Stella Meets Her Spitfire

Little did I know when I started this website a few years ago how one thing would lead to another. A series of incremental steps led to wartime draughtswoman Stella Rutter having the opportunity to visit the Boultbee, which she knew was only a few miles from her home. As one of the founding members of the Spitfire Society, Stella has on occasions been to Spitfire events but not to Boultbee. So near yet so far.

My initial chance meeting with Stella was at The Spring, Havant, This year Stephen Mosley fulfilled Stella’s wish to visit Boultbee. Go to Stella’s page to read the start of her story.

Stella Rutter at Boultbee Academy Goodwood

Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley

I will leave it to Sussex aviation engineer Stephen Mosley to relate how Stella met Boultbee. Thus he fulfilled her dream, all those years after D-Day. He has also provided the first positive identification of one of the signatures on Concord Morton’s painting of the Schneider Trophy winner. (G. W. Nicholas)

Stephen is writing here under his pen name of Actuarius. He is also an artist from the Futurist school of art, his idol being C. R. W. Nevinson.

Concorde by Futurist artist Stephen Mosley

Concorde painted by Stephen Mosley in ‘Futurist’ style

My thanks to Stephen for his contribution and his kindness to Stella. Anyone wanting to contact Stephen can do so via the Contact page.

Here then is his story of how the Past met the Present with a Futurist.

An Evening with Stella – By Actuarius.

The opportunities that come about in life are not always straightforward or predictable. Thus I started with an incomplete group of autographs, personally obtained over 20 years ago, and ended recently via a convoluted process with finally completing the set.

At the start of 2017 I made a couple of fairly rash investments through a well-known auction website, both being items related to the Schneider Trophy. This was an early 20th Century air race that ended when Great Britain won it for a third time in succession, in 1931, and therefore got to keep the trophy forever. Having done the deed I thought I ought to research new purchases but both of them proved to be rather difficult to find information on.

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner. Copyright Stephen Mosley

 Coincidentally, if anyone knows anything of 1929 commemorative “smoking stands” or the large model of the Supermarine S5 that was on display at Calshot up until the 21st Century, then I would appreciate your getting in touch.

However, it was during this exercise that I stumbled across a painting of an S6 by Concord Morton on the Solent Aviatrix website run by Anne Grant. It was chiefly notable for having a number of signatures under the image. The working hypothesis is that these were probably Supermarine staff, possibly those who had an involvement with the actual aircraft. However there was nothing to back this up.

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

The story now jumps back a couple of decades to 1997 and the presentation of a hand written book, listing the engineering staff at Supermarine who had worked on the Spitfire, to the Solent Sky museum in Southampton. My wife saw an article about it on the morning news and a rapidly arranged afternoon off ensured that I could attend. The staff at Solent Sky were very kind in allowing me to loiter for the price of a standard admission ticket whilst the purchase of a couple of copies of Chaz Bowyer’s “Spitfire” from their shop ensured I had something suitable to collect autographs in. It was an honour to meet the Supermarine staff present, and important to me that these largely unsung heroes and heroines should know the high regard they are held in. Aircrew and ground staff are rightly lauded by all but without the superlative aircraft the engineers provided their efforts would have been for nought.

Supermarine Staff signatures

Supermarine staff signatures collected by Stephen Mosley 1997

Back to the present day and this collection of signatures provided a handy reference for the painting. I contacted Anne to pass this on and it was during our conversation that she mentioned a member of Supermarine’s staff was still living nearby in Emsworth – and asked if I would like to meet her. Of course most of us would require no more than a moment’s thought before saying, “yes please!”

So it was that on 1 March 2017 I headed over and had a very pleasant evening chatting to Stella Rutter. As Stella Broughton she had become the first draughtswoman at Supermarine, transferring to their technical publications department from being a tracer at HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth.

