Tom Wood


Tom Wood’s paintings depict life in the Royal Canadian Navy during WW II. From top to bottom: The Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Stokers.

There is a rusty, industrial look to Tom Wood’s war art. Raw sienna and grey are two of the colours that layer the canvases of this official Canadian war artist who painted for the Royal Canadian Navy from February 1944 until March 1946. Wood used these colours to create a sense of foreboding in his wartime depictions of the RCN at work on the cold sea.

Born in Ottawa in 1913, Wood was mostly a self-taught artist who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in May 1943. During his time as an official war artist, Wood painted in Newfoundland, England and on Canadian corvettes and frigates on the North Atlantic. He became a lieutenant in May 1944 and later moved to Southampton on the south coast of England where he painted scenes leading up to the Normandy invasion.

On D-Day, Wood crossed the English Channel in a British landing craft that successfully landed Canadian troops on a Normandy beach three hours after the first wave of invaders had gone ashore. “The craft was pitching around too roughly to permit any sketching, so I stood up and took pictures with a borrowed camera, and made careful notes on colours and other details, and did my sketches and paintings later. Snipers were firing at us, but their aim was poor; only one man in our whole flotilla was wounded.” Wood returned to England that day, but headed back to Normandy two days later in the same landing craft. That was the day he witnessed a tragic event. “Ten British soldiers trying to wade ashore were swept off their feet by the swell and toppled face down into the water. Their heavy packs were buoyant and kept them floating, but with their faces just under the water. Nobody could help them. They all drowned, one after the other, while I stood helplessly watching.”

After the war Wood continued his creative work as chief artistic director of the Canadian government exhibition at Expo 67. He later became chief of design and display at the now non-existent National Museum of Canada in Ottawa. The Canadian War Museum has 90 of his works and six of his sketchbooks. Some of his work is included in the war museum’s Canvas of War exhibit on display until January 2001 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que.

Wood died in October 1997 after a full and creative life. He left a prolific record above and below the decks of the RCN.

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Many of the Canadian War Museum’s ­holdings are ­available in reproduction at affordable prices. For more information, contact Image Reproduction Services, Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa, ON K1R 0C2; tel: 1-819-776-8686; fax: 1-819-776-8623; e-mail: Imageservices@warmuseum.ca
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