About 'The Hardest Day'

'Hardest Day Hurricanes' - About the Project

hurricanes low
In November 2019, I found myself executing the long cherished thought of revisiting a visual idea that I had painted in my early teens: that of a lone RAF fighter hedge-hopping its way back to base in the sunset during the Battle of Britain. As I worked on this new and completely different version of the painting, I wondered about the possibility of doing a series of paintings to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, due in 2020, the following year.

Rack my brains though I did, I couldn’t see a theme to wrap such a series of paintings around. How many could I do? What exactly should I choose to paint? It seemed far too short a timescale to complete any decent number of paintings that would do any justice to the subject and yield a set of artworks that felt like a cohesive whole. Let alone to have enough time to do anything like the necessary research to find the stories which would give life to the paintings and deliver the standard of accuracy that they would deserve.

615 pilot detail
I was still ruminating on the problem whilst staying with my parents for a few days, and took the opportunity to leaf through my collection of books on the Battle that my parents are still encumbered with, in search of further inspiration. I stumbled upon Alfred Price’s book ‘The Hardest Day’. I had never read the whole book, just dipped into it for reference occasionally. This time I read it cover to cover (and have probably read it twice more since!).I was riveted by Price’s excellent prose and meticulously researched detail, which brought the human stories to the fore and vivid imagery to mind, all in the space of describing in detail the actions of one day in the conflict.

Then followed the idea that finally had resonance - 18 paintings set on the 18th August 1940 ‘The Hardest Day’ in time for the anniversary on the 18th August 2020. Price’s work gave me lots of good direction and detail, which might also reduce the supplementary research to an achievable, if challenging level. Completing the paintings in time would need a higher output rate than I had yet achieved.By narrowing down the scope to focusing on the actions of the Hurricane Squadrons and accepting that some of the paintings would have to be smaller sizes, I finally had a project I could get my head around – “Hardest Day Hurricanes”
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Russell detail
 

It is a project I have loved doing. Despite Alfred Price’s excellent book, I totally underestimated the amount of research it would entail. Most of the hours I have had spare from actual painting have been devoted to poring over combat reports, maps and aerial photos.
albion bowser
Many a late night has been spent studying black and white photos of the period, to help with details. Long hours have passed perusing technical discussions of combat techniques and aircraft performances and most of any reading time I have has been saturated with related biographies and further historical accounts of the period.

'Back Among Friends' - Hurricane of Sq/L. Cedric Watcyn Williams, No. 17 Squadron at Swingate, Dover
As the project has gone on, at my father’s suggestion, I have tried to choose the subjects for the paintings to cover as rounded view of the day’s events as possible, whilst trying to hold my original aim of creating paintings with different and original compositions and a wide range of colour and mood.I also realised that I should try to represent all the Hurricane Squadrons that engaged with the enemy that day in some way, which I have managed to do (if you allow the unidentifiable Squadron Hurricanes in ‘Hurricanes Low’ to represent the aircraft from No. 46 Squadron, of which one section were engaged in combat in the afternoon).

Hurricane pilot
 

Despite the apparent focus of the art being the Hurricane aircraft, what really has shone through for me has been the human tale in every painting. Each represents a personal story or stories, that could stand for hundreds more like them. They are stories of immense courage and sacrifice. So many of the aircrew depicted lost their lives or suffered horrific injuries during the conflict and yet somehow faced down what must have been immeasurable fear many times a day, whilst also enduring immense tiredness and mental and emotional fatigue.

Bill Pond detail
 

We owe them a debt of gratitude for our freedom that can never be repaid. We can, however, continue to honour their memory, especially now as their personal stories fade from direct memory. I hope that in its own small way, this project helps contribute to this aim.