Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Britain is no Country for Old Men and Women, forced out of retirement and back into work

Apparently, spiraling inflation, volatile financial markets and the soaring cost of living are leading to the 'Great Unretirement', with research suggesting retired people are returning to the workplace. The Office for National Statistics has said that data suggests that there are now more people aged 50 and older 'in work' or 'looking for work' than since just before the pandemic and its analysis shows there was an increase in their number by 116,000 in the past year. Apparently, 66,000 of these were older men over 65 and 37,000 of them were older women.

In addition, qualitative data from the ONS supports the notion that the figures reflects those coming out of retirement, rather than simply continuing to look for work after the age of 65. It asked 12,000 people aged 50 to 70 years old who were not currently looking for work :

"Would you consider going back to work in the future ?"

* One in three of those aged 50-64 said "Yes"

* One in 10 of those aged 65 and older said "Yes"

Experts say in-depth research indicates the increase is driven by former people in retirement returning to work, rather than people working longer. Stuart Lewis, the Chief Executive of 'Rest Less', a digital community for the over-50s said : “People who thought they could retire comfortably during the pandemic are having to unretire and find work again to bring in extra income and top up their pensions while they still can. Increasing numbers of retirees are feeling poorer than they’ve felt before, with consumer confidence at a record low and purchasing power eroded on a monthly basis. All this is driving the trend of unretirement”. 

The trend is also supported by a recent poll of 'Rest Less' retired members, 32% of whom said they would consider returning to work or that they were already working again. Almost 70% of those said they were “unretiring” purely or partly for financial reasons.

Stuart said that volatile financial markets were creating significant fear and uncertainty in people’s perceptions of their future retirement income and the one-off suspension of the state pension triple lock last April meant that the state pension only increased by 3.1%, while inflation increased at 9.4% in June. He said : “It’s no surprise that people are looking at ways to make additional earnings”.

Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director at Age UK, said it was no wonder that significant numbers of retired people were : “Scrambling to return to work in an effort to shore up their finances against the storm. Judging from what we’re being told at 'Age UK', many older people are looking ahead to the winter with extreme trepidation. With inflation high and rising we can see why: the prospect of scrambling to afford to keep the heating on is truly frightening. Carefully laid retirement plans, which looked economically sustainable a year ago, are now shot to pieces and that’s a huge disappointment if you’ve been looking forward to a rest and the chance to enjoy yourself after many years of working”.

Ros Altmann, the former Pensions Minister and Conservative peer, said the Government was wrong to remove the promised protections from pensions and : “The fear of inflation has caused huge anxiety and driven some to return to work even if their health may not be up to it”.

Cora Adcock, a part-time music teacher who retired at 64, had to return to work when she was 69 because her pension did not cover her increased living expenses. She said : "I just couldn’t manage financially on my state and teacher’s pensions, especially as I missed a few years of contributions because I took time off to care for my children when I was younger”. Cora has found work playing the organ for up to 13 funerals a day at a local crematorium but, now aged 71, has lost her job. Partially sighted, she is still trying to find work and said : “I’m looking for work that I can’t really physically do because the bills are such a worry. I’ve already cut everything I can. I don’t even use the oven”.

Dr James Derounian, was a National Teaching Fellow and Visiting Professor at the University of Bolton. He specialised in research and teaching around community engagement, rural issues, and blended learning who retired at 62, was forced to return to work at 62. He was not alone when he said :  

“I had planned to retire, but life had other ideas. The cost of living curtailed all my plans”.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Why is Britain still a country with an unrecognised and forgotten hero and Mighty Warrior of the Second World War : Desert Commando, Mike 'Lofty' Carr ?

