Select Page

Colin Moss – From Camoufleur To Soldier

Painter, draughtsman, camoufleur, printmaker, teacher and soldier

Colin served as a camoufleur from 1939 – 1943, working on the concealment of civilian installations. During his service he designed a number of camouflage schemes for installations such as Stonebridge Park Power Station, London.

At the beginning of the war, the Germans already knew where several of Britain’s vital industrial targets were located. Recruited solely from the foremost artists of their generation, the aim of the Leamington-based camouflage officers (“camoufleurs”) was to guard Britain’s civil installations by confusing “a pilot at a minimum of five miles distant and 5,000 feet up throughout daylight.”

Camouflaged Cooling-Towers, 1943, Watercolour, 36.8cm x 54.6cm, (War Artists Advisory Committee purchase © Imperial War Museum)

 

Why Artists?

The camoufleurs of the Camouflage Directorate were theatre set designers, practicing artists, sculptors, architects. All were recruited as “there was a natural partnership based on their aptitude for good visual recall, and their understanding of scale, colour and tone”.

Their designs featured strident patterns, in an array of colours, painted onto buildings. The aim was to break up forms and outlines so that objects on the ground were difficult to spot, even against a shifting background (ie looking down from a plane).

The camouflage schemes they designed either hid the target, so it merged into its surroundings, or deceived the eye as to its size and placement.

More surreal techniques included adding road markers to roofs or standing concrete cows on them, to fool Luftwaffe bomb aimers or, at the very least, to make them to hesitate and so miss their target.

 

Smoke and Mirrors

The patterns were designed to break up and disrupt the objects outline and consisted of a mix of dark and light colours, painted next to each other. At power stations like Stonebridge, where Colin’s “The Big Tower” (below) was painted, the power station’s fuel was modified to emit darker smoke that would contrast with its surroundings for “disruptive colouration”.

(L-R) Stonebridge Park Power Station with camouflage scheme in place 1941 (B&W photo), Camouflaged Factory Buildings, 1941, Watercolour, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, The Big Tower, Camouflaged, 1943, Watercolour 63.5 cm x 45.3cm, (War Artists Advisory Committee purchase © Imperial War Museum)

 

As the war went on, and the threat from the German air force decreased, the UK Government scaled back its commitment to civil camouflage. Inevitably, this meant that the work of the camoufleur unit was wound down. However, before the camoufleurs were reassigned to new war work, “the Ministry decided it wanted a pictorial record of aspects of camouflage and all the artists were given about a month’s paid leave to do paintings of whatever jobs they had designed.” Colin Moss : Life Observed.

Colin spent his month’s leave painting watercolours of the various camouflage schemes he had designed, before joining the Life Guards (part of the Household Cavalry) on active service in the Middle East. A number of those watercolours are in the ownership of the Imperial War Museum in London, others are housed by Leamington Spa Museum & Art Gallery.

 

Military Service

Once the aerial threat from the German Airforce was over, Colin went on active service. He was initially deployed to North Africa (in 1943) and later, once the war was over, Palestine, as part of the effort to establish the state of Israel.

The images below are from a number of Colin’s sketchbooks, now kept in the Tate Archive in London. This is the first time they have been published.

(L-R) North African Refugees Pen, ink, gouache & wash, 24.8cm x 27.5cm, Two Soldiers Talking Pastel, 59.5cm x 42cm, Middle East Battle School Pencil, ink, gouache & wash, 37.7cm x 25.2cm

 

L-R North Palestine 1946, Lithograph, 37.5cm x 47.8cm, Portrait of an Officer, Seated, Palestine, 1946, Pencil, 51cm x 36.7cm

 

For his final for 6 months of military service (in 1947), he taught in the Army Education Corps (now the Educational & Training Services – ETS) gaining invaluable experience before commencing his post-war career, lecturing at the Ipswich Art School.

On the Tube 1947 Watercolour & ink, 24.5cm x 30.8cm

 

Post-War Memories

As Colin’s career at the Ipswich Art School came to an end in 1979, his war-time experiences bubbled to the surface. Over the next decade, he generated a series of sketches, drawings, paintings, linoprints and watercolours, reflective of his experiences, memories and opinions on “war and the pity of war”.

