I wish to start off the New Year with a real, honest, Canadian WWII hero, and survivor. This is the man who painted the Lancaster Mk. II nose art later flown by “Relic” of CBC Beachcombers.
LAC Laverne Thomas Adam Shearer was posted to No. 408 [Goose] Squadron in March 1943, as a class “A” air engine mechanic. Laverne was born in Kitchener, Ontario, 7 July 1923, and had been employed as a auto mechanic before he enlisted in the RCAF. He passed away in a veterans hospital on 24 April 1969, leaving his WWII photo collection to his sister Mrs. Henrietta Mitchell.
LAC Laverne Thomas Adam Shearer
In almost every RCAF squadron there was an airmen who possesses some form of talent with a paint brush and he became the one who painted the emblems, mascots, and nude ladies on the bombers.
LAC Shearer was assigned to a five man ground crew with names – Bob Gale, Howley, Jaxon, [nose artist] and Ledger. They worked on Handley-Page Halifax Mk. II bomber code letter “N” until August 1943, when 408 squadron began to converted over to the Lancaster Mk. II. They were assigned to work on a new Lancaster Mk. II serial LL722, “N”. This was the aircraft of F/L Norm Sutherland, DFC, who received the new bomber on 14 January 1944, and flew her on 22 operations. The squadron nose artist was LAC “Jaxon”, who painted very impressive pin-up ladies on most of the squadron aircraft.
This is the impressive nude art work of LAC Jaxon painted on Lancaster Mk. II, serial LL642, code EQ-B, which completed 60 Operations from January 1944 to 15 August 1944. [note – you will find rare color and sound footage of this aircraft on line today, most enjoyable]
Left to right – F/O R.L. Black, Brussels, Ontario, Navigator – F/O C. Harder, Lethbridge, Alberta, and F/L A.M. Herring, Long Beach, Ontario.
Pilot Harold Kearl collection
Almost all of the Lancaster aircraft built in WWII were powered by the four Rolls Royce Merlin in-line, liquid cooled engines. The exception was the Lancaster Mk. II [above] which was fitted with four Bristol Hercules radial air-cooled engines. With the exception of the built in Canada Lancaster Mk. X aircraft, three RCAF squadrons were closely identified with the obscure Lancaster Mk. II, and many Canadians lost their lives in this bomber. Of the 301 Mk. II’s that were constructed, 120 would serve with three RCAF squadrons, No. 408, 426 and 432, with 82 shot down. These statistics do not show any major problem in the Lancaster Mk. II, but simply show the heavy cost of Canadian lives during the 1943-44 allied bombing offensive called the “Battle of Berlin.” The Battle of Berlin began in the last week of October 1943, although it included a wide range of targets such as Leipzig, Stuttgart, Brunswick, Magdeburg, Schweinfurt, and Augsburg, its main target was Berlin.
The above Lancaster Mk. II, serial DS692, EQ-S, came to 408 squadron on 7 October 1943, and flew 49 operations, half by Pilot/Officer John Douglas Harvey, DFC. P/O Harvey was truly a survivor, making eleven trips to bomb the German capital city. His Lancaster carried nose art of a Jolly Green Giant holding a 500 lb. bomb, while a flask of liquor hangs around his neck.
RCAF nose art played a part in the Battle of Berlin, as all crews understood they were bombing the heavy defended city of Berlin and many would not return. F/O Ronald William Butcher – “Outpaced, out-maneuvered and outgunned by the German fighters, we were highly inflammable, explosive, and these black monsters presented an ideal target. It’s no wonder aircrew personnel in Bomber Command at that time really did not expect to reach their next birthday.”
Between November 1943 and March 1944, Bomber Command launched 16 massive attacks on Berlin. Today it is generally accepted by aviation historians the Battle of Berlin was a failure by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, with the loss of 1,047 bombers, 1,682 damaged and over 7,000 aircrew lost.
