Roland Penrose is primarily famous as an artist. Yet during World War Two, he had another claim to fame – helping to develop camouflage uniforms.
Penrose was born on October 14th 1900.
As a Quaker he was a pacifist. However, Penrose felt suitably moved to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. At the start of World War Two, Penrose joined the ARP – air raid wardens. From here he moved on to Osterley Park where he taught military camouflage and wrote the pamphlet “Home Guard Manual of Camouflage”.
The British Army had used khaki uniforms throughout World War One and its use continued in World War Two. Penrose was fascinated on making people ‘disappear’ in the environment they were in. He body painted his wife against a background of woodland etc and showed these photos to his commanders. Penrose may have been a pacifist but he knew the difference between right and wrong. To him, and very many others, the Nazi invasion of Poland and Western Europe was a clear wrong that needed to be righted. Penrose wanted to be seen to be doing his bit – even if it was not in frontline fighting. By blending in his wife into a natural background, Penrose convinced the army’s command that uniforms could be constructed in a similar manner. As a result of this work, the familiar camouflage uniforms were developed to allow a soldier to blend into the background – be it woodland or open fields.
Penrose was given a commission in the Royal Engineers with the rank of captain. He worked as a senior lecturer at the Eastern Command Camouflage School (ECCS) in Norwich. This was in the city’s Assembly House, a run-down Georgian house. Later he moved to Farnham Castle in Surrey where he worked at the Camouflage Development and Training Centre.
From 1940 to 1942 very many British soldiers continued to use khaki battledress. In 1942 dp (disruptive pattern) uniforms were issued to paratroopers – the Denison smock was used from 1943 on.
Ronald Penrose died on April 23rd 1984.