Officers dining in the Painted Hall during the Second World War

Framed crayon drawing. The view is across the body of the Lower Hall from the south-east corner, with the Upper Hall shown toward the left. Serving tables and staff range along the south wall, far left, with others in the north-east corner, far right. This large drawing shows the first regular use of the Painted Hall as a refectory since the brief period between the first Greenwich Pensioners coming into the Royal Hospital for Seamen in 1705 and Thornhill's start on painting the ceiling in 1708. Thereafter, under both the Hospital regime to 1869 and the Royal Naval College from 1873, messing was in the undercroft below, and that under the Chapel after Pensioner numbers rose to require it in the 18th century. From 1824 to 1936 the lower windows were filled in with Portland stone for picture-hanging space while the Hall served as the Naval Gallery (see PAH4034). They were only reopened and the Hall restored to original form as a dining hall, over 18 months from 1937, and it came into use as such from 1 May 1939. HM Office of Works bore the structural costs of about £30,000 at 1930s prices while the Admiralty paid for the furnishing at just under £3000: these sums would now (2019) be about £1.37 million and £300,000, respectively. The oak tables were made from timber still in naval store and reportedly some from broken-up wooden ships, with new silver-plated electric table candelabra solving the problem of low-level lighting. The ceilings were electrically lit for the first time from the sills of the upper windows. According to Teddy Archibald, much of the decorative painting restoration round the unblocked lower windows was done by students of Sir Gerald Kelly PRA. On 11 July 1939 King George VI was the first reigning monarch ever to dine in the Hall (with his brother HRH the Duke of Kent) at a naval dinner marking its restoration and inauguration as what became the Navy's senior mess. This drawing was reproduced in the 'Illustrated London News' 13 Feb. 1943 (see PAJ3890 and PAJ3889) just before it was the centrepiece of a room of drawings arranged by Sir Kenneth Clark in his 'rolling' display of war art at the National Gallery later that month (see ILN report of 13 March 1943, pp 296-7). The ILN text identifies the Captain of the College, J.C. Davies with the black eye-patch, and its Commander W.D.G. Weir, conversing in the bottom of the central gangway, and to their left the 'elderly Commander' approaching from the direction of the Upper Hall as F.A. [Frank] Worsley, 'the Arctic explorer' (in fact Antarctic, as master of Shackleton's 'Endurance' in 1914). The mess secretary, Paymaster-Captain J.D.M. Cavanagh, is in the right foreground talking to the chief steward whom the ILN identifies as Charlie Lee: Prof. J.B. Cavanagh (son of J.D.M) however says his name was Angell and also that Davies's black eye-patch resulted not from war injury, as was often thought, but a skiing accident. He also identifies the tall grey-haired woman in the centre aisle as the senior Wren Training Officer at Greenwich from 1939 to 1944, Elsie French (OBE, 1943), with her deputy Barbara Hughes-White alongside, and the man in the bottom left corner as a steward, Mr Watson, an ex-Marine in charge of the Wren staff during the serving of meals. The ILN states that WRNS officers had now moved into the College for training and were 'among the first women ever to dine in the Painted Hall' pointing out those on the centre table. The two at the end corner, to the left of Davies's head, are WRNS Cadet Officers Barbara Stewart (left) and Daphne Bowles, later Mrs John Loch (right). It is however possible that in doing the drawing Bone was not recording a particular occasion (lunch according to the ILN) and introduced people he knew 'ad lib', or others in the news. Worsley, for example, died aged 70 (as the ILN caption states) on 1 February 1943, in Surrey retirement. [PvdM 1/06, updated 4/19]

Object Details

ID: PAJ2843
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Bone, Muirhead
Places: Royal Naval College
Date made: circa 1942; circa 1943
People: Bone, Muirhead
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Image: 880 x 1360 mm; Frame: 1545 x 1080 mm

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