Phoebe Willetts-Dickinson (1917 - 1978)

Young woman in a beret, probably a Land Army girl, circa 1940

SKU: 7030
Inscribed Phoebe Dickinson Tannachie, West Malvern, Worcs, on the canvas return
oil on canvas 
18 x 16 1/2 in. (45.5 x42 cm)

Height – 45.5cm
Width – 42cm


With the artist until 1978; thereafter by descent
Exhibited: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 88. 

Literature: WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 88, page 132.

On the basis of the inscription on the stretcher -Tannachie was the family home until at least 1943 – this painting is likely to date to one of the artist’s trips back home to Worcester during her holidays as an art student in the late 1930’s early 1940s. It equally seems likely that she painted this before marrying Alfred Willets in 1942, a conscientious objector whom she met in the Land Army. 

The model is likely to be  a Jewish refugee, possibly a fellow member of the Land Army in which the artist serverd.  A green felt beret was standard issue headwear for women in the Women’s Timber Corps section of the Land Army (but not for regular Land Army girls, who wore a brown felt brimmed hat). 
By 1942 all male British subjects between 18 and 51 years old and all females 20 to 30 years old resident in Britain were liable to be called up, with some exemptions: Provision was made for conscientious objectors, who were required to justify their position to a tribunal, with power to allocate the applicant to one of three categories: unconditional exemption; exemption conditional upon performing specified civilian work (frequently farming, forestry or menial hospital work); exemption from only combatant service, meaning that the objector had to serve in the specially created Non-Combatant Corps or in some other non-combatant unit such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. 

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Phoebe Willetts-Dickinson
1917 - 1978

Phoebe Peto Willetts studied at the Birmingham School
of Art and the Royal Academy Schools between 1934 and 1940.
She served in the land army during WWII and in 1942 married
conscientious objector Alfred Willetts.

She was a lifelong campaigner for peace, social justice and
the ordination of women ‘ issues which influenced many of
her paintings. After taking part in demonstrations to block the
entrance to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at
Foulness Island, she spent six months in prison for a nuclear
disarmament protest in April 1960.

In 1966 she was ordained as a Deaconess in the Church of
England, and as part of her campaign for the ordination of women
priests she defied Church authority in 1978 to become the first
female to concelebrate communion in an English parish church.
Although she died just seven weeks later, her writing on
women’s call to priesthood was published as a book, Sharing a
, in 1979.


Phoebe Willetts-Dickinson (1917 - 1978)
A Corner of the Artist’s Studio with paintbox on a Windsor chair, late 30’s
Phoebe Willetts-Dickinson (1917 - 1978)
Young woman in a beret, probably a Land Army girl, circa 1940