George Broomfield

January 1, 2004 by Jennifer Morse

George Broomfield’s paintings depict airmen and the advance through Northwest Europe. From top: Transport With Supplies For 2nd Army In Belgium; French Farm, Normandy; 143 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force Move Into Eindhoven, Holland; Troops From Front Passing Through Norrey-En-Bessin, Normandy.

Few artists saw what George Broomfield recorded during World War II. His association with No. 143 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force, gave him the opportunity to paint the activities of a single formation from the time it was preparing to leave England to well after its arrival in southeastern Holland.

Following the first few weeks of the D-Day landings in June 1944, Broomfield arrived by ship at Juno Beach, Normandy. He used every spare minute to paint his unit’s progress to a large airfield at Eindhoven, Holland. His paintings have a lively quality that depict the airmen and their advance to prepare new airfields for operations in Northwest Europe.

Born in Toronto on Aug. 26, 1906, Broomfield studied at the Ontario College of Art under J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer, members of the Group of Seven. He worked as a textile designer until he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in Toronto on March 13, 1942. He joined as an equipment officer and served with Bomber Command before being attached to No. 143 Wing.

Broomfield never joined the rank of official war artists and spoke of this decision during an interview in London, England several years ago. “I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t want to be looked on by the erks (slang for the other ranks) as an artsy-crafty long-haired Joe who messed about with paint brushes and didn’t quite belong.”

Broomfield wanted to paint war as he saw it and was unwilling to have his vision mandated. He believed that “the picture of war is a couple of erks eating their lunch in the sun outside a captured German hangar…. It’s an airman standing out in front of a Dutch cottage surrounded by children. It’s a bombed runway with a windmill in the background. When I’m on my own…I can paint as I please, as I see things. You don’t have to be an artist to paint during a war. Things hit you between the eyes and make you paint them.”

Broomfield combined pastels and watercolour to give his works a spontaneous animation. Quick lines and simple colour were used to create on-the-spot depictions of WW II. The 35 paintings donated to War Art Collections began just before D-Day and continued until the war’s end. After achieving the rank of squadron leader, Broomfield was repatriated to Canada in March 1946 and quickly resumed his career as a designer in the textile trade.

Among his many accomplishments are large carpets he designed for Dundurn Castle in Hamilton and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. He died in 1991.

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

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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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