RETRO: Hunt for Second World War bomber paintings

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A musuem wants to track down anyone with pictures of a series of aircraft from the Second World War which were painted by a local artist.

The Sywell Aviation Museum has eight paintings of Wellington bombers by Frank J Spencer, and would like to get its hands on any more it can find.

Sywell Air Museum treasurer John Coley with paintings of Wellington bombers by artist Frank Spencer. The museum would like to track down any other paintings he may have done.

Sywell Air Museum treasurer John Coley with paintings of Wellington bombers by artist Frank Spencer. The museum would like to track down any other paintings he may have done.

Museum secretary Ben Brown said they were trying to piece together snippets of information on Mr Spencer to try to learn more about what he painted and the artist himself.

Mr Brown added: “We have been eking out little bits of information about him as the years go by.

“All we have gleaned is what the people who donated the paintings have told us.”

The museum knows Mr Spencer was a teenager in the 1940s, and believes he worked at Brooklands Aviation, based at Sywell. He is also believed to have survived the war.

Each of Mr Spencer’s paintings is of a Wellington bomber, and museum officials believe each painting is of a separate Wellington as they all include a different serial number.

Mr Brown says Mr Spencer’s art is valuable as it forms a wartime record of the aircraft at Sywell, which was a major repair depot for Wellington bombers.

“They all came through Sywell – he painted what he saw,” he said. We have got eight of them (paintings). We suddenly thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do a display on him?’.

“Sometimes they turn up at car boot sales because people don’t know what they are about.

“For us, because they were definitely from Sywell during the war, they are great.”

Oil paint was in short supply during the war, and Mr Spencer instead painted with aircraft dope – which was usually applied to planes’ surfaces – and often used Wellington bombers’ plywood flooring as his canvas.

The results, Mr Brown says, were that the paintings all had a distinctive 1930s, and rather amateur, style.

“Some of them were then given away by Mr Spencer as wedding presents.

Among the aircraft he painted was a Wellington which, when it featured in the propaganda film Target for Tonight in 1941, was christened F for Freddie.

Target for Tonight was a documentary film whose strapline boasted that it was actually filmed under fire.

In 1943 F for Freddie came to Northampton during a War Weapons Week, whose purpose was to raise money from the public to help fund weaponry and equipment including planes, tanks and warships.

Mr Brown added: “He had gone down there and painted a copy of it.”

Anyone who has a copy of a Frank Spencer painting of a Wellington bomber has been requested to get in touch with the museum, which is happy to display them on loan.

Artist depicts Rushden man’s flying career

An artist has documented the extraordinary flying career of a Rushden resident by painting the aircraft he flew in.

Keith Hill, who specialises in aviation, military and railway-themed paintings, displayed his work at his latest exhibition earlier this month.

Mr Hill is friends with Bert Ross, who flew more than 100 transatlantic missions in a B24 Liberator from 1943 to 1945.

“I met him at a 1940s weekend and a couple of years later he moved to Rushden,” Mr Hill said.

“I contacted him and it was such a fantastic story I thought it needed painting.”

Mr Ross flew Anthony Eden, who became PM in 1955, but always said he was more focused on the weather.

Mr Hill’s nine-day exhibition at Rushden Hall Park finished this week.