Booby Trap: The Perils of Commemorative War Art
I’ve been thinking a lot about war lately, because of the Australian government. Not only do they fund wars, they fund art about war too. They’ve set aside a wad of cash to commemorate 100 Years of Anzac spirit with the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.
I am concerned that well funded commemorative war projects could morph into a celebration of war via ANZAC idealism and legend rather than acknowledgement of death, loss and waste. I’m not seeing much official war art that’s anti-war.
Anyways, I rifled through my brain, thinking up art projects that kept my conscience comfortable while accommodating the following instruction:
“must respect the commemorative involvement, service and sacrifice of Australia’s servicemen and women and of other nations involved in military conflicts. Projects that do not enhance our understanding of the Anzac legacy or fit within the spirit of the Anzac Centenary commemorative program will be ineligible.”
Eligibility criteria Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund Public Grants Program Guidelines 2014-2018 (Page 3, Section 4)
I started with my maternal grandfather Poppy Tom, who served in World War Two. Based in Papua New Guinea, Tom came home safe after serving as an Army Welder but died in 1976 from smoking-related disease. He’d taken up the habit during the War (the Army liked the men smoking ciggies because it kept them slim).
When my Mum moved to the Gold Coast, she passed Poppy Tom’s war records and old war photos on to me. Like so many WWII vets, Poppy Tom never spoke to us about the war and I couldn’t recall him ever using a camera. Flicking through the photos, I was amazed at what he’d shot but alarmed to see images of dead Japanese soldiers and upset, that this was what Poppy Tom had witnessed (photographed). I put the images back into their envelope in the top cupboard with the tax stuff and other paraphernalia I didn’t want to think about.
Poppy Tom’s war record was interesting though. Written in bold red fountain pen, details of stealing public property and a hefty £5 fine came to light. As my brother says: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (which is inaccurate as I never pay fines). The offence occurred on the 15th of December 1943 as Tom was a very generous man and Christmas was coming.
A year later, on leave in Australia, Poppy Tom went AWOL once or twice. He was fined £2/10s and ‘Automatic Forfeiture of 6 days Pay’ on the 9th of November 1944. This offence was well worth it though, as my mother was born on the 12th of July 1945 and you always did what my Grandma Coral said or else.
I am sure that when Tom wasn’t getting into trouble with the MPs, he was a rather brave ANZAC who would weld the shit out of the enemy when called upon (if he wasn’t AWOL handing out stolen presents to friends and family) and defend Australia with his mates. A flawed warrior, but not the only one I reckon.
I never applied in the end. Avoiding the 17 pages of begging to have my project realized was easy, when I remembered the Internet. When an application process turns you off wanting to make art, the creative impulse needs protection.
Poppy Tom’s photos also included a series of images of racy paintings on the front of WWII military aircraft. I’d called them Fuselage art, but soon discovered the real term is Nose Art.
Unlike the state-sanctioned art the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund Public Grant would be happy with, Nose Art was unauthorised military art that male (and female) flight personnel detailed their rides with. The further away from America, the filthier American Nose Art got: titties, expletives, even caricatures of foreign Heads of State.
Here is a good place to start looking at it:
Speaking of sexism, you wouldn’t want to be a sexist arsehole in the Australian Army anymore. Particularly not under the current leadership of Chief of Army Lt. General David Morrison. He’s a feminist and most definitely the first feminist in charge of the Australian Army in its history. David became a feminist at 54 when he realised (and publicly acknowledged) that gender imbalance, sexual abuse and a lack of opportunities for military women are national issues. David posted an angry response on YouTube, to the vile Jedi Council sex scandal that occurred within the ADF in 2013.
He promised strong punitive repercussions for such behaviour and invited female staff to contact him directly about any concerns or incidents. The video clip went viral. My man.
thanks for sharing poppy toms story nat, keeping it real.no need to be a hero.
Nice to see pics of Coral Nats! Great photos x
Wow! Your “Poppy Tom” apparently took a picture of the nose art on my Grandfather’s B-24 Liberator (bomber)!! The “Lady June II” was the aircraft where he served as Flight Engineer and Top Turret Gunner. It’s amazing what you can run across on the internet while doing research. Anyway, just thought I’d share. Nice collection of photos! A peek back into history through the window of photography. Best wishes!
– Jason from the USA
Hi Natty Solo – I’ve been a fan of Nose Cone art since I heard a paper at the Art Association that discussed the Jungian dimensions of the imagery. Whilst the boys just thought they were painting sexy ladies on the planes, they in fact operate as protectors of the aircraft, as did eyes painted on ships, and figureheads on ships, various figures that were intended in many cultures to bring the voyagers safely back home. Whilst there are many anthologies of Nose Cone Art, I think some of the ones captured by your Poppy may not be in the anthologies – as planes crashed or images were painted over – these type of snapshots become the few records of the artworks, like the detritus of performance art, both fragmentary and limited but highly valuable in the wake of the ephemerality of the original. Warplanes in the field are still painted with unofficial imagery and the practice has spread more widely beyond the US airforce as well – even though during World War Two the RAF and the Luftwaffe tried to stamp out artists who sought to extend decorations beyond the minimal, Mickey Mouse for example was painted on at least two Luftwaffe aircraft – Today US planes use a modern hyperrealist art style that seems to mash soft porn with Fantasy novel covers and they use a smooth illustrative style with very detailed tonality, but there is still much affection for the old designs which are often copied directly from books on world war 2 planes onto today’s planes and they are used by non American airforces as well. I read an article about an Australian airman who was very busy in Afghanistan painting world war 2 images onto modern planes for various nations’ airforces, but they were removed when the planes flew home. My dad was in the RAAF and flew out of Britain over Germany. I had no clue what he did until I was in my 20s and having an argument with him about driving from Dortmund to Cologne, and the relational positions of various cities that I thought he had not been to. The airforce both British and Australian encouraged airmen to smoke and threw unlimited supplies of Lucky Strikes at them as smoking “calmed their nerves”, I suppose thinner airmen made the planes lighter too