Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Geoffrey Stephen Allfree
Born 11 Feb 1889 in Kent, England, to the Rev Francis Allfree– the vicar of the Parish of St Nicholas-at-Wade and Sarre, young Geoffrey Stephen Allfree embarked on a career as a merchant mariner until 1911 when he took up painting.
He volunteered to take the King’s Schilling at the outbreak of war in 1914 as a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve and served several years in motor launches. By 1918, he was named a war artist and covered a number of maritime subjects of the Great War.
The Wake of a P-boat. A view from the stern of a patrol boat of the waves and spray created by the boat as it moves across the surface of the water. Another vessel is visible in the patrol boat’s wake..IWM ART 563
A Monitor’s Turret. A detailed side-on view of the two-gun turret of a Monitor, with part of the ship’s superstructure visible behind the turrent to the left. A portion of the deck is visible, with a sailor standing on it in the right foreground. The silhouettes of buildings are visible in the background, showing that the Monitor is moored in a dock. IWM 564
Submarines In Dry Dock. a view of two Royal Navy submarines being refitted in a dry dock. The foremost submarine is shown from the bow, whilst the second, to the left, is shown from the stern. Both are supported by scaffolding and struts. Men work on the deck and hull of the foremost submarine, with a few men also standing on the floor of the dry dock. IWM 777
HMS Revenge in Dry Dock, Portsmouth, 1918. A view of the looming bow of the Royal Navy battleship HMS Revenge whilst undergoing maintenance in dry dock at Portsmouth. The huge ship is tethered to the dockside and supported against the side of the dock with large struts. The lower half of the hull, usually below the water level, is a rusty orange color. Only the tallest part of the ship’s superstructure is visible at the top of the composition. The lead ship of her class of 5 30,000-ton modern battleships, Revenge was commissioned in 1916, just before the Battle of Jutland and survived both World Wars, going to the breakers in 1948. IWM 765
HMS Revenge In Dry Dock At Night, Portsmouth The Work was Continued through the Night by the Aid of Huge Flares. IWM 761
A Monitor. A front-on view of a large Monitor at sea, with its two-gun turret facing towards the bow. Parts of the ship’s superstructure are painted in a chequered pattern. A number of sailors are visible standing on deck and there is a stationary gun platform visible in the background to the left. IWM 568
Dazzled Tramp In Portsmouth Harbour. a view of the starboard side of a dazzle camouflaged Merchant Navy transport ship, which is moored in Portsmouth harbour. IWM 793
A Torpedoed Tramp Steamer off the Longships, Cornwall, 1918. A tramp-steamer in dazzle camouflage keeled over to port and grounded on a cliff-lined Cornish beach. A heavy sea flecked with foam washes over the wreck, while a stormy sky passes overhead. Shafts of sunlight illuminate the sea and cliffs with an unearthly glow. The remains of an earlier wreck can be seen stranded on the point in the upper left. IWM 2237.
HMS Iron Duke. The ship is starboard side on, steaming from left to right with a smaller ship in front of the battleship’s bow. The lead ship of her 29,000-ton class, Iron Duke was commissioned into the Home Fleet in March 1914 as the fleet flagship, fought at Jutland, and made it through WWII to be broken in 1946. IWM149.
A Dazzled Oiler, With Escort. A large dazzle-painted oiler at sea being escorted by a smaller vessel, with the white chalk cliffs of the coastline visible in the background. IWM 567.
Motor Launches Engaging a Submarine. A motor launch at full steam, moving from right to left, with her bow lifting out of the water. Two figures on the deck are manning a light gun. Another motor launch is visible just behind. Both are moving quickly towards a German submarine that has surfaced, in the background to the left. The artist served in motor launched throughout the war, even while in work as a war artist, so this image was real life for him. IWM 148
His work included very popular if stark memorial art to the loss of the cruiser HMS Hampshire
Speaking of loss, the artist was killed at age 29 during the war when on 29 Sept 1918– just six weeks before the Armistice– his craft, HM Motor Launch No. 247, was lost at sea.
From the IWM:
A four boat flotilla of Motor Launches had entered St Ives Bay for shelter during a strong southerly gale, which rapidly escalated to hurricane force winds. In the eye of the storm,the Motor Launches started engines and tried desperately to work their way into deeper water. Allfree’s launch developed engine trouble, one mile off Clodgy Point and started to drift helplessly towards Oar Rock. The St. Ives’ lifeboat raced to reach the stricken ship, but arrived minutes too late by which time the launch had blown up on impact with the rock, presumably as its depth charges detonated. There was only one survivor.
He is commemorated on a brass tablet in St Nicholas’ church as well as on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
A number of his pieces are in the National Collection in the UK and displayed at various public locations while the Imperial War Museum has some 53 on file and keeps a detail of his own biography as part of their Lives of the First World War series.
Thank you for your work, sir.