by Philip West
Approx. overall print size 17½” x 27½ ” / 46cms x 69cms
This peaceful scene at East Kirkby in the winter of 1944 gives a very real feel for the vitally important work undertaken by ground crew in all weathers. At this stage of the war, to help identification at a distance, the tail fins of 57-squadron Lancasters wore a black vertical bar on a red background. The squadron flew on 348 raids, with 108 Lancasters lost in action plus 31 in accidents.
All the prints are signed by 57 Squadron Lancaster
Flt. Lt. Phil Ainley DFC.
The Artist Proofs and Remarques are also signed by three additional 57 Squadron Lancaster pilots – including Marshall of the RAF Sir Michael Beetham GCB, CBE, DFC, FRAcS. For details please see below.
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 the following biographies of interest. We think that by knowing a little about the man behind the signature, it will help you get the most from your copy of “A Winter’s Dawn”. We ask you not to reproduce the biography in any format without our permission.
Please bear in mind that the notes have been prepared by the pilot and copied, with virtually no editing by SWA Fine Art.
Flt. Lt. Phil Ainley DFC
Phil was 15 when war was declared on the 3rd September 1939. He had always wanted to be a pilot and the only way to do this was to join the RAF or the RAF Volunteer Reserve. However, he couldn’t join until he was 17 and so he took up an engineering apprenticeship. When Phil tried to join up again he was told he couldn’t because he was in a reserved occupation.
Phil finally joined the RAF in November 1941 when he opted for aircrew as this was the only way he could get out of his apprenticeship. However, he couldn’t start his flying training until he was 17½.
In November 1942, Phil was sent to St John’s Wood, to the Air Crew Receiving Centre. Here he was given a uniform and white flashes to put in his cap to show that he was aircrew. He and his colleagues spent five weeks marching around London and having inoculations.
After St John’s Wood, Phil was sent to Manchester’s Heaton Park. This was a holding centre for volunteer aircrew and from here everyone was sent for specialist training as pilots, navigators, bombardiers and wireless operators.
Phil was sent for pilot training in Silloth, Cumbria. Here he received just a few hours of flying in Tiger Moths and then when he was safe to fly he was passed back to Manchester. From here, Phil was selected for pilot training and was sent with a batch of naval ratings to the US Air Base Gross Ille, Michigan, USA. It was extremely cold, but even so physical exercise had to be carried out at 5.30 in the morning and in singlet and shorts!
Phil passed out from his basic flying training and then proceeded to the US Aviation Base, Pensacola, Florida. Here, Phil learned to fly single engine aircraft of various types. In December 1942, Pearl Harbour was attacked and American patriotism was everywhere even on the pats of butter. Any Britons were treated as honoured guests and were adopted by local families.
It was decided that Phil was better suited to multi-engine rather than single-engined aircraft and so he was sent to train on Catalina, flying boats. In May 1943 he passed out as a pilot and was awarded his American Naval Gold Wings. The advantage of Phil’s training was that he learned seamanship as well as airmanship.
Once back in Great Britain Phil went to Moss Bros to purchase his brand new Pilot Officer’s uniform. His pay had gone up from 5 shillings a day to 10 shilling and 6 pence and beer was only 9d to 10d (old pence) a pint!
Unfortunately, there was no need for more flying boat pilots but as Phil had multi-engined experience, he was sent to fly 4 engined aircraft. This meant further training as landing aircraft on land rather than the sea required a different technique. Once this new technique had been mastered Phil was sent to a Wellington Operation Training Unit. Here people were either picked or they did the picking of aircrew.
Phil picked a Pilot Officer from the Canadian airforce as his Navigator and a fellow British Pilot Officer as his bomb aimer.
It was when training on Short Stirling aircraft that Phil met the rest of his crew; a wireless operator, a Canadian mid-upper gunner, a rear gunner and a flight engineer. Phil’s wireless operator was only 17 ½ as was his rear gunner. Although they had flown in the aircraft for only a few hours, they were seen to be ready to fly Lancaster bombers and were sent to Nottinghamshire for training. This consisted of 14 hours flying time on the Lancaster, 7 hours during daylight and 7 hours at night.
On the 15th May 1944, Phil and his crew were sent to 57 Squadron East Kirby, Lincolnshire. He then experienced his first operational flight, sitting alongside a ‘veteran’ pilot. They flew to Amiens where they were due to deposit bombs on marshalling yards. However, they returned with their bomb load!
Phil’s first operational flight with his crew was on the 24th May. Their target was the marshalling yards in Antwerp. Things were building up for the D Day landings and so the aim of the bombing raids was to cause maximum disruption to the Germans.
