertheless went on painting and drawing. Life under canvas precluded setting ups functioning studio and, as a consequence, he was unable to work with oil paint. Instead he produced a series of small, intense ink drawings and gouaches sometimes combined with various mixed media.
Although he was never an official war artist, Vaughan produced some remarkable wartime images, recording life in the army and the effects of war. The War Artist's Advisory Committee purchased twelve of his works and these are now housed in the Imperial War Museum (see Under Canvas in Winter (1942), A Barrack-room (1942) and Echo of the Bombardment (1942) etc.
The year before he painted Soldiers Erecting a Tent, Vaughan wrote in his journal: 'Codford, the rank smell of canvas and warm man. Misery and discomfort of living in tents. Everything covered in dust and ants' (Vaughan, in published journal entry, June 1941.
At six o'clock the guard's cane smacks the canvas of the tent. It is pitch dark. Nobody moves but everyone is instantly awake and weighing the agony of getting up against the penalty of staying in the warm cocoon of blankets. The guard can be heard in the distance thrashing the canvas of the other tents. Presently a tremor passes through the tent like the disturbance of sediment art the bottom of a heated flask. A hand emerges from its blanket and gropes from matches to light a candle. Sleepy but emphatic curses break out. When it is already late everyone gets up together and fights their shivering way into clothes, burrowing into the ruined heaps of kit to find their belongings. With practised skill we knead the blankets into the regulation mould and crawl through the opening, forgetting always the hooks which hoist us back again by the loops on our trousers. Outside the moon is still high and we start the perilous journey through slippery mud and through the minefield of guy ropes and tent pegs to the marquee ... orderlies bring in the heavy dixies of tea and porridge blanketed in steam ... it is too dark to see what we are eating but we bend over the tin bowls letting the steam pour over our faces and thaw out our figures on the mugs of tea. (Vaughan, Journals and Drawings p48, Alan Ross, London 1966.
Gerard Hastings compiled this catalogue note for Sotheby's
Anthony Hepworth Fine Art, Bath bt. Private buyer 1st October 1995 Sotheby's New Bond Street 19 November 2014, Lot 23 A Way Of Life: The Time Ellis Collection, bt John Constable
London, Olympia, Keith Vaughan, 3 March 2002, Catalogue no.432