Great British stoicism poignantlycaptured on canvas
As Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was in charge of coordinating and commanding a fleet of almost 7,000 vessels to deliver more than 160,000 men onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
A pragmatic man, Admiral Ramsay did not go in for publicity or court the limelight. He just wanted to get the job done.
And in the portrait, opposite, that is exactly what artist Karl Rudziak has managed to capture in the painting which will form part of Portsmouth Museum’s first D-Day exhibition.
It will sit alongside 12 portraits of D-Day veterans commissioned by the Prince of Wales and on loan from the Royal Collection.
The stunning exhibition, which opens today, has been curated by Susan Ward, who says the intention is to put the spotlight on veterans instead of the bigger context of the war.
She adds: ‘It has been a great opportunity to work on this exhibition, from seeing the portraits at the Queen's Gallery last year, to unpacking them in Portsmouth Museum this week.
‘Painted by 12 different artists, each portrait has a story to tell and highlights the veterans who in some way were part of D-Day.
‘They are the first works we will have had on loan from the Royal Collection and it is a real privilege to have them here.
‘The exhibition has given us the opportunity to include some collection items, which have never previously been on display – sketches by D-Day veterans, prior to and during D-Day – and the loan of a nursing cape with over 200 military badges and insignias. Bringing these items all together has been really exciting and has hopefully created a fascinating story of the people connected to D-Day'.
The cape, below right, belonged to Della Lusty (nee Griffith) who was born in Fraserburgh, Scotland in 1917.
She qualified as a State Registered Nurse in 1943 and joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Service as Lieutenant Nursing Sister. She landed at Arromanches, in Normandy nine days after D-Day and was involved in the establishment of a Field Hospital (79th British General).
Nurses often declined offers of cash and cigarettes from servicemen who were grateful for their care in favour of their badges which they would stitch into the red lining of their nurses capes. There are more than 200 badges on Mrs Lusty’s cape.
Her field hospital travelled to Berlin where she met her husband-to-be, Colonel Alan Charles Lusty RAOC.
Following the victory in Germany she continued nursing troops in Poona, India before her release from National Service in 1946. She had three children and died in 2002.
Karl Rudziak was commissioned to paint the portrait of John Jenkins, on the front page, by Eric Eisner, owner of Portsmouth Football Club. It was while on a tour of the city with Conservative leader Donna Jones that Mr Eisner popped into Karl’s Hotwalls Studio and was immediately impressed by his striking photo realistic portraits of ordinary Portsmouth people.
Cllr Jones suggested Karl paint Mr Jenkins – a lifelong Pompey fan from Milton – and Mr Eisner agreed to commission it.
Karl says: ‘I met John at the City Museum and encouraged him to talk to me about the war.
‘He joined the navy and lied about his age – he was actually only 14 years old. By the time he was 20 he had been around the world. That’s what I wanted to capture – a living memory.
‘So 75 years ago he was in his 20s when he landed on Normandy. It is a massive piece of history and trying to capture that is tricky.’
There were three sittings.
‘I’m very happy with the portrait’ says Karl.
‘It is a very reverential picture. John is also a bird watcher so there is a book open with a picture of a crested tit.
‘There’s a photo of him during the war, and the John Westwood picture I painted a few years ago, which is a reference to Pompey.’
And Mr Jenkins, now 99, was delighted to be asked. ‘I’m quite chuffed to think I was important enough to paint.
‘I enjoyed the experience very much and I do like the painting, it’s very good.’
Karl also worked with historian John Daly trying to decide on another subject to paint to reflect the spirit of D-Day.
They chose Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who died in a plane crash in 1945.
Weaved into the portrait is a message about sovereignty – what it meant to those there on D-Day and what it means today.
As well as the soldiers in the background there is a huge decaying Union Jack.
Karl says: ‘We wanted to represent the top brass but perhaps someone who had been overlooked, and that was the case with Admiral Ramsay.
‘We was a navy planner and he had to organise the logistics – 160,000 men on 7,000 boats. I needed to capture that. He appears to have been quite a down to earth figure.
‘We wasn’t interested in publicity or propaganda, he wasn’t that sort of man.
‘He just wanted to get on with the job. It was that great British spirit. I wanted to paint him from a very human perspective.’
And it is the human perspective, beyond the carnage of D-Day, that visitors will experience at the exhibition.
Portraits of D-Day Veterans opens today and runs for three months.
There are a number of events taking place at Portsmouth Museum, in Museum Road, to run alongside the exhibition. On June 13 there will be a lunchtime talk by Andrew Whitmarsh, who will discuss D-Day.One July 10 art curator Susan Ward, will discuss the theme of portraits and their significance, from 1pm until 2pm. Artist Karl Rudziak will host a question and answer session from 6pm until 8pm on July 18. The exhibition runs for three months.Go to portsmouthmusuems.co.uk.