Milton Caniff and the “Winco’s Lady”

Written by Clarence Simonsen, edited by Pierre Lagacé

Milton Caniff and the “Winco’s Lady”

Newspaper cartoonist Milton Caniff was the best in giving true life to his characters in both storytelling and illustration. His comic strip “Terry and the Pirates” began on 22 October 1934, based in China, which had been at war with the Japanese for years. Terry Lee is a teenager that matures as the strip goes on, later he joins the U.S. Army Air Force and becomes a pilot.

Madam X - Terry and the Pirates

The adventure strip becomes involved in fighting the “invaders” which were drawn by Caniff as Japanese, but the name was never used as the New York Daily News publisher did not want any politics to appear in the comic strip. The early daily newspaper strip was based around a sexy, cold, pirate queen named Dragon Lady, who is continually involved with clashes against Terry Lee and his pal Pat Ryan. As the [Japanese] invaders attack China, Dragon Lady becomes a resistance leader and turns from enemy to ally of Terry. Caniff decides to replace Dragon Lady with an American girl named Burma, [1936] which had much more appeal to Americans. The new girl Burma was based on a prostitute Miss Sadie Thompson, from the play “Rain” by Somerset Maugham.

 Madam X

This is the 1921 cover art from the book which American “Burma” was drawn by Caniff in the style of prostitute Miss Sadie Thompson. It is interesting to note that Caniff had drawn his first original female character Dragon Lady, based on actress Joan Crawford who played prostitute Sadie Thompson in the 1932 movie “Rain”, which featured her cold but beautiful looks.


Dragon Lady and Burma became close friends and good time girls in the comic strip, however each had a distinctive and totally different personality. The Dragon lady was very high class and unapproachable, while Burma was the sexy American pinup girl everyone could enjoy. In 1939, Caniff switched the lead character from Dragon Lady to Burma, plus drew a pinup for each of the girls. The many requests for the Burma pinup drawing soon left Caniff with only a stack of Dragon lady pinups which he continued to sign and mail out until 1945.

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Burma and her Caniff autographed pinup images would have a major impact on aircraft nose art from 1939 to 1945. At this period of time the Hollywood pinups such as Betty Grable, and Rita Hayworth were creating small fortunes for the publicist, so Caniff joined the trend and it had a staggering effect on early Allied aircraft nose art beginning in 1939. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was beginning in Canada, training thousands of young men, including Americans. It is impossible to measure the total effect this generated on the males in training, however it helped the early war effort, two years before America entered the world conflict in December 1941.

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The 1939 Dragon Lady pinup – mailed to RCAF member in training at the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1945 – author collection.

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Most of the requests for pinup girl art created by Milton Caniff came from Americans, however he also had a strong following in Canada, which began in 1939. This pinup was requested by LAC J. S. [Red] Harlock #R275946 in the RCAF taking gunnery training, course #94  at No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School at MacDonald, Manitoba. This was created by Caniff  for the 1939 Dragon Lady Christmas card which featured topless Chinese serving girls.

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The cold but beautiful pirate queen “Dragon Lady” based on the natural  looks of actress Joan Crawford from 1932 movie “Rain.” During the war, it was hinted Dragon Lady was in love with Pat Ryan, but she was never willing to give up her Chinese empire for an American.


When America entered World War Two, after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the real life adventures of Terry and the Pirates became evident to all Allied nations. As America prepared for massive training, the Camp Newspaper Service was formed which allowed civilians to submit material. Milton Caniff began to draw a free strip which did not include the “Terry” main characters but featured all the bad girls [Dragon Lady] and other characters from Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip. The first free strip for Camp Newspapers appeared in October 1942, and instantly became a huge hit with all serviceman. The free strip soon reached over 3,000 Camp Newspapers, including Army, Navy, and Air Force Camp Newspapers in Canada.

One of the members of the newspaper syndicate complained that they were paying big money for the strip Terry and the Pirates, and now Caniff was using the same characters in his free strip for the Camp Newspapers. Caniff was called in and told to stop using the Terry characters immediately,  but to continue drawing a strip for the war effort, just change the name. Caniff then created a free strip for the Camp Newspapers called “Male Call” featuring a new innocent lady, but sexy as hell called “Miss Lace.”

