IN MAY 1982 illustrator Linda Kitson became the first female artist to officially accompany men into battle and record the experience.
Commissioned by the Imperial War Museum’s Artistic Records Committee to produce work for the Museum and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.
On 12 May she was embarked on the liner MS Queen Elizabeth II and sailed with men of 5 Infantry Brigade to the conflict between the Argentinian military government and the UK in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). (1)
The ship had been ‘taken up from trade’ (requisitioned) to serve as one of the transports that would carry British forces to re-take the Falkland Islands from Argentine control who an operation that had begun 2 April 1982.
The original plan was for Linda to travel only as far as Ascension Island a major staging post for the British forces on their way south to the Falklands but still some 8,000 miles away. Instead she continued on the voyage. (2)
Linda’s journey would take her from Southampton in the south of England to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean – which by that time she arrived had been recaptured by British forces. There she transferred by Royal Navy Sea King helicopter to another liner, the SS Canberra on May 28 for the 800 nautical mile journey from South Georgia to the Falklands.
Linda’s pilot on that occasion was Lieutenant Commander Robin Everall, RN of No. 825 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm.
She states in her book that ‘On May 21 he left quite suddenly. It was later said that he delivered the ceasefire papers to Port Stanley on the night of June 14. (3)
It is stated by another source that on that same day he and his crew flew continuously for 10.5 hours in support of the British Army’s Welsh Guards and the Gurkhas as they advanced on Port Stanley the Falkland Islands capital in the final stages of the conflict. (4)
As notable as this sortie is it was of course only part of the Squadron’s effort. One source states that in a two week period during the conflict No. 825 Naval Air Squadron flew 1700 hours – the equivalent number of hours they would have amassed over six months flying in the UK. (5)
The world-famous Queen Elizabeth II was deemed to be too prestigious – and too valuable a target – to risk getting too close to the Falkland Islands.
The ship would remain in the area of South Georgia until a nearby British ship was attacked. It then evacuated casualties back to the UK, arriving at Southampton on 11 June. (6)
SS Canberra would return to the UK after a hectic time spent landing British troops in the face of sustained Argentine air force attacks in San Carlos Water.
Although the 250 metre long liner (nicknamed the ‘Great White Whale‘ because of her colour) would enter the landing area three times to transferring troops. (7)
Miraculously it was not hit.
This may be because – in addition to being briefed to attack the warships in preference to the transports – the attacking pilots mistook the ship’s predominately white colour scheme for that used by hospital ships.
After the conflict had ended the ship repatriated Argentine prisoners of war. On 11 July Canberra entered Southampton at the end of its voyage home.(8)
Linda Kitson is still a practising visual artist – although no longer using traditional media.
Following an attack of serious depression after her marriage came to an end she did not draw traditionally for more than a decade. (9)
She then started experimenting and creating artwork on mobile electronic devices. (10) Examples of her work can be found on her website. (11)
SS Canberra was sold for scrap in 1997, the operation – which took place in Pakistan – took a year to complete. (12)
MS Queen Elizabeth II is now a floating hotel and conference centre in Dubai. (13)
It is believed that Commander Everall RN commanded No. 771 Naval Air Squadron before taking at least one staff job with the Ministry of Defence in London. (14)
He was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Gallantry in the Air – an award for specific actions during non-active service. The award was published on 14 June 1986. (15)
(1) https://rusi.org/publication/rusi-journal/drawing-falklands-julian-thompson-and-linda-kitson-discuss-war-artists-art – retrieved 8 February 2019
(3) The Falklands War: A Visual Diary, Linda Kitson. Published by Michael Beazley in association with Imperial War Museum (1983) – page 19.
(4) https://issuu.com/navynews/docs/198210 – retrieved 8 February 2019
(5) The Falklands: Air War, Rodney Burden, Michael Draper, Douglas Rough, Colin Smith and David Wilton. Published by Arms and Armour Press (1986) – page 247.
(6) http://www.beyondships4.com/queen-elizabeth-2-falklands-2.html – retrieved 8 February 2019
(7) http://www.sscanberra.com/hist4finest.htm – retrieved 8 February 2019
(8) https://www.cruiselinehistory.com/the-great-british-liner-the-ss-canberra-the-last-gasp-of-the-british-empire/ – retrieved 8 February 2019
(9) https://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/linda-kitson-interview-drawings-and-projects-house-of-illustration-london – retrieved 8 February 2019
(10) https://www.londoncalling.com/features/linda-kitson-ipad-pictures-of-the-scalpel-the-city – retrieved 8 February 2019
(11) http://www.lindakitsondrawings.co.uk – retrieved 8 February 2019
(12) http://www.sscanberra.com/hist6fweek.htm – retrieved 8 February 2019
(13) https://www.theqe2story.com/aboutQE2/QE2Today.php – retrieved 8 February 2019
(14) https://www.royal.uk/military-honours-and-awards – retrieved 8 February 2019
(15) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/50551/supplement/25/data.pdf and https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/50551/supplement/26/data.pdf – retrieved 8 February 2019
You can hear an hour-long interview with Linda about her work in general (made in April 2016) at: https://royaldrawingschool.org/lectures-events/linda-kitson-conversation-william-feaver/ – retrieved 8 February 2019.
In addition she talks about her Falklands work in a (approximately) 10 minute segment of a longer programme at:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p03m0mwl – retrieved 8 February 2019.
A number of her illustrations are in the IWM collection and can be found at the IWM Collections online webpage. In addition a selection of others can be seen at: https://illustrationchronicles.com/Linda-Kitson-s-Falklands-War – retrieved 8 February 2019.
There is a wealth of information on the Falklands Conflict both in print and online, including: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/30-photographs-from-the-falklands-war – retrieved 8 February 2019.