Sunday, 14 June 2015

Official war artist Anthony Gross

Photo credit: Malindine, E G (Capt), War Office official photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A couple of months ago I discovered some fantastic drawings by official war artist Antony Gross. They are a record of a voyage he made on a troop ship in 1942. (Read my earlier blogpost here for more information.)

I've been looking at the drawings again today and am really impressed by them. You can see all the drawings on the Wikicommons website as the Imperial War Museum has placed the series in the public domain. I think some of Gross' drawings enhance the comments my dad wrote in his diary.

Monday 25th October 1943

"Arrived at Casablanca about 10.00.
Stayed two hours while our escort destroyers re-fuelled.
Continued to sea.
Changed to tropical rig in afternoon – khaki shirt and shorts. Many comments at this from R.N. chaps as the Fleet Air Arm is the only branch of Navy allowed khaki in the tropics.

The nights are extremely beautiful. I stood in the bows for a long time tonight watching the sunset and the swarms of flying fish playing in the spray. Some of them are quite large and their mode of travel is to swim until they are moving very fast and then launch themselves with a flick of the tail and glide just above the water. A school of porpoises followed for quite a while."

I don't think these chaps are all Fleet Air Arm but the drawing highlights the contrast between the two colours. And how crowded the ships were.

By Gross, Anthony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday 31st October 1943

"Sighted the African coast early in the morning and at 10.10 dropped anchor in Freetown harbour.
The town looks very pretty with brightly coloured houses, the outstanding objects being a church and two wireless aerials. Behind the town to the left is the coastal range of hills.

Large numbers of canoes fill the harbour, some mere dug-outs but others quite decent boats."

I'm not certain these drawings are at Freetown in Sierra Leone but the landscape looks similar to photographs I've seen.

By Gross, Anthony (CBE) (RA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gross, Anthony (CBE) (RA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday 16th March 1945

"Still at sea. However people can write poetry and extol the sea I don’t know. I hate the sight of it.

Am spending my time at present in reading. There are innumerable paper-backed books on board and I read on an average one a day. To-day it was "English Diaries 19th Century". I particularly liked the selections from Dorothy Wordsworth’s."

My dad wrote this comment when he was in transit via the Panama Canal to Australia. Although Gross was on a different journey I think this drawing really captures the isolation and tedium of a long voyage.

By Gross, Anthony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And are those really hens in this final drawing?

By Gross, Anthony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety
The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II 
by N. Buckle & C. Murray

Saturday, 9 May 2015

For #VEDay70

When the war in Europe ended, my dad was stationed at a transit camp in Sidney, Australia waiting for onward transport to join his unit in the British Pacific Fleet.

He wrote in his diary:

On Tuesday 8th May 1945 the newspapers were head-lined "It’s all over in Europe" and gave histories of the last five years.

Flags were flying in Sydney but no crowds surged through the streets. We made sure our rooms were booked at the British Centre and went for a drink to celebrate Victory. A couple of drunken sailors were the only signs of the momentous day it was.

At seven o’clock we were steaming out of Central Station just as the city began to warm up and celebrate. Australian trains are horrible. They are uncomfortable, slow, draughty and Heaven knows what else, in fact not a patch on the good old L.M.S. [London, Midland and Scottish Railway.]

The only interesting part of the journey was an old man of 83 who got on at Penorth and who had emigrated here when he was 19. He had many interesting stories of the old days.

We arrived at Katoomba, highest point in the Blue Mountains about 10p.m. and after eating – the inevitable steak – got to our hotel just in time to hear Churchill’s speech.

Soon we were in bed, well wrapped up as this is very much colder than Sydney.

I found this clip of Churchill's speech on Youtube. I thought it was interesting that as well as announcing the end of the war in Europe Churchill went on to talk about the Japanese threat in the Pacific.

At the time of VE Day the war in the Pacific against Japan wasn't regarded as particularly important by the British public or indeed the majority of Britain's serving men and women. The Government propaganda machine had to work hard to persuade people to support the Pacific War. 

My dad was a radio mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. He travelled on a troop ship from Liverpool via the Panama Canal to Australia. The journey took about four weeks. He had to wait in Sidney, Australia for a further six weeks before he sailed on HMS Arbiter to Ponam Island, a tiny coral island about 2000 miles north of Australia. His unit was based on Ponam Island providing back-up for the British Pacific Fleet.

There are some more photos of Ponam Island if you follow this link.

I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II