Flying Bombs

I’m always aware of how close this part of the South East was to the action in both World Wars. I bought a 1917 postcard recently on e-bay, not so much for the picture but for the written description on the back. The writer (a lady from London staying at Sycamore Gardens) described Royal Flying Corps planes from Hawkinge Airfield passing low overhead at regular intervals, it was hair raising stuff in those days.

In this blog however I want to write about a phenomena from World War 2.

To me the V1 and V2 “Flying bombs” of WW2 have always held a sort of evil mystique. As a child I read comics that often featured these dark, malevolent,  pilotless (and therefore “cowardly”) weapons of destruction.  I’m not going to go into the technical details of the bombs (partly because I can’t understand most of it) but if you are a weapons geek (bomborak perhaps) have a look at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb

A Spitfire using its wingtip to "topple" a V-1 flying bomb

A Spitfire using its wingtip to “topple” a V-1 flying bomb

The first bomb was launched on 13th June 1944 and was apparently spotted locally to quote Wikipedia:

“The first V1 (“a fighter on fire”) was spotted from Observer Post Mike 3, high on the Kent Downs at Lyminge. A message was passed to the Royal Observer Corps and the Observer Post Mike 2 in a Martello Tower at Dymchurch took up the track of a noise like “a model-T-Ford going up a hill”. The code message “Diver, Diver, Diver” was passed rapidly up the command line, finally reaching the Mandarins and Gods in Whitehall and Washington. The missile flew steadily across Kent, eventually diving to earth and exploding on open farmland at Swanscombe.”

The Real Dad's Army

The Real Dad’s Army

I was reading a great little book recently. It’s called “The Real Dad’s Army” it’s a record of the war through the eyes of Hythe resident,  Colonel Rodney Foster. The Colonel is thought to be the man on whom Captain Mainwaring was based.  In the book, which is a remarkable and moving record of one man’s war, Rodney Foster describes the first V1’s (or “Robots” as he calls them) to pass over the English coast, en route for London.

Leslie Cole's watercolour from the IWM collection

Leslie Cole’s watercolour from the IWM collection

The south coast must have been some place to be during the height of the bombardment from across the Channel. The only artistic record I can find on this subject  (apart from Colonel Rodney’s little drawings) is a watercolour by underrated artist, Leslie Cole titled, (take a deep breath)  “Anti-aircraft fire meeting Flying Bombs as they cross the Coast Defences Dymchurch July 1944. The picture shows a V1 under fire over Dymchurch beach.  Leslie Cole is one of those lesser known, but absolutely great Official War Artists. Cole was one of the first of the  Allies to witness the full horror of Nazi death camps after liberation. His work has a compassionate and humanistic feel and is well worth looking at. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/artists/leslie-cole. have a look at this as well http://www.swindonweb.com/?m=2&s=963&ss=966&c=5086&t=Leslie+Cole

Join the Leslie Cole Appreciation Society!

Fran, Mick, Chris and Me…

These little stories are about two unrelated events that both have something in common – they both involve a certain amount of namedropping.

Part One

Many moons ago, I  studied sculpture  at St Martins ( take note Jarvis Cocker). There were some pretty big names teaching there at that time; Anthony Caro, Phillip King, John Hoyland, Frederick Gore and more. However, the amount of sculpting I did was limited slightly by the lure of various drinking establishments in nearby Soho.  One of these was the renown French House, run at that time by archetypal Frenchman, Gaston Berlemont.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_French_House,_Soho

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Monsieur G Berlemont

 Monsieur Berlemont was unique and fearsome, but he was also a welcoming landlord.  Soho at that time was reaching the end of an era. Its gradual decline as a magnet  for artists, writers, performers and various other “characters” was inevitable as the old guard  gradually faded away in a haze of gin fumes. Read Daniel Farson’s books for an evocative account of the period.  My college friend Simon ( who was later to become the Art Critic of the London Evening News) and myself would head  most lunchtimes towards Dean St where an opened bottle of Cotes du Rhone awaited us on the bar.  Amongst the regulars at the “French” was painter Francis Bacon.

