Part of the D-Day series: 'Free French' RAF Bostons on a low-level strike prior to the invasion © by Gary Eason / Flight Artworks
A Happy New Year. I wonder what 2014 will bring? Well, for one thing, the 70th anniversary on 6 June of D-Day. I have been concentrating in recent months on pictures featuring the RAF's involvement before, during and after the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.
My initial idea last summer was to build up a body of work ahead of the anniversary. This was given added impetus when I was contacted by aviation historian and author Clive Rowley, who had used two of my pictures in a previous anniversary special magazine ('bookazine') that he had authored about the Dambusters, which had to be reprinted to meet demand.
He said he had been asked by the publisher, Mortons, to compile a similar 'special' about the RAF's involvement in D-Day. Would I like to be involved?
I worked at several pictures and showed them to him in October. He was very enthusiastic. I carried on, and when it came to my 'big picture' featuring D-Day itself, he made suggestions for squadrons and indeed a whole scenario that would tick plenty of RAF boxes: Operation Mallard.
This was the successful effort on the evening of 6 June to deliver the second wave of British 6th Airborne Division troops by glider to the Caen area, the first having dropped by parachute overnight. It offered me: the gliders and their 'tugs' - I settled on Horsas and Short Stirlings - and the escorts, which included Spitfires and Mustangs.
I wanted to work in some Hawker Typhoons too. None were directly involved in Mallard, from what I can tell, but some were on an armed reconnaissance at the same time.
Video: Making D-Day
Researching the details of the squadrons that participated then building up the various elements and melding them into a coherent composition took me several weeks. The research alone involved many hours of browsing online, reading books, downloading squadron operation records and correspondence to establish the details.
If you are going to depict aircraft in a particular action you have to know which aircraft they were. It is not enough to read, for example, that 15 squadrons of RAF fighters escorted the various heavy aircraft that towed the gliders over to the Caen area on the evening of D-Day. I needed to establish which squadrons they were, then to figure out which of their aircraft were operational that day and what code letters (and ideally also serial numbers) they carried - which is not easy, as anyone who has tried it will attest.
'The realism ... is uncanny'
Finally it was done, and I am delighted to say that Mortons have licensed four of my pictures for their 'special' which is due to be published early this year. Until it appears I will not know for sure what if anything they have made of them, but it was great to be one of those asked to contribute.
Clive Rowley struck me as a helpful, unassuming and thoughtful person to work with. If his name is familiar, that is probably because Squadron Leader Rowley MBE RAF (Retd) was formerly Officer Commanding the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
He very generously said of my work: "From my point of view as a pilot for the last 43 years and a RAF fighter pilot for 30 years, the realism he captures is uncanny, starting with the backgrounds, the skies and the light, and then in the detail of the aircraft that are the subjects.
"It is as if the quality of a modern digital camera was there at the actual wartime event, in a ‘photo-ship’, all those decades ago."
If you have read previous blog entries of mine you will know that this is just what I set out to do when I began Flight Artworks two years ago, so it was very gratifying to see this observation from someone with so much firsthand aviation experience.
Clive added: "The superb detail and accuracy in his images are the result of Gary's extensive research and his desire to get history right, to accurately represent the actual event".
That is very kind - but time for a reality check. As a journalist I am always conscious of becoming an 'expert' for a day or a week. I rely on people with infinitely more knowledge of particular subjects to keep me straight. So, if you see something in my pictures that is not quite right, please do let me know.
I am still working on other D-Day images. I've become something of a fan of Hawker Typhoons. I have already published a picture of Tiffies from No. 247 Squadron going into an attack dive. I plan at least two more featuring the devastating impact of these beasts on German troops - even if it was psychological rather than material. And I am learning more than I would have expected about German armour. Other subjects wearing invasion stripes will follow.
I am pulling together the series on my website.
But for now: my thanks to Clive and to Mortons, and here's wishing us all a successful year.
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I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.
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