Clarence Simonsen is paying homage to someone few people know.
Written by Clarence Simonsen
Clarence Simonsen – “Over the past 50 years, I have been lucky enough to interview over one thousand members of WW II air and ground crew, in regards to aircraft nose art.” “Some of these man became close friends of mine and shared their memories for the first time.” “Noel H. Barlow was one such person.”
Noel Barlow in happy days on his farm at Carseland, Alberta, 1994, holds his RCAF pilot photo from No. 356 Squadron R.A.F. 1945. In his right he holds a Shillelagh that was presented to Douglas Bader from No. 502 RAF Squadron that flew in WW II. This was sent to him after the death of Bader in 1982. [A gift from second wife Lady Joan Bader] Right Official RAF [Moose] Badge created in England for the Canadians.
Noel and his wife [Jeanne] would always make you welcome and you would have to stay for lunch or supper, which was followed by a sip of whiskey in the living room and war stories. Most enjoyable way to do research. His full history is covered in my book “RCAF and RAF Nose Art in WW II” and this will only touch on brief history and 242 nose art markings.
Born in Wales, 26 December 1912,he never knew his father who was killed in World War One. His mother remarried and the Barlow family immigrated to Canada in 1924, later settled into farming at Carseland, Alberta. One day two aircraft flew over the farm and Noel was hooked, saving money, and obtaining his commercial flying license at the Calgary Flying Club in 1936. Like many Canadian youth of that era, he just wanted to be a fighter pilot, and the RAF wanted trained pilots.
The following year he had saved enough for one-way boat passage to U.K. to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot. No such luck, at 24 years he was too old for pilot training by just three months. Noel was not happy with the RAF rules. “Being Welsh, I didn’t have a lot of love for the British in the first place, [ I have never understood that statement, but never ask] and now here I was 6,000 miles from home, with no money.” “I had no choice but to join the RAF ground crew.” [It probably saved my life.]
Noel became a fitter, plus an expert on the operation of the Rolls-Royce engine. As a pilot he was also able to test fly the very aircraft he worked on and made sure they were in top condition. “I was very serious about my work and became more or less an expert.” One day he read a notice posted in RAF Routine Orders – “Canadians wanted for ground crew in new formed No. 242 Squadron.” He applied and was excepted at once. During the Battle of France, Noel and his 242 ground crew had to escape the German advance not once but two times, before and after Dunkirk. On return to England, what was left of No. 242 was regrouped with a new commanding officer, a legless, Douglas Bader took charge.
In a later American [September 1941] publication Noel describes his first meeting with the new legless C.O. [took place on 28 June 1940].
This Douglas Bader signed photo for Noel Barlow was published in Miami, Oklahoma, September 1941, with the Bader story , the man on the right is Willie McKnight from Calgary, Alberta. This was the nose art on the Hurricane P3061, LE-D flown by Douglas Bader, date October 1940.
The following story “My Ideal” was penned [September 1941]by RAF Cadet Noel Barlow in training at No. 3 British Flight Training School, Miami, Oklahoma, where Noel took pilot training in summer of 1941. This was copied in 1994, from the original and signed for Clarence Simonsen by Noel Barlow.
Permission was also granted for the use in my nose art book.
Bader took charge of No. 242 Squadron on 28 June 1940, where Noel first Made contact with the C.O.
Note – Bader was promoted and left No. 242 squadron on 18 March 1941, shot down – 9 August 1941
On my first visit in 1994, most of my questions were directed at Noel Barlow in regards to “nose art” markings on the 242 aircraft. In the 1954 book by Paul Brickhill, titled “Reach for the Sky”, Douglas Bader explains how he drew a sketch of the 242 Hitler getting the boot nose art. A metal template was made by [West] and each original Hurricane received the new squadron emblem. Noel confirmed this statement.
