They Were There

“Only Pollock could have done it, would have done it, did do it.”

Michael Rondot, ITV, RAF 100th Anniversary (2018)

Battle of Britain VC by Robert Taylor

Battle of Britain VC by Robert Taylor

Alan Pollock

They Were There: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat ­is the culmination of a remarkable effort, undertaken by Flt. Lt. Alan Pollock – in what he sometimes calls ‘slow time’ – over severaldecades. Building on a core of Battle of Britain legends and flying aces – including five of the seven British advisors to the 1969 film ‘Battle of Britain’ – he worked hard to find similar Army, Navy, Civilian and Resistance legends.

Of the seven ‘British Technical and Tactical Advisors’ on the 1969 film Battle of Britain, five are They Were There Signatories: Hamish Mahaddie #92, Robert Stanford Tuck #9, Ginger Lacey #7, Boleslaw Drobinski #19, and Claire Legge #185. Signatories from the other service branches, as well as civilians and resistance, are equally distinguished.

Along the way, Alan made sure to add the less glamorous – but equally important – players in the extraordinary and historic drama of the Second World War: the Shadwell fireman, a WW1 veteran policeman and Air Raid Warden, widows, ground crew… Unsung heroes whose service, often unremarked beyond their families and friends, was nonetheless critical – and, indeed, is commonly and often insistently and forcefully acknowledged by those whose service put them ‘in the limelight’.

Nonetheless, the ‘access’ Alan acquired over the years in turn led to a stellar collection of people and stories. This truly remarkable collection happened for a variety of reasons, including:

Alan’s own sterling service career (until its denouement, which continues to rather appeal to many people);`
 His personal contacts: early in his career he met many Battle of Britain pilots, working as an Aide-de-Campe to Air Marshal Sir John Humphrey Edwardes-Jones, KCB, CBE, DFC, AFC, an extremely distinguished Battle of Britain fighter commander;
The inspiration of his own father, Lt. Col. John Pollock, who was the first British officer into Rome after it was liberated (having been embedded with the Americans), where he raised the first Union Jack over the city.
A lifelong and sympathetic interest in both commemorating this generation and paying tribute to their sacrifices – as evinced in The Tower Bridge Incident;

Runnymede Memorial to 20,075 known Airmen and Airwomen with no known graves. Credit: John Pollock

Charitable concern: Alan’s energies on this project initally went into his instrumental role in the founding of Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. After that success, he turned his energies to concentrate on supporting the (successful) War Widows Pension Campaign:

After success on both those fronts, he concentrated, charitably, on an approach that would donate all profits – at least half of all proceeds – to  service benevolent charities;
Finally, naturally, to some extent he was “passed along the line”, not unlike an underground resistance package, from one old boy or girl to another, one friend and signatory to another. The result: dozens upon dozens of signatures by people who didn’t do autographs.    Lieutenant Colonel John Pollock (right), Life Magazine, 9 October, 1944

And so They Were There: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat slowly built, over the years, into a mosaic – a tapestry – of signatories, many of whom had simply never signed such a thing before – and never would again.

Perhaps the artist Michael Rondot’s remark about Alan shooting Tower Bridge in a Hunter jet – “Only Pollock could have done it, would have done it, did do it” – applies equally here, too.

Indeed, there are many signatures on this print that are so rare that they have no known ‘market value’. These were people who, among so many others, simply preferred to keep a quiet profile after the war. Jeannie Rousseau, Viscomtesse de Clarens, comes to mind in particular

Jeannie de Clarens with her husband, Henri. They both survived stays in concentration camps.

‘a masterpiece of intelligence work’

‘What I did was so little’: Remembering World War II spy hero Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens

“There are fewer and fewer heroes left from World War II.

Today, we remember a French woman who was definitely one of those heroes.

She was a spy named Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens. She passed away last week, at age 98.

Rousseau stole key secrets from the Nazis, including details of weapons like the V1 and V2 rockets. Her operations are still considered a “masterpiece of intelligence work.”

At a CIA awards ceremony in 1993, the agency’s then director, James Woolsey, said the information she gathered saved thousands of lives.

Her information enabled the British to bomb the German rocket production and testing facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, putting the program back critical months.

Rousseau told few people of her exploits, but David Ignatius of The Washington Post was able to get her to open up, after being introduced by Woolsey himself.

