For us, it is the charismatic characters, iconic figureheads, and unsung heroes who truly shape British history. Those not only committed to mastering their profession but capable of completely rewriting its principles, and in turn, sparking a new wave of thought throughout a nation.
Photographer Cecil Beaton did just that.
Beaton’s outstanding wartime work for the MOD amounted to seven thousand photographs, which now form part of IWM’s outstanding collection of war photography. It is a truly extraordinary body of work which we at Realm and Empire feel privileged and proud to feature a very small part of as its own capsule collection.
Mr Churchill Henley Tee (Angora)
It wasn’t unusual for the photographer’s lens to focus on the British Prime Minister. This magnificent image features a steadfast Churchill, inspecting the Alamein position, during his visit to the Western Desert. Upon his head sits a British India Pattern Sun Helmet – or “Bombay Bowler” as it was known - highly popular with British regiments in North Africa at this time.
Famously, after this campaign, Churchill wrote: “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.
Cecil Beaton Tank Driver Tee (Angora)
Perhaps it was his earlier experience photographing society's elite that prompted Beaton to recreate classical portrait shots within the unusual arena of war. Typical portrait photography was used to accentuate the expression, personality and mood of the subject. By focusing on the human emotion that thrived behind the great machine of war, Beaton’s work became instrumental to Britain’s Second World War propaganda.
Digitally printed, this design incorporates Beaton’s striking portrait of a British tank driver peering out of his Grant tank during the North African campaign.
Cecil Beaton Airspeed Oxford Tee (Angora)
Not everyone is aware that famous author Neville Shute (On the Beach, A Town Like Alice) was also a successful aeronautical engineer. His original 1931 design, the Airspeed Oxford, played an instrumental role in the Second World War training thousands of aircraft crew in the SFTS (Service Flying Training School).
We’ve carefully dug out a shot from the collection that shows RAF ground crew servicing one of these magnificent machines. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Oxbox’, Beaton celebrates its accolade as the first twin-engine monoplane by framing the shot with the plane’s circular engine cowling. It’s certainly a high-flying success with us.
Cecil Beaton Sandstorm Tee (Angora)
Beaton had the inimitable ability to find photogenic beauty in the most unlikely situations, as seen here with this poignant image of a Western Desert sandstorm prior to the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. The main focus of the shot shows a man battling through the blistering wind of a sand storm to seek refuge in his tent.
Cecil Beaton Cockpit Tee (Angora)
The very first Vickers Wellington night bomber unit was put together in the mid-1930s. Its motto: Fortis Nocte – meaning, ‘strong by night’, dictated its primary purpose.
Just a decade later, the Wellington would become one of the most celebrated aircraft in British history, leading the offensive and providing vital support during the first bombing raids. This portrait shows pilots of the No 149 Squadron in the cockpit of their Vickers Wellington Bomber, taken at RAF Mildenhall in 1941.