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Caniff pinup “Miss Lace” 1943


Miss Lace was not based on a movie actress or pinup girl, she was totally the creation of Milton Caniff and would always turn the tables on the hot pants G.I. or high ranking officer. Each set of three or four art panels contained a gag line, mostly with a military angle, and many were very raunchy for that period of time. The artistic power of Milton Caniff and sexy Miss Lace would even reach across the Ocean to England, and Canadians of the RCAF flying in RAF Bomber Command.

Allan Chester Hull was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 19 April 1919, immigrating with his family to Canada, educated in Vancouver, B.C., and Ottawa, Ontario. From 1932 to 1936 he served with the Cameron Highlanders in Ottawa, then entered the Royal Military College at Kingston, where he rose to become top cadet as Battalion Sergeant Major. Due to the Canadian declaration of war, his class graduated early and he enlisted in the RCAF on 1 October 1939, winning his wings and commission in 1940.  He next served as a flying instructor in Canada and always took a keen interest in the aircraft and personnel under his command. F/L Chester Hull served as a distinguished bomber pilot with No. 420 Snowy Owl Squadron until 15 July 1944 when he was posted to No. 428 [Ghost] Squadron at Middleton St. George, England, as acting Wing Commander.  No. 428 Squadron flew the RCAF’s first Canadian built Lancaster X operation on 14/15 July 1944, when seven aircraft bombed St. Pol, France.

Lancaster Mk. X. serial KB747 was built at Malton, Ontario, in late October 1943, flown to England where it was modified for combat. In June 1944, this new bomber was assigned to No. 428 Squadron and flown to Middleton St. George, where she received code letters NA-X. The Lancaster was shared by squadron Flight Commanders “Gunner” Gonyou and F/O Mackie, who named her for a popular 1943 movie “Madame X” starring Gladys George.



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author collection

The ground crew nose artist dropped the “e” in Madame and painted the famous Milton Caniff 1943 pinup “Miss Lace” as the nose art lady. The new Madam X was soon identified by all squadron ground and aircrew as “The Winco’s Bomber.” The new Canadian Lancaster aircraft were spray painted black on bare aluminum skin with no use of primer paint. This image clearly shows the flaking of the new black paint on the nose area.

Lt. General [retired] Chester Hull sent me a copy of his log book and the story of how the Miss Lace nose art had to be painted on his Lancaster twice, due to the flaking black paint.

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Lt. Gen. Chester Hull collection

W/C Chester Hull log book

28 July 1944                        NA-X                      Hamburg, Germany

3 August 1944                     NA-X                      Bois de Cassan [Paris]

4 August 1944                     NA-X                      Bois de Cassan [Paris]

5 August 1944                     NA-X                      St. Leu d’Esserent, France

7 August 1944                     NA-X                      Caen, France

8 August 1944                     NA-X                      Chantilly, France

Promoted to Wing Commander, C.O. of No. 428 Squadron.

15 August 1944                  NA-X                      Soesterberg, Germany

8 September 1944             NA-X                      F/A, A/A, Bombing. [training]

9 September 1944             NA-X                      Air Testing [training]

11 September 1944          NA-X                      Fighter Affiliation. [training]

12 September 1944          NA-X                      Dortmund, Germany

30 November 1944           NA-X                      Duisburg, Germany.

On the 29 November 1944, W/C Chester Hull had been informed he was awarded the D.F.C. for leading his squadron on 26 operations, for a total of 137.15 hours combat time. His calm confidence and obvious ability had created a high standard of morale in 428 Squadron.

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Lt. Gen. Chester Hull [photo] on 4  December 1944, with missing nose art of Miss Lace,
50th Operation.

During the operation to Duisburg, Germany, on 29/30 November 1944, Lancaster ‘Madam X’ became engulfed by St. Elmo’s blue fire, which danced over the complete bomber for 20 minutes.  When they landed at base, the complete artwork of “Lace” and name Madam X had been stripped from the nose of the bomber. The ground crew painted over the bare skin section where the nose art had been with black paint and added the words “Beautiful Take-Off” in place of Miss Lace. Over the 50th operation white bomb they painted the ribbons worn by the Wing Commander including his new DFC. A mechanic explained – “The Winco wouldn’t have felt okay if he had his gong and his lady didn’t.”