Mr F Bacon

Mr F Bacon

One day as we were heading into Soho for our liquid lunch, we spotted the renown artist, reeling towards us. As usual he was  looking worse for wear with drink. On passing us he stumbled and fell towards the busy traffic along Old Compton Street. With lightning reactions I grabbed the legendary painter by the left arm and hauled him back out of danger. Back on the vertical,Bacon straightened himself up and headed off without a murmer . I was disappointed, a small painting was the least I might have expected by way of thanks after saving the life of one of the greatest painters of the 20th Century.

Part Two

A couple of years ago in Dymchurch we set up something called the Traders and Residents Group. This committee (and I use the word loosely) comprised all and sundry, basically anyone with a view on the state of the village.  Our original aim was to ensure the construction work on the new seawall did not adversly affect the economy of the village..  I was “lucky” to be elected Chair  of the Group, it was a bit of a poisoned chalice as it happened.  The way things turned out though, the seawall construction work actually brought the village to life. Birse Coastal, the contractors were incredibly considerate to the community, great communication, friendly professional workforce. They also gave the village cafe’s loads of much needed winter business. In fact Birse won a prestigious national award on the strength of the Dymchurch project.  Most mornings half the population of the village could be found on the seawall watching with amazement at the incredible feat of civil engineering that was taking place on their doorstep.

The “Dignitaries” I’m the one on the right who got the dress code wrong..

As is always the case, towards the end of the scheme, the bigwigs were invited to observe progress.  Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Environment Agency and Baron Howard of Lympne  ( MIchael Howard to you and me)  turned up with their entourage to view the magnificent expanse of concrete.  To my amazement I too was invited in my role as Chair of the Traders committee. We were all issued with lovely shiny new safety wear and the dignitaries were ushered into a large (bulletproof?) black limousine for a tour of the wall.

To me the word “Gobsmacked” is the ugliest word in the English language, normally I wouldn’t dream of using it. In this instance however, it somehow seems quite appropriate. I found myself in the back seat of the limo sandwiched between Baron Howard and Lord Smith. Even Terry Preston our beloved Parish Council Chairman didn’t get a look in. Actually I think they were as surprised as I was to see me sat between them.   Making polite conversation and playing at being a “dignitary” was fun while it lasted though. The Traders and Residents committee folded shortly afterwards, (a blessed relief) and my glory days were over, at least for the time being…..

Richard Eurich and Dymchurch Beach

It’s difficult for artists to paint something like Dymchurch Beach, there isn’t much to get your teeth into really.
Paul Nash, despite wandering up and down the sandy expanse numerous times, didn’t actually concentrate on the beach very much.  For him it was more about the Wall and it’s relationship as a barrier between the sea and the Romney Marsh.  Other artists have pecked away at the subject in a half- hearted sort of way. Charles Simms  had one go and called it a day, Ben Nicholson obviously thought once was quite enough (though the one picture he did produce was rather good).  You can’t blame them entirely, unless you are a minimalist and look for less, rather than more, what is there to focus on?

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The Beach with Buoy, Groyne and a Pole with a Red thing on top

There are several yellow buoys, tethered by iron chains. Occasionally one breaks loose and crashes menacingly against the seawall – (exciting!) We have the oak breakwaters, the poet John Davidson referred to them as “organ stops” in his lovely poem “On Romney Marsh”. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much else of interest.
Having said all that there’s something that draws me to the beach and the vast swathe of flat sand that forms the crescent of St Mary’s Bay. The obvious reference points are the more distant landmarks, the Water Tower at Littlestone, the lightouses and power stations at Dungeness, the Martello Towers. The oddly shaped (and named) “Brittania Grand Burstin” Hotel at Folkestone. A white Art Deco’ish monolith.
I like to gaze out over the beach when the tide is out, there are pools of sea water that reflect the changing sky and the barnacle encrusted breakwaters. There are shallow rises and falls in the sand that create subtle changes of light. Distant dog-walkers and the occasional angler digging for bait punctuate the far off waterline. As you climb the slope up to the sea wall you never know what awaits as you peer over the top. The beach landscape is constantly altering as the day progresses.
On a clear night you can gaze into the darkness and see the rhythmic sweep of the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse beam, 20 or so miles away on the French coast. Nearer to home the single lights of the small fishing boats, which launch from the Dymchurch beach at low tide. To the east the Folkestone harbour light.

Another beach job for the Bomb Disposal

Another beach job for the Bomb Disposal

The other week I spotted the Coastguard vehicle parked on the sand, I couldn’t resist asking him why he was there. It turned out that part of a WWII torpedo had surfaced. (very exciting!). Eventually the Bomb Disposal Van turned up, a quick “controlled explosion” and another wartime relic was obliterated.

