Coventry Blitz – General View
By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)
This watercolour painting of Coventry in the Blitz is one of the Herbert’s newest acquisitions. It found its way to us in fairly unusual circumstances. The artist’s daughter got in touch with us from Canada where she now lives, to tell us that this painting was being offered for sale on a website run by an organisation called the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum. She was really keen for the Herbert to purchase the work, as she felt strongly that it represents an important event in the city’s history and should be in a museum in Coventry where it could be seen and appreciated by Coventry people.
After a number of communications with the Anglo-Boer War Museum, we reached an agreement with them to buy the painting. Fortunately the sale price was not too high and we were able to use some of the funding we currently have from the Heritage Lottery Fund to purchase works of art on the themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. This was an ideal use of this funding, as the Herbert’s focus on these themes stems from the experience of Coventry in the Blitz of 1940.
When we first heard about the painting, we didn’t know very much about the artist, but luckily his daughter was able to supply us with some biographical information. We also discovered that the Imperial War Museum has several works by him in their collection.
Ernest Boye Uden (known as Boye Uden to distinguish him from his father Ernest Uden, who was also an artist) was born in 1911 in Peckham in London. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths College and by 1936 had exhibited work at the Royal Academy. When the Second World War broke out, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in London, and was on duty during the air raids on the East End and Docks. He was part of the contingent wetting down St Paul’s Cathedral when it was surrounded by fire.
In 1940 he became an official war artist, attached to the National Fire Service. When Coventry was bombed on the night of 14 November 1940, Uden’s division was sent to the city to support the local fire services. This painting records his view of the three spires as they entered the city. After the war Uden established himself as a successful artist, illustrator and watercolour painter. He was commissioned to produce work for a number of well-known companies, including British Gas, Daimler, Bass, Dunlop, Ferguson Tractors, ICI and the Radio Times. He died in Sudbury in Suffolk in 1986.
The painting has required some work by our conservation team to make it ready for display, including making a new mount for it and framing it. It will be on show for the first time as part of the Warwickshire Watercolours exhibition, at the Herbert between 25 February and 22 July.
Hidden stories – Blitz handbag
Sometimes a museum object stands alone as an engaging painting or a beautiful dress, other times you need to know its story to bring it to life. So when I was offered this little blue handbag, with dried, cracked leather and signs of rust I wasn’t sure what to make of it – until I heard its story.
The donor told me about a night in Coventry during the 1940 Blitz: ‘the sirens went and I got into my siren suit, climbed over the next door neighbour’s fence and into the Anderson shelter. When the bombs dropped I remember the candle going out and my mother screaming ‘that’s our house’. When the raid was over we got out and all our windows had been blown in. But to my horror my friend’s house which was at the bottom of our garden was razed to the ground, this being in Ashington Grove [in Whitley]. I remember seeing one of the dolls in the rubble. My friends were Enid and Andrew Moffat and along with their mother they were all killed; their father lived. It was said that the children and their mother went under the stairs and their father stayed in bed. He gave me Enid’s handbag out of the rubble which I have cherished all these years.’
While the Herbert can not collect every item relating to Coventry during the Second World War, this handbag tells a tale that connects us to the donor’s survival and the loss of her friends. Stories of the Blitz and Coventry’s experience of peace and reconciliation are an important part of the city’s history.
To find out more about our peace collecting project see Natalie’s blog: https://theherbert.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/the-herberts-peace-collecting-project/
You can also add share your stories of Coventry on the Coventry Memories website.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary since the Coventry Blitz the Herbert has all sorts of events and projects happening… in fact the whole of Coventry has lots of things going on. We’ll be hosting a Blitz family day in conjunction with the Coventry Transport Museum and one of the History Learning Officers is running a project called ‘We Will Remember Them’ where people can send in photographs of themselves, family members or friends who were a part of WW2 along with some information about who they were and what they did.
As a part of this project I have been delivering WW2 assemblies for local primary schools where we have been testing out an air raid siren, trying on a gas mask and helmet and most importantly learning about the lives of some of Coventry’s citizen’s who contributed towards the War Effort.
One of the people we have been looking at is Noreen Dalglish, an Ambulance driver for the Civil Defence. Noreen was only 20 years old when she joined the Civil Defence in 1938, a year before war was declared on Germany. She said that everyone knew the war was going to happen and rather than be forced into a job she wanted to choose what to do. At the time of joining the Ambulance service, Noreen did not possess a driving licence and instead had to learn as part of her training. When it came to taking her test she drove up a road and straight into a tree, but the Civil Defence needed as many Ambulance drivers as possible so they passed her as she hadn’t caused any damage to the car!
When describing what it was like to be driving out during a blackout with a full uniform on she said, “You’re driving in the dark with your gas mask on, you couldn’t see or hear anything – or breathe! It was horrible. And you had your gas outfit on. All the trousers and the jackets and everything. And driving in that… it was awful. It was like driving down a dark tunnel with a blanket over your head. It was really awful.”