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January 2014

A DFC and a shoal of Hurricanes


'Crossing the Siegried Line' © by Gary Eason / Flight Artworks

High Wycombe, 31 Jan 2014

These pictures began life at an airshow.

I did not set out with the idea of making a 'Phoney War' picture, let alone two - in fact I knew little about that early period of World War Two.

What triggered the research that led to the pictures' being made was having the beautifully restored Hawker Hurricane P3351 in my camera viewfinder at the Imperial War Museum's  'Flying Legends' airshow at Duxford in July 2013.  

This venerable crate has had a remarkably colourful life but is now resplendent in the black/white/bare metal undersides it began with in 1940. One could write a book about the aircraft itself - somebody probably has - but it was the camouflage scheme (if camouflage is quite the word) that piqued my interest.

I knew already - witness the logo I use on social media - that the RAF had some peculiar ideas about how to paint the undersides of its fighter aircraft at the onset of hostilities with Nazi Germany. Captivated by the black and white scheme in my pictures of the Hurricane, I started reading up on its history and that of the two RAF Hurricane squadrons attached to the Advanced Air Striking Force near the Franco-German border, No 1 and No 73.

This led to my learning about the short but remarkable fighting career of Flying Officer Edgar James 'Cobber' Kain of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).  Kain's squadron, No 73, was based at Rouvres-en-Woëvre, a village about 35 miles from the frontier.

'Finest fighting spirit'

This phase of the war was characterised by aerial skirmishes - which is not to minimise the deadly nature of what the pilots were engaged in. On 2 March 1940, Kain and another pilot (Donald Sewell) gave chase to seven Heinkel bombers but after a few minutes they were pounced on from behind by a pair of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters.

What resulted was an action for which Kain was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). The official citation read:

"In March, 1940, while on patrol with another aircraft, Flying Officer Kain sighted seven enemy bombers about 5000 feet above him, and while giving chase well into Germany, he was attacked from behind by an enemy fighter. Showing the finest fighting spirit, this officer out-manoeuvred the enemy and although his own aircraft was badly damaged he succeeded in bringing the hostile aircraft down. Thick smoke and oil fumes had filled his cockpit and although unable to see his compass, he skillfully piloted his aircraft inside Allied lines in spite of being choked and blinded by the smoke."

I wanted to know more about what had happened. At this point let me plug a book: Cobber Kain, by Richard Stowers, a terrific read and a beautifully produced publication with plenty of photographs from the time. I e-mailed Richard in New Zealand with some detailed queries and he was as helpful as he could be in reply.

For example, I knew I needed to tweak the Hurricanes' appearance to restore them to Mk I configuration and earlier roundels. But I was wondering whether I should be rendering them with the early two-bladed props or the three-bladed ones that were being introduced. H

Richard said: "My research tells me Kain was flying L1808, which was a three-blader as Sewell stated he couldn't keep up with Kain because he was flying a two-blader (L1958)."

Cockpit filled with fumes

So back to the story: Kain did not immediately realise that Sewell, with his less powerful  airscrew, was no longer keeping station behind him. Glancing back he saw an aircraft where he expected the second Hurricane to be and assumed that was him. He got a rude surprise, as Richard Stowers's book recounts:

"'The next thing I knew was 'wang' and I saw the tip of my wing disappearing into the blue.'"

It had been hit by cannon fire. Kain then realised that Sewell had already been shot down (he managed to land safely - in my picture you can just see him far below, trailing white vapour).

Kain was now in a twisting dogfight with the two 109s. Eventually he was able to fire "a longish burst from behind" into one of them, sending it down in black smoke. But the other got on his tail and blew a big hole in his Hurricane's engine - sending oil all over the windscreen and fumes into the cockpit.

He tried to chase the 109 as it flew past him but had lost engine power. He expected his foe  "to come back and teach me to play the harp" - but for whatever reason, perhaps lack of ammunition, he did not.


So there was Kain, far behind enemy lines with a dead engine and a cockpit filling with smoke. He opened the canopy to jump out - but realised his parachute harness had come off his shoulder.

So he got back in and, incredibly, glided some 30 miles to Metz aerodrome where he made a force landing. He clambered out of the badly damaged Hurri - and promptly collapsed, to be rescued by some French soldiers.

Quite a tale, and that is was I decided to make a picture about. Happily I had in my collection of cloudscapes a suitable background photo taken in roughly the same area and altitude.

I also had a lower level photo of the French countryside for the other picture in this sequence. This began as a sketch about events on 26 March when there was a bigger aerial combat - during which Kain, with shrapnel in his leg,  did bale out of his burning aircraft:

Combat in France sketch idea

You can see how this overlaps with the finished item at the top of the page. But in playing around with compositions I had already decided that I really liked the effect of a 'vic' cluster of the black and white Hurricanes - reminding me for all the world of a shoal of tropical fish we used to have in a tank when I was a child:  


'Rising to the challenge' © by Gary Eason / Flight Artworks

So rather than carve out a dogfight I thought I would show the beginnings of the action, and that is how the second picture came to be made.

Soon Eddie Kain had notched up five aerial victories becoming the RAF's first "ace" of the war, feted in the British newspapers and interviewed on the BBC.

In May the Battle of France began. Kain rapidly achieved further combat successes and his total had risen to 17 when, exhausted, he was ordered back to England in early June.

Kain said his farewells to his squadron but as he was leaving decided to do some low-level aerobatics over the airfield. He slammed into the ground doing a third flick roll, was flung out of his exploding Hurricane and killed outright.

He was a few weeks short of his 22nd birthday.


 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit

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.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.

D-Day pictures set for print publication


Part of the D-Day series: 'Free French' RAF Bostons on a low-level strike prior to the invasion © by Gary Eason / Flight Artworks

High Wycombe, 6 Jan 2014

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". 

Coming up

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. 


 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit

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.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.