Inscribed 3,500 scrolls for villages throughout Britain which adopted warships
Between October 1941 and the end of
March 1942, Warships Weeks were organised in cities, towns and villages
throughout Great Britain. The intention was to raise a sum by
investment or deposit in all types of war savings representing the cost
of building one of His Majesty’s ships ranging from the smallest to the
largest vessels. Once the target had been raised the community adopted
the vessel along with its crew and the bond was strengthened by
presentations in recognition of the money raised.
Replicas of the crest of the ship mounted on a wooden shield were
presented by the Admiralty to the Councils and a plaque bearing the
crest of the town or city was presented by
the Council to the adopted vessel. Where Rural and Urban Councils
supported the fund raising efforts of a municipal borough or city they
received a separate plaque from the Admiralty. The villages in the area
covered by the rural councils were presented with a printed scroll
bearing the standard Admiralty anchor but with the name of the parish,
the date of the Warship Week and the name of the ship adopted inscribed
on the scroll. These were intended for framing and hanging in the
village hall or a similar place where they would be on public view.
Most of these were done by John Buchanan, "the artist without hands", whose story is told by Cecil F. Walpole in "Artist without Hands: a memoir of John Buchanan"
(London: Epworth Press, 1953), a slim 48 page hardback with many
coloured plates demonstrating John Buchanan's ability at producing
illuminated manuscripts despite his lack of hands. Cecil Walpole was a
former General Secretary of the National Children’s Home and this
account of John Buchanan's life is largely based on his book.
Buchanan was born in Glasgow in 1908 but his parents moved south and he
spent his childhood in a Hampshire village near Portsmouth. His father
had served in the Boer War and lost a leg which made it difficult for
him to support a wife and five chilren. His wife went out to work in a
laundry near their home but earned very little and her husband was
John Buchanan was born without
hands. He had two imperfectly formed fingers where his left hand should
have been and the right arm finished with a stump at the elbow. Friends
suggested that he should be taken into the care of the National
Children's Home and when he was nine he went to their Branch for
Crippled Children at Chipping Norton in the Cotswalds.
"Those who knew
him before he went to Chipping Norton declared that as a little boy he
had run rather wild, but in his new environment his mind and chracter
developed in a wonderful way and he soon began to to exercise a real
and gracious influence on other boys and girls. His cheerful outlook
and keen sense of humour speedily made him a favourite with everyone."
found a way of "holding a pen or paint-brush between the stumps of his
arms, the two imperfectly formed fingers on the left arm making this
possible, and he soon began to produce work that would have been a
credit to any ordinary child". Once his ability as an artist was
recognised he was enrolled as a student at the City of Oxford School of
Art and travelled 21 miles to Oxford every day. He took the General
Arts Course "but his special genius lay in the illuminations of
literary quotations, with superbly decorated borders." He had a
wonderful sense of colour and he wrote texts or mottoes in colour on
large plain postcards which were sold for him in London by a former
Sister at Chipping Norton. When he left Chipping Norton he went to
London and took his savings with him.
John Buchanan's first commission
from Lord Montagu of Beaulieu when he was only 17 was to copy onto
stiff boards some ancient deeds relating to the Abbey. This was
followed in 1926 by winning first prize in a Competition for Industrial
Design organised by the Roysl Society of Arts. The judges had no
knowledge of his handicap. A year later he was commissioned by Queen
Mary to paint some Christmas cards for her. He was soon
self-supporting with a studio in Highbury.
With encouragement and help of the portrait painter, Frank Salisbury,
he travelled to Rome - in a heat wave - but returned home two weeks
early. There were so many flies "and I hadn't any means of knocking
them away from my face." Most of his holidays were taken at Alverstoke,
the Branch of the Children's Homes on the South Coast, and it was there
that he met Jane Jones, a young child care worker. She became John's
wife and they adopted a baby girl. "At this time John Buchanan
was doing some of his finest work and his working hours were long and
A friend, Lt Cyril R Bayley RN, got him the Commission from the
Admiralty to inscribe the scrolls awarded to villages which met their
targets in their Rural Council's Warships Week:
the war, the Admiralty were hard put to it to meet their commitments in
connection with Warship Weeks. The Board of Admiralty had undertaken to
present to each parish which reached its target on National Savings a
certificate with the name of the parish, the ship adopted, and the week
in whih the effort was made, dully engrossed upon it. John Buchanan was
eventually given the bulk of the work, and in the result completed over
3,500 certificates in considerably under twelve months."
For a man who loved colour and embroidered borders it must have seemed
dull montonous work but he may have seen it as his contribution to the
war effort. Most of these scrolls have been lost, thrown out or sold
but the village of Winteringham
in North Lincolnshire has theirs framed and hanging in their village
hall and the villagers take great pride in having adopted HMS Vanity in 1942. Please contact me via the link at the foot of this page if you have one hanging in your village hall.
During his last year or two he spent much of his time in hospital and
died in his forty-fifth year on 12 January 1953. A year later the John Buchanan Memorial Hall was named and opened by his widow at the National Children's Home in Chipping Norton.