Stella told me how, when she joined, Supermarine’s design office was located in a hanger in the field at the back of Hursley Park House. The weekday commute was from digs near Winchester and then walking through the formal gardens. Weekends were spent back with her parents in Bedhampton near Portsmouth so Mondays were more trying with a cycle commute to a friend’s at the bottom of Portsdown Hill and then a walk up to the top for the bus. Week in, week out despite blackout regulations, snow or “tip and run” raids by the Luftwaffe – and repeated in the reverse direction every Friday. The dangers and corruption of the everyday under wartime conditions were brought home when she told me how, whilst at Bedhampton, a bomb had exploded just past the end of their garden and the night’s sleep would invariably be interrupted by the sound of mobile anti-aircraft guns being moved up and down the coast.

Stella Rutter at Supermarine Drawing Office Hursley

Stella Rutter in the Supermarine Drawing Office 1943

Her move to Supermarine came about due to her father meeting Gerald Gingall, the head of the Technical Publications Department, and suggesting her for a vacant position. She believes her success was down to having inherited a notable ability for drawing from her parents (her father being the Vice Principle of the College of Art in Portsmouth), and from having older brothers meaning she was unperturbed by working in an entirely male environment. In her opinion she gained a mutual respect with the rest of the staff because in attitude she was “as much a man as any of the others”. When other women joined the staff later she found she had to be careful of her approach and activities because she “didn’t wish to end up being ostracised or the subject of malicious gossip.” Such considerations may seem almost unbelievably unenlightened to our modern sensibilities but these were different, and difficult times.

Stella worked as part of a small team under Gingall, “ a very stocky man”, virtually exclusively on the Spitfire; and covered all aspects of the aircraft. Their area in the hanger was located next to the obscured “secret section” and because theirs was a small section, and possibly because Stella was something of a novelty, the frequent visitors tended to stop off for a word.

Thus Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot and Joseph Smith, Mitchell’s successor, were known to her. She got on well with her boss and was even chosen to join him at home one evening to work overnight on a drawing that needed to be completed urgently.

I asked what it was like to work at Supermarine given the legacy of the S6, after all this was the catalyst for our meeting. She was sure that she’d worked with people who had been involved with the Schneider Trophy aircraft and this was part of what gave them a sense of being the “crème de la creme”.

Spitfire taken by Stephen Mosley

Spitfire flypast. Copyright Stephen Mosley

Let me put it this way”, she confided, “We were the company of the year.” There are further tales of pouring tea for Monty and being involved in a special party before D-Day, but that can wait for another time. As I was leaving she suddenly remembered how, when she was about 8 years old, she had climbed out onto the valley between the two pitches of the roof at her home to watch an aircraft fly up from the Southampton end of the Solent, turn and fly back. Conjecture I know, but the dates match so surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I was hearing the first hand account from a witness to that final Schneider Trophy win?

Today Stella is bright and articulate but has trouble accessing detailed memories, I suspect this being attributable to the ME she mentions in her excellent autobiography, “Tomorrow is D-Day.” There was so much I wanted to find out about her work and the people she knew but, frustratingly, a lot of these memories remained locked out of reach. Thankfully there is her autobiography, only written a few years ago, and enough still accessible to provide unique insights into her career and her life. Such considerations matter little though when you reflect on the singular honour of sitting and listening to these memories being related in person.

For some reason, although she was present, I’d missed the chance of getting Stella to sign my book in 1997 but her autograph now sits on the page surrounded by those of her colleagues – which is exactly how it should be.

As a postscript, Stella had mentioned how she knew of the Spitfires at the Boultbee Academy just down the road at Goodwood, but that she hadn’t had the chance to go and see them. Well, Boultbee are always keen to help reunite veterans with the aircraft, so a month and a half later my wife picked her up and we had a very pleasant hour in the hanger. Our sincere thanks to those who made this possible and who gave up their time for it.