Ignatius was struck by her humility. “What I did was so little,” she told him. “Others did so much more. I was one small stone.”

Asked why she did it, she told Ignatius “It wasn’t a choice. It was what you did. At the time, we all thought we would die. I don’t understand the question. How could I not do it?” The World: 30 August, 2017.

Alan conceived a grand plan: to have a representative, as a signatory, who had been personally present at every major event in the Allied Forces’ pathway to victory in World War Two.

This ‘summary timeline’ of major events in World War II, by the ever-impressive Wikipedians, of whom Alan is a passionate supporter, shows that, essentially, he succeeded in the task. (It should be noted, however, that only a few prints were eventually signed in London by the Soviet luminaries: alcohol seems to have influenced their decision to insist on signing, unlike all the others, in biro ink instead of pencil. Alan put a stop to it fairly quickly, and so only a small handful of prints have their signatures).

The task having grown in this way, eventually over 80,000 miles of travel took Alan to a dozen or so countries to secure the signatures of these remarkable people (he also took advantage of cheap flights after 9/11 to personally meet and secure the autographs of a very distinguished group of American signatories).

In all, each print has signatures from over thirty nationalities.

This was, after all, a World War – and we won it together.

Together © IWM Art.IWM PST 3158

As Alan personally visited each one of these 300 or so signatories, he would sit alongside them, hearing and taping their stories as they carefully added their autographs to the pile of prints while quietly remembering and paying tribute.

Often it was an afternoon or so of work. Elderly men and women, remembering friends and those they fought alongside – often themselves signatories – or had lost, and never forgotten.

Much tea was taken.

Autograph by autograph, then, an incredible tapestry of the Second World War began to emerge. A historic gathering, ‘in slow time’, of those who were there, each signing the same pieces of paper as their remarkable peers. It took thirty years or so, but Alan likes to hit his target.

Each one of these hand-signed originals of Robert Taylor’s famous ‘Battle of Britain VC’  painting therefore, captures of the entire Allied effort in that extraordinary period of history.

A kind of quintessence, if you like, almost a distillation of The World At War in one amazing collection of autographs surrounding a vivid and evocative image.

Unfortunately, they are also something that cannot be repeated. That remarkable generation – ‘the greatest generation’ as Americans movingly call them – is now largely gone. One or two of our signatories are still alive, but they’re centenarians.

We marked the inauguration of this project’s website by clicking the ‘publish’ button at exactly 3.25 pm in the Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede, where 20,075 Allied aircrew with no known grave are commemorated. 3.25 pm was the exact moment, eighty years ealier, when Keith Park heard the words “At Readiness” from the first Squadron, and Battle of Britain Day was born.

We are also releasing the first of a series of small service-focussed Editions, a special “Battle of Britain 80 Edition” of 12 originals, to honour, commemorate, and pay tribute on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain Memorial Day, 15th September 2020.

The profits, at least half of the proceeds of the sale of each original, will duly be donated either to the three major service benevolent charities, or appropriate such charities nominated by those purchasing a print – a figure we hope will reach many  tens of thousands of pounds. (And we ask you to consider making a donation anyway.)

The last wisps of the generation that fought for our way of life are still alive; most are gone.

Nonetheless, these events are in our collective living memory – and for good reason.

These events really mattered.  And, together, we rose to the task.

“The Long and the Short and the Tall”

The Long and the Short and the Tall, a play and then film, is a phrase that has come to represent the diversity of those serving the military during the Second World War – and is reflected in the deep range of the full set of signatories. The phrase derives from a First World War song, “Bless ‘Em All”:
Bless ’em all, Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,
Bless all those Sergeants and WO1’s,
Bless all those Corporals and their bleedin’ sons,
Cos’ we’re saying goodbye to ’em all.
And back to their Billets they crawl,
You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean,
So cheer up my lads bless ’em all

Our 300 signatories made their wartime contributions in Armies and as airmen; on water and at night; in the War Cabinet, as Chindits, in Arctic Convoys, on Gliders, as guerrillas and resistance fighters; in jungles and as pathfinders, on the Kindertransport and in tanks; aboard Liberty ships and midget submarines, developing radar, and running VIP flights… almost all the elements of this global war are represented.

From soldiers and civilians to sailors and scientists, the range and depth of the hundreds of signatories on each print is remarkable. There are WWII legends of air, sea, and land, as well as a handful who saw action in The Great War – including Lord Balfour and Freddie West, VC.

