I have touched on the history of nose art and looked at some gorgeous examples, some more worthy to be described as art than others but that of course is speculative. What I have barely skimmed is maybe (at least to me) the most important question… why do aircrew and pilots go to the effort of naming and embellishing their crafts? Is it a vanity? As in ”mine looks better than yours”? is it deeper than that? Does it bring the Squadron together? Give them a sense of camaraderie?
By its very nature, nose art is adaptable and changeable, it was clearly a valuable tool for boosting morale during the perilous times of war though it was ultimately temporary and ephemeral once the conflict was over. Though thankfully many examples still remain there are of course many more which have not lasted over the centuries. It clearly ‘means something’ to the brave men who fought in the wars and has gone on to mean possibly just as much to future generations.
In the words of Jack McIntosh of 419 ”Moose” Squadron …”the name and nose art made it feel she was ‘our’ aircraft and would always bring us home” so it clearly gave them hope of return and safety.
Ron Batley the curator of the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts near Diss in South Yorkshire explained ”They did it to show it was their plain, their crew and painting their jackets with the same art showed they were a team…It gave them an identity and was something they could do to colour their lives, it was a great moral booster”
It could also be a very personal thing for the pilot, a way to remember loved ones back home, crafts were often named for the wifes and sweethearts left behind. Fighter pilot Bob Barnhart, based at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, had a picture of his wife Margie as his nose art and the epitaph ‘Margie darling’.
Film maker Gail Downey documented the nose art of Don Allen (who sadly passed away in 2013 at the grand age of 93) crew chief with the Fourth Fighter Group, based at Debden in Essex during the conflict. For her film ‘Nose art and pin ups’ she spent 5 weeks travelling America recording the memories of American veterans who had flown in planes he painted. In her words…“These were young men who faced death every day. They told me the artwork personalised their aircraft and gave them something ‘to pat’ before and after every mission,”
Don Allen seen here whimsically laying on the wing admiring his work www.cleaveland.com
So it appears that nose art had a very deep and meaningful purpose, though in part a rebellion it became synonymous with the camaraderie of war, it bought men of diverse back grounds together, it gave them a unity, an identity, it gave them hope and reminded them of home…
With this in mind each spectacular piece of nose art I view from now on will hold a certain gravitas. When you are next up close to an example of this amazing history I’m sure you too will get goose bumps from the spirits of pilots past, their imprint on modern history and the poignancy of the art which once may have looked merely attractive to you.