Mike, who died on the 5th April at the age of 101 and was in active service during the Second World War for five years and received an obituary in the 'Times' and 'Telegraph' and a notice of his passing in the 'Wirral Globe', but no other press coverage and only a eight mentions on Twitter. On the other hand the passing of another old Second World War veteran, Harry Billinge, who died on the 5th April at the age of 96 and was in active service for two years in the War, received widespread press, TV and radio coverage and comment in social media. This can partly be explained that Harry's face was familiar because he spent more than 60 years collecting money for the Royal British Legion. He also helped raise more than £50,000 for the British Normandy Memorial and would visit the site in Northern France each year and it was his appearance on BBC Breakfast TV in 2019 which saw him go viral.(link) By contrast, Mike's part in the conflict would have remained unknown, had it not been for the publication of Gavin Martin's book, 'The Men Who Made the SAS', published in 2015.

* * * * * * *

Mike was born 'Stuart Michael Carr' in the Autumn of 1920 in the town of Frome in Somerset and later moved with his elder brother and two sisters, 140 miles north, to the market town of Stone in Staffordshire where his father, an accountant, became manager of the Joules  Brewery. Before this his father and grandfather had both belonged to a family of Anglo-Irish soldiers. Mike must have been an adolescent when they moved, witness the facts that : it was in the West Country that he had learned to use a shotgun and he never lost his Somerset accent. He was already something of a dare-devil who could remember the times he trespassed on railway lines and watched the express trains go by so close, he could have almost touched them.

His mother was ambitious for her two sons and both gained a place at Alleyne’s Grammar School for Boys in Stone, with its Tudor origins and motto : 'Nisi Dominus Frustra / Without the Lord everything is in vain'. Although Mike was not an academic enthusiast, he was encouraged by his grandfather, who worked on the passenger ships to Australia, to take an interest in astronomy and navigation. With his help, he made a theodolite, using pieces form his Meccano set for boys and used it as a navigation surveying instrument with a rotating telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles.

On leaving school at 16 he worked initially as an insurance clerk and had begun training as a surveyor for the pottery industry when, in 1939, the War Minister, Leslie Hore Belisha, doubled the size of the Territorial Army and appealed for volunteers. Mike enlisted in the 'Staffordshire Yeomanry'.  He chaffed at the petty regulations of army life and his obvious intelligence and outspokenness antagonized his officers and he in turn regarded the Officers' Mess as the  'North Staffs Hunt in Khaki'. After training, in January 1940, he moved with his Regiment and nine other cavalry regiments to the Middle East for garrison duties in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, where they would exchange their horses for tanks.

Meanwhile, to the west, in North Africa, 
Italy, which had declared war in June 1940 and a huge army in Libya which threatened the Suez Canal in British-occupied Egypt which was critical to Britain's communication with India. The Libyan Desert posed a challenge to both sides with its vast sand dunes making it all but impossible for large forces to penetrate inland. It was now that Major Ralph Bagnold of the Royal Signals, who had spent much of the 1920s and 1930s exploring the desert suggested to General Sir Archibald Wavell, 'Commander-in-Chief Middle East', that he formed a desert scouting force, a small body of motor commandos, never more than 350 strong, known as the 'Long Range Desert Group'. Wavell readily agreed, and the LRDG began operations in September.


There was no shortage of volunteers, but what Bagnold wanted first and foremost, were navigators. When he told this to Brigadier John Chrystall, Commander of the Yeomanry Cavalry Brigade in Palestine, whom he met by chance in Cairo, the Brigadier said he had just the man, namely a 'Trooper Carr', who had just guided him through the buffer zone between Syria and Palestine. Given the lesson he learned from his grandfather Mike said : 
“I took to navigating easily. I’d trained as a surveyor and was comfortable using a theodolite”. 

When Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Cox-Cox of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, who had taken a dislike to Mike, who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Regiment, both in size and intellect, refused to to give him a 'leg-up' and release Mike, the Brigadier sent sent two military policemen with instructions to escort Mike to the LRDG’s base in Cairo. There he joined 30 other 'possibles' from the cavalry division and was one of eight accepted to join. After a brief interview by Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Prendergast said to Mike : "You're ready-made".(link)

The were told by Captain Pat McCraith that they were :
"Bagnold's blue-eyed boys" and they should "forget everything we had learnt up to now because we were no longer regular army". Mike said  that he also : "Went on to give us a document which we signed and returned. It was our oath that we would never, for the whole of our lives, reveal what we had been up to in the LRDG".(link)

Mike, seen here on the left, wearing his woolen cap comforter, had a position in the LRDG which was important beyond his rank of 'lance corporal'. The Group prized Morse signalers and vehicle mechanics and, as in the navy, 'navigation' preceded 'gunnery' in importance. He soon made his presence felt since t
here were few men bigger than Mike in the Group. At six foot four inches, and nick- named 'Lofty', he weighed fifteen stone, had the brawn of a rugby player and the brains and ability of a top rank navigator capable of finding his way in the flat, featureless and unforgiving expanse of expanse of the Libyan Desert. Using his natural strength, the heavy Vickers K machine gun was his weapon of choice. It was a frightening gas-operated weapon that fired 1200 rounds per minute and Mike had a handle fitted and used his strength tp fire it from the hip. 

F
or navigation in the desert by day, Bagnold had invented a 'sun compass', which was a reliable, but rough indicator which was of no use by night. The theodolite, with its astral fixes, reduced the chance of error dramatically and Mike said that, in terms of accuracy : “In the desert I was down to 200m". Later in the War, during a discussion on whether navigation was an 'art' or a 'science', he amused Major Bagnold by suggesting it was : "The art of getting lost scientifically". Mike remembered one particular they had about the word 'courage'. He said : "One of the things I speculated with Bagnold about was whether people started with a reservoir of courage" and then it went down and was extinguished or increased with more action and experience. He ended with : "Bagnold never offered a solution, he offered examples that made me think".

Mike also found himself teaching navigation to the Special Air Service, formed by Colonel David Stirling in 1941, for offensive action behind enemy lines after the Germans had joined the Italians in North Africa that year. Indeed, Stirling tried to poach him, but Mike said “No” on the grounds that the SAS’s selection of recruits was too slack. He later said :"
The LRDG was a group in which every single man was a specialist in something, while people will tell you, not least people connected to the SAS, that the SAS absolutely worship the LRDG”. “We were regarded as an undisciplined rabble - but we were not a bunch of thugs. We were composed of selected people who all had a particular skill that was needed at that time. We had one specialist in knocking people about, because sometimes that had to be done, but most of us just did our own jobs. To serve in the unit was a privilege. The camaraderie was magnificent, it was a family”.

The LRDG, the secretive unit, which : never numbered more than 350 men; went deep behind enemy lines; stayed hidden for days in ditches or bushes just yards from the enemy; were unable to light fires in the freezing desert nights; rationed their water so tightly they were taught to “wash” using sand. As to his role, Mike said : “Being a navigator was extremely challenging. One minor fault or miscalculation could have tragic consequences, but I have no regrets whatsoever”. As a matter of interest, the men only wore the Arab headdress for the camera and preferred their cap comforters the the desert. 

Out on patrol in May 1941, Mike recalled : "It was a terrible heatwave, even by desert standards. We ran out of water and just had to sit there. We even drank the radiator water. We were really absolutely done". When they got on the move he said : "The navigation was difficult because I was delirious". By force of will, he kept navigating until he saw the dome of the oasis town of Jaghbub 
in the distance. He must have passed out, because he said that when he woke up he was in the lap of the Patrols Medical Officer, Sandle who was bathing his lips with salt water. He said : "He was telling me : "I have a beautiful sister in Bristol and after the War, I'm going to introduce you". He never did".

In November his patrol, in their unmarked vehicles, came under attack from three low flying RAF Beaufighters and under cannon fire he was forced to run for his life and his truck caught fire. The following day the patrol was spotted but not attacked by two German fighters who he said : "Waggled their wings waved to us and cleared off". 

