Edinburgh wartime art to go on display

Hector French's drawings of merchant ships docked in Leith during the Second World war. Picture: contributed
Hector French's drawings of merchant ships docked in Leith during the Second World war. Picture: contributed
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Heritage bosses today revealed they are to exhibit a haul of recently donated sketches which shed new light on the history of Leith Docks as a merchant hub in the 1930s and 40s.

The drawings – produced by Hector French, a local amateur artist and Evening News lithographer – reveal the docks’ vibrancy as the country fought desperately to feed itself while merchant ships were torpedoed by the German navy during the Second World War.

Hugh Morrison, collections registrar at Historic Scotland, said: “They are exquisite ­pictures – the detail is incredible and the artistry amazing.

“They are also historically significant, particularly as many of them were not ­published.”

Mr Morrison said the ink, watercolour and pencil pictures – which fill 20 sketchbooks and came donated in an old suitcase – were of such quality they would almost certainly have brought the artist fame if they had been exhibited during his lifetime.

He said they were particularly important for the evidence they provide of life at the docks in the 1940s, when navy bosses would have imposed a ban on most forms of photography as the port’s activity was viewed as essential to the war effort.

“During the war it was very difficult for anyone to take photos of the boats because of the war-sensitive nature of what they were doing,” he said.

“The artist even wrote ‘torpedoed’ on his drawings of sunk ships, which were engaged in the naval convoys bringing food into the country. Any information about them would have been viewed as sensitive.”

Organisers of the Doors Open Days project called the sketches an “intriguing and exciting addition” to the festival, which aims to give the public access to some of Scotland’s most important buildings.

Pauline McCloy of the Scottish Civic Trust, national co-ordinators of Doors Open Days, said: “Whilst we nationally welcome lots of events to join our programme each year, little moments of happenstance like this really bring the meaning of Doors Open Days to life – the discovery of something new that may have been right under our noses all along.

“It’s like revealing a long lost treasure that can tell us all a little bit more about the history of Scotland and the talent and skill of its people.”

The sketches will go on ­display at Trinity House in Leith this weekend.