(L-R) Exodus, 1985, Charcoal and pastel, 48cm x 40.5cm, “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” 1978 Pencil 76.5 cm x 56 cm (Colchester & Ipswich Museums)

 

(L-R) Playing Soldiers, Oil & collage on board 99 x 120.5 cm Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service, Sentry Under Red Sun, Oil on board 91.8cm x 71.5cm

 

One of his most haunting paintings from this era is “Moonlight over the Third Reich”. The influence that camouflage dazzle techniques, and art movements such as cubism and surrealism, had on camoufleurs like Colin throughout their artistic careers, can be seen vividly throughout this work. The painting “Moonlight over the Third Reich” was donated to the Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, London by Colin’s widow Pat in 2009.

Moonlight over the Third Reich, 1974-1982 Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, London, (L-R) Linocut, 50cm x 40.5cm, Oil on canvas, 91cm x 75.8cm, Pencil, 69.9cm x 51.8cm

 

The Camoufleur Alumni

At its peak, the Camouflage Directorate numbered over 230 staff, including a number who, post-war, went on to become some of the most significant and illustrious artists and designers of their generation.

Members of the group included:

  • Christopher Ironside (designer of the UK’s decimal coinage)
  • Janey Ironside (professor of fashion at the Royal College of Art)
  • Richard Guyatt (professor of graphic design at the Royal College of Art)
  • Eric Schilsky (head of the School of Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art)
  • leading lights of the English Surrealist movement Julian Trevelyan and Roland Penrose
  • set designer, painter and sculptor Victorine Foot
  • Robert Goodden (professor of silver smithing at the Royal College of Art)
  • Robert Darwin (principal of the Royal College of Art)

and, of course, Colin Moss.

 

Camouflage Exhibitions

In 2007, the Imperial War Museum in London put together a wide-ranging and extensive exhibition on camouflage. It was the first one of its kind in showing the history of camouflage and its use in wildlife, popular culture and, of course, how camouflage had been used in warfare. The exhibition featured the work of the Leamington Spa camoufleurs including four of the watercolours that Colin painted in 1943 of the camouflage schemes he worked on.

In 2016, the Imperial War Museum loaned these watercolours to Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum for its 2016 exhibition “Concealment & Deception”. The book accompanying the exhibition can be accessed online here .

(L-R) Captain Colin William Moss – Life Guards, 1943, Poster for the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum 2016 Exhibition “Concealment & Deception” featuring Colin’s 1941 watercolour Camouflaged Factory Buildings

Concealment & Deception – the Darkest Hour

At the start of the war, the Germans already knew where many of Britain’s important industrial targets were situated. Recruited exclusively from the most talented artists of their generation, the aim of the Leamington-based camouflage officers (“camoufleurs”) was to protect Britain’s civil installations by confusing “a pilot at a minimum of 5 miles distant and 5,000 feet up during daylight.”

Camouflaged Cooling-towers , Colin Moss

Colin Moss “Camouflaged Cooling Towers” 1943 © Imperial War Museum

Why Artists?

The camoufleurs of the Camouflage Directorate were artists, sculptors, architects, designers, – recruited because “there was a natural partnership based on their aptitude for good visual recall, and their understanding of scale, colour and tone”.

Their designs featured disruptive patterns, in a range of colours, painted onto buildings. The aim was to break up forms and outlines so objects were difficult to locate and detect, even against a shifting background (ie when looking down from a plane). The camouflage schemes they designed either concealed the target by causing it to merge into its surroundings, or deceived the eye as to its size and location.

Colin Moss “A Camouflage Scheme in Progress” 1943

Colin Moss “A Camouflage Scheme in Progress” 1943 © Imperial War Museum

Smoke and Mirrors

The disruptive patterns consisted of a mixture of dark and light colours being painted next to each other to break up the object. At power stations like Stonebridge (where Colin’s “The Big Tower” was completed), the fuel was changed to produce darker smoke that would contrast with its surroundings for “disruptive colouration”.

The Big Tower, Camouflaged, Colin Moss

Colin Moss “The Big Tower, Camouflaged” 1943 © Imperial War Museum

Scrim

Camouflage netting (known as scrim) was used as a cheap and reliable way to camouflage factories, power stations and other civilian installations. Netting would be positioned over the roofs of buildings and across the streets. On top of the netting there would be fake structures, such as housing and trees, so from the air it would look like a residential area. This was used to great effect during the Battle of Britain with many installations, vital to the war effort, escaping the attention of the Luftwaffe.