Although the crew were not told when D Day was to happen, they returned from a mission in the early morning on the 4th June and saw numerous ships and barges, so they knew something was occurring. By July, Phil and his crew had flown 14 missions and they were flying almost every other night. After the troops had been landed in France there were more trips into Germany and more aircraft went missing. In the summer of 1944, Phil’s logbook recorded two trips, one with 31 missing and one with 49 missing and each of those aircraft had a crew of 7 men.
On the 16th August 1944 the crew were briefed to do a ‘gardening’ mission. Gardening was code for dropping sea mines. The area to be mined was the Stettin Bay Canal in Germany. The mines had to be dropped from only 250 feet and this area was fiercely guarded. Only 6 crews had been detailed to fly down the canal and Phil’s was one of them.
Command had laid on an attack on the town of Stettin itself to draw attention away from the Canal. However, the bombing was delayed as the marking for the bombs was off track and the aircraft had the terrifying prospect of orbiting the target at only 250 feet, whilst marking was re-laid. The aircraft in front of Phil was blown up and they had to negotiate the debris. Out of the 6 aircraft earmarked to bomb the Stettin Canal, one was blown up, one did not reach Stettin and one went missing. It was for this mission and pressing home the attack that Phil was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Having successfully completed 33 missions Phil and his crew left the Squadron on the 6th October. In 2002, after 58 years Phil was re-united with his Navigator at a reunion at East Kirkby, the Station from where they flew during the war.
The Artist Proof and Remarque editions have also been signed by:
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, GCB CBE DFC AFC DL was born in 1923. On leaving school he joined the RAF in October 1941 and after pilot training he completed a tour of bomber operations with 50 Squadron and then served on 57 and 35 Squadrons.
Following the Second World War, Sir Michael’s appointments have included:
Officer Commanding 214 Squadron, Station Commander RAF Khomaksar (in Aden), Commandant of the RAF Staff College and Commander in Chief RAF Germany and Commander of NATO’s Second Tactical Air Force. His final tour saw him appointed as the professional head of his Service and he served for more than five years as Chief of the Air Staff.
As an Marshal of the RAF, Sir Michael remains on the RAF’s active list albeit not on full time duty since October 1982, since when he has held various RAF related appointments including Honorary Air Commodore of No 2620 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment 1983-2001. He was also Chairman of the Trustees of the RAF Museum 1983-1999. He is currently President of the Bomber Command Association, President RAF Historical Society and President of the Society of Friends of the RAF Museum and Vice Patron of the RAF Club.
F/Lt Ronald W Meeking undertook flying training at Heany, Southern Rhodesia and at Nakuru, Kenya before joining No 55 Squadron in the Western Desert where he flew Mark 4 Blenheims and Baltimores.
Following an injury, he was repatriated to the UK and eventually joined 57 Squadron at East Kirkby in December 1944. From then until 1945 he completed 16 operational flights, the last being on April 25th 1945 when he was engaged in dropping mines in Oslo Fjord and upon returning to East Kirkby the aircraft he was flying, Lancaster LM231 was the last Lancaster to return to East Kirkby from an operational flight.
F/Lt S G “Steve” Stevens DFC AE* was unable to join the RAF because he was too young when war broke out, but he carried out voluntary duties as an ARP Controller. Reporting for duty one night in 1941 he was told that his own house had been bombed and the following morning stood among the wreckage and swore to become a bomber pilot and exact his revenge. His sole possessions were now one pair of Scout shorts and a battered school prize, so he had little to lose. “Steve” was trained in both England and at a small British Flying Training School in California.
May 1st 1943 found him reporting to 57 Squadron at Scampton and after a few days he was given a brand new Lancaster ED946 identified as DXE. He loved it from the first – it was a super aircraft. His crew and the ground crew were busy equipping it for its combat duties. A few snags were discovered and corrected before they were ready for battle. On 12th May he did a single raid on Duisberg as second pilot.
On May 16th he waited for some 617 Squadron aircraft to take off before he could fly, and that night saw 617 Squadron do its first raid and become the “Dambusters”. The Battle of the Ruhr was now under way and 23rd May saw his first operation against Dortmund followed by several Ruhr trips. These were followed by the Battle of Hamburg and he saw the first firestorm with its massive column of smoke about five miles high. Three raids on Italy included the longest flight made by Bomber Command.
“Steve” completed his tour on October 20th. During that time his gunners had fought off several night fighter attacks including one in which one of his engines was severely damaged and the fighter was shot down. They sustained some light flack damage and once a large hole was made in the underside of the fuselage causing considerable trouble – 669 of their aircraft had been shot down over enemy territory during F/Lt Steven’s tour.