by Philip E. West
Overall size 28” x 20”
The dawn of a new day illuminates a Lancaster of 57 Squadron returning to East Kirkby from night ops over occupied Europe, escorted by a Swannington based Mosquito night fighter of 85 Squadron.
All are signed by Lancaster pilot Flt. Lt. Phil Ainley DFC and the RAF top (21 victories) night-fighter pilot Sqn. Ldr. Branse Burbridge DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar.
Please see below for details of the signatories of this edition. As with all our prints, this edition was signed in the presence of Sean Whyte, owner and publisher of SWA Fine Art Limited.
Philip West is recognised as one of the world’s finest aviation artists. Collectors of his original oil paintings span the globe, many waiting patiently for his next breathtaking canvas to appear. Self taught, Philip has won many accolades for his paintings, not the least of which was the prestigious Duane Whitney Award for Excellence at the 1997 American Society of Aviation Artists Exhibition.
We do hope you will find these biographies of interest. We think that by knowing a little about the men behind each signature, it will help you get the most from your copy of “Safely Home”. We would ask you not to reproduce the biographies in any format without our permission.
Flt Lt Phil Ainley DFC (57 Sqn. Pilot) was accepted for aircrew training in February 1942 at the age of 17½ years. He was selected for pilot training and was sent to the United States Naval Aviation base in Pensecola. After gaining his United States Navy wings on completion of his Catalina flying boat course, he was commissioned and returned to the UK. Following retraining on land planes, he eventually joined No. 57 Lancaster squadron in May 1944.
The squadron was heavily engaged in attacking both French flying bomb sites, the build up to D. Day and German industrial targets. One sortie to Konigsberg necessitated flying for 11 hours 10 minutes, whilst another was to drop mines in the Stettin canal from 250 feet. For this last sortie Flt Lt Ainley was awarded an immediate DFC.
He completed his operational tour of 33 sorties in October 1944, having flown all this time with the same crew with the exception of a replacement flight engineer.
On completing a course at the Bomber Command Instructors School, he became a flying instructor in Bomber Command.
Wing Commander Branse Burbridge DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar (85 Sqn. Pilot) gained his wings in 1941. Putting duty before personal feelings as a conscientious objector Branse, together with his navigator, Bill Skelton, became known as “the night hawk partners”.
The two of them went on to shoot down 21 enemy aircraft - 16 during a seven-month period. The total included a Bf110 and three Ju88Gs during the night of 4-5 November, 1944. Their officially credited 21 enemy aircraft destroyed made the pair the top night fighting crew in the whole of the RAF. Branse recalls, “I always tried to aim for the wings of enemy aircraft – and not the cockpit. I never wanted to kill anyone.”
The citations for their awards paid tribute to both men setting “an unsurpassed example of outstanding keenness and devotion to duty”.