Dymchurch Beach by Richard Eurich

Dymchurch Beach by Richard Eurich

An artist who made some effort with the empty Dymchurch beach was Richard Eurich. Eurich (1903 – 1992) specialised in extensive panoramas and produced a large number of paintings as a war artist in WWII. You can see these on the superb BBC “Your Paintings” website http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/ just enter “Eurich” into the search box.  The picture at the head of this blog is by this artist and shows the sweep of the beach looking west towards Dungeness. Other works by Eurich show the view looking out to sea over the beach which is sparsely populated by tiny figures.The edge of the rock sea defences can be seen in the foreground.  Although Richard Ernst Eurich was born in Bradford he was of German descent. Interestingly his father was a pioneering forensic scientist who was renown for his research into the disease Anthrax.

Pacifism was in the family and that is why Richard became a war artist and was not himself conscripted for military service in WW2. That made possible his famous and very good pictures of Dunkirk and other wartime scenes.

Eurich is an underrated artist and deserves greater exposure, his paintings of the sands at Dymchurch certainly  capture the atmosphere and feel of our lovely beach.

When Air Travel was Very Risky

Just before Christmas we had a few days in Malaga – We flew by Easyjet, I don’t care what some people say, I think they are ok, we’ve never had a problem. They also have nice new aircraft, which are probably as safe as air travel is ever going to be. We had an excellent trip. nice warm weather, a visit to the Picasso museum and the house where he was born. We had lots of delicious fish to eat a nice hotel and a lovely time was had .We left two of our dogs at the excellent kennels up the road from us (we like to imagine they enjoy their little holiday too). The kennels are lovely and John who runs them is a nice man, but the site of the canine doggy home is interesting for another reason.
The kennels are at a place called College Farm which is situated in an area called Hurst. In Kent “Hurst” means “Wooded Hill” and the area of that name does indeed contain one of the same. The farm is right on the edge of the flat marsh just before Giggers Green Road takes you up the steep hill ( a test for cyclists) which leads to Boat Lane.

A Bleriot 155

A Bleriot 155

87 years ago, in August 1926 an Air Union Bleriot 155 was on a scheduled flight from Paris Le Bourget to Croydon Airport, the weather conditions were poor with drizzle and fog right across the Channel and over Romney Marsh. To make things worse the aircraft had developed a fault in one of the four engines. It’s possible the pilot was lost in the thick fog or that he felt the plane could not make it over the hill. Whatever the reason he attempted a forced landing, presumably assuming that the flat terrain would give him a fair chance of achieving success. Unfortunately, the barn next to College Farm was in the path of the aircraft. The plane hit the stone building and ploughed through three haystacks, narrowly missing the farmer and two farmhands by ten feet. Sadly the pilot and one of his crew died in the accident, along with one of the thirteen passengers, who was an American. See a Pathe News clip here http://www.britishpathe.com/video/fr…uery/accidents
The airline Air Union, existed for ten years, before merging with four other companies to become Air France in 1933. in that time there had been twenty two crashes and serious incidents involving their aircraft, including two at Lympne and one at Hythe. Not what you would call an unblemished record. Although I suppose it was still relatively early days for air travel.

The Barn at College Farm

The Barn at College Farm

Some eighty sixty years on, the barn at College Farm remains in its damaged state, you can see it from the road if you are heading in the direction of Dymchurch. The owner John says he will get round to restoring it one day. For the time being though, it remains a reminder of that fateful foggy day in 1926, when air travel was a distinctly risky business.

Postscript 26th Dec 2013

The old barn now no longer stands. It was demolished in December 2013 and has now been replaced by a modern agricultural building. The photograph above is possibly the last picture to show the barn as it was.

A Music Legend at my Front Door!