Water Camouflage, Colin Moss

A view across a water enclosure outside a power station covered with suspended camouflage nets
Colin Moss “Water Camouflage” 1943 © Imperial War Museum

The Rink

The more complex camouflage schemes were tested on scale models in the Rink in Leamington Spa. Requisitioned by the government in 1939, the (Skating) Rink was located at the bottom of the Parade in Leamington.

As Colin explained many years later to his biographer, Chloe Bennett “You worked on a scale model and … there was a turn-table which you could put it on and a moving light, which represented the sun, and you got up on a platform, which was about the height that a bombing pilot would come in at, and turn the thing around to see how it reacted to different times of day.”

Colin Moss “Turntable” 1939

Colin Moss “Turntable” 1939 Leamington Spa Museum & Art Gallery

Journalist Virginia Ironside (daughter of camoufleur Christopher Ironside) memorably described the Rink as “a giant studio” where “artists slaved away over enormous turntables on which they had constructed models of factories and aerodromes, lit by ever moving moons and suns attached to wires”.

Edwin La Dell The Camouflage Workshop, Leamington Spa 1940

Edwin La Dell “The Camouflage Workshop, Leamington Spa, 1940” © Imperial War Museum

Waste not, Want not

The ideal paint substances that were used for the camouflage schemes were products derived from oil installations. Henrietta Goodden (daughter of camoufleur Robert Goodden ) says in her book “Camouflage and Art, Design for Deception in World War 2”, “Camouflage was a natural consumer in the wartime ethic of “waste not, want not” and much industrial refuse was recycled in the effort to conceal roads, buildings and scarred ground.”

Men working on a Camouflage Scheme, Colin Moss

Colin Moss “A Camouflage Scheme in Progress” 1943 © Imperial War Museum

After the Darkest Hour

As the war went on, and the threat from the Luftwaffe diminished, the British Government scaled back its commitment to civil camouflage and the work of the camoufleur unit was wound down. However, before the camoufleurs were reassigned to other war work, “the Ministry decided it wanted a pictorial record of aspects of camouflage and all the artists were given about a month’s paid leave to do paintings of whatever jobs they had designed.” Colin Moss : Life Observed.

Colin spent his month’s leave producing several paintings of his camouflage work before joining the Life Guards (part of the Household Cavalry) on active service in the Middle East. Many of the paintings are now held by the Imperial War Museum in London, others by Leamington Spa Museum & Art Gallery.

Captain Colin Moss 1943

Captain Colin Moss, 1943

 

Colin Moss “Playing Soldiers” Ipswich Borough Museums & Galleries, depicting men in desert kit playing cards before the next manoeuvre

Colin Moss “Playing Soldiers” Ipswich Borough Museums & Galleries, depicting men in desert kit playing cards before the next manoeuvre

The Camoufleur Alumni

At its peak the Camouflage Directorate employed over 230 staff, including several who, post-war, went on to become some of the most influential and distinguished artists and designers of their generation.

Members of the group included Christopher Ironside (designer of the UK’s new decimal coinage) , Janey Ironside (professor of fashion at the Royal College of Art), Richard Guyatt (professor of graphic design at the Royal College of Art), Eric Schilsky (head of the School of Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art), leading lights of the English Surrealist movement Julian Trevelyan and Roland Penrose, set designer, painter and sculptor Victorine Foot, Robert Goodden (professor of silver smithing at the Royal College of Art), Robert Darwin (principal of the Royal College of Art) and, of course, Colin Moss.

To see more images from Colin’s time in the Camoufleur Unit, click on the album below:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/ColinMoss.WW2Camoufleur/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1549847955058900

 

 

The Camoufleurs and their work

In 1939 Colin found secure employment with the Air Ministry before being transferred to the Ministry of Home Security. Looking back on that period in 1990, Colin commented “they knew the war was going to happen and they knew that they were going to need to camouflage factories and power stations and that the best people to do this were artists.” Colin Moss: Life Observed

All the camoufleurs working at Leamington Spa were artists, architects, sculptors, set designers and so on. The directorate represented the largest concentration of artists in the country at the time. Many of the camoufleurs went on to have successful post-war careers in the creative arts. People such as Eric Schilsky, Edward Seago, Cosmo Clarke, Richard Guyatt and Christopher Ironside.

A portrait of Eric Schilsky by Colin Moss (1941)

Disruptive patterns were at the heart of the camoufleur’s work. Painted onto buildings, to break up forms and outlines, disruptive patterns made objects more difficult to locate and detect, even against a shifting background (ie when looking down from a plane).