[It should be noted that Sir Douglas Bader and Noel Barlow became life-long friends, and on his five trips to Calgary, Douglas and 1st wife [Thelma] always stayed on the farm with Noel and Jeanne] The same applied on Barlow trips to England, where both man enjoyed many a drink and merry making.
On the question of who painted the nose art on the Hurricane fighters, Noel replied – “L.A.C. Thomas Elgey a member of the ground crew.
This image was sent to Noel Barlow from Douglas Bader in the 1970’s and shows Mrs. Connie Elgey presenting Douglas with her late husband’s original water colour painting.
I believe the Tom Elgey art contains the true nose art colours used on the original 242 Douglas Bader designed squadron emblem nose art. Hitler’s hat – Yellow, shirt –red, pants – tan, – while the tie over the left shoulder of Hitler is not the image that appeared on the Bader and 242 Hurricane aircraft.
This is the same, [complete] Imperial War Museum image, Noel Barlow used in his article and this clearly shows the correct nose art, with Hitler’s tie in front. The boot point of impact lines should only show four, while the original Tom Elgey water colour shows seven. This original photo was taken in October 1940, with F/L Eric Ball on left and P/O Willie McKnight on right of Bader. The Hurricane is P3061, LE-D flown by Bader and I’m sure the first nose art painted in the squadron. Bader scored six kills in this Hurricane.
Another image with different boot style, Hitler style colours appear same.
This 2010 [Clarence Simonsen] replica scale painting on Lancaster skin, was painted for a volunteer at “Canada’s Bomber Command Museum” Nanton, Alberta.
I believe it to be the correct colours and image used on the Hurricane of Willie McKnight and Douglas Bader in WW II. It is based on the October 1940 photo taken at Duxford, England, while the colours are based on the Tom Elgey water-colour painting.
It is possible the black Nazi armband was a very dark red in the original art?
I have viewed the 1956 film classic WW 2 drama, “Reach for the Sky” at least a half dozen times, and for some reason the 242 nose art was not used, other that one Hurricane painted with the nose art for a promo picture. This shows the shape of the hands and tie of Hitler are in the correct position, and the colours appear to be correct. While some of the film is not factual, it is still a classic and pure entertainment for all old and new aviation buffs to watch and learn. When the film came out Bader realized the producers had omitted his normal bad habits, most of all his use of bad language. For years he would laugh and say – “Most people think I’m that dashing young chap Ken Moore.” The two would meet in 1975.
Film actor Kenneth Moore in front of the Douglas Bader nose art [promo photo] in the 1956 black and white film “Reach for the Sky”. Note – The nose art is far from the original, while shape of the hands on Hitler, tie location, are correct, plus the nose art colours appear to be correct.
Modern Bader nose art painted on Hurricane AE977 in 2000, and not correct. However I do believe there is a good reason for the misinformation on the nose art.
Canadian built Sea Hurricane serial AE977 was rebuilt at Duxford, England, in 2000 and received the markings of Sir Douglas Bader’s Hurricane P3061 LE-D. Hitler has a white hat, pink shirt, white belt, and orange pants, with the incorrect tie over left shoulder. I believe this was all based on a painting that hung in the Bader home until 2000. Bader’s first wife Thelma, died 24 January 1971. Douglas married Joan Murray on 3 January 1973. On 5 September 1982, after attending a dinner honouring “Bomber” Harris, Bader suffered a heart attack in his car on the way home. Noel Barlow told me – “His car was trapped in traffic and the ambulance could not reach him until it was too late. “
In 2000, Lady Joan placed many of her late husband’s WW II items for sale, and one never before seen 242 nose art painting was purchased for over 1,000 pounds.
This was painted by LAC Thompson [unknown artist] and hung in the Bader home until 2000.
I believe Hurricane AE977 was painted using this Bader art image, as the artist believed this was the nose art design used by 242 squadron in WW II. [Not – correct] This Hurricane is owned by Tom Friedkin in Texas, and may always contain the improper nose art of Douglas Bader.