In the late 1970’s I was an art student at a college in a little town called Stourbridge. Stourbridge is famous for its decorative crystal glass and is situated in the area now known as “West Midlands” (the town used to be in Worcestershire). One of the things I became involved in whilst completing my degree (apart from drinking copious amounts of Bank’s Bitter) was the College Social Committee. This involved helping to run the bar, booking bands and apologising to the local residents for the excessive amounts of noise and drunkenness.
Our small but “atmospheric” little club became something of place to be seen, it wasn’t as though we had much competition. The nearest club was JB’s in nearby Dudley. JB’s in its original form was sweaty, slightly dodgy but great venue. It has recently reopened http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JB’s_Dudley.It doesn’t look quite the same somehow. At the college venue we booked bands like Dr.Feelgood, and The Kursaal Flyers, quite cutting edge at the time.
You might ask how does this relate to Dymchurch? Here’s the answer…
One of the bands who were never off our turntables at that hedonistic time were the Canterbury-based outfit Caravan. We couldn’t afford to book them, but their dreamy, Neo-Romantic songs, with a slightly jazzy edge and odd sounding keyboards, fitted the requirements of 70’s Art students very nicely. Their albums had clever titles like “Girls that Grow Plump in the Night”, “Cunning Stunts”, “In the Land of Grey and Pink” and “Blind Dog at St.Dunstans” http://www.caravan-info.co.uk/#/

Back to Dymchurch. Several years ago I was out walking the dogs along Eastbridge Road. A middle-aged couple approached us and said they were staying the night at The Ship Inn. They asked if they could get back to the pub through the fields. We told them they could but it had been raining hard all day so the main road was a safer option.
We chatted as we walked and it turned out that the man was in a band and was playing a reunion gig in Canterbury the next day. They had come to Dymchurch to enjoy a day at the coast. Of course I was intrigued as to which band the tall baseball- hatted man belonged to.
The man asked me if I had heard of bands called Hatfield and the North, Camel and – wait for it- Caravan, I said “Of course!”. A hazy, nostalgic vision of my student days appeared in my mind.
The man turned out to be Richard Sinclair, Bass player and Vocalist with all of the above. I wanted to chat forever, but finally we shook hands and off the couple went for a cosy night at The Ship.
I couldn’t believe it, it was like being transported back into my early twenties, a truly surreal moment when a prog-rock legend from my student past appeared outside my own front door!

The Piper Passport

Coventry Cathedral by Piper

Coventry Cathedral by Piper

Last week I gave a lesson  about the artist John Piper to my Art History class. Piper, the prolific and well-known painter went down very well with the students also something interesting came to light, more about that later.

First a  quick note about Piper. He was, as I have said, incredibly productive and made hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures using a myriad of techniques which have since become the staple of art teachers everywhere.  John Piper was a topographical artist, he recorded architecture, churches, stately homes and ancient ruins. During World War 2 he was commissioned to paint the damage caused to ancient and spiritual places like Coventry Cathedral . He worked at various sites throughout the British Isles. His work has a deeply Romantic edge to it.

Newchurch by John Piper

Newchurch by John Piper

One of his favourite places to visit was Romney Marsh where he recorded, in his own particular way, the churches of the Marsh and also the Military Canal. There’s a beautiful watercolour of Ruckinge Church in the collection of Rye Art Gallery. Sadly some of Piper’s Marsh church pictures seem to have have disappeared over the years, it would be great to know where they have ended up.  You can buy a nice set of the cards showing some of the pictures from the St Nicholas’s Church in New Romney.

Now onto my discovery.

A few days ago I was researching for the lesson I was going to give and I had a look at the Goldmark Gallery website. The Goldmark Gallery must be one of the biggest printed edition galleries in the Country.http://www.goldmarkart.com/scholarship/global-home/  On the site they had something called Goldmark TV and a  film clip where a presenter was touring round the Marsh churches and chatting about Piper. She was waxing lyrical in St Clements at Old Romney when all of a sudden from behind the uniquely pink pews came the actor and national treasure, Donald Sinden. He was brandishing a little book with a blue marbled cover.. The book was “Romney Marsh” by John Piper. A long-time local resident, Sinden described in his uniquely fruity voice  how this book was a must to anyone interested in the Marsh. He also gave a mention to the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust http://www.cantab.net/users/n.p.hudd.64/romneyma.htm .

The great Donald Sinden

The great Donald Sinden

I had seen copies of the little  book, (published in 1950  by King Penguin)  on e-bay for between £20 and £30. Since I delivered my lesson on Piper scores of people have come up to me to show me their own copy of this little gem. It’s amazing how many people round here seem have them.   I have a theory that the ownership of the book indicates exclusive membership of some sort of elite Marsh Society, perhaps with Donald Sinden as  the Honorary  Chairman.  Quite possibly there are  perks attached to being in this exclusive club. For example, the secret code held within the layout of the Haguelands Marsh Maze, discounts at Lamby’s seafood stall, or an “Access all Areas” VIP pass for the  Dymchurch Players Pantomime. I can only speculate what other “under the counter” favours might be available.

