Meals and Murals

Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant (centre) with one of the murals at the British Restaurant in Leamington.

The artists based at the Camouflage Directorate in Leamington during the Second World War included a group of painters and designers, the Artists and Designers Group, who spent their weekends and evenings painting murals for public places.

These included the wartime restaurants – the community feeding stations, re-named by Churchill ‘British Restaurants’ – which provided cheap meals for war-workers and those who had been bombed out and lacked ration books.

Leamington’s British Restaurant, located in Regent Grove, served 4,800 meals a week. In 1943, a group of artists decorated it with six large paintings showing what the Courier described as ‘a light and amusing picture of modern Leamington’. The scenes depicted were:

  • ‘Carrying on with domestic duties after an air raid’;
  • ‘A scene of contemporary life in Leamington Spa’;
  • Scene on a Training airfield’;
  • ‘By the River Leam’;
  • ‘Home guard manoeuvres’ and
  • ‘Street scene’.

Painting murals did not take place only in Leamington. Other artists like Edward Bawden, John Piper, and Mary Adshead decorated British Restaurants elsewhere, together with factory canteens and social clubs. But because of its concentration of artists and designers employed on camouflage design, Leamington was an important centre for mural painting.

Rugby Road Junior School was decorated with murals on the theme of The Good Earth. The Leamington group also painted murals for the Finham Park hostel tea bar with scenes of Seaside holidays – a subject suggested by the residents themselves, who also contributed to the cost.

Other murals decorated the bar of the Regent Hotel, the headquarters of the camouflage directorate. Although none of these murals seem to have survived, they are recorded in photographs. Dorothy Annan’s study for her mural ‘A scene of contemporary life in Leamington Spa’, showing Jephson Gardens in wartime, will be included in the exhibition.

The work of the group shows how British artists, following the mural painters of Mexico and the WPA project in the United States,  collaborated on state-sponsored schemes, and how they attempted to bring art out of the gallery. Trevor Tennant, the spokesman of the Leamington group, said that he hoped that their work would encourage people to regard art as part of their everyday lives.

Research by  Louise Campbell

Poems Inspired by the Camouflage Unit

Writer Matt Black has recently written 12 poems inspired by the Camouflage Unit based in Leamington Spa 1940 – 1944.

These will be available in printed format sometime during the Camouflage Festival….Here are a few as a taster….

Call-up

They boarded the Great Western at Paddington.
On blue-green tartan moquette, laughing, loose-limbed,
sporting plus-fours, pipes and sketchbooks, left town
(art school, jazz, London parties)
for the provinces, to do their bit,
wield their thumb-held palettes for the war.
Their brief: to confuse, conceal, deceive
the enemy by means not really cricket.
Their canvas: in the foreground, Cov and Brum,
and beyond, factories, fields, all that shines,
water, tarmac, steel, all our lovely country’s
glints and hints, please disguise us from eyes
above, from droning monsters in the sky.
Please hide us from the wide stare of the moon.

 

Telegram

Christopher. Emergency.
Holed up in Leamington Spa
For duration of war.
Elephants and pump-rooms.
Is that it?
Am in Regent Hotel.
Please bring whisky.

 

Victorine Foot

All chaps? Of course not, but as usual
the boy’s club made themselves more visible.
Puffing on their pipes, all frightfully important.
I was a fine artist, Naval Section Camouflage Unit,
amongst other women officers and artists.
Stitch by stitch, women wove all the nets.
We all worked together. But without the chaps –
no bloody senseless war to start with.