Friday 4 May 2012

"S for Sugar"

A dear friend of mine, Ann Bihan, and I flew for many years on 10 Squadron. Ann has recently been deeply involved with a 10 Squadron Halifax bomber and it's crew who were shot down during World War Two. She asked about my involvement with S for Sugar: the last surviving Halifax.

I drew S for Sugar quite recently:

'S for Sugar', The World's Last Halifax                                                 John Simlett

Pen & Ink on Cartridge Paper
Picture Size: 12 inches x 16 inches
(300 mm x 410 mm)

However, I first drew the aircraft over thirty years ago, and here, and particularly for Ann, I republish the story, first posted here a few years ago:

Click on Picture for best result

Pen & Ink, Etched Onto Copper Plate and Mounted on Brown
Hessian in a Gold Banded Mahogany frame.
14" x 10" John Simlett 1983

In 1983, just before I left the RAF to become a professional 'Artist', I read of the discovery of the last known Halifax Bomber of World War 2.

The aircraft, 'S for Sugar' of 35 Squadron, took off from RAF Kinloss on the 27th April 1942 as part of an operation to bomb the German battleship Tirpitz; which was anchored in Trondheim Fjord in Norway. Having completed its task the aircraft turned for home, but was hit by anti-aircraft fire which shot away her starboard outer engine and set fire to her wing. The young Canadian pilot, Pilot Officer Don MacIntyre, managed to land the aircraft on the ice of Lake Hoklingen, where the aircraft slid for well over a mile through three feet of freshly fallen snow, before coming to rest. The crew all evacuated the aircraft before it broke through the ice and sank into the lake. The Flight Engineer, Sergeant Vic Stevens RAF, had to be left behind, as he had broken his leg, whilst the rest of the mainly Canadian crew escaped into neutral Sweden from where they were later repatriated to England. Vic became a kreigie: Air Force slang for Kriegesgefangenen, the German word for prisoner of war.

The aircraft lay in ninety feet of water for thirty years, until it was discovered by a RAF Sub-Aqua club. As a consequence of this discovery, a whole collection of enthusiasts, including Vic Stevens, gathered in the hope that the aircraft could be raised and restored. They succeeded in raising and beaching her in Norway.

That's when the problem started. The government of the day (spits) would not give financial backing to the shipping of the aircraft to the UK or for its restoration. Which really annoyed me, I threw the newspaper down in disgust and reached for the phone. Although there was a lot of successful fund raising under-way, I volunteered to help, and started by doing the drawing - the easy bit.

Next, I asked Vic Stevens to get his crew to send their signatures from Canada in order that they could be superimposed on an etched plate that my drawing would be reproduced on.

Secondly, I took my drawing and the signatures to the company that produced this type of etched metal picture for me.  They printed 100s of the pamphlets I had designed - which included an order form - also I got them to advertise with an order form in all the International Aviation magazines.

I sent the pamphlets to all the Air Force establishments and Veteran organisations.

Each picture sold had a unique number on the back, and, at the end of the project, one of the picture numbers would be randomly selected and the winner would get the original. All proceeds would go to the Sugar fund.

And then ... the orders started rolling in. Obviously the biggest market was the UK, but they were closely followed by, Canada, Australia and ... California! Britain went into World War 2 in 1939 and by 1940 there was only Britain (and her Commonwealth) left fighting. People flocked to join the RAF including a lot of Americans who joined the RAF's Bomber Command. From the sale of the etchings it seemed that most of the surviving Americans ended up retiring to California.

In Conclusion....

...S for Sugar can be seen in the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London. 

Although I hadn't helped for personal gain, a year later I ended up with a years contract with that Museum, designing Philatelic First Day Covers.

More importantly ....

... Vic Stevens, the wartime Flight Engineer of Sugar, now frail and almost blind, got to take his seat in Sugar once again, and wept.

I knew it had all been worthwhile.


  1. John, my friend,you didn't answer any one part of my inquiry. You told a fascinating story and I was absorbed by it, But: you said in an earlier post that Pat did a good acting job getting a local merchant to carry prints of your drawings: How many prints did you make initially--what was you output? What quality paper did you have them printed on--archive quality or whatever? How much were they sold for? What was the local merchant's cut? And what have you done with the original drawings--gallery sales?

    I think prints are the way to go for volume sales. I think the paper has to have a certain weight/quality. I think the merchant is going to want a percentage to put it in his shop and offer for sale in his shop; what is that percentage?

    I don't mean to press you to the wall, but most everyone of out here is interested in bringing in income from our artistic endeavors. print sales would buy art supplies. Any information you might have, as a professional artist, would be appreciated.

    The story of the S Sugar is a fascinating one and you are a very good story teller with talent as a writer. You have the gift of gab and you're a charmer. My original questions were about selling art, not about how you made a great deal with a large company by one thing leading to another.

  2. It is a fascinating story indeed, and shows the wonderful person you are! Though it does not answer Linda's questions, I think you also had an angel on your shoulder to help.

  3. I think good things come to good people and it sounds like when you give, you receive :0) There are so many questions I have on the same subject but I have to confess to relying on the Gallery to do right by me as I know little on the subject other than how to paint! :0)

  4. By the way - the drawing is absolutely incredible! I wonder why you don't think it's Artistically good?

  5. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you all. I'm not being evasive, but I hate to sound patronising. Who am I to set myself up as an expert?

    What I will do is go away and prepare a posting on marketing from my point of view. But we warned, it won't be a straightforward 'join up the dots' scenario.

    PS Thank you all for the nice comments (among the "ouches")

  6. What an amazing story John. I love that this restoration happened. Bravo for your huge part in it. The drawing is excellent. But then I feel that way about everything I've seen you draw! You are fantastic!

  7. You are too kind, Lynn. You flatter an old man :0))

  8. wow, what a fabulous story and how amazing that you played such an integral part in making it all happen - see, art really can change the world (for at least some people!)

  9. Hi John - I know I'm late to this post, but what a fascinating story of the bravery of these young men and kudos to you for your beautiful artwork and your determination to get this done! Just wonderful!

  10. I started grinning when I got to the "threw the newspaper in disgust."
    I thought - watch out world - and sure enough you gave it your all. You truly made a difference. Not everyone can say that.
    For me ,the poor chap, Vic, who was the POW (with a broken leg no less) finally sitting in the salvaged plane, made me get all teary.
    I like and am proud of the type of Brit you are, John.