The "Marsh Passport"

The “Marsh Passport”

Naturally, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was actually offered a copy of  “Romney Marsh” by one of my students (she had 2 copies so I assume she is on the Executive Committee) Of course I snapped it up. I’m now just waiting for the letter from Mr. Sinden to confirm my membership.

Who knows what privileges await me!!

That’s it for this year. Thankyou to everyone who has taken the trouble to have a look at Dymchurch World News – More next year.  In the meantime have a Very Happy Christmas!  

The IMOS Foundation

Several years ago I had two paintings accepted into the SE Open exhibition at the Grand in Folkestone. I was naturally pleased, but was even happier to find that both pictures had sold.

As an artist It’s always intriguing to know who is interested enough in your creative outpourings to actually buy them.  In this case the purchaser was a lady called Briony Kapoor. I discovered that Briony was the driving force behind an organisation called IMOS. IMOS  stands for “In Memory of Satish” Briony’s late husband, who was a professor at Cambridge.

Briony and her Foundation are responsible for much of the Public Art that exists around the Marsh. The streets of New Romney are abundant with colourful painted murals by local artists. My particular favourite is a large and ever-growing artwork that exists on what was a particularly dull wall of Sainsbury’s. IMOS have commissioned artists to paint portraits of local people. Each painted likeness is positioned next to another, so what you get is a massive expanse of paintings, I think there are about 36 at the moment, they vary in style depending on who has done them.  The overall effect is quite stunning and considerably enlivens an uninspiring corner of the town.

Sainsbury’s New Romney Wall Project

Briony has ideas for a Sculpture Park on the Marsh, of which more in a moment, but first a little related issue.

A couple of years ago a madcap scheme was hatched to build an enormous “scarecrow sculpture” just outside Dymchurch.  The thing was planned to be larger than the Angel of the North and would be visible from the French coast. It’s funny how Anthony Gormley’s mighty iron figure has become a benchmark against which to measure other projects. Bigger isn’t always better. The scarecrow was, of course, inspired by the  alter ego of  “Doctor Syn”, a fictional character created by Russell Thorndyke.  Fortunately the large majority of villagers were against this highly inappropriate scheme and rose up to unanimously oppose it.  Public art nearly always courts controversy and it never suits everyone.  The line between what is and isn’t “Art” is always blurry but I do think (and I’m certainly not alone here) that this idea was just plain wrong.

A lucky escape – the doomed scarecrow

Anyway, back to Briony and her Sculpture Park idea. I have 100% more faith in Briony Kapoor and her ideas (no, it’s not just because she bought my work). The Marsh is an ideal place for appropriate and thoughtfully sited artwork.   The first sculptures are already in place, artist Clive Soord’s works depict WW2  RAF and USAF pilots, they  have been erected in the garden of Sainsbury’s on Dymchurch Road.

New Sculptures at Sainsbury’s

Briony says:  “As Romney Marsh is 100 square miles in extent there is plenty of scope and the process may go on for years.  “It is an attempt to balance the exciting art centres in Eastbourne, Bexhill, Hastings, Folkestone and Margate.”

To my mind any attempt at bringing art  and culture to the area has to be applauded and encouraged. The Arts as a major driver of the economy is still unrecognised (witness the savage cutting of funding nationwide) The Government still hold the view that art is for the elite few and nobody else.  The economic problems of the Marsh are not going to be easily solved and people might think a few bits of sculpture on their own won’t change anything. But what they could do is contribute a piece to the jigsaw. People might start to associate the Romney Marsh with not only natural beauty but also art.  Witness the success of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park,http://www.ysp.co.uk/   along with the new Hepworth Galleryhttp://www.hepworthwakefield.org/  in Wakefield.

Tell me if I’m going on, but I do believe in regeneration through the Arts and for goodness sake we need some good ideas for the future of the area. So good luck to IMOS,http://www.imosfoundation.org/   The Art Shack,  Art In Romney Marsh http://www.artinromneymarsh.org.uk/  and anyone else who sees the Creative Industries as the way forward.