Last changed 12 February 2009
This photograph was given to Eliza Brill by a member of the Armed Forces.
It was taken earlier than my own on the Home Page, (
but straighter, and in two parts straight on, all of which gives a better impression.) The join seems to have given Mrs Brill the
impression that they were adjoining walls at right angles, but it is in fact one straight wall.
The picture crops off the damaged areas so all the edges are missing, but these can still be seen in my pictures.
It is made available to us courtesy of John Seccombe
Tourists today are still being told the story of prisoner and boot polish.
The truth is that the painting, as we may now refer to it, was produced at the request of the officers of John Brill's regiment.
Commissioned, no less.
Address removed for privacy
Dear Chief Technician Seccombe
A few days ago a friend brought me a cutting from the 'Old Codgers' column of the"Daily Mirror". It concerned a letter written by you, requesting information regarding a mural discovered in a derelict house in Bardia - & which was executed by a soldier- J.F. Brill- of the R.A.S.C. in 1942.
I am the mother of John Brill - the said artist - & as you have shown such interest in the matter, & have gone to so much trouble, I think it only right to enlighten you about the facts of the case. (I hope you will understand that this is not the rhapsody of a fond mother, but what actually happened.)
As a tiny boy, John was always drawing _ After he left school he entered the Regent St Polytechnic as an art student. From there he studied at the Royal Academy School. He had just passed the entrance exam for a three year Diploma Course at the Royal College of Art, when war broke out in '39, and of course he had to join up. By this time, art had become to him the ruling passion of his life, muralls being his special love. His creed was that in order to become a great artist, he must suffer. Consequently, he joined the Infantry, believing that to be the roughest & hardest of the services. After going through Dunkirk, his regiment was posted to the middle east, within a few months, however, he was transferred to the R.A.S.C.
My husband & I, (I have since become widowed,) often used to wonder, whether the Army life would not stifle his passion. On the contrary, it seemed to burn in him in greater & greater intensity. He formed a close friendship with one of the lads, who was with him when he was killed, & it is from this chum that I have obtained all the following information, he & I having become very great friends.
It appears, from him, that John was drawing & sketching at every opportunity.
(I imagine that life was somewhat slacker in the R.A.S.C. than in the Infantry.) Consequently, he must have come under the
notice of his Officers, who invited him to decorate the walls of their mess.
The mural, which you saw, was evidently the only one to remain, the subject being "The Pleasures of Avarice".
On the wall opposite, was a companion mural, that subject being "The Pleasures of Art" & this, it appears, was truly beautiful,
depicting, as it did, all the lovely & lasting things of life.
On a third wall, he started one of "The Last Supper", but this was never finished, as his Company was moved up the Line.
However, he had painted a set murals on the four walls of the lad's canteen, which represented "A Soldiers Leave in Cairo".
This I understand, afforded them much interest & amusement!!
I am thankful to say, that he was never under sentence of death, neither was he ever a prisoner. The Arabs certainly guilded the lily! Neither was boot polish used as his medium, but the paints were bought in Cairo, by the lads on leave & sent by convoy up to Bardia. I understand that the **** But he spoke in his letters of the wonderful generosity of his officers.
Contrary to the belief, that artists are often considered to be weak & effeminate beings, his chum told me that John was the bravest man he had ever known, an instance being the fact, that when their convoy was bombed as it frequently was, John would deliberately go out with his sketch book and pencil, & sketch everything within sight, especially the faces of the lads as they ran for cover. I know it was his great desire, that if he were spared to come through the war, he intended to paint such a mural, depicting all the horrors of war & that [it would contribute] to the cause of peace so I do hope that this, that I have told you, will answer your questions.
Please do not think that I need any pity, I am deeply grateful that I possess a faith that sees through death to a more glorious life beyond, I am convinced that John is fulfilling his destiny in a higher plane, so I am well content.
If you would like to accept this copy of the mural, you are very welcome. I have two more. It was through the kindness of a member of the forces that I obtained them & I hope this letter reaches you.
May all good fortune be yours, & may God's Blessing be with you!
I hope you can understand my writing, I have a badly handicapped hand, so writing for me is difficult.