Early in December his patrol spotted a large Italian camp at a road junction and he moved forward with the small bespectacled, Captain Frank Simms. Mike recalled : "He was a hero of mine, one of the few men I have met who appeared to have no fear, or certainly ne was able to control his fear". He also "frightened the pants" off Mike because : "He just loved bumping people off. It's part of war, but he didn't feel the need to kill because there was a war. He just quite liked the idea". Mike was also intrigued by his gentler side, admiring wild flowers in a wadi of weeping over a bird dying in the heat. In the attack of the camp. Mike was separated from the patrol, which had assumed he had been captured. Mike returned to the wrecked enemy transport and when an Italian soldier leapt from the back of a truck and Mike, unsure if he was about to be attacked, instinctively fired his rifle and killed the man in mid air.

The Senussi
were a Muslim political-religious tribe of desert nomads who had been brutally repressed by the Italians for years and in 
December 1941 he had much to thank them for. He was somewhere between Mekili and Berna in Libya when he became separated from fellow soldiers after raid which damaged 15 enemy vehicles and decided to walk to rejoin his unit. He now 
ended up seeking refuge in a Senussi camp, where he hid from patrolling Germans by dressing as an Arab. He remained a guest of the Senussi for more than a week and said : “I was provided with camel’s milk, macaroni and coffee by the natives”. He also became ill as a result of drinking down the camel dung the Senussi had drooped in the milk for medicinal reasons. He was now moved to a bed in the Sheikh's smaller tent and over a period of days, recovered and went to the water in a ravine, a 'wadi' where he scalded himself : "To kill bugs. fleas, etc".

During his time with them, he recalled saving the life of an Australian airman who had crashed in the desert, 40 miles from the camp. He recalled : “I dressed him as an Arab and put him on a donkey and we easily got through the German lines. He would have died within two days if I hadn’t got to him – but years later I read a book about how this airman found a donkey and was returned to safety, but it didn’t mention me!”

Still separated form his unit and lying beneath a heap of camel saddles in the camp, Mike watched as six tanks rumbled towards him. The drivers’ cap badges looked familiar and he hoped to cadge a lift back to his own unit with what he thought was a  British convoy. However, as he broke cover and walked towards the armoured vehicles, he realised his mistake. They were German tanks, part of Rommel’s fearsome Afrika Korps and he was  in their line of fire. He said : “The roundels on their forage caps looked like the RAF’s and I remember thinking ‘I didn’t know the British had those’. Fortunately, I was dressed as an Arab, so I very quietly turned around and ducked into a tent”. 
When he finally made it back to base, two days before Christmas in 1941, his native disguise was so convincing officers suspected he was a spy.

Cecil Beaton, operating as a war photographer was sent by the Ministry of  Information to Cairo in 1942 to photograph celebrities of the desert war, including the LRDG. He was also amused to photograph the “idlers” in the Group who spent their time at Shepheard’s Hotel, whom he dubbed the SRSG : 'The Short Range Shepheard’s Group'. In addition, to photos of the Group he also caught this striking image of Mike in which he captured the young and determined warrior.

In September 1942, Mike was a member of the force whose target was the Italian fort
at Jalo, a desert oasis some 250 miles south of Benghazi on the Libyan coast, 500 miles beyond the allied lines. As a prelude to General Montgomery’s coming offensive at El Alamein, the LRDG, supported by Sudanese troops led by British officers, were ordered to capture Jalo. 

Their long approach through the Libyan desert had gone well. Mike always said that after the first 50 miles, the only real danger was from aircraft, and not just the enemy’s. Their final approach was on foot in pitch darkness, carefully skirting a minefield, with Mike at the head of the leading column. All went well until promised success until a sentry shouted a challenge in Italian and Mike silenced him with a burst from his Vickers and the fort erupted with small-arms and mortar fire. The Sudanese soldiers who accompanied the Group fled and a mortar round incapacitated the LRDG commander. Unexpectedly the Germans had reinforced the post. 