Even a partial list of the gallantry medals represented on each print is extraordinary…

Medal Group of Lieutenant Thomas W GOULD VC RNVR, just one of the fourteen VC award holders who have signed each the print.

Fourteen Victoria Crosses, including: Leonard Cheshire #31; the WWII’s first VC, Dickie Annand #44; the Dieppe Raid’s Patrick Porteous #93; Gurkha Ganju Lama #146; ‘the greatest living Welshman’ Tasker Watkins #256; ‘Irishman’ John Kenneally #275, from Churchill’s famous ‘Five Years of War’ broadcast; and the Jewish submariner Tommy Gould #94.

Two George Crosses. Sixty Distinguished Service Orders and thirty bars – including over a tenth of those awarded two bars in WWII – and a quarter of those awarded three. Sixteen Distinguished Service Crosses and thirteen Military Crosses. Sixty-nine Distinguished Flying Crosses with thirty bars – and over a tenth of all those awarded two bars in WWII.

International gallantry medals include: the American James Swett #302 who won Medal of Honor and became an ace on his first combat mission; two War Crosses with Swords, including heavy water saboteur Jens-Anton Poulsson #164; eight Légions d’Honneur, among them ‘one of the most remarkable women of her generation’ Jeannie Rousseau (Vicomtesse de Clarens), codenamed ‘Amniarix’ #161; the last of 13 French pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, Henry Lafont #160; the first Special Boat Service Commander, the Earl Jellicoe #105; and Special Operations Executive resistant and spy André Hue #145.

Thirteen Croix de Guerre include the second highest scoring Battle of Britain pilot Ginger Lacey #7; American ‘triple ace’ Robin Olds #97; the leader of the glider-borne Normandy Landings assault on Pegasus Bridge, The Longest Day’s John Howard #91; the ‘widely speculated’ James Bond inspiration Fitzroy MacLean #116; and intelligence officer, SOE, and SAS historian, MRD Foot #140.

Liberation and Battle of France: Artillery Observation Post on Mount Pincon by Anthony Gross 1944: The Gunners are directing fire on to an enemy strong point in the village of St Pierre, 10th August 1944 © Art.IWM ART LD 4484

Air and sea legends include the Nightfighter ace “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham; Billy Drake; Bob Stanford-Tuck; the war’s highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the Luftwaffe, ‘Johnnie’ Johnson; James ‘Willie’ Tait who sank the Tirpitz; Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, [26] the Navy’s most decorated pilot who flew more types of aircraft than anyone in history; Churchill’s navigator John Mitchell; and Lettice Curtis, ‘arguably the most remarkable woman pilot’ of WWII.

Legends on the ground include: Operation Market Garden’s John ‘Shan’ Hackett; Chindit ‘Mad Mike’ Calvert; the great desert tank commander ‘Pip’ Roberts; Australian VC Roden Cutler; St. Nazaire Raider and Colditz POW Micky Burn (who also helped Audrey Hepburn survive); Operation Market Garden glider and escapee Michael Dauncey; ‘one of the most highly regarded soldiers of the Parachute Regiment and British army’ Alastair ‘Jock’ Pearson; SAS original, desert raider, and Belsen liberator, Johnnie Cooper; the spy from the Green Howards, D’Arcy Mander; and Paul Ison, the US Marine in an iconic war photograph.

Among the many remarkable civilians, there is the original ‘Boffin’, R.V. Jones, as well as Bletchley cryptographers Harry Hinsley and Maggie Edwardes-Jones; the ‘Bamboo Doctor’ Stanley Pavillard; Dutch resistant Andreé ‘Nadine’ Dumon; Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s godson Dietrich Bethge; Shadwell fireman Fred Leverett; Sue Ryder; the ‘chaff’ inventor Joan Curran; war correspondent Frank Gillard; the Kindertransport child Harry Stadler; and Chrystabel Leighton-Porter – immortalised in the cartoon ‘Jane’, which Churchill called “Britain’s secret weapon”.

An Aerial Battle by Francis Dodd (6 September, 1940)

Winston Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall in London as they celebrate VE Day, 8 May 1945. H41849

Stanley Spencer, Tea in the Hospital Ward, Sandham Memorial Chapel, © National Trust/ John Hammond