Exhibited: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 27; True to Life, British Realist Painting in the 1920s & 1930s, National Gallery of Scotland, July 2017
Literature: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 27, page 8 (preface) and page 65; Patrick Elliot & Sacha Llewellyn; True to Life, British Realist Painting in the 1920s & 1930s, July 2017, ISBN 978 1 911054 05 4, Cat. 75, page 120.
Llewellyn, Sacha, and Paul Liss. Portrait of an Artist. Liss Llewellyn, 2021, p.312.
This striking self-portrait shows Riley in his ARP (Air Raid Precautions) uniform. Three anti-gas coats, worn by ARP volunteers, form the backdrop.
Although Riley saw active service during WW1 when WW2 broke out he was in his mid 40’s and therefore not called up (the National Service -Armed Forces- Act imposed conscription on all men aged 18 to 41). Men and women of all ages, however, could serve in the ARP a voluntary force dedicated to the protection of civilians from the danger of air raids.
During the War, the ARP was responsible for the issuing of gas masks, pre-fabricated air raid-shelters, the upkeep of local public shelters, and the maintenance of the blackout, (patrolling the streets to ensure that no light was visible). During and after air raids they doused incendiary bombs with sandbags and helped rescue people, administer emergency first aid, search for survivors, and help recover bodies.
There were around 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain during the war, almost all unpaid part-time volunteers, who also held day-time jobs. They had a basic uniform consisting of a set of overalls, wellington boots, an armlet, and a black steel helmet and a small silver badge. The steel helmet had W for Warden in bold white writing across it, except for Chief Wardens who wore white helmets with black lettering.
Riley’s portrait can be compared to William Ramsden Brearley’s painting in the Imperial War Museum
Brealey, William Ramsden, IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1290)
Portrait of Harry Riley, smoking a pipe by Harry Dixon