Stella Rutter and Stephen Mosley ay Boultbee Academy Spitfires

Stella Rutter with ‘Actuarias’ and Boultbee Spitfire. Copyright Stephen Mosley

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Painting of Schneider Trophy Winning Seaplane S1595 signed by Supermarine employees?

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Supermarine S1595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Isle of Wight artist Concord Morton painted this representation of Supermarine Seaplane S1595. Here we can see the plane in colour, instead of all those black and white photos of the era. The aircraft won the Schneider Trophy outright in 13th September 1931. This picture is held in a private collection, together with paintings by the same artist of Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison. It is shown here by permission of the owner.

Thirty-one men signed this S1595 painting but who are they? None of the signatures look like the well-known names associated with the aircraft, such as R. J. Mitchell or H. R. D. Waghorn. Could it be that Concord Morton asked the Supermarine engineers to add their names under the image? Why else collect these signatures?

Some of the signatures are readable, others not so easily deciphered. An attempt (with apologies for any errors) at identifying their names is listed below. Can anyone help to confirm these names or offer corrections? Are you a descendant of any of these men?  Did your grandfather sign this painting? Can you help to unravel the mystery of these names? Answers, in an email please, via the Contact page.

A close up of the signatures. attempts to identify the names are listed below the image.

Supermarine S1595 seaplane, Schneider Trophy winner. Painting by Concord Morton, circa 1931.

Supermarine S1595 seaplane, Schneider Trophy winner. Painting by Concord Morton, circa 1931.
Original in private collection. Shown here courtesy of the owner.

Attempt at identifying the signatures:
A. or D. Hinson?
G. Blake?
G. H. Thomas?
R. B. Kirby? A. Skingely?
D. C. Floyd or Boyd?
D, Miller or Millar?
C. Lang?
W. Power or Powell?
H. C. B…..?
F. Maulding?
C. Burrows?
B. G. Theobald?
F. Walls?
L. Raffery?
H. English?
Brown Minors?
H or A. Morrell?
T or J. Mathesson?
R .D. Johns?
F. George Jackson?
L. W. Riches or Richards?
J. Simmons?
A. Parfoot?
B. Nicholls?
Ward?
R or B. Grice?
J. Baily?
I. W. G. Nicholls?
E. Smith?
G. B. Darken?

A 1932 painting of Amy Johnson resurfaces in the Solent area

A new memorial to pioneering aviatrix Amy Johnson has its unveiling ceremony on 17 September 2016 at Herne Bay. The statue, on Herne Bay promenade, is near to the site where Amy’s Airspeed Oxford ditched into the sea in January 1941.

To mark the memorial occasion a portrait of Amy Johnson, painted in 1932, has resurfaced in the Solent area.

A 1932 painting of Amy Johnson by Concord Morton. Exhibited at Bromhead Gallery, Cork Street, London in the 1930s

A 1932 painting of Amy Johnson by Concord Morton. Exhibited at Bromhead Gallery, Cork Street, London in the 1930s. Shown on Solent Aviatrix by permission of the private owner.

This delightful colour sketch was shown in a public exhibition at Bromhead Gallery, Cork Street, London, sometime during the 1930s. Harold Watts Bromhead owned and ran the gallery. The exact exhibition date isn’t known but this advert indicates it must have been during the few years that Amy was married to another pioneering aviator, Jim Mollison. Whilst married she was willing to be known as Mrs. A. J. Mollison. After Amy divorced Jim she reverted to using her maiden name of Johnson.

The advert also states that a painting of Jim Mollison, by the same artist Concord Morton, was part of the exhibition. Both pictures are currently held in a private collection.

Advert for Amy Johnson painting by Concord Morton exhibited at Bromhead Gallery, Cork Street, London in the 1930s

Advert for Amy Johnson painting by Concord Morton exhibited at Bromhead Gallery, Cork Street, London in the 1930s

Concord Morton was one half of a British art phenomenon – the Morton twins. Brother Cavendish was a celebrated artist. Concord is less well known because he died much younger. Both twins had work exhibited at the Royal Academy.