No. 426 [Thunderbird] Squadron was the first RCAF unit to received the Lancaster Mk. II. The Thunderbirds had been operating with Wellington bombers at Dishforth, Yorkshire, then moved to No. 62 [Beaver Base] Linton-on-Ouse, on 18 June 1943. On 16 July 43, seven new Lancaster Mk. II aircraft had arrived on charge and training could begin. On 17 August, No. 426 flew its first four-engine bomber operation. The last operation in Lancaster Mk. II’s came on 1 May 1944, and by the middle of the month the last five Lancaster aircraft had been transferred to No. 408 Squadron. The squadron flew a total of 58 operations in the Lancaster Mk. II during the Battle of Berlin. No. 426 had now converted to the Halifax Mk. III’s with eight flying their first operation on 2 May 1944.
No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron was destined to be the last to received the Lancaster Mk. II’s and the first to relinquish them to No. 408 Squadron. Leaside squadron had been flying Wellington aircraft at Skipton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, then moved to a satellite of the main Beaver Base, located at East Moor. Their first Lancaster Mk. II’s arrived at East Moor in October and the first operation to Berlin was flown on 26 November 1943. After only two months of operations in the Lancaster Mk. II’s, No. 432 converted to Halifax Mk. II’s on 3 February 1944, with the last Lancaster II’s transferred to No. 408 Squadron by mid-February 1944. They flew a total of 15 operations in the Lancaster Mk. II’s in Battle of Berlin.
The last RCAF Squadron to fly the Lancaster Mk. II [and second to receive them] became No. 408 [Goose] Squadron. Unlike No. 426 and 432 Squadrons they had been flying the four-engine Halifax Mk. II’s at Leeming, Yorkshire, before their move to Linton-on-Ouse, 27 August 1943. Due to this factor, they had qualified over 70% of their pilots in the Lancaster Mk. II by the first week of September. They flew their first operation in Battle of Berlin on 7 October 1943, to Stuttgart, Germany. They would complete 46 operations in the Lancaster Mk. II during the Battle of Berlin.
This painting was received from Wing Commander Ronald W. Butcher, DFC, CD, painted for his book titled “Been There Done That; Through Treacherous Skies” published by Trafford Publishing. The painting contains one error, in that it shows a mid-under gun turret with two 303 cal. guns. This in fact was one single 50 cal. machine gun, fired by 19 year old Mid-Under gunner Sgt. A. “Dusty” Claus, an aboriginal from the reserve near Oshawa, Ontario. He was one of only 29 aboriginals commissioned by the RCAF during WWII. The lack of education eliminated most Aboriginal hopefuls for the Air Force and most served in the Army infantry.
Lancaster Mk. II, serial LL722 was received by pilot F/L Norm Sutherland, DFC, on 14 January 1944, and the crew ask nose artist LAC Jaxon to paint a nude lady with name “Lady Be Good.” The pose came from a Varga calendar that was hanging in the dispersal crew shack, featuring a nude laying across a bed on her back with her legs crossed, feet on the floor. This nose art remained until June 1944, when word was received the Royal family were coming for a tour. The Commanding Officer, Wing Commander A.R. McLernon, DFC, approached F/O Ronald Butcher the aircraft navigator and ordered – “Put her clothes on.” Due to the fact the crew chief was on leave, navigator Butcher painted over the complete nude and then painted the large letters “Lady Be Good.”
F/O Ronald William Butcher J20961 had become a WWII Lancaster nose artist.
The Royal family tour at Linton-on-Ouse was cancelled until August and the crew of F/L Norman Sutherland finished their operational tour on 10 June 1944.
The new nose art name by navigator F/O Butcher and the over-painted original nude lady area can be seen.
On 10 June 1944, the Sutherland crew completed their tour and the Lancaster was turned over to F/L Robert [Bob] Clothier, DFC, [Relic in the CBC Beachcombers TV series].
From W/C Butcher collection.
Clothier flew her on the 3,000th squadron sortie, which was her 46th trip over enemy territory, On 8 August, she completed her 55 and last trip over Germany. On 11 August 44, the Royal family came to Linton-on-Ouse, and the King presented medals in front of Lancaster LL722, “Lady Be Good”, which Shearer recorded in one photo. [P/O Webb received D.S.O.]
