Leo Rawlings - a Victor and Hornet artist.

© Leo Rawlings.

(A review of The Victor's, Island of No Return appears at the bottom of this article. Rawlings was the artist for this strip).

Leo Rawlings – artist. Brief biographical notes.

Please note this is a work in progress.

Rawlings was born on the 16th May 1918 in Birmingham. He won a scholarship to the Central School of Art in Birmingham. Rawlings as a child suffered from a speech defect and a nervous sensitivity which affected his self-confidence. His mother dying a few years earlier also affected the young Rawlings deeply. All of which contributed to the boy achieving very little at the school. His father removed his son (now aged 13), from the school at the Headmaster’s request.

The family re-located to Blackpool, where Rawlings began to attend evening art classes. By the time he was 17, he had passed many drawing and painting examinations and was running his own one-man business as a scenic and display artist. Rawlings joined the Blackpool T.A. and trained as a Gunner/Signaller with the137th Field Regiment R.A. His Regiment was posted overseas in September 1941, in support of the Singapore garrison. With the fast approaching Japanese forces bearing down on Singapore , Rawlings and his Regiment moved north to join other British forces fighting a rearguard action in trying to stem the Japanese advance. The British Army failed to prevent Japanese forces from capturing Singapore and Rawlings along with thousands of other troops were captured. It was during this time that Rawlings began to draw the scenes of war he witnessed. (The artist had a photographic memory and was able to draw scenes he witnessed at a later time). He was unofficially commissioned after his capture by Lieutenant General Sir Louis Heath to keep a visual record of the prisoners lives as a P.O.W.

It was during this period that he drew over a hundred eye-witness paintings of the prisoners daily lives. Many were drawn whilst he was ill in the prison jungle hospital. Completed drawings were hidden inside a stove-pipe which was buried under his bed. The penalty for taking photographs or keeping any other records was death by the Japanese.

Artist Leo Rawlings. © Imperial War Museum, London, England. Artist Leo Rawlings. © Imperial War Museum, London, England.

Two Rawlings drawings. The image on the left is a shocking view of dead civilians caught up in the Japanese assault on Singapore. Proof, if it was needed, that war is indiscriminate, undignified, messy and shocking. The drawing on the right is of a P.O.W. road gang at work.

After the P.O.W.’s were liberated in 1945, Rawlings returned home to Britain with his drawings. After several unsuccessful attempts to get his paintings exhibited, they were finally shown in 1946 with a large number of people attending. Thereafter, Rawlings exhibited his paintings and lectured about his wartime experiences. In 1964, the stress of re-living his P.O.W. experiences through his lectures was beginning to affect the artist. On his doctor’s advice he sought to sell his collection, which was bought by the Imperial War Museum, which still hold them today. Rawlings died in 1984.

© Imperial War Museum, London, England.

The above drawing is of soldiers at work building the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. Rawlings didn't work on this bridge but was nearby.

Why did Rawlings write his book, And the Dawn Came Up Like Thunder?

From the Introduction to the book – ‘Slowly, however, the shadow that had lain across him drifted back until all his old fears and depressions were with him again. His private life was almost shattered beyond repair and he even at times contemplated removing himself from the physical scene for good. Like most artists or creative people he varied between his physical emotions and a deep spiritual need to express his feelings and prove to himself and all concerned that he was still unbeaten. Advice and criticism was showered upon him but once again a Doctor friend came up with a practical suggestion, in effect that he should write down all he could remember about his war and prisoner of war period and once and for all clear his subconscious of the horrors that still remained there. So it was that, purely to hold a mirror to his own soul and past, he commenced work on this book.’ (Rawlings, 1972 p.xviii).

The drawings and sketches that Rawlings drew are one of the few primary sources of what life was like in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp (P.O.W.). Rawlings book, (details below), also has drawings of the British retreat back to Singapore, medical drawings showing the various illnesses the P.O.W.'s suffered, Japanese tortures used on soldiers, the harsh living conditions in the P.O.W. camps and of the many soldiers who had lost limbs.

