Friday 19 February 2021

Imperial War Museums - Laura Knight's look into Bomber Command



“She could see beyond their exteriors, and the front that hid each individual from his fellows”

RAF Bomber Command became a central cog in the Allies' strategy for winning the Second World War. For its flight crew, the risks were high and the responsibility was heavy.

Initially, the vast majority of air crew was made up of civilian volunteers from Britain and the Commonwealth. Many were only just eligible for service due to their young age. Training itself carried significant risk and over 8,000 men died in accidents outside of operations.

By 1939, Bomber Command was a still-modest 23 squadrons with 280 aircraft. Initially, raids were made in daytime, and there was a disastrous and soon dispelled theory that flying in close formation provided defence from fighters. Over half of one squadron were shot down in a raid near the port town of Wilhelmshaven.

Not only were operations extremely stressful and frequently perilous, but flying itself was physically demanding and needed constant concentration.

Low oxygen levels, frostbite, and low pressures were day-to-day occupational hazards, and even something as seemingly basic as leaving the runway had its risks.

Dame Laura Knight painted Take Off while visiting RAF Mildenhall in 1942. She painted the flight crew and the cramped conditions they found themselves in. Knight observed them during a night-time take off and later worked from an obsolete Short Sterling.
Take Off
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3834)
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Crew member Menna Walden-Jones recalled how “she [Knight] could see more than a few lads joking, and apparently making light of a hazardous enterprise. She could see beyond their exteriors, and the front that hid each individual from his fellows.”

The Stirling was one of the first bombers to enter service, it also had one of the shortest-lived careers. Vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire as it was unable to fly as high as newly introduced "heavies", it was withdrawn in late 1943. It's successor, the Avro Lancaster, went on to become one of the most iconic aircraft in military history.

A piece of RAF Bomber Command history, Laura Knight's Take Off is available to purchase alongside many other pieces within our collection, at
Family Mission
Are you ready to decipher the message in our mathematical menagerie? Yesterday, CBBC’s Ben Shires set a new half term Family Mission with extra special guest Olive!