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 The Overlord Embroidery

The opening ceremony of the Overlord Embroidery, then newly housed in a special D-Day Museum, Portsmouth, built to commemorate the successful Allied Invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the late Lord Dulverton, in a speech delivered on the 6th June 1978, gave some insight as to why he had commissioned them in the first place.

“ The Embroidery is a tribute to our Country and Countrymen over the part played in defeating a great evil that sprang upon the Western World. It is not, and was never intended to be, a tribute to war, but to our people in whom it brought out in adversity so much that is good, determination, ingenuity, fortitude and sacrifice. It focusses upon one historic and explicitly important campaign, to which the world conflict had led and made possible; and the Bayeux Tapestry nearly 900 years before D-Day certainly beckoned it to be made.

Since its inception, one of the most remarkable things about it, I have found, is how it fired the imagination of young people.  If, in the years ahead, I can bring home to succeeding generations the message of sacrifice and selflessness displayed by those who took part in Overlord, it will have achieved more than I could ever dared for.

We, with all our troubles that beset our world, lead our lives for good or ill with freedom still to make some degree of choice. We tend to forget that this freedom would not be with us still, had evil triumphed in those days.”

Sandra Lawrence was commissioned to design and paint the Cartoons for the Overlord Embroidery, by Lord Dulverton. The cartoons depict the story of the Allied invasion of Normandy on the 6th June 1944. The planning and historical detail of the Operation Overlord, from Britain's darkest hour in 1940 to victory at the battle of Normandy in August 1944. The paintings consist of 34 panels each measuring eight feet long by three feet high, in total 272 feet in length. The paintings for the Overlord Embroidery today hang in the Pentagon, near Washington in the USA.

Once, having been approved by the Overlord Embroidery advisory committee, the paintings where then handed over to the Royal School of Needlework.  It took four years for the twenty five highly skilled needlewomen to complete this magnificent embroidery. It is the largest work of its kind in the world, 272 feet in length, and it is 33 feet longer than the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry. The Overlord Embroidery is housed in the D-Day Museum, Portsmouth, England.

Photographs above: Lord Dulverton at Batsford park.
Sandra Lawrence at the Imperial War Museum, 1972.
Three in a row: Sandra working on a thumbnail sketch.  Middle, working on a painting & The Royal School of Needlework busy at work on panel 32, ‘Totalize'.
Photograph above: is the painting of Panel Number 32, ‘Totalize' submitted to the Royal School of Needlework.
The Embroidery incorporates portraits of World War 11 leaders: His Majesty King George V1; Prime Minister Churchill; Field Marshal Montgomery; General Eisenhower & Vice Admiral Mountbatten.
Above, detail of painting for Panel Number 28. King George V1 visits the invasion beaches on June 16th 1944 and Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Brooke on the 12th of June. In this panel they are shown together with General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery.

This great work has been exhibited at:-

The Pension Building, Washington, D.C. USA
The Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Canada.
The Confederation Art Gallery & Museum, Charlottetown, Canada
The Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Harbour Front 74, Queens Quay, West Toronto, Canada.
The Pacific National Exhibition Park, Vancouver, Canada.
The Alberta College of Art, Calgary, Canada.
The Minto Armouries, Winnipeg, Canada.
The Guildhall, London, England.
The National Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Porter Tun Room, Whitbread's Brewery, London, England.

The D-Day Museum, Portsmouth, England, was specially built to house the Overlord Embroidery in 1984 and was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, where it resides on permanent display.

Above photograph: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother unveiling the Overlord Embroidery at the D-Day Museum in 1984.
The Overlord Embroidery in situ at the D-Day Museum.
 The Overlord Embroidery Paintings are displayed along the walls of one of the major thoroughfares in the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. The painting were stored in a bank vault until 1991 when they were acquired by the Sir David Wills Charitable Trust.  In 1994 the late Sir David presented the Paintings to Doctor William Perry, the US Secretary of state for Defense, when they met in Portsmouth during the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The paintings were flown to the United States by the RAF and put on permanent display in the Pentagon.
Above photograph: The Overlord Embroidery paintings displayed in the Pentagon.
Images are reproduced by kind permission of the Portsmouth Museum & Record Service and the Dulverton Trust.
Click here to go to the D-Day Museum web site
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©sandra lawrence