The Battle of Britain in Lace

Lace panel depicting scenes from the Battle of Britain made by Dobsons Browne & Co Ltd, Nottingham, 1942-6, acquired by Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre in 2011 with an NFA grant of £1,125.

Copyright of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre

The lace panel on display at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre. To give an idea of scale, the figure of a First World War pilot is 6 feet tall

This delicate lace panel was produced during the Second World War to commemorate the Battle of Britain and to pay tribute to all those involved. Sixteen feet high and 56 inches wide, the panel depicts scenes of the bombing of London and shows the types of aircraft which took part in the battle as well as the badges of the allied air forces and the floral emblems of Britain and the Commonwealth. The imagery is full of symbolism; a cottage and a castle signify that the war in the air brought suffering to both rich and poor and the design of the edging includes ripening ears of corn, representing the season during which the battle was fought.

The panel was designed and produced by Dobsons, Browne and Co Ltd of Nottingham, a famous manufacturer of fine lace. During the war their output had been diverted to war production of mosquito and camouflage netting; the idea of producing the panel was as a means of retaining the lace-making skills of their staff. It took two men fifteen months to draft the panel and 40,000 jacquard cards were needed to produce the master roll. Each panel took a week to produce and required 4,200 threads, 975 bobbins and 41,830 kilometres of Egyptian cotton.

Only thirty-six panels were produced, after which the cards were destroyed. Panels were presented to King George VI, Winston Churchill, military leaders and RAF units. Commonwealth countries whose airmen had fought in the RAF in 1940 also received panels. Thirty panels can still be accounted for, most of them in museum collections throughout the world. Why is it that the only museum in Scotland to have one is Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, a small independent museum run entirely by volunteers? The panel was purchased from the widow of Richard Moss who had a small aviation museum in Kirriemuir. When he died much of his collection came to the Heritage Centre where it is displayed separately. Unfortunately Richard kept no written records so the history of this panel remains a mystery.  Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre is a highly appropriate home for the panel. During the Battle of Britain, Spitfires and Hurricanes from famous squadrons were scrambled from Montrose to intercept Luftwaffe bombers from Norway, and many pilots who fought in the battle got their wings at No 8 Flying Training School, RAF Montrose. This wonderful work of art is a fitting tribute to their service and sacrifice.

Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre would be happy to lend the panel for display in accredited museums.

Dr Dan Paton
Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre