Friday, May 13, 2016

Tommygun riders artist captured the imagination

Who created this stirring image of British Army motorcyclists?
I finally found my answer. (University of North Texas image)
Any boy with adventure in his heart will love the image of a uniformed rider firing a submachine gun over the handlebars of a British Army motorcycle.

The motorcycle machine gun mounting really was tested by the British Army during World War II, and the mounting was patented in Great Britain in 1941.

Royal Army test obviously inspired the painting.
Photos of the Royal Army tests obviously inspired the painting.

World War II Royal Army test of machine gun mounting on a Norton.
The idea is so awe inspiring that a modern Royal Enfield motorcycle and a real Thompson submachine gun were used to recreate the scene for the Military Channel in 2011.

But the Military Channel video shows the idea probably didn't work out nearly as well as the cartoon-style painting suggested it might.

Obviously, using the device would have been nearly suicidal in combat. But if the concept was flawed, the painting still fires the imagination.

Modern Royal Enfield armed with machine gun
in Military Channel video.
Seeing the comic-strip style illustration certainly played a role in my own decision to own a Royal Enfield (just to ride — I don't actually need the gun.)

Although the cartoon image is all over the internet, I didn't learn the original source until I encountered a version recently on the University of North Texas Digital Library.

There it's large enough to read the name "Roland Davies" in the lower right corner. Armed with that name, it was easy to learn more.

Roland Davies was a talented UK illustrator. He wasn't at all limited to the comic book style of the Tommygun riders. By 1928 Davies was doing realistic action covers for "Modern Boy" magazine.

He also did highly detailed — but action-packed — drawings of cars, motorcycles and British fighter planes for other customers.

Davies seems to have had a fascination for speed. But he used a simpler, comedic style for his long running newspaper comic strip "Come On, Steve!" This featured a clever and good hearted white cart horse who never spoke but was able to read signs — often misinterpreting them in humorous ways.

Davies, who died in 1993, finished his career doing landscapes and street scenes for the art market, according to Gordon Howsden.

Davie's painting of the Tommygun motorcycle riders is in The National Archives of the UK. There it is labeled Motorcycle reconnaissance troops. Ink, pastel and gouache on board. Date unknown.

"The piece is very much in Roland Davies' style," the Archives notes. "It is not known what the image was used for."

The Archives has the image filed under "Propaganda: The Fighting Forces." Whatever its precise use was, it certainly did a terrific job at selling military motorcycles.

1 comment:

  1. Stunning image and nice to know who drew it.


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