Rawlings the artist.

P.O.W. artist - ‘The pictures and sketches he drew reveal the different styles he used, often changes imposed on him by the difficult nature of the materials he employed.’ (From the Deputy Director of the Imperial War Museum forward notes, page ix). Some of the artwork is very detailed, whilst others are sketches. Rawlings had to make use of the materials to hand which included Chinese Indian ink, crushed sandstone, clays and vegetable juices. He also used his own hair to make paint brushes. Paper was initially provided by an army officer, General Heath, after that it was a case of using any paper that came into his possession.

Comic artist - Rawlings worked as a boys comic artist for D.C. Thomson, L. Miller and Sons Ltd, London (and probably other publishers as well). For The Victor and The Hornet comics, he drew many war strips including The Island of No Return, which was set in a World War Two Japanese P.O.W. camp. It is obvious in his artwork for the strip that he drew on his drawings and experiences of P.O.W. life. For the strips Rawlings used a style best suited to a boys comic, neat, clean and tidy, but not overly detailed as would be found in a painting.

Artwork that Rawlings did for L. Miller and Sons Ltd, London included working on one of Britain's first superheroes, Young Marvelman. I believe he also worked on Marvelman, who was Britain's very first superhero. You can read one of Young Marvelman's adventures drawn by Rawlings below. This adventure (and the front cover scan) is from Young Marvelman, Vol.2, no.121. The Young Marvelman story is copyright Marvel Characters Inc.

Marvel Comics are currently publishing the Marvelman and Young Marvelman adventures in chronological order, as collected books. My apologies for the state of some of the images below, my copy of the Young Marvelman comic the story came from, isn't in the best of conditions.

Artist not known. © Marvel Characters, Inc Artist Leo Rawlings. © Marvel Characters, Inc Artist Leo Rawlings. © Marvel Characters, Inc Artist Leo Rawlings. © Marvel Characters, Inc Artist Leo Rawlings. © Marvel Characters, Inc


Rawlings, Leo And the Dawn Came Up Like Thunder.- Published privately by Rawlings and Chapman Publications.- 160p.- ill. (author’s own drawings).- 1972.- (This book is a personal account of Leo Rawlings’ life in a Japanese P.O.W. through the paintings and sketches he drew of daily life in the prison and on the construction of the Burma-Siam ‘Railroad of Death’, during the Second World War).

You would think that the last thing Rawlings would want to draw after the Second World War would be war stories for boys comics. But because he did, it also means that the artwork he did for several strips set in Far East P.O.W. camps can be viewed in a different light as for these strips he would have been working from first hand experience. The strip The Island of No Return for The Victor and The Army of the Shadows for The Hornet, are a couple of examples. The former strip is set in the Far East on an island, with Australian soldiers prisoners of war in a Japanese prison. A reader viewing the artwork will now realise that the undernourished, thin soldiers with their ribs showing, with stings and bite marks on their bare skin and wearing of loin clothes, comes from Rawlings and others first hand experiences. Please view the images below.

Artist Leo Rawlings. © Imperial War Museum, London, England. Artist Leo Rawlings. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd

The above two drawings by Rawlings show on the left, life in a Japanese POW camp, while the drawing on the right is taken from an episode from The Victor's Island of No Return. Harrison (on the left, in the right hand image), is an English overseerer working with the Japanese or is he? In fact, Harrison is doing his up most to keep the Aussie prisoners alive and where possible with the help of natives, to spirit some of them away. Harrison dies in the final episode attempting to save the lives of the prisoners.

Island of No Return.

  • See The Victor Issues 253 to 262. (25th Dec. 1965 to 26th Feb. 1966) (featuring Harrison/agent X4 and Australian P.O.W.'s).
  • Writer:-Victor Editorial team? Artist:- Leo Rawlings.

    The following episode is from issue 259.

    Artist Leo Rawlings. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Artist Leo Rawlings. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Artist Leo Rawlings. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd

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    © Adrian Banfield, 2009.