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 Cecil Beaton's war photography

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 14:22

Beaton is famous as a portrait photographer of the powerful and wealthy but during World War II he worked extensively for the Ministry of Information, using his skills to document people and events during the conflict, often with a subtle artistry which even today gives the images a resonance and power to convey much more than their content might suggest. The Imperial War Museum in London will shortly be staging an exhibition of his work from this period (they had one in Manchester two years ago) so I thought a sneak preview might be in order.


This is one of the more famous images from the collection. It depicts a young blitz victim, Eileen Dunne, and was used by the MOI in press releases and newsreels to highlight Londoners' resilience to their plight. No one knows what became of little Eileen in later life and the War Museum are actively seeking anyone who might have information which they can then use to augment this rather striking portrait. Let's hope things got better for her after 1941 when this picture was taken.


Beaton was on board HMS Alcantara when she sailed to Sierra Leone and took this picture of a sailor repairing signal flags en route. The sailor's identity is unknown so the IWM would also like if anyone who might have an idea could tell them more about him.


The church of St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall took a direct hit during a bombing raid on December 29th 1940 and Beaton was on hand to record the aftermath. Wren's 1677 building was to lie derelict for another 17 years before it was finally restored to its former glory as the Lord Mayor's official place of worship by another Cecil, the architect Cecil Brown. If you visit the church be sure to find the window at the back of the vestibule and have a look. It's a treat.


Siwa in Libya, 1942. Soldiers of the Long Range Desert Group have just returned from patrol and Beaton has captured them lighting up their long anticipated smokes. Again, the IWM would love to learn these men's identities and their fates, if anyone knows.


Another "lost" identity which the IWM would like to pin down - this was taken in a Tyne shipyard and shows a welder with her kit who obligingly posed for Beaton on her break.

I've collected a few more which I can post later if anyone's interested.


Last edited by nordmann on Sat 08 Sep 2012, 16:43; edited 1 time in total
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 15:14

yes please...
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 16:08


A young sailor on shore leave, taken in Harrogate in 1941, and another subject who the IWM would love to trace. The graffiti is interesting and lends the picture a very modern air indeed.


A WREN poses for Beaton in Portsmouth 1941. Besides that she crewed a harbour launch there is nothing else known about her.


A young girl points out Lana Turner to her less than fascinated father in Cairo in 1942. The film being advertised "Ziegfeld Girl" was Jimmy Stewart's final Hollywood production before embarking on a distinguished wartime career in the US Air Force.


The shattered roof of a mortared fire station in Tobruk, Libya, in 1942, a year after Rommel's famous siege of the port which proved a turning point in allied fortunes when it was ultimately relieved and the German forces forced to retreat to Gazala. Operation Crusader, the defence of Tobruk, had at least showed that Rommel was beatable in combat.


The Blitz. A workman cleans up debris in Mary-le-Bow church after its first damage by bombing, taken by Beaton in January 1941. On May 10th the same year it took a direct hit and was totally destroyed. Architect Lawrence King supervised its restoration between 1956 and 1961, and in 1964 it was reconsecrated.


A picture of Neville Duke, 20 year old fighter pilot with 92 Squadron in Biggin Hill, 1941, pictured by Beaton with his Spitfire. Duke was unknown at the time to the general public though after the war became a renowned test pilot and even briefly held the air speed record in 1953 in a Hawker Hunter F Mk3. Readers of the Eagle comic will have known Duke as Vice President of The Eagle Club and it is said that his flying exploits were the inspiration for "Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future".
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 17:30


Yezidee recruits to the Iraqi Levies, with their distinctive plaited hair, in 1942.


Another picture of the same welder as above, this time less formally posed.


A youth working as a caulker at the same shipyard on the Tyne. The pictures were taken for a magazine article depicting how industry was being continued in the absence of its traditional workforce.


A Polish refugee in British Palestine. By the time this child arrived in the Summer of 1942 he had already survived being uprooted from his birthplace and moved to Siberia by the Soviets in 1939, separated from his family and then further deported to Tehran, and finally being sent to one of the British-run refugee camps in Palestine.


Flight Lieutenant David Donaldson at the controls of his Wellington bomber at RAF Mildenhall in 1941. Donaldson was later promoted to Wing Commander at the age of 28.


Bloomsbury Square, London, during the blitz. I've tried to find this rather striking drinking fountain myself when I've been in the area and failed. Does anyone know if it's still there?


Back in Lt Donaldson's Wellington, this time with a study of the unnamed rear gunner in position.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 17:51

These are just stunning and all new to me. Thank you for posting them.

The studies of people are superb but the two that especially struck me are the Tobruck fire station which I find so reminiscent of a Cornelia Parker installation and the Mary-le-Bow interior which might be a Dutch 17th c painting.

Any more?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 17:53

Loads. I'll stick up a few more after dinner.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 19:02


Princess Elizabeth in the uniform of the Auxiliary Territorial Service which she joined in 1944. Her recruitment was intended to be heavily publicised (hence the Beaton portrait), not only to show the royal family's committment to contributing to the war effort but also to raise public opinion of the ATS itself, many of whose members felt that both they and their organisation were the butt of too many derogatory opinions.


The Siegfried Line was nothing on the Western Desert in 1942, as Beaton's picture demonstrates.