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Ground crew mechanic member of Lancaster NA-X “Madam X” at Middleton St. George, Yorkshire, April 1945.

Lancaster “Madam X” completed a couple of operations before the nose art of Miss Lace was repainted on her nose. W/C Chest Hull flew her to Soest, Germany, on 5 December 1944, and the new nose art of Miss Lace made her first trip. The Lancaster NA-X was last flown by W/C Hull on 15 December 1944, to bomb Ludwigshaven, Germany. On 1 January 1945, 25 year old Chester Hull was promoted to the rank of Group Captain, and became senior operations controller of No. 6 [RCAF] Group of RAF Bomber Command. His Lancaster KB747 went on to complete 72 operations until the end of hostilities in Europe.

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author collection

This image was taken after KB747 had completed 67 operations, late April 1945. It clearly shows the new black painted nose area and the new second nose art of Miss Lace. You can see the chalk marked outline for the next three bomb operations. The Lancaster KB747 will fly only five more operations until the end of war in Europe.

Beginning in September 1944, the Canadian War Committee began plans for joining the Americans in the invasion of Japan. On 20 October 1944, this new air element of the Canadian RCAF contribution was code named “Tiger Force” by the RAF and the first deployment would involve only two Canadian bomber squadrons, No. 419 and 428 both based at Middleton St. George, Yorkshire. [On 12 July 1945, this was increased by six addition RCAF bomber squadrons].

No. 428 [Ghost] squadron had the honor to be the first RCAF squadron to fly the new Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X on an operation, when seven [KB737, KB704, KB758, KB725, KB742, KB705 and KB739] bombed St. Pol, France, on 14/15 July 1944.

On 25 April 1945, No. 6 [RCAF] Group took part in the last offensive operation of World War Two, an attack on two coastal batteries on Wangerooge Island, on the Eastern tip of the Frisian island chain. The last aircraft to return to base was Lancaster KB843, NA-D, “Dolly” from No. 428 Squadron, piloted by Flying Officer David R. Walsh. The crew were – Ted Taylor, Norm Pratt, Arnold Lindsay, Dave Walsh, Jim Hope, and Ken Daley, and when they touched down at 2036 Hrs. the Canadian Bomber war had ended.

 Now the invasion of Japan was about to begin and “Madam X” would be part of the new air bombing campaign.


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Delbert Todd photo 31 May 1945

With the end of hostilities in Europe, No. 428 squadron had been selected as part of “Tiger Force” and the first bomber squadron to return to Canada, for reorganization and training for the attack on Japan. The exodus of Canadian bound bombers began on 31 May, when Air Marshal Harris and McEwen journeyed to Middleton St. George to witness the departure of No. 428 [Ghost] Squadron. The above photo was taken by 428 ground crew member LAC Delbert Todd, showing Harris speaking to all members of Ghost squadron. He stated – “You leave this country, after all you have done, with a reputation that is equal to any and surpassed by none.”

The first Lancaster to take off became KB891, NA-F, [Fearless Fox] with pilot F/L S. V. Eliosoff, followed by thirteen other Canadian bombers.

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LAC Delbert Todd was ground crew to Lancaster KB848, NA-G, with nose art “Fightin’ Pappy”
and he captured the take off of his bomber on 31 May 1945.

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The crew of KB848 were – Pilot “Binding” Biden, F/O Don Carr, F/L Herb Farb, Sgt. George Laoney, P/O Jack Galloway, and Sgt. Ernie Wilkenson. On 8 June 1945, KB848 and eight other Ghost squadron Lancaster aircraft landed at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She was originally named “Hollywood Caravan”.

Note – today this original KB848 nose section remains in the collection of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. I’m positive they have no idea this was the nose art and she flew 30 operations with No. 428 Squadron. How can our “Canadian Smithsonian” make such a mistake?