The correct painting of the skeleton fuselage [under pilot position] art should not be any problem as images are found in the Imperial War Museum and the excellent book by Hugh Halliday, No. 242 – “The Canadian Years”.
This image on the port side has been published hundreds of times but it seems this image was cropped and now the complete photo has been published, causing one model builder in U.K. to question if Willie McKnight’s Hurricane in fact had any nose art of the 242 Boot kicking Hitler. Answer – “Yes”.
Noel Barlow confirmed all the original aircraft had the nose art image, including McKnight.
No 242 pilot position art on McKnight Hurricane
While we do not know the exact date Willie painted his fuselage pilot position art this photo in fact shows he painted his art first before the nose art and I believe it was early September 1940. [Before Battle of Britain day – 15 September 40.]
Photo of Willie [Imperial War Museum] – September 1940
During the early part of the Battle of Britain, [first week of September] five Hurricane squadrons join the fray, two Polish, two Czech and No. 1 Squadron RCAF from Canada. These five squadrons were unofficially painting nose and fuselage art on their aircraft. To take charge the R.A.F. officially approved the use of national emblem art, which must be painted on the “pilot position and not to exceed 30 square inches.” That is why so many B of B aircraft sport art on the fuselage side pilot position. Willie just followed the RAF orders and painted his skeleton in the correct position, and my guess is 1-15 September 1940, just before the nose art could be applied. [his art did exceed the 30 square inches]
This Canadian, 5 July 1941, cover art shows the correct size and location, “pilot position” for art during Battle of Britain.
Simonsen replica scale painting of Willie McKnight pilot position art. In ” Reach for the Sky” publication, [1954 Paul Brickhill] Bader states the sickle contained blood stains.
After eighteen months of combat, Noel Barlow turned down a promotion [he now held the rank of Corporal, February 1941] and a move to the Middle East, as he still wanted to fly. His transfer for RAF pilot training was excepted [thanks to help from his friend Bader] and he was off to the United States, No. 3 British Flying Training School, Miami, Oklahoma.
During my research into the Clayton Knight Committee, I would learn that two powerful Americans turned a blind eye to laws and supported the hiring of American pilots to fly with the RCAF and RAF [Eagle Squadrons] in the first two years of WW II. President Roosevelt and Gen. Hap Arnold supported the Clayton Knight Committee in every way they could. Gen. Arnold even supplied a list of Americans who had been discharged from American Air Force units for fighting, drinking, low flying, or getting a lady in trouble. These were just the type of flyers the RCAF and RAF wanted in time of war. Most of these American aircrew ended up in England fighting against Hitler. In 1940, the British Government ask President Roosevelt if British cadets could be trained in the United States. In May 1941, this was approved by the President [as part of the Lend-Lease] and six British Flying Schools were opened on American soil. Some of these schools operated with half USAAF trainees and half RAF cadets, and they were called the “Arnold Scheme”, named by the President for Gen. Arnold.
