Famous for his watercolours, Eric Ravilious was also a highly skilled draftsman, typographer, designer, illustrator and wood engraver. After studying at Eastbourne Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and another to study at the Design School at the Royal College of Art. There he became acquainted with Edward Bawden. and became one of many young artist of the period to become influenced Paul Nash, who he studied under from 1924.
Ravilious was appointed an Official War Artist in December 1939 and given the rank of Captain in the Royal Marines. He was attached to the Admiralty and in February 1940 reported to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham. The War sparked Ravilious to produce some of his most inventive watercolours, and he was exposed to new subject matter that fed his innate sense of design and composition.
HMS Actaeon was a floating training and research facility housing the Royal Navy torpedo school, and part of a larger shore establishment at Portsmouth named HMS Vernon. Actaeon itself was a 50-gun ‘fourth rate’ launched in 1832 and attached to the torpedo school in 1876. She had been commissioned originally as HMS Vernon but was renamed in 1886 to avoid confusion and the torpedo school took over her name.
In the Second World War, and following on from the increasing use of mines, Vernon took on responsibility for mine disposal and developing mine countermeasures. The staff were able to capture a number of enemy mines and develop successful countermeasures. A number of officers working with Vernon were awarded Distinguished Service Orders for their successes in capturing new types of mine. Some of these were the first Royal Naval decorations of the war.
Later Ravilious painted coastal defences and HMS Ark Royal at sea on a Voyage to Norway in the Arctic Circle. He also worked at the submarine base at Gosport. At the end of August 1942 he went to RAF Kaldadarnes, Iceland and, on 2 September, flew on an air-sea rescue mission but the aircraft failed to return.