FEATURE: Artist’s project pieces together history of RAF Sudbury
A fine art painting depicting a Second World War bomber soaring through the air may seem out of place at a fish and chip shop.
But the meticulous painting of a Boeing B-17 flying over Sudbury takes pride of place in The Cod Father restaurant.
The picture is a print of the original painting, Seeing Jessie Home, by commercial artist Steven Binks, which started off as a project two years ago.
Having been commissioned to produce a series of prints, Steven, from Bures St Mary, carried out his own research into RAF Sudbury, which served as a military base for the American 486th Bombardment Group, from 1944 to 1945.
He chose to depict the flying fortress after learning of the aircraft’s significance from archivist and 486th Bombardment Group historian Roger Lane.
Roger provided photographs and information about the aircraft – known as Goin’ Jessie to its crew, which they considered lucky after surviving countless near misses during the Second World War.
“It was a bit like a celebrity,” said Steven. “I thought it was a good one to choose because it had a story to tell.”
At the end of one mission, the plane had 304 bullet holes.
Four operational squadrons were based at the Sudbury air field, which included the Green Hornets who flew Goin’ Jessie.
The crew’s logos were painted on their leather A-2 jackets, which have been incorporated in the artwork depicting a green hornet, a kicking donkey and the squadron’s 486 badge. A portrait of the crew’s nine members also features.
To gain an accurate birds-eye view of Sudbury in 1944, Steven used a black and white photograph.
A more recent aerial photograph was also taken from a similar angle on a micro light aircraft, which helped 58-year-old Steven to paint the landscape.
“I had to work out what the colours were – some of it was guess work,” he explained.
From hours of research, Steven discovered there had been a huge fire at the Rose and Crown, which was once a prestigious hotel on the former site of The Cod Father.
The fire melted the lead covering from the roof of St Peter’s Church, which resulted in some of the windows being damaged.
“You can see that one side of the roof is green, caused by oxidation,” said Steven.
The original painting is displayed in Sudbury Heritage Centre and Museum.
The artwork took 360 hours to complete, which was a lot longer than Steven had anticipated.
“It just became something that took over my life and I didn’t realise the immensity of it,” he said.
“It is the most complex painting I have done and I have been painting for 40 years,” said Steven.
The painting has been incorporated into a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, which is being sold at Sudbury’s Tourist Information Centre, in the library.
Many of Steven’s agricultural paintings have been turned into jigsaws by well-known brands such as Gibson Games and Jumbo Games.
After completing the painting, Stephen was put in touch with Paul Leeks, who lives in Lambert Drive, Acton.
Paul’s dad and family formed a close friendship with the Green Hornets crew, while they were stationed at the RAF base.
Paul’s dad, Ron, who was aged ten at the time, lived opposite the base and used to share fond memories when he and brother John were allowed in the aircraft’s cockpit, and shown how the engine worked.
The crew gave the family gifts from America, such as chocolate, which was rationed in England during the war.
Paul’s dad once asked if he could accept the crew’s invitation to join them on a flight to Scotland, which was immediately dismissed by his mum, Lilian, who locked him in his bedroom to stop him from escaping.
“She wasn’t going to have that,” said Paul.
Lilian used to wash the crew’s uniform, but she was always concerned for their safety each time they embarked on a new mission.
“She would pray for them,” recalls Paul.