Mike, whose Vickers had a rate of fire of more than a thousand  rounds a minute, covered the withdrawal until his gun abruptly stopped. The copper firing caps in the base of the .303 cartridges had melted, and jammed the mechanism. There was nothing he could do to clear the stoppage and there were Italian voices approaching. He now edged back round the minefield, but could find no one from the patrol. Eventually stumbling into the low wall of a well, climbed over, crouched low and waited. He slipped away before dawn and hid in a henhouse, but was captured flown to Benghazi for interrogation and, as a prisoner of war, was put on a ship to Taranto, in Southern Italy.

After the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and the capitulation of the Italians in September, the Germans began moving prisoners of war, north. The most prominent and potentially troublesome ones, including Mike, eventually found themselves in what is now Poland. From here, in early 1945, he escaped. He recalled : “Some of us had been moved to a farm building, and these two halfwits were guarding it from the inside – the last thing you would do!” Mike legged it, initially finding himself walking through : “A beautiful pinewood – one of the nicest walks I’d ever had. I walked for hundreds of miles and all I had to sustain me were carrots I pinched from farms. For years afterwards I couldn’t look at carrots! I was on my last legs and thought I was going to give myself up. I approached a farmer. I still don’t know where I was, and I didn’t know what nationality he was. I told him "I am British". He pointed me in the direction of a church nearly three kilometres away and said "Americans".

Mike said : “The Americans took me on trust. This big Yank gave me a tin of soup and the moment I smelled the soup I thought of my mother’s kitchen. I started crying and the big Yank took me on his knee and he started crying. When we had finished, I think everyone there was crying!” He had been travelling for two months and weighed just seven stone  and was now flown back to Britain. After a few days’ leave he rejoined the LRDG, who were training in Scotland for redeployment to the Far East, but this came to a sudden halt when the Japanese surrendered in August.

During the course of the War, Mike had been reported to his parents as 'killed in action'. He said : “My mother later told me how my father would approach her with the telegram in his hands. I then turned this round in my mind, and I thought if I shot some poor German, then somewhere in Germany someone was going to be told the same thing.” He said : “I just wish it had never happened, but being part of a secret unit and because of the type of work I was involved with, it happened three times to my poor mother and father. My parents were told I was missing, believed killed in action".

The LRDG, was disbanded at the end of the war and Field Marshal Montgomery himself said : "Without them, after El Alamein we would have been launching ourselves into the dark". Mike returned to the Atlas Insurance Company, becoming a building surveyor and valuer for their Liverpool office, and living on the Wirral for the rest of his life. In his mid-forties, when Atlas joined a larger group, Mike decided on a career change. An accomplished artist, particularly of birds and wildflowers, as well as a woodcarver and potter, he read for a degree, gained a teaching certificate and taught art until retirement.

Military historian, Gavin Mortimer, who made a number of references to Mike in his book
'The Long Range Desert Group' said : “Lofty Carr is one of the very last of the Greatest Generation, and during the Second World War he was one of the very greatest". Given the number of men Mike had killed in combat he was understandably equivocal about his role in the War and said : “I am not proud of anything" and  “I am thoroughly ashamed of the War and everything to do with it. I can’t believe people behaved like that". 

Modest and self-effacing, Mike himself said : 

“I’m not special, everyone would always tell me that I am, but no, I am not special. I’m just one of the many people and soldiers who went out. I was lucky, I had four million other soldiers helping me and most of them were engaged in far more dangerous work.”


In grateful acknowledgement to Gavin Martin and his book : 'The Men Who Made the SAS',

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Does Britain, after all these years, finally recognise its brilliant Second World War Artist, Eric Ravilious ?

