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.
Based 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.
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:
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.