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Artefact of the Month

A FAMOUS ARTIST WHO SERVED AS A WAAF AT TANGMERE IN THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN

In a cabinet in the Museum’s Middle Hall there is displayed art work and pictures created by a WAAF who served at RAF Tangmere in the Sector Operations Room during the Battle of Britain. She went on to become a renowned artist gifted in portraits of children.

Dorothy Colles was born in Cairo in 1917. Her father was a forensic scientist and medical school professor working for the Egyptian government. He eventually retired to England where in the 1930s Dorothy began her training at the Central Westminster, Epsom and St Martin’s schools of art. Soon after she began at St Martin’s the Second World War began. She was keen to join the war effort and joined the WAAF.

After serving at Tangmere, where she drew some of the pilots and the dramatic black and white picture of the Operations Room shown here, she served at Medmenham interpreting the photographs taken by photographic reconnaissance aircraft. She was then sent to Italy and the Middle East where she spent much of her spare time drawing and painting.

After the war Dorothy returned to art school at St Martin’s and then joined the Egypt Exploration Society and left for Egypt to record the hieroglyphs on temples threatened with the rising desert water table. She then did similar work in Jordan drawing ancient sites as well as painting portraits of the king’s immediate circle, part of the royal family and Bedouin warriors.

When Dorothy returned to England in the late 1940s she started a freelance art career concentrating on portrait painting of children. She worked substantially to commission and would usually paint two portraits of a child during several sittings, one full face and one three quarter face leaving the parents to make the choice. Her portraits were known to be “fresh with a spark of character and wonderfully lively”.

She died, aged 86, on 12 November 2003 in Petersfield Hampshire.

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