The ideal paint substances that were used were products derived from oil installation. The patterns consisted of a mixture of dark and light colours being painted next to each other to break up the object. Also, at power stations like Stonebridge (where Colin’s cooling tower painting was done), the fuel was changed to produce darker smoke that would blend with its surroundings.

Stonebridge Park Power Station – on the right is the cooling tower, bottom left is the rail yard and top left is a contemporary photo of the whole station (1941)

The brushes the painters used were made out of rope strands that were bound together by scrap tin to allow the painter to be able to cover a large area with one stroke. There was an emphasis on practicality rather than finesse and not wasting materials; hence the use of scrap tin.

A camouflage scheme in progress (1943), Colin Moss

Ground patterning was applied first and then representations of buildings in an overall disruptive pattern of dark and light shapes that masked the entire area. The simple equipment allowed painters to work quickly, often able to cover 110 square metres a day. In addition to the paint effects, scrim was used on many camouflage schemes. Scrim is a strong and coarse hessian based fabric. Colin used scrim containing different colours to cover buildings to change the building’s appearance.

Textured roofs with scrimTextured roofs with scrim (1943), Colin Moss

Scrim was also used to tape windows to protect damage to the inside of houses from bomb blasts and on artillery emplacements to make the battery look like natural foliage from the air. Scrim was cheap to manufacture and this was why it was so widely used. Colin’s painting of textured roofs shows scrim being used on buildings.

To see more of Colin’s war time water colours and paintings held by the Imperial War Museum, click on the link here.

How do you Camouflage a Power Station?

Design and deception in World War Two

At the start of the war, the Germans already knew where many of Britain’s important industrial targets were situated. The aim of the camoufleurs was to “confuse a pilot at a minimum of 5 miles distant and 5,000 feet up during daylight.” (Ministry of Home Security).

Camouflage officer Robin Darwin wrote in 1943 “the bomb aimer must rely on what he sees with his eyes and a moment’s doubt, the slightest hesitation may send his bomb far wide of the mark.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Stonebridge power station - composite imageStonebridge Park Power Station with camouflage

Initial Planning

All the work done by the camoufleurs came from the initial observations and jottings. These were made by the model designers when they flew over installations that were to be camouflaged.  Their work was vital to the camoufleurs. It meant they had the most accurate representations of how the buildings and their surroundings looked from the air.

Baginton Aerodrome

The pilots were from the RAF photo unit based at Baginton aerodrome in Coventry. The pilots were often too old for operational service, but had a great deal of experience in the air. This meant the designers could make notes at all the different heights and times of day that they required. These notes and photographs were then used by the camoufleurs to develop perspective drawings of the proposed camouflage schemes.

Baginton aerodrome Baginton Aerodrome Dec 1940

The Rink

The more complex camouflage schemes were tested on scale models in the Rink in Lemington Spa. Requisitioned by the government in 1939, the (Skating) Rink was located at the bottom of the Parade in Leamington.

As Colin explained many years later to his biographer, Chloe Bennett “You worked on a scale model and … there was a turn-table which you could put it on and a moving light, which represented the sun, and you got up on a platform, which was about the height that a bombing pilot would come in at, and turn the thing around to see how it reacted to different times of day.”

The turntable - Colin MossColin Moss “The Turntable in the Skating Rink, Leamington Spa, 1939-40”

Virginia Ironside (daughter of camoufleur Christopher Ironside) memorably described the Rink as “a giant studio” where “artists slaved away over enormous turntables on which they had constructed models of factories and aerodromes, lit by ever moving moons and suns attached to wires”.

Edwin La Dell “The Camouflage Workshop, Leamington Spa, 1940”

“The work in the Roller Skating Rink was supported by the presence of a map section and photographic archive. Staff used expensive, high-quality (German made!) Leica cameras on tripods to take photographs of the models before and after camouflage had been applied.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Once the camouflage design was finalised, the model, along with colour charts showing the tints of paint to be used, was sent to the site. Ground patterning was applied first.  Then representations of buildings in an overall disruptive pattern of dark and light shapes (that masked the entire area) were added.

The brushes the painters used consisted of rope, bound together by scrap tin to allow the painter to cover a large area with one stroke. There was an emphasis on practicality rather than finesse and not wasting materials; hence the use of scrap tin. The simple equipment allowed painters to work quickly, often able to cover 110 square metres a day.

