Monday, 3 June 2013

Fighter pilots

We have in the Central City Library an old but most gorgeous book that I would love to have a copy of. 'Pilots of Fighter Command' (1942) is a book of 64 charcoal portraits of fighter pilots drawn by Cuthbert Orde, an artist and WW1 pilot.

Over a one year period in 1941,  Orde spent time living on RAF bases to draw pictures of the men who would become known as the “Few” -  the airmen of the RAF who flew in the Battle of Britain. The term had come from Winston Churchill’s phrase "Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few" and as Orde wrote:  “I went off to find myself in the middle of  a world that was the talk of the world.”

As well as the portraits themselves, the book includes Orde's thoughts on the pilots and gives an account of life on a fighter station during the Battle of Britain – “ordinary chaps doing an extraordinary thing.”

Ref: Bendan 'Paddy' Finucane, from 'Pilots of Fighter Command, by Cuthbert Order, 1942
I was immediately struck (a tad infatuated actually) with the portrait of Max Aitken.  a pilot in the  601 squadron of “well to do young men who flew, drove fast cars, and ski-ed with great zest...”. Intrigued, it turns out Max was in fact the son of Lord Beaverbrook, and later went on to become a media baron and British politician. Interestingly, while showing a colleague his picture, it turns out her grandfather had worked for the Atikens in England during the war, thought highly of them, and had named one of his sons, Max.

Ref: Max Aitken (on left), from 'Pilots of Fighter Command, by Cuthbert Order, 1942
I searched for New Zealanders and found Kiwi fighter pilot, Al Deere. In his drawing, he looks a Colin Meades type of bloke. Orde said he was an All Black though I can find no mention of that anywhere else. He was described as “massive and rugged” and apparently needed little introduction as his adventures had been recounted in the press. Deere’s reputation was made in the Battle of Britain. Orde thought  Deere looked like the ace Irish fighter pilot  Brendan “Paddy” Finucane, another handsome chap drawn by Orde drew, who was killed shortly after in 1942. However he admits that “Others see no resemblance so perhaps I’m wrong.”

Ref: Al Deere (on left), from 'Pilots of Fighter Command, by Cuthbert Order, 1942
More information about Al Deere and other Kiwi pilots can be found in the book, 'A Clasp for a Few – New Zealanders with the Battle of Britain clasp' (1981) by  Kenneth G. Wynn. Tthe library also has a selection of heritage resources focused on Battle of Britain.

Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre

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