Page views : 358

Eric was one one of 300 artists hired by the British Government's 'War  
Artists Advisory Committee' to cover the Second World War, and the first to die on active service, in a plane crash in 1942. He was thirty-nine. Now, to mark the 80th anniversary of his death, a full length feature documentary, 'Drawn to War', told in his own words, through previously unseen private correspondence, is to be shown at selected cinemas around Britain. (link)

 It is part of the process of atonement, giving Eric the place in the nation's consciousness which, after his death, he was denied. An answer to the question : "Why was this so ?" probably lies in the fact that, in life, he was regarded as a 'craftsman', rather than the supremely talented 'artist' that he was. His wife, Tirzah Garwood, who survived him by just nine years, said that he was considered to be : “Not quite a gentleman” and in the class-ridden society of Britain at the time, prejudice may have played a role in his swift dispatch into post-war obscurity. 

His relegation to obscurity was probably hastened by the fact that, at the time of his death, one great mural, at Waterloo's  Morley College, painted by Eric and fellow artist, Edward Bawden and unveiled by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin in 1930, had been destroyed in 1940 in the London Blitz. In addition, some of his war paintings had been censored and therefore never seen and dozens more had been lost at sea on their way to an exhibition on the art of propaganda in South America.

For more than 30 years, most of his surviving works lay forgotten under a bed in a house that he and Tizah had once shared with Edward, leaving only the mass-produced legacy of playful alphabet mugs commissioned by Wedgwood and a woodcut of top-hatted gentlemen players that for years graced the cover of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. 

* * * * * * * * * 

Eric was born in the summer of 1903 in Acton, London, the youngest of four children, one of whom had died in infancy. His family were Methodists by religion and in his early years he was shaped by his mercurial, father, Frank, who was a lay preacher and more tranquil mother, Emily. They lived in rooms over Frank's cabinet maker's and upholsterer's shop at numbers 5 & 6, in the Parade, in Churchfield Road. While he was still a small child they moved to the seaside town of Eastbourne in Sussex, where his parents ran an antique shop. 
As a boy, at home, he already took pleasure in sketching everyday items - a brush and bucket and his father's collar and tie and outside the town, the East Sussex countryside. Having gained a place at at Eastbourne Grammar School for Boys, when he was eleven, he made a drawing of his egg in its eggcup. The teacher gave him '8 out of 10'. It merited a higher mark, but it was a moment when his ability to create and hold an original line became apparent. 

One hundred and eight years later, the artist Grayson Perry, whose childhood was spent in the same part of Essex where the Ravilious family eventually settled and where their neighbour was Edward Bawden, said : “He takes simple subjects and turns them into masterpieces”.(link)

In 1919, at the age of sixteen, Eric won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and three years later he gained another, to the relatively new and as yet unsung 'Royal College of Art' in London and it was here that he became close friends with fellow student, Edward Bawden. 

One day, through the door of his Chelsea classroom, walked the man who would help teach Eric up into maturity, the brilliant surrealist painter and First World War artist, Paul Nash. He liked Eric and his range and his refusal to be trammeled by one medium. He introduced him to the 'Society of Wood Engravers', a place where he could show his work and it was this exposure and Nash’s good word that got Eric early commissions for book plates, one of the great minor art forms of the period and his output became a major part of Erics artistic and economic life. It was in the College that he met and started a relationship with fellow student Tirzah Garwood, a colonel’s daughter who was studying wood engraving and whose parents were snobbishly opposed to their liaison. 

In 1925 Eric received a travelling scholarship to Italy and visited Florence, Siena, and the hill towns of Tuscany and having graduated from the College he returned home to Eastbourne. Here he taught at  the School of Art and, in the town, as part-time secondary school art teacher. It was here that one of his former pupils later recalled : “He had the eager curiosity of a young boy, and a most refreshing cool judgement. He was never our 'art master' but rather the most stimulating and hard-working member of a group. He was a cheerful, though absorbed person and rather reserved in spite of appearing friendly . He was so unassuming and never tried to dominate us or show off”. After this, in 1930, he taught part-time at the Royal College of Art and in the same year married Tirzah.

His first commission as a book engraver in 1926, was to illustrate a novel, 'Desert. A Legend', for Jonathan Cape. He went on to produce work both for large companies such as the Lanston Corporation and Cornhill Magazine (link) and smaller, less commercial publishers, such as the Golden Cockerel Press, for whom he illustrated an edition of 'Twelfth Night'. It was in in 1928 that Eric, Edward Bawden and Charles Mahoney started painting the series of murals at Morley College on which they worked for a whole year. Their work was described by the architectural writer, J. M. Richards as : "Sharp in detail, clean in colour, with an odd humour in their marionette-like figures" and "a striking departure from the conventions of mural painting at that time". 

In 1933 Eric and Tirzah painted murals at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe and that November, he held his first solo exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery in London and sold twenty of the thirty seven works displayed. 

His 1936 Exhibition was well reviewed in both the 'Observer' and the 'Sunday Times'. The Observer critic, Eric Newton, reported : 'I had never realised the wiriness of wire netting before looking at his 'Cliffs in March'. With few exceptions each of his watercolours contains a new revelation of this kind'. In the same year Michael Rothenstein painted Eric and Edward Bawden, which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2012.

Eric and Tirzah lodged in 'Brick House' in Saffron Waldron, Essex, with Edward and his wife until 1934, when they purchased 'Bank House' at Castle Hedingham, Essex. In her autobiography, 'Long Live Great Bardfield', Tirzah was open and never self-pitying about the impact on her of the affair that Eric publicly pursued with the artist Diana Low, starting while she was pregnant with the first of their three children. 

Tirzah was convinced the affair : 'Changed Eric's way of painting and instead of his dry, careful drawings, he did a series of more boldly coloured pictures painted freely with quite wet watercolour'. 
He went on to have two further affairs and in the film 'Drawn to War', it was said that after the affairs were over, he told Tirzah that he recognised what a fool he had been. What the film did not reveal was that his confession had a profound effect on Tirzah who wrote in her autobiography : 'I had felt for a few minutes that I hated him and then I knew that the real sadness for me wasn't that he didn't love me, but that I had ceased to love him'. She herself would go on to have an affair with the artist John Aldridge - also not mentioned in the film.

Apart from a brief experiment with oils in 1930, inspired by the works of Johan Zoffany, Eric painted almost entirely in watercolour. He was especially inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Beddingham. Eric frequently returned to 'Furlongs', the cottage of the artist, Peggy Angus and some of his works, such as 'Tea at Furlongs' were painted there. He said : 'I love staying at Furlongs, it altered my whole outlook and way of painting. I think that because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings'. (link)



His fascination with the East Sussex countryside which started in his youth, remained unabated and he said : 'The lighthouse at Beachy Head, an immense bar of light on the sea, is splendid and must be done'.(link)


' How I love the South Downs in winter. I love its definite shapes its bleached greens and brown, so attuned to the starved brush of my water colours'.(link)

'I long to walk the chalk paths. Those long white roads are a temptation. What quests they propose. They take us away to the thin air of the future or to the underworld of the past'. (link)

Ravilious expert, James Russell said : "His favourite time of day as an artist was the very early morning. He would get up in the very early morning, preferably in the winter and capture that cool luminous quality of the light in the early morning".(link)

In 1936 Eric and Edward were both active in the campaign by the 'Artists' International Association' to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War and prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and he loaned his work to the 1937 'Exhibition Artists Against Fascism'. With outbreak of the Second World War he considered joining the Army as a rifleman, but was deterred by friends and joined a Royal Observer Corps post in Hedingham. He was then accepted as a full-time salaried artist by the War Artists' Advisory Committee in December 1939. In the Spring of 1940 He was given the rank of 'Honorary Captain' in the Royal Marines and assigned to the Admiralty. He wrote :

'My dearest Tirzah, would you believe ? I've been made an Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines. I expect they will be presenting me with my own brigade of paintbrushes before this is out. It's a far cry from my days on the observation post at Sudbury Hill. It was more lovely than words can say, flying over the moors and coast today, in an open plane. Just floating on great curly clouds perfectly still and cool'. (link)

In February 1940, Eric reported to the Royal Naval barracks at Chatham Dockyard and while based there, he painted ships at the dockside and barrage balloons further down the River Medway at Sheerness. 