Camouflage Scheme in Progress - Colin MossColin Moss “Camouflage Scheme in Progress”

The Art of Camouflage in World War II

The Art of Camouflage

The camoufleurs of the Camouflage Unit were artists, designers, and architects.  They were recruited because “there was a natural partnership based on their aptitude for good visual recall, and their understanding of scale, colour and tone”.

Their designs featured disruptive patterns, in a range of colours, painted onto buildings. The aim was to break up forms and outlines so objects were difficult to locate and detect. This was important even against a shifting background, for example, when looking down from a plane.

Waste not, Want not

The ideal substances that were used were products derived from oil installations. Henrietta Goodden (daughter of camoufleur Robert Goodden ) says in her book “Camouflage and Art, Design for Deception in World War 2”, “Camouflage was a natural consumer in the wartime ethic of “waste not, want not” and much industrial refuse was recycled in the effort to conceal roads, buildings and scarred ground.”

Smoke and Mirrors

The patterns consisted of a mixture of dark and light colours painted next to each other to break up the object. At power stations like Stonebridge (where Colin’s cooling tower painting was done), the fuel was changed to produce darker smoke that would contrast with its surroundings for “disruptive colouration”.

A Talent for Concealment

Camouflage netting (known as scrim) was used as a cheap and reliable way to camouflage factories, power stations and other civilian installations. Netting would be positioned over the roofs of buildings and across the streets. On top of the netting, there would be fake structures, such as housing and trees.  From the air, it would look like a residential area. This was vital to the war effort and was used to great effect during the Battle of Britain. As a result, many installations escaped the attention of the Luftwaffe.

Water Camouflage

Water Camouflage, 1943, Colin Moss © Imperial War Museum
View across a water enclosure outside a power station covered with suspended camouflage nets

Colin Moss: Life Observed

“You worked on a scale model and painted it in a certain range of colours, which was used on all camouflage work. There was a turntable which you put it on and a moving light, which represented the sun, and you got up on a platform, which was about the height that a bombing pilot would come in at, and turned this thing around to see how it reacted to different times of day.”

[They assumed that the bombers would be flying at 1500 feet as this was the optimum bombing height.] Extract from “Colin Moss: Life Observed” (Chloe Bennett, Malthouse Press)

Turn Table 1943

Turn Table, Colin Moss, 1943 Watercolour 28cm x 42 cm
Leamington Spa Museum and Art Gallery

 

The beginning of camouflage in World War II

The beginning of camouflage in World War II

The beginning of camouflage in World War II

The Ministry of Home Security’s Camouflage Directorate had 2000 applications from artists wanting to work in the unit. The unit was strategically located near to the large industrial cities of Birmingham and Coventry. The Directorate employed the best artists in the country and Colin’s colleagues reflected this – artists stationed there included Christopher Ironside, Edward Seago, Tom Monnington and many others.

As well as designing camouflage schemes, the unit worked on other tasks such as painting murals in the local canteens and NAFI bars to brighten up the interior.

 

The Camoufleurs

Stonebridge Park Power Station World War II CamouflageBased in Leamington Spa, Colin, along with 250 other camoufleurs, technicians and designers, worked in secret on disguising key military and civilian buildings. The techniques they used included painting road markers on roofs or placing concrete cows on the roofs to deceive Luftwaffe bomb aimers or to cause them to hesitate so that they would miss their target.

Colin served from 1939 – 1941 as a camoufleur and only worked on civilian installations. The image shows Colin’s work on Stonebridge Park power station.

 

Camouflage Techniques

The Camoufleurs used scrim, a strong and coarse hessian based fabric, in many ways for camouflage. Colin would use scrim containing different colours to cover buildings in order to change their appearance.

They also used scrim to tape windows in order to protect damage to the inside of houses from bomb blasts and for artillery emplacements to make the battery look like natural foliage from the air.

Manufacturing scrim was cheap so it was widely used as a camouflage material. You can see scrim being used on buildings in Colin’s painting of textured roofs below:

Textured roofs with scrim

The painters used brushes made out of rope strands bound together by scrap tin. As a result, a painter was able to cover a large area with one stroke. The emphasis was on practicality rather than finesse and also on not wasting and recycling materials. All part of the war effort.

First, they would apply ground patterning. In addition, they would add representations of buildings in a disruptive pattern of dark and light shapes so that the entire area was masked. The simple equipment allowed painters to work quickly, often able to cover 110 square metres a day.

“A camouflage scheme in progress” by Colin shows five men at work on the roof of a factory.

Images courtesy of The Imperial War Museum.