Thursday, December 06, 2012

Artwork of wartime pilots goes on show at Royal Air Force (RAF) Cosford

The brave airmen of World War One and Two went into battle not knowing whether they would return, but many carried memories of home along with them painted on the side of their aircrafts.

An exhibition displaying some of the works of art on planes which flew over Britain during the war has now been opened at RAF Cosford Museum.

The free entry exhibition contains examples of the artwork created by pilots to adorn the noses, tails and fuselage of their aircraft.

The most historic artwork is the love heart motif taken from the Sopwith Camel of Lieutenant Colonel William Barker, a Canadian World War One ace who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918.

Lt Col Barker was awarded the medal for single-handedly fighting more than 15 German aircraft in one combat, a fight which left him critically wounded.

Although not from his Victoria Cross combat aircraft, the motif on display featured on Lt Col Barker’s previous aircraft and was given as a gift to his engine mechanic, who later donated it to the RAF Museum.

Other artwork featured includes a Donald Duck taken from a Mosquito, little skunks taken from a Halifax, and a Red Indian brave once on the nose of a Wellington.

A collection of excerpts from the documentary film Nose Art and Pin Ups by Gail Downey will also be shown.

Clare Carr, assistant curator at RAF Museum Cosford, said: “Many of the aircraft on display in the museum feature some form of artwork.

“This exhibition gives us the chance to bring from storage some of the historic examples held in the museum collection.

“It’s really interesting to see the children’s interpretations of nose art brought up to date and the clips from the film Nose Art and Pin Ups really helps to place the pieces in context.”

Some of the pieces exhibited date back to early fabric covered aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel and the Hawker Demon as well as more modern aluminium aircraft like the Handley Page Halifax.

Nose art featured on aircraft all over the world and ranged from cartoon characters to stylised portraits of the aircrew’s sweethearts.

The skunks from the Halifax have the nicknames of the aircraft crew written alongside each skunk. The large schoolmaster skunk is Goldie, the skunk in the car is Tommy and the five small skunks are named Shag, Ray, Gos, Metty and Wally.

Some of the bomb mission symbols have place names written on, including Berlin, Stettin and Essen.

There is a motto on the art which says ‘We Are Offensive’, which it is believed may refer to the unpleasant scent skunks release when scared.

On the side of the Sopwith is a piece of art called Fums Up! which was a good luck term popular in the 1900s and up to World War Two. The image shows a baby with its thumbs up.

Small lucky charms in the shape of a baby with outstretched thumbs were commonly given to loved ones serving in the armed forces. Often they had wooden heads so the recipient could also touch wood for luck.

The Fums Up! motifs shown in the exhibition were used by Second Lieutenant John Raymond Chisman of 204 Squadron RAF.

The Fums Up! baby was painted onto the spine of his aircraft. Second Lt Chisman’s sister would always end her letters to him with the words “Fums Up!”

The red Indian on display is from the nose of a Vickers Wellington II of 158 Squadron RAF.

The 158 Squadron was equipped with Wellingtons for only five months before moving onto the Handley Page Halifax in June 1942.

Some of the most famous aircraft nose art designs of World War Two were from a Halifax of 158 Squadron.

Other famous nose art includes pieces such as Friday the 13th, which was the name given to Halifax LV907, which had completed 128 bombing operations when the war ended. The nose panels from this aircraft are displayed at the RAF Museum in London.

The exhibition also includes a display of the winning entries from Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire’s nose art competition, which was held in 2011.

This competition invited children and young adults aged between six and 20 to design their own nose art or recreate a classic World War Two image.

There are 21 imaginative and vibrant examples on display as part of the exhibition.

This features the artwork of Don Allen, a ground crew member of the US Army Air Force, whose paintings decorated the noses of fighter aircraft based at Debden in Essex during World War Two.

The exhibition is housed in the temporary exhibition gallery located in the Museum’s Hangar One, and will be open until March 31. Admission is free of charge.

Story and photo gallery: