For air force pilots, the gruesome reality of war and the majesty of flight can be an ever-present fact of life. Many who would not have counted themselves as artists before going to war have found a release for their contrasting experiences – by putting brush to canvas. Some Winnipeggers, like Andrew Kindret led celebrated professional careers as painters after the war, while others, like Steve Putnam, used their artistic talents as a way to express their wartime experiences.
Andrew Kindret conducted night bombings while serving with 419 ‘Moose’ Squadron. On a cold February night in 1945, anti-aircraft fire struck his Lancaster near the city of Dortmund. Andy was forced to abandon with the rest of the crew while their Commander, F/O Blaney, remained behind to keep the plane level, heroically giving his life to save the others. Kindret hurriedly jumped from the burning fuselage with only one of his parachute straps attached, which caused severe injuries to his neck and back. As a result, he spent the rest of the war confined to a German field hospital. Not long after returning home, Andy took a job as chief commercial artist with CKY-TV. During retirement, Kindret painted a collection of iconic World War II aircraft, now on permanent display at the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta.
In 1943, Steve Putnam’s Lancaster EA-E, which the crew had named ‘E for Easy’, was shot down by an enemy aircraft. Steve jumped from 24,000 feet and landed unconscious near a Search Light Battery in Dusseldorf. When he awoke, he found himself stripped to the waist and surrounded by armed soldiers. Steve spent the next two years in Stalag IV-B near Leipzig, which became so overcrowded – with upwards of 30,000 allied prisoners – that prisoners were forced to share bunks and sleep in shifts. Steve kept his mind sharp by sketching the trials of camp life using supplies provided in Red Cross care packages. When the Soviet Army liberated the camp in 1945, Steve found the treatment even less tolerable than under the Germans. Steve decided to escape the camp once and for all, abandoning food and other supplies in favour of carrying away his diary. Slowly, he made his way to England where he was treated for severe malnutrition and pneumonia before making the final trip home.
Steve and Andy were Winnipeg boys who joined the RCAF directly out of high school in 1941. They both served as bomb aimers on Lancaster bombers and were forced to bail out behind enemy lines, suffering harsh conditions as prisoners of war. They created stunning works of art of their harrowing experiences. While their pasts are eerily similar, their collective experience is not unlike that of so many thousands of young men. This wartime art allows us to better understand that sacrifice. Both Steve and Andy were also members and volunteers with the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.