Research and story by Clarence Simonsen
All rights reserved
I became interested in WW II aviation before I can recall, possibly in the first few years of my life. I entered this world at 3:15 am on a very cold [-20 C] Alberta spring morning 24 March 1944, which must have been a shock. Spring mornings in Alberta are still a shock. My new world was involved in a total war, which captured the headlines every single day. My birth place and upbringing became a small farm house located six miles east of the village of Acme, or 50 miles N.E. of the city of Calgary, Alberta. The house had no electricity, no in-door plumbing and my only entertainment was a large radio which was operated by a car battery. The evening began with the 6 pm news, followed by programs – Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, plus adventures of – Hopalong Cassidy and Rin Tin Tin.
Saturday became a special day as we were off to Acme, my father drink beer with farmer friends, and mom and I shopped, which included a small treat of candy. My father always purchased the Saturday edition of the “Toronto Star” newspaper, which included a center section with color comics and photo illustrated stories on Canadian and world events. These two forms of entertainment played a major role in my future life and introduced me to the world of WW II aviation and art.
In 1947, in a newspaper, I saw a pattern for making a child’s uniform based on the airmen of the WW II RCAF, and I wanted it. In those days my mother made most of our clothing on the Singer sewing machine, and my request was soon fulfilled. On a train trip to Vancouver, B.C., I proudly wore my new RCAF uniform. On the return trip to Calgary I met a new friend by the name of Patsy Gibson.
I had no idea pretty girls, aviation, and the Royal Canadian Air Force would soon become part of my future adult life.
As soon as I learned to read, American aviation comic books became my obsession, and from these I was first introduced to a nude lady painted on the side of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Born with a self-talent for drawing, I was soon doing sketches of aircraft with ladies on the nose, which presented me with many unanswered questions. This sparked the very beginning of my fifty years of research and painting of aviation nose art. In 1952, at age eight, I purchased a comic book titled “The American Air Forces” and this introduced me to the world of the German V-2 rocket and American space era.
It is amazing how true this 1952 comic drawing became the present day era. As a pre-teen in late-1956, I was drawn into the American-Russian Cold War and fight for the conquest of space. I began to purchase book material and learn as much as I could about rockets and who was who in the back and forth space wars. I began to slowly understand that WW II Peenemunde German rocket technology was at work against each other.
This marked my first introduction to the history of the German Army Rocket program, Wernher von Braun, Peenemunde, and the A4 [V-2] rocket. I can recall my early mixed feelings of excitement and shock to learn that the technical achievements in rocketry at Fort Bliss, Texas, was not American but in fact that of the German rocket scientists who surrendered to the American Army in 1945. Having grown up reading American comic books, this young Canadian believed the United States had won WW II and were also the rocket experts in the world. Boy was I wrong, on both accounts. This proved to be a very important learning curve for my upcoming research into aviation WW II nose art. One of the space publications I purchased featured a photo of a captured V-2 rocket at White Sands, New Mexico, launched on 10 May 1946. The rocket tail contained art of a fully nude lady astride a V-2 rocket.
The questions surrounding this A/4 [V-2] tail art would not become clear until 2010, when I learned it was painted by a German/American named Gerd de Beek.
In 1957, we received electric power on the farm, and our first 10 inch black and white television set. From this date on my life changed, and I would live and breathe the American Space program. I was thrilled to watch a televised space rocket launch, and believe the first I witnessed came on 31 January 1958, America’s first orbiting satellite. On 29 June 1962, I joined the Canadian Army [Canadian Provost Corps] Military Police, and recruit training began at Camp Borden, Ontario, 7 July. By the middle of October we were reaching the end of our five month basic army training, when the “Missile Crisis in Cuba” began. Suddenly, we were all confined to quarters and told World War Three was about to begin. On 22 October we gathered in a Mess hall to watch President John F. Kennedy address the American public. Five days later a Russian surface-to-air missile shot down a U.S. [U-2] spy plane, over the eastern part of Cuba. I remember explaining to our platoon members how the Americans received the best of the German V-2 rocket scientists, but it seemed the Russian Germans were not only leading in the space race, they seemed to also have the edge in surface-to-air missiles. Tensions cooled on 28 October and I began my new military career in December 1963.
On 21 December 1963, serious violence [with death] erupted on the island of Cyprus, between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. In early 1964, the United Nations was asked to intervene and prevent total civil war. The first U.N. troops arrived in March 1964, with a rotation period of three months, which was later expanded to six months in 1965. In late October 1965, I arrived on the island of Cyprus as a corporal in the U.N. Military Police, stationed at Nicosia. The Military Police section came under control of the British Contingent, with headquarters and living quarters situated at UNFICYP – sector 2 at Wolseley Barracks. The camp had been in the Turkish sector of Nicosia and had been abandoned for at least a year. After a huge cleanup, which including painting all the walls, I began to decorate our living quarters with my very first large wall art. The art included the Canadian flag, Calgary Stampede, NHL hockey, CFL football, and pin-up girls. My art produced a surprising response from all ranks in our unit and for our 1965 Christmas the C.O. requested I do a head table mural style painting. I painted a Santa Claus wearing a Military Police helmet, surrounded by the country emblems of the six contingents, and a Merry Christmas 1965.
This simple painting spurred the beginnings of my research into WW II aviation ‘nose art’, which would last for the next 45 years. This also included WWII German Nazi era Peenemunde tail rocket art research and the history of the forgotten artist Gerd de Beek.
Copyright Clarence Simonsen 2016