my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.
Mankind is never more inventive than when he is trying he is trying to maim or kill his fellow man and during the Second World War, the German secret service came up with many ingenious, if rather Heath Robinson devices for assassination and sabotage.
Detailed illustrations of these devices remained hidden until they turned up in the effects of artist and graphic designer, Laurence Fish, in the summer of 2015.
Fish trained as an illustrator at the publisher Iliffe & Son, specialising in the technical subjects, such as aircraft, yachts and cars, required for publications like Yachting World and Autocar. But he was to join the RAF at the outbreak of war.
Lord Victor Rothschild was the head of ‘explosives and sabotage section’ of MI5 and responsible for identifying where Britain’s war effort was vulnerable and for countering German sabotage attempts. The unit was small and one of its members was police inspector, Donald Fish, Laurence’s father. When Rothschild was looking for someone to document the devices, he recommended his son for the job.
The devices he drew were weird and wonderful, such as the exploding bar of chocolate above left. It was believed that this was intended to assassinate Winston Churchill, although how the Germans thought they could get it into his hands, or what he might think when he saw the canvas inner seven seconds before it exploded is anyone’s guess.
Another of Fish’s illustrations, above right, shows an exploding mess tin with its inviting sausage and mash intended to wound or kill British troops, while on the left are tins of motor oil with a time bomb inside that were meant to be hidden in the holds of supply ships to sabotage the delivery of vital material.
Fish was sworn to secrecy, of course, but he kept the letters he had from Rothschild which his family knew about. However, the illustrations remained hidden until long after his death in 2009, aged 89. His daughter was clearing out the family home in Suffolk when she came across them ‘in deep storage’ in a chest of drawers. There were 25 drawings in total, ranging in size from A4 to A1.
After the war, Fish resumed his career as a commercial advertising illustrator producing the artwork for many of the posters promoting British seaside towns and you can see examples of his work below.
He also continued to paint and to undertake commissions, and he began to concentrate on painting full-time in the 1980s. Fish’s paintings have been exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour and at many London and provincial galleries.