I have touched previously on the meanings behind differing themes of nose art though with a subject so diverse the meanings and feelings they then encourage are also diverse and many. The site of an extraordinary piece of artwork or even a immaturely executed graffiti, when adorning the flank of an aircraft can be very emotive. It can induce feelings of euphoria, sadness, camaraderie, passion, awe and many more besides. Of course there are many reasons for the different emotions also, for example the genre of the work, the situation in which you are looking at it and if you have any personal connection to the aircraft to name but a few.
Nose art could also be described as Heraldry which Websters describes as “the practise of devising, blazoning and grating armorial insignia and of tracing and recording genealogies” which if you ask me is a pretty apt description of what we know as nose art. For many generations weapons and armour have been adorned with markings and symbols to empower them with special traits, state ownership and enhance strength. Of course as weaponry progressed as did the markings and symbols. In the case of aircraft it progressed from simple symbols to intricate designs and caricatures.
The beautiful paradox between the feminine delicacy and sensuality and the masculine aggression can produce one of the most powerful images found adorning an aircraft. For example a beautiful, often hardly dressed girl seen draped over or straddling a bomb or other such hardware. This encompasses two separate ‘meanings’ behind nose art. The inclusion of a female is often attributed to a longing for home, for a better, safer time…and of course rather easy on the eye. Whereas the bomb is the other end of the spectrum, a threat to the enemy. Having the two together could almost be a taunt, as if the crew are saying that ‘even’ a woman, at her delicate and sensual best, could beat the enemy.
One example of this provocative nose art is Lancaster ‘Lady Orchid’ serial KB895 who was tested by Ron Jenkins and his crew on April 2nd 1945 before they were informed that she would be their new bomber (code WL-O). As with many aircraft, once she essentially belonged to a crew she was given a name and nose art. Initially she was called ‘Wee Lady Orchid’ in honor of her code letters, however the ‘Wee’ was later dropped…maybe they felt she had ‘grown up’ enough to no longer be ‘wee’.
It is very fitting, in a show of true camaraderie that the entire crew had a hand in the painted depiction of ‘Lady Orchid’ and gave her an almost Lady Godiva appearance though instead of riding a white horse she rides a bomb whilst brandishing two western style guns as if going into battle, as of course the aircraft would be. As in the legend of Godiva, ‘Lady Orchid’ also rides fully naked with just her long locks to offer any hint to modesty. The name itself was painted by Pilot Ron Jenkins in large white letters with the first letter of both words in red.
After an active effort during the war ‘Lady Orchid’ was struck off by the RCAF in 1947 and turned over to War Assets who compassionately agreed to hold on to her for her original pilot Jenkins . He purchased the bomber for $230, though he did not keep her intact, he had each station point removed and mailed out to his old crew so they could each remember her and have a memento of their lovely lost lady to keep.
Whatever the actual motivation behind painting a lady with bombs and other such hardware, it is never the less a powerful and provocative image.