In 1930 they worked on a series of paintings in and around Portsmouth Dockyard, including HMS Victory and Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock yacht, which competed for the America Cup. Concord worked for a while at Camper and Nicholson’s boatyard in Gosport.

Camper and Nicholson boatyard with J-Class Yacht Shamrock as depicted in Sand Art at Gosport Museum. Photo copyright Anne Grant.

Camper and Nicholson boatyard with J-Class Yacht Shamrock as depicted in Sand Art at Gosport Museum. Photo copyright Anne Grant.

The brothers also painted a full-length portrait of King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1937, in Coronation robes. It was huge at twelve feet by nine feet (4m x 3m).

The twins attended every air show they could get to, including Hendon. They sketched the aircraft of the day. Thus they produced an artist’s record of some of the iconic planes and pilots of the 1930s. These include famous names that have gone down in history as the aviation pioneers.

One such sketch is this study of wonderful Amy. Black and white, and sepia photos of her are plentiful. How many colour pictures are there of her? The subtle colours and quick, loose style capture the skin, eye and hair tones that black and white photography can never convey. Concord Morton’s sketch of Amy is a very good likeness. Compare it to this photo of her taken in 1934.

The photo was taken in Park Lane Hotel, London. Gladys Hermiston Hooper played piano in the hotel quintet. She was a friend of Amy. Gladys is seated at Amy’s feet. The photo is shown here by kind permission of Derek Hermiston Hooper.

Amy Johnson and Gladys Hermiston Hooper at Park Lane Hotel, London 1934. Photo courtesy of Derek Hermiston Hooper.

Amy Johnson and Gladys Hermiston Hooper at Park Lane Hotel, London 1934. Photo courtesy of Derek Hermiston Hooper.

The sketch owner says, “Amy would almost certainly have sat for Morton whilst he painted the picture. That was how he worked, not from photographs.”

At the start of the Second War World the Morton twins worked for Saunders Roe, Cowes, Isle of Wight. Their draughtsmanship skills were put to good use, doing their bit for the war effort.

Perhaps now, with the re-emergence of some of Concord Morton’s work, he will receive the same contemporary level of recognition as his more famous brother.

My thanks to the owner of the Amy Johnson painting, for permission to publish it on Solent Aviatrix website. A special day indeed.

One person who’s had a preview of the paintings of Amy and Jim is Jane Priston, project manager for the Amy Johnson Herne Bay project. Jane is the driving force behind getting the bronze statue cast and erected. It has been a race against time for her.

Jane says, “These portraits are such an exciting find and so special. I particularly love the style and this rare glimpse of seeing Amy in colour, she was so fair!  One can’t help but wonder if there are other undiscovered paintings of Amy out there. The Island was clearly a very special place for Amy and I am interested to explore more about her time there.”

Isle of Wight resident Derek Hermiston Hooper, as a 4-year old, went for a joy-ride flight with Amy Johnson in her record-breaking bi-plane ‘Jason’. His mother Gladys frequently flew with Amy. Derek says, “On the eve of one of Amy’s long distance flights, she stayed with my parents.” He also knew Jim Mollison. Derek hopes one day to be able to visit Herne Bay to stand beside the statue of Amy Johnson. Until earlier this year when she passed away, Gladys held the record of being the oldest person in Britain. She died age 113. Derek, who has also heard about the Concord Morton sketch of Amy Johnson, is looking forward to seeing it for the first time.

Well, here it is Derek. The wait is over.

The painting of Jim Mollison will be published here soon. Anyone wanting to know more about the paintings should use the ContactContact page to send your questions.

Prince Michael of Kent has been invited to perform the unveiling of the Amy Johnson statue. Amy’s godson is expected to attend. To learn more follow this link to Amy Johnson Herne Bay Project.