Wounded Gunner Home From Lae: Expressions - Commemoration through Art

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An online educational resource which aims to develop students' understanding of wartime artworks. This activity features Wounded Gunner Home from Lae, painted in 1943 by Roy Hodgkinson, an Australian artist. The artwork depicts the moment when Perth pilot Flying Officer Harry Rowell and other RAAF airmen helped Victorian wireless operator Flight Sergeant David Duncan down from the gunner's cockpit of a Douglas Boston aircraft after an air attack on 24 May 1943. Use the background context and inquiry questions to encourage student research and learning.

Series: Expressions - Commemoration through Art
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The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) played a critical role in the fight against Japanese forces in Papua and New Guinea during the Second World War. RAAF aircrew flew fighter and bomber aircraft in a range of roles, attacking targets in challenging weather conditions and over difficult and dangerous terrain. The aircrew generally flew more than once a day, which increased the stresses they endured and the dangers they faced from enemy defences.

Sergeant David Duncan was a gunner on board a Boston bomber being flown by Flying Officer Harold Rowell on 24 May 1943. They had taken off from Ward’s Strip near Port Moresby to carry out a pre-dawn bombing raid on a wrecked ship near Lae. Reports indicated that Japanese forces were possibly using the wreck as storage. During the attack, the Boston was caught by a search light and came under fire. Sergeant Duncan was seriously wounded while another gunner on board was killed. Flying Officer Rowell flew the Boston back to Port Moresby as fast as his remaining fuel would allow. Sergeant Duncan survived the flight, but had a foot amputated as a result of his wounds.

Wounded Gunner Home From Lae was created by the Australian war artist Roy Hodgkinson in 1943. It depicts Sergeant Duncan being lowered from the Boston bomber after the raid.

An illustration of a wounded man in overalls being helped down from the cockpit of a 1940s military plane by 7 other men in military dress.
Roy Hodgkinson, Wounded Gunner Home from Lae, 1943, crayon with wash, 55.4 x 37.6cm, AWM ART21353

Inquiry questions

  • Look carefully at the artwork and describe what you see. Include all the details of the artwork, even if you think they might not be significant. Keep in mind what you don’t see in the artwork, as often things left out can be as significant as things that are visible.
  • Is the artwork a primary or secondary source of historical information? What might have motivated Roy Hodgkinson to create the artwork? How do artworks differ in the way we perceive them when compared to a photograph of a situation or event?
  • In the artwork, the people lowering Sergeant Duncan from the Boston bomber appear to be aircrew. The person at the lower left of the image is dressed differently. What role might that person have in relation to the Boston bombers? How is that person preparing to assist in getting Sergeant Duncan to the airfield medical station?
  • Roy Hodgkinson has used several compositional techniques to express the urgency of the situation and the efforts being made to take care of Sergeant Duncan. Look closely at the artwork and identify those techniques. Pay particular attention to the postures of the people in the image, their facial expressions and the way they are grouped together. Keep in mind Hodgkinson’s use of tone and light as well.
  • The RAAF commissioned many artists to record operations during the Second World War. They produced numerous artworks in media such as oil paints, inks, pencil, charcoal and crayons. Why did the RAAF commission these artists even though photographic and film technology was widely available? What could an artwork do that a photograph or film could not do? Information on RAAF artists in the Second World War is available at anzacportal.dva.gov.au and awm.gov.au.

Copyright

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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