Christian Vlasto & The Grand Union
Canal Company in World War ll
uring World War ll Christian Vlasto (b.1921) was aged just 20 when she became the skipper of barges on Britain's Grand Union Canal, carrying coal and munitions between London and Birmingham. To do this she gave up a safe but dreary job drafting plans for the Royal Navy near Bath.
Despite the constant threat from German bombing which was specifically targetted on Britain's main industrial centres and their railways and canals this was a period of her life, along with all its spartan conditions, which she appears to have greatly enjoyed.
Already a talented artist, she also found that she had the time to observe and sketch the scenes around her. Indeed, many agree that much of her finest work derived from her wartime experiences of life on the canals.
Above right: Christian Vlasto's portrait by Bernard Hailstone, RA, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. Below right: Christian Vlasto in circa 1923 in a photo portrait by her cousin Marietta Ralli (author's collection).
When the war ended, the Imperial War Museum commissioned a number of portraits in which one individual was selected to represent each of the armed and civilian services whose role and efforts had contributed to victory.
Christian Vlasto was chosen to represent the barge crews (who were mostly female) in a painting by Bernard Hailstone R.A. (ca.1946). Here she is dressed in wartime uniform as a barge skipper for the Grand Union Canal Company.
After the war Christian returned to her first love painting, sketching, printmaking and illustration.
She studied at the Central School of Art in London, before settling, with her husband Ghulam Abbas, in Pakistan.
On this page are some photographs taken by Christian's mother Chrissy Vlasto, who joined her daughter on one trip up the canals of wartime England in around 1942-43.
Illustrations by Christian C. Vlasto, photographs by Chrissy M. Vlasto and captions