What & Where: Oxford’s Military Murals

What: Murals by servicemen of the United States Air Force
Where: RAF Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, UK (now closed)

Mural_SPI_by_John_GeruntinoOxford Archaeology recently announced the launch of a project to record the Cold War paintings on the internal walls of former airbase, RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. The majority of the artwork was created by American servicemen, who were stationed there between 1950 and 1991. The soldiers were part of a strategically-placed US Air Force presence in Britain to enable a fast response by American fighter aircraft should the Cold War suddenly turn hot.

An official scheme called ‘Project Warrior’ from the 1980s encouraged the airmen to produce art to prevent boredom and improve their integration. With subject matter ranging from patriotic symbols and pop culture to menacing comments on current political concerns, the variously sardonic and humourous murals at RAF Upper Heyford show both positive and negative responses to military action.

A sample of the work can be seen on the RAF Upper Heyford memorial website.

John Geruntino, mural in hallway of LE Building, RAF Upper Heyford, 1986–1991

What & Where: Brixton’s Nuclear Dawn

What: Nuclear Dawn mural by Brian Barnes and Dale McCrea
Where: Carlton Mansions, 387 Coldhabour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8QD, UK

For over 30 years, inhabitants in one corner of London have experienced a daily reminder of the fear and paranoia of the Cold War. The eye-catching mural, Nuclear Dawn, was painted between 1980 and 1981 by local resident Dale McCrea and English mural artist Brian Barnes, as a potent call for nuclear disarmament and a warning against the potential repercussions of escalating international tensions.

130826 Nuclear Dawn

Measuring 25 square metres, the mural depicts a giant skeleton striding across the city of London. Swathed in the flags of the United States, Great Britain and the USSR, the figure drops nuclear missiles from his hand. In the background, a vast mushroom cloud swirls around to form a map of the world and screaming faces. From one side a human arm releases a peace dove, which upon reaching the skeleton is transformed into the symbol of the CND. Meanwhile, in the bottom right corner, eminent politicians including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan shelter in a nuclear bunker below the Houses of Parliament. Despite its political message, the mural received funding from bodies including the local council and the Arts Council.

The London Mural Preservation Society provides the most thorough account of the mural’s history, and is also leading a Facebook campaign for the mural’s preservation and restoration.