His 'Dangerous Work at Low Tide', in 1940 depicted bomb disposal experts approaching a German magnetic mine in Kent on Whitstable Sands. 

He wrote from near Norway in April 1940 of : “Bitter fighting” and : “How the sun has not shone much by day or night”. Tirzah replied to him with : “How terrifying it must be witnessing real war”In May he sailed to Norway aboard 'HMS Highlander', which was escorting 'HMS Glorious' and the force being sent to recapture Narvik from the Germans. From the deck of Highlander, Eric painted scenes of both 'HMS Ark Royal' and 'HMS Glorious' in action.


His 'HMS Glorious in the Arctic' depicts Hawker Hurricanes and Gloster Gladiators landing on the deck of 'Glorious' as part of the evacuation of forces from Norway in June.

 The following evening 'Glorious' was sunk, with the loss of 1,500 British sailors drowned. Tirzah wrote : “I’ll be so relieved to have you back”, adding that, back home, their son John : “Was almost hit by a bomb in a field”.

Eric wrote to Tirzah from 'HMS Highlander' ; 'The seas in the Arctic Circle are the finest blue you can imagine an intense cerulean and sometimes almost black. It was so nice working on deck long past midnight in bright sunshine. I enjoyed it a lot. Even the bombing, which is wonderful fireworks'. 'Next I will go to Iceland. It is the promised land'.(link) 

On returning from Norway, Eric was posted to Portsmouth from where he painted submarine interiors at Gosport and coastal defences at Newhaven. Despite the cramped conditions he loved to draw and paint and wrote to Tirzah : “It’s pandemonium with all the shelling and yet I feel a stir in me that it really is possible to like drawing war activities”.

Tirzah gave birth to their daughter, Anne, in April 1941, but later that year wrote of a lump on her left breast. Anne later said: “My father asked to be transferred from Yorkshire, where he was then based, to Essex. My mother needed a mastectomy and then an abortion as it was not felt safe to have another child”. The family moved out of 'Bank House' to 'Ironbridge Farm' near Shalford, Essex. 

In October 1941, Eric was transferred to Scotland, having spent six months based at Dover and first stayed with John Nash and his wife at their cottage on the Firth of Forth and painted convoy subjects from the signal station on the Isle of May. In addition, at the Royal Naval Air Station in Dundee, he drew, and sometimes flew in, the 'Supermarine Walrus Seaplanes' based there.

In mid-1942 Eric was posted to Iceland and Tirzah felt she could not stop him, though she knew that he might never return and he wrote to her : 'An unbelievable lunch of caviar, paté and cheese' and then described the island’s lunar-like craters and extolled the deep shadows and leaflike cracks of the subarctic landscape, before ending : 'Would you like a pair of gloves, sealskin with fur on the back? Draw around your hand on writing paper so I can get the size. Goodbye darling. Hope you feel well again'.

On 28 August 1942 he flew to Reykjavík and then travelled on to RAF Kaldadarnes and day he arrived there, 1 September, a Lockheed Hudson aircraft had failed to return from a patrol. The next morning three aircraft were dispatched at dawn to search for the missing plane and Eric opted to join one of the crews. The aircraft he was on also failed to return and after four days of further searching, the RAF declared that Eric and the four-man crew lost in action. 

Tirzah then had to write 49 times, over two years to the War Office, to get a widow’s pension, before it was accepted that her husband was not just 'missing' but 'formally dead'. It was all the more awful because she had been left with three youngsters and was experiencing deteriorating health. She was to die of cancer, in her 40s, in 1951.

Alan Bennet, in 'Drawn to War', said : "Being a war artist was not a soft option. Painting was Ravilious's active service - and he gave his life for it. Not quite a martyr's death, but it preserves and elevates him".

Tirzah wrote : 

'Goodbye my love. The world will never know what future great works of art your departure has deprived it of'. 

Link