A derelict and abandoned Italian troop carrier. Beaton stayed with the Long Range Patrol units for a period of two weeks in which they crossed over five hundred miles of desert following a tactical German retreat. Along the way they found much abandoned Italian equipment, pretty much all that remained of the Italian army which had been based in Libya when Italy declared war on the Allies in June 1940. In December of the same year Operation Compass had all but obliterated the Italian presence, necessitating the arrival of the Afrika Korps under Rommel to prosecute the Axis campaign.


Bomb damage to the prestigious His Master's Voice shop in Oxford Street. The shop, only recently re-opened after a disastrous fire in 1937, was an early casualty of the blitz. Amazingly it stayed open for business throughout the war.


The western facade of St Paul's dimly visible through the arch of a burnt out building after the heavy raid of December 29th 1940. Beaton was accompanied on this commission by the American photographer Toni Frissell, then his apprentice and later to become a renowned war photographer in her own right. She may indeed have taken this image as Beaton seemed to restrict himself to the Gresham Street and Cheapside area on the day.


This one we know was taken by Toni Frissell and shows a young boy sitting amidst the ruins of his house. I find this one heartbreaking.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 19:47

These are truely outstanding Nordmann, even the simplest subject such as the washing line tells a story. And every shot permeates a poignancy that only the better photographers are able to capture and portray.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 21:07

They’re wonderful… and being black and white makes them all the better.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 21:08

A few final ones to whet the appetite for the IWM exhibition then ...


The ruined interior of the Church of St Anne and St Agnes off Gresham Street after the December 29th 1940 raid. Like Mary-le-Bow this Christopher Wren church was to lie derelict for many years subsequent to the raid, eventually to be restored by and rededicated to the Lutheran Church in 1966.


North Africa, 1942. Unnamed jeep driver.


The ship on whose construction our welder friend above was working. The Tyne shipyards were frequent targets for German bombs, making the welder's job as hazardous in all probability as that of the man she had replaced. Despite this deadly attention, the requirement to train almost an entire workforce from scratch, and the difficulty in obtaining raw materials for the job, the Tyne shipyards still managed to produce 545 vessels by the war's end.


A woman made homeless by bombing receives a hot meal at a relief station in Bermondsey.


Gunner Anthony Liddell takes a bath at the leave station in the Viceroy's Residence at Simia in India in 1944.


Wren officers taking a breather outside the Royal Navy Training Centre in Greenwich in 1941.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 21:46


Squadron Leader Michael Lister Robinson, then of 601 Squadron Tangmere, sitting on the wing of his Hurricane in 1941. In 1942, after having been "rested" but having insisted on being put back on ops, Robinson was lost while leading the Tangmere Wing at the head of 340 Squadron. His remains were never found. Robinson's personal papers, accessed after his death, contained some rich anecdotes, including this account of the downing of an Me109 on August 16th 1940 which differed somewhat from the official log entry: "He [the German pilot] never rose above 100 feet until well south of Maidstone and then throttled back. I overtook him and formated on him, pointing downwards for him to land. He turned away so I carried out a dummy quarter attack, breaking very close to him. After this he landed his Me in a field. I threw him a packet of twenty Players and returned to base."


The Forces Canteen in Victoria Station, London, 1942. The soldier in the picture had been a butler working for a close friend of Beaton before the war. The encounter was entirely coincidental, neither recognising the other until the soldier turned round. That moment of recognition was recorded by Beaton's camera.


Spot the Gurka. This was taken during the long Arakan Campaign and showed the Gurkas' expertise in camouflage technique.


Men of the Long Range Desert Group "march" towards Beaton in a light-hearted moment during the 1942 occupation of the Libyan Desert. This proved temporary as the Allied forces were soon retreating themselves after Rommel had regrouped and would be forced into a stand at the second battle of El Alemein in November that year. This battle would prove to be the decisive break for Montgomery's forces, though I wonder how many of the smiling faces we see here survived to partake in it?
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 22:10

And finally ...


China 1944. A mother rests her head on her sick child's pillow in the Canadian Mission Hospital in Chengtu. The suffering of both is palpable.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 22:46

Wonderful pictures Nordmann truly atmospheric.

I hope it’s not too disrespectful but I couldn’t help thinking the two Yezidee recruits reminded me so much of these two guys…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq7DGvfnr3U
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sat 08 Sep 2012, 23:37

Wonderful photos, thanks. You found the boy in the rubble of his home heart-breaking, I think it was the one of the woman with her meal that I found most distressing. Something about her being there eating by herself, and the look of her. The little Polish boy also looked as if he had endured a lot and gone without enough food.

Neville Duke looks a lot older than 20 to me.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sun 09 Sep 2012, 00:13

Duke died as recently as 2007. He was flying his private Cessna with his wife when he took ill and made an emergency landing on the grass runway at Popham Airfield in Hampshire. He had suffered a serious aneurism but had still managed to keep control of the craft. From the airfield he was transferred to St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey where he died later that day. He was 85 years old.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Sun 09 Sep 2012, 03:52

The former butler in the canteen doesn't look best pleased to see Beaton. His expression seems to be saying, "Ah shit, I thought I was shot of you lot".
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Mon 10 Sep 2012, 20:07

Beaton was wasting his time with most (not all) the posed "society" stuff he produced.

This work is absolutely superb.

Thank you for posting these photographs, and thank you for informing us of the forthcoming exhibition in London.
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PostSubject: Re: Cecil Beaton's war photography   Tue 11 Sep 2012, 07:47

The exhibition is now on. It runs from 6th September 2012 until 1st January 2013.

There are also several events - talks and discussions - linked to Beaton's work.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/cecil-beaton-theatre-of-war
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