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Old 11th November 2010, 20:36
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F/L James Nicolson VC painting ...

I've had this one on the "to do" list for eight years now - I'm slow, but I *will* cross the finish line!!






One of The Few
(F/L James B. Nicolson, VC)
12 x 24 in., oil on linen
Collection of the artist

Twenty-three year old Hurricane pilot Flight Lieutenant James B. "Nick" Nicolson of 249 Squadron (Royal Air Force) won the only Victoria Cross awarded to a pilot during the famous Battle of Britain, and he was the only fighter pilot to receive the award during World War II. The "VC" is the highest military honor awarded for bravery in action to a British or Commonwealth service member. It is equivalent to the US Medal of Honor.

During a patrol above Southampton on 16th August 1940, Nicolson's Hurricane was fired on by a Messerschmitt Bf 110, injuring him in one eye and one foot. His engine was also damaged and a fuel tank set on fire. As he struggled to leave the blazing machine he saw a Bf 109 not too far away, and managing to get back into the bucket seat, pressed the firing button and continued firing until the enemy plane was destroyed. Not until then did he bail out, and he was able to open his parachute in time to land in a field. His official Victoria Cross award citation reads:

"Air Ministry.
15 November 1940.
ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery —

Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.

During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson's aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life."

As he was about to land during his parachute descent, Nicolson was fired on by excited Home Guard (civilian) troops, who ignored his cry of being an RAF pilot! Nicolson's actions were witnessed by a number of people on the ground - the need for witnesses to corroborate individual acts of bravery meant that very few RAF crew were nominated for an award of valour. Nicolson also was one of only two recipients to win the award while in (or over) British territory.

Nicolson fully recovered from his wounds and went on to a variety of assignments, attaining the rank of Wing Commander. He was very modest about his award and had to be reminded that it was a disciplinary offense to be out of uniform when he was slow to sew the VC ribbon onto his tunic!

By mid-1945, Nicolson was based at the 3rd Tactical Air Force HQ in Comilla, Bengal. On May 2nd, he flew as an observer on a raid on Rangoon. Nicolson was killed when one of the engines on a B-24 caught fire two hours into the flight. The aircraft was ditched into the Bay of Bengal with only two survivors out of a crew of eleven. His body was never recovered.

The title of the painting comes from the well-known Winston Churchill quote, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", referring to the 'few' Spitfire and Hurricane pilots who during the summer of 1940 fought the long odds and turned back the planned German invasion of England.
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Old 11th November 2010, 22:50
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Re: F/L James Nicolson VC painting ...

Wade: Nice painting but any reason why you have ranked him as a Fg Off?
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Old 11th November 2010, 23:15
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Re: F/L James Nicolson VC painting ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Goss View Post
Wade: Nice painting but any reason why you have ranked him as a Fg Off?
Thanks, Chris. I think I see where you are coming from - let me explain: Not that I spent a lot of time researching the 'rank' part, because it's not a primary factor in my portrait of the man and his service, but according to one site I linked to from Wiki his dates of rank are:

(A) P/O (prob)
21.12.1936 [39329]
P/O
12.10.1937
F/O
12.05.1939
F/Lt.
03.09.1940

(T) Sq.Ldr.
01.12.1941
(WS) Sq.Ldr.
19.01.1945, seniority 17.06.1942
(A) W/Cdr.
11.08.1944e

In other words, it appears he attained F/Lt. rank (two stripes, rather than the one I depict) on 03.09.1940, which would be after the VC action, which I infer is the basis of your comment. The September date of rank would also explain why the award refers to him as a F/L when the action occured when he was a Fg/O.

That being said, nowhere do I say he's suiting up on 16th August, so he could be wearing any officer rank up to and including W/C ... the main point of the portrait is to honor Nicolson, period.

Cheers!
Wade
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Old 12th November 2010, 07:27
Andy Saunders Andy Saunders is offline
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Re: F/L James Nicolson VC painting ...

Wade

Wonderful painting, but he certainly held the rank of Flt Lt (even substantive) as at 16 August 1940 and certainly had Flt Lt rings on his sleeve at that time. It sounds like nit-picking as well, but his mae-west that he habitually wore was certainly one that had been doped yellow over the khaki canvas. It still exists.

Anyway, not being critical for the sake of it - just trying to help you get it right!
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Old 12th November 2010, 13:38
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Re: F/L James Nicolson VC painting ...

Thanks Andy - and Chris again.

As I mentioned, the date of the portrait was not a primary factor in my painting, only a representation of the man to go along with his story. As for the rank, my source was (correct or not):
http://www.unithistories.com/officer...icers_N01.html

I did completely miss the painted yellow vest! Next time! That said, the main concept of the piece has demonstrably carried forth successfully - "A representation of the man to go along with his [more important] story."

Wade
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