No. 3 B.F.T.S. opened at Miami, Oklahoma on 16 June 1941. In July, RAF Cadet LAC Noel Barlow began training to become a pilot, at No. 3 B.F.T.S. It was during his training period [September 1941] that Noel penned the story of Douglas Bader – “My Ideal”. Bader was shot down 9 August 1941, and became a German P.O.W. [another great chapter in his life]
During my research on Noel Barlow and 242 squadron it became clear a part of his WW II career was blank or missing. On my third visit, I had painted a replica of the No. 242 “Hitler getting the Boot” nose art, which I presented to Noel at his farm. During the afternoon I ask Noel about his missing history. There was a short pause and then he said – ” I guess it’s time to tell this, which I’m not proud of, but nobody has ever ask before.” [he also gave me permission to publish]
Noel explained how he was 30 years old, when he arrived at Miami, Oklahoma, which was at the least ten years older that the other trainees. He was the old man, had seen eighteen months of war, up close, from the very beginning in France, then Battle of Britain, and he had been flying planes since 1936. Noel was a veteran, a bit cocky, and during training took a dislike to one British Flying Instructor. “He was not a good pilot and damaged two aircraft on landing accidents, but he thought he knew it all.” “He also treated me like a new cadet, which I didn’t like”
Noel further explained – “We operated under the Arnold Scheme, half Americans and half RAF cadets. The Americans had a Major in charge and the RAF had a Wing Commander named Roxbourgh. We wore American uniforms with only the RAF cap with a white stripe which stood for cadet.” During the last few weeks of my training, the British Flying Instructor [who I hated] was being sent back to England, and they were holding a going away party for him in the Officers Mess. A number of us cadets had been drinking at the mess that night, upon return to our quarters we passed the Officers Mess. Due to a dare and too much to drink, I entered the Officers Mess and challenged the Flying Instructor outside to a fight. W/C Roxbourgh stepped between us and I gave him a slap on the back and presented him with a half bottle of whiskey, I carried under my coat. I then left, nothing was said to me until the end of our course. When we formed up for our class “Wings Parade”, my named was called out and I was marched to the side of the complete class, where I remained until each classmate received his wings. Of course I did not receive my wings [second time] and was informed my RAF career was over. I was discharged and returned to Alberta, totally upset with what I had done, but I was a pilot, and still wanted to fly.”
Noel re-enlisted in the RCAF,  and after eight years, finally received his wings at No. 15 S.F.T.S. at Claresholm, Alberta. In a bit or irony, P/O Barlow was now posted to Abbotsford, B.C. , a British run RAF pilot training school for the American B-24 Liberator bomber, serving in South-East Asia. [The RAF operated 26 training schools in Canada during WW II, where Noel should have been sent for pilot training in the first place].
I met Jeanne M. Barlow four times and she was the most warm, friendly, lady you could ever talk with. She was never afraid to give her point of view or correct Noel on something he said. She was born in Abbotsford B.C., 29 March 1920, and was engaged to be married in early 1945. Her parents had a boarding room for rent and one day a knock came to the front door and Jeanne answered. There stood this handsome RCAF Officer, and his name was Noel Barlow. It was love at first site, and the engagement ring was mailed back to her ex-boyfriend. They were married two weeks later.
After Liberator training Noel was posted to No. 356 RAF Squadron, fighting the Japanese in South-East Asia. No. 356 squadron was a short lived long-range bomber squadron of the Royal Air Force, and approx. 45% of the aircrew were Canadians. The unit had bombed Japanese bases from Salbani, Bengal, British India, but moved to the Cocos Islands in July 1945, in preparation for the invasion of Malaya.
Noel arrived in late July, but never saw combat as the two Atomic bombs ended WW II. Noel Barlow flew supply-dropping [rice] and transport duties until the squadron was disbanded 15 November 1945. Noel and his new wife then returned to the farm life at Carseland, Alberta, and raised two daughters.
On 10 October 2002, the phone rang in my home [Airdrie] and the lady’s voice said it was Jeanne Barlow. “Noel is slipping away Clarence, will you please come to the Strathmore hospital.” The drive from Airdrie to Strathmore hospital took approx. 40 minutes, in a early, heavy, wet, Alberta snowstorm. There was my friend Noel in bed, unable to speak, the giant of a man now skinny, and he could only look at me. Jeanne Barlow then produced the nose art with the 242 squadron emblem of “Hitler getting the Boot” which I had painted for Noel in 1996. She then ask me to sign it again, for her loving husband, which I did. I remained for over an hour, and at one point helped Noel out of his bed to set in a chair, but he could only look at us as we talked. Just before I left, I helped Noel return to his bed, but he would not let go of my hand, then he gave it a small squeeze, our last goodbye. Noel passed away Monday 21 October, age 89 years.
Jeanne Barlow sent me a thank you card, but I never saw her again. She passed away eighteen months later, 26 April 2004. I truly believe she could not live without her pilot/farmer, who she loved so deeply for 57 years.