Bruce Fletcher

Full name:
Bruce Fletcher
Born:

Melbourne
Vic
Australia
Occupation:
Artist
Education:
Prahan College of Advanced Education
Highest rank:
Lieutenant
Enlistment:
Commissioned in July of 1965 however didn't arrive in Vietnam until March 1967
Decorations/ commendations:
Service Number:
350575
Conflict:
Vietnam War 1962-1975
Military event:
Unit:
N/A

Early life

Bruce Fletcher was born in Melbourne on 2 January 1937.

At the age of 14, he became a student at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne.

Fletcher finished his schooling at Prahan College of Advanced Education. He studied art under Australian portraitist Sir William Dargie, who was an official war artist in World War II. Alongside his lessons, Fletcher helped prepare canvases and frame paintings.

Career and wartime appointments

Fletcher was 28 when he was appointed as an official war artist during the Vietnam War, with the rank of Lieutenant.

"From what I've read there seems to be some interesting material up there", Mr Fletcher said

['Artists to sketch war in Vietnam', The Canberra Times, 14 December 1966]

When artist and veteran Ray Crooke declined the appointment as an official war artist alongside Fletcher, the Australian War Memorial selected a new shortlist of suitable artists for its Official War Art Scheme.

Eventually, Ken McFadyen was appointed as Crooke's replacement in Vietnam. Both Fletcher and McFadyen had to train in jungle warfare and perform as active soldiers as needed. Commissioned artists were paid for their time.

... The artists will receive $80 a week plus $40 field allowance during their period in Vietnam.

[Artists to sketch war in Vietnam, The Canberra Times, 14 December 1966]

Fletcher arrived in Vietnam in March 1967. After only 3 days, he was shot through the foot. A captured Viet Cong weapon was accidentally discharged onboard a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flight.

To recover from his wound, Fletcher spent 3 months in a ward at the 1st Australian Field Hospital, Vung Tau. During this time, he continued to work.

Many of Fletcher's artworks from Vietnam depict the activities of personnel at the Vung Tau base. He sketched tents, equipment and portraits of people doing their duties. Due to his injuries, he suffered a limp long after his return from Vietnam.

While he mainly worked with a fibre-tipped pen, Fletcher also created some oil paintings. One series of paintings shows soldiers performing basic army duties. These portraits highlight the many different activities people do in wartime.

A group of soldiers and a Red Cross nurse in Vung Tau, Vietnam, painted by official war artist Bruce Fletcher in 1967. It depicts a soldier on a stretcher being moved from an ambulance during a medical evacuation. The nurse was identified as Winsome Aylilffe. AWM ART40580

During 6 months in Vietnam, Fletcher produced 180 sketches and 30 oil paintings. Many of his works depicted both sides of the war (allied personnel and in the Viet Cong). They also highlighted the impact on civilians, with many of his sketches being portraits of local people, such as mothers and children.

Portrait of a Vietnamese boy and girl sketched by official war artist Bruce Fletcher in 1967. AWM ART40498

Life after the Vietnam War

The Australian War Memorial first exhibited paintings from the Vietnam War in 1964, including work by Fletcher.

The artist, although handicapped by a wound accidentally received shortly after his arrival in Vietnam, did very fine work, and his collection of paintings and sketches provides a valuable record of the work there of the Australian forces.

[Annual report of the Board of Trustees for the year ended 30th June, Australian War Memorial, 1968]

McFadyen's artworks were later added to the exhibition upon his return from duty.

Prior to the Australian exhibition, Fletcher showed his own work in Vietnam.

Official war artist Lieutenant Bruce Fletcher, held an impromptu outdoor exhibition of a series of his portrait paintings before they were dispatched to the Australian War Memorial, Vietnam, 1967. AWM COL/67/0667/VN

From Fletcher's time in Vietnam, the impacts of war on children had a lasting impact.

There are so many of them injured, orphaned or simply wandering around by themselves. I wish we in Australia could do more to help them.

[Children of "the ugly war", The Australian Women's Weekly, 29 November 1967]

Fletcher worked again for the Australian War Memorial in 1970. He created a large commemorative painting of the Battle of Long Tan.

Reconstruction of the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966, painted by official war artist Bruce Fletcher in 1970. Shows action between 'D' Company and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces; events that happened at intervals during the battle are shown happening simultaneously. Oil on canvas, 152 x 175 cm. AWM ART40758

Fletcher settled in Melbourne, where he received many commissions and lectured on art at the Caulfield Institute of Technology.

Sources:

  • 1966 'Artists to sketch war in Vietnam', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 14 December, p. 15. , viewed 14 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106951902
  • 1967 'Children of "the ugly war"', The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), 29 November, p. 13., viewed 14 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43599071

Last updated: 15 February 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Bruce Fletcher, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 26 May 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/biographies/bruce-fletcher
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