Sunday, 15 January 2017
Another Wartime Lady.
Artist Bernard Hailstone was commissioned by the War Office Advisory Committee to paint many Wartime military & civilian scenes. He is especially well known for his portraits of individuals selected to represent their particular branch of the armed forces or of civilian workers engaged in the war effort.
Later in the war he worked for the Department of War Transport and it was in 1944 that Christian Vlasto was selected to represent the ‘Idle Women’ engaged in working the boats for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co and whose portrait (now in the Imperial War Museum) he painted’. Christian Vlasto was herself a painter who had interrupted her art school training to join the war effort.
I must admit that I had not heard of this particular lady and rather suspect that she may have been one of the later recruits. It seems that she was certainly working the boats Hyperion and Capella for Samuel Barlow on a coal run on the southern Oxford just before the declaration of peace in 1945. Brief details and some photographs of her boat life may be found at christopherlong.co.uk/per/vlasto.gucc.html
When many of the wartime women such as the Land Girls, women forestry workers and workers on the canals were finally recognized and given due credit in 2008 a ceremony took place at Stoke Bruerne to dedicate a plaque commemorating the boatwomen's contribution. Attending this ceremony were four of the surviving women including Sonia Rolt, Emma Smith and Olga Kevelos.
Sonia and Olga have since sadly passed away and it was on the death of Olga that her relatives found in the family house many souvenirs from her years as a champion motorcyclist in the 1950’s together with a few items from her wartime canal years.
It seems that Olga & Christian had been school friends and were surprised when they met again on the boats and with a shared Greek ancestry had a lot in common.
Painting by Christian Vlasto.
A letter from Christian to Olga at the end of the war showed that she hoped to recommence her art training. It is known that she later married an author and went to live in Pakistan.
Both Olga’s wartime cloth Grand Union Canal Co’s badge and Christian's painting of the boats were later sold at auction.
Mike Constable wrote an interesting article on the women artists amongst the 'Idle Women' in the Autumn 2012 copy of Narrow Boat.