Alan Sorrell—War Artist

In 1940 Alan Sorrell left his  post at the Royal College of Art to serve in the RAF, first at the Air Ministry at Adastral House as a camouflage officer, assisting in the sitting, planning and camouflaging of aerodromes. It was an unusual but evidently worthwhile occupation, and involved the spray-painting  of acres of runway with patterns of hedge and field wood, to deceive the enemy bomber, and the surveying of these works from the air. A comparison of his pre– and post-War archaeological work would bring out a decided advance in his control of aerial perspective, which surely owed much this wartime experience! At every opportunity, he recorded the transient scenes and buildings around  him, producing many drawings, several of which were bought by the War Artist’s Commission, and went to the Tate and the Imperial War Museum.



For more information about Alan Sorrell and camouflage art, click below:

At some stage in the middle of the war, day-light bombing  was no-longer a threat, and Alan Sorrell was moved to V-section of RAF Medmenham. This was a top secret unit in Buckinghamshire equivalent to Ble tchly Park, where aerial reconnaissance photographs were interpreted. V-section was responsible for making models for bombing missions. These usually involved terrain models which often, often made from egg crates, and gave the pilots a view of the target from different directions, and were often taken on missions, such as in the famous Dambuster raid. Little was ever said about this work by those who worked in this unit during their lifetime, and so we shall probably never know which particular missions Alan Sorrell’s models were used for. All he ever said was that he worked on such models, and that he also made models of German battleships. This was quite likely since the specialism of RAF Medmenham was often loaned out to the other services.



“RAF Hut”


Ink, pastel

10” x 14”

“Cavern in the clouds” 1944



13” x 16”



“Filling Sandbags”

Mixed media on paper

18” x 24”

RAF camp


Gouache etc.

Working drawing,

Arial view of an airfield, squared for enlargement. The completed painting is in the Imperial War Museum


In the last stages of the war, Alan Sorrell had come out of employment with the Air Ministry, and was back working directly for the RAF. He seems to have been commissioned to do drawings of aerodrome construction, including the works in the Imperial War Museum and the RAF museum at Hendon.

Contact details:


Contact Julia Sorrell on:

01953 498736





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The Imperial War Museum website states:


Volunteered for the RAF but was soon transferred to the Camouflage section of the Air Ministry—was recalled in 1944. He developed a fascination for camp scenes: “I  have lived them as an airman, visited them and flown over them as a Air Ministry Officer, and finally assisted in the sitting and planning of them”.


Alan Sorrell submitted work independently to the War Artists Advisory Committee 1945. Specially employed by the Air Ministry, work on buildings Directorate. Given specific commissions by the War Artists Advisory Committee.


Hence he can be considered to have been a War Artist, and the keeper of the Imperial War Museum collection has stated this to us.



However, he was to stage what he referred to as his ‘one man mutiny’ when he was asked to produce models of Italian cities, since he felt that they should not be bombed. It was to  have far reaching consequences, for he was instead asked to produce a model of the Tirpitz  and sent to Blackpool to gather the information required. In the case of Norway, this was especially important since the only maps available were Michelin guides.

Going to the art-school to obtain some materials, he asked a rather attractive young lady working there for the keys for the store-room. He was taken aback when she replied “I will go and get them for you, Mr Sorrell”. It turned out that he was speaking to Elizabeth Tanner, one of his ex-students from the Royal College. He immediately asked her out, and took her for a ride on the big-dipper. They were to marry in 1947, and have three children, Richard, born in 1948, Mark in 1952 and Julia in 1955.

Fleet air arm pilots studying a terrain map for a mission against the Tirpitz in 1944


Alan Sorrell may have worked on this terrain model

We are grateful to the Medmenham Club/Collection, RAF Hendon Museum, the Fleet Air-arm Museum at Yeovilton, Dr Alistair Pearson (University of Portsmouth) for helping us research the war career of Alan Sorrell