The new crew of Lancaster LL722, “Lady be good” F/L Robert Allan Clothier J15680, DFC.
In mid-July 1944, No. 408 Squadron began to convert from the Lancaster Mk. II to the Halifax Mk. VII. In August the squadron flew operations using both aircraft, the last Lancaster operations were on 15 August, when seven Lancaster II’s attacked Brussels.
On 11 August 1944, a new Halifax Mk. VII, serial NP747 [“N”] was assigned to the ground crew of Gale, Howley, Shearer, Jaxon and Ledger. The Halifax is flown by the Squadron C.O. Wing Commander A.R. McLernon, DFC, on her first two operations and two more were completed later.
This [Shearer] photo shows the ground crew with the fresh painted nose art of “Notorious Nan” which may have been painted for the C.O. The top man is Bob Gale, Howley, Shearer, Jaxon [the artist] and Ledger.
Note – the nose art has not been completed as the full moon, palm tree and waves have not been painted on at this date.
On 14 October 1944, “Nan” is part of 40 Lancaster and 217 Halifax aircraft to attack Duisburg, Germany, in the day. A total of 225 hit the primary target with one shot down. “Nan” is hit by flak and damaged, her starboard engine burst into flames. On landing with three engines the aircraft over shot the runway and is designated for disposal. She has completed nineteen operations.
The morning of 15 October 1944, LAC Shearer in front of “Nan” crash site.
On 23 October, the bomber is flown to Rawcliffe, England, for disposal. F/L Lindsay RCAF picks this nose art panel for return to Canada and it is cut from the nose in May 1945. Today it is in the War Museum collection in Ottawa, with no information.
F/L Harold Lindsay, the forgotten hero who saved the Ottawa War Museum Halifax original nose art collection.
This photo was taken at CFB Edmonton in 1996, when the nose art hung in the museum of No. 408 Helicopter Squadron, [author]
The name “Jaxon” remains on his nose art painting but sadly the artist has never been found.
In early May 1945, No. 408 Squadron converted to new Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X aircraft and began training for “Tiger Force” and the invasion of Japan. LAC Jaxon began to paint his new Canadian nose art which was next flown to Canada, arriving at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, on 18 June 1945. This is KB979, EQ-L, “The Linton Lion.” [Mrs. Henrietta Mitchell]
KB995, “The Oomph Gal” code EQ-O, named after American actress Ann Sheridan, also featured small images of Varga pin-up girls in crew positions.
A comment from a reader…
Update Oomph Gal was KB929 not KB995. Check it out
KB919, EQ-J, “7 Jacks and Jill” most impressive nude work of LAC Jaxon
Today the War Museum in Ottawa have the only original WWII nose art painting by LAC Jaxon, but it contains no educational history.
The Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta, contains the memorial photo image of F/L Robert Clothier and crew in front of a Lancaster Mk. II aircraft, and that is about it for educational value. It is mostly directed at the fact this is the famous “Relic” from the Beachcombers CBC series.
Dave O’Malley of Vintage Wings of Canada has featured a wonderful history of Relic and his postwar career plus his Beachcombers CBC success.
For some unknown reason the original nose artist [LAC Jaxon] has remained the forgotten and unknown man. This is my simple attempt to bring the true history for all to read. Unless the Air Force Association of Canada realize we need to display and record our WWII nose art panels history and properly teach to future new generations of Canadians, it will never matter.
Ex-Wing Commander Ronald W. Butcher, DFC, CD, survivor of the Battle of Berlin and a man who made nine trips to Berlin, is very healthy and enjoying life in British Columbia. As a past General Manager of the Air Force Association he understands the meaning of WW II nose art. He is the man who painted the nose art “Lady Be Good” on the Lancaster taken over by F/L Robert Clothier.
Thanks for your help Ron.
Written by Clarence Simonsen