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KB843, NA-D, “Dolly” lands at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. F/O David Walsh was the last bomber pilot to land on 25 April 1945, at 2036 Hrs,  ending all WW II operations. [David Walsh collection]

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KB864, NA-S, “Sugar’s Blues” at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 8 June 1945. F/L R. Laturner pilot. [David Walsh collection]

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KB781, NA-U, Yarmouth, N.S., 8 June, Pilot P/O G.A. Johnson, “Lily Marlene” [D. Walsh collection]


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 KB744, NA-J, pilot F/L D. R. Brown and crew arrive at Yarmouth, N.S. on 8 June 45. [David Walsh collection] Flown to Pearce, Alberta, struck off charge 13 May 1947.


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The RCAF welcome ceremony held at Yarmouth 8 June 45, then the crews received 35 days leave. The Lancaster aircraft were prepared for the invasion of Japan, beginning 1 January 1946.


The American atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 45 followed by Nagasaki on 9 August, resulted in the Japanese Government acceptance of the Allied peace terms on 15 August. The official signing took place on 2 September 45 and RCAF “Tiger Force” units were disbanded on 5 September. The Canadian Government decided to place the majority of the veteran WWII [Tiger Force] Lancaster Mk. X aircraft into long-term storage in Western Canada. The RCAF picked an abandoned base at Pearce, Alberta, ex-No. 2 Flying Instructors School as the first point of arrival. On 8 September 1945, 83 veteran Lancaster aircraft arrived at Pearce, Alberta.

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author collection from Ray Wise

On 5 September 1945, the RCAF posted four mechanics from No. 10 Repair Depot at Calgary, Alberta, to ex-No. 2 Flying Instructors School at Pearce, Alberta. The NCO in charge was Cpl. Edge, LAC Cook, [in cockpit]  LAC Wyers, [hands on hips] and LAC Ray Wise, [hand on Lancaster prop]. The bomber is KB864 “Sugar’s Blues” from No. 428 [Ghost] Squadron, and the date is 10 September 45. This famous bomber would never leave Pearce, scrapped in 1965.

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author from Ray Wise collection, after first snow fall in October 1945

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Cpl. Edge, [cockpit]  LAC Wyers and Cook on Lancaster wing tips, Pearce, 10 September 1945.

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Each day the ground crew of LAC Wyers, Cook, and Wise had to climb into each of the 83 Lancaster aircraft and start the four Merlin engines, then let them warm up. That’s 332 engines running every day. This is the most famous Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X, KB732, “X-Terminator” which completed the most operations at 84 and two Nazi German fighters shot down. Ray Wise took this photo on 10 September 45. Left is LAC Wyers, middle NCO in charge Cpl. Edge, and right LAC Cook. Struck off charge by RCAF on 19 January 1948, scrapped. This replica life-size nose art was repainted by Simonsen on original WWII Lancaster skin and hangs in Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Nanton, Alberta.

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LAC Wyers in cockpit of No. 428 KB760 NA-P [P for Panic] and behind is NA-F, [Fearless Fox] KB891. Both are scrapped on 16 January 1947. The replica of KB760 Lancaster NA-P is today in the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, painted incorrectly. Why would my Canadian Government hire people who can’t get our RCAF WWII Lancaster painted correctly, and it’s been displayed like this for the past 51 years?

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NCO in charge at Pearce, Alberta, Cpl. Edge in cockpit of Lancaster KB893, WL-X of No. 434 Squadron, “Xotic Angel, 10 September 1945. She is converted to a postwar 10 M.P. Lancaster and will crash at Goose Bay, Labrador,  on 25 April 1952, killing four.

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Simonsen replica nose art hanging in Nose Creek Museum, Airdrie, Alberta

Lancaster Mk. X, KB747, NA-X, “Madam X” was one of the 83 aircraft that arrived at Pearce, Alberta, on 8 September 1945. Miss Lace was flown by pilot F/O E. T. Lewis and parked, she would never leave, struck off charge by RCAF on 19 January 1948 and sold for scrap.

Today this replica painting completed by Clarence Simonsen hangs in the Military Museum’s of Calgary, Alberta. It is painted on original WWII Lancaster wing panel skin from the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta. It honors Lieutenant General Allan Chester Hull C1256, whose career spanned 40 years, and reached the second highest Command position in our Armed Forces. The 6′ 4″ pilot who flew Miss Lace eleven times in WWII, passed away on 9 April 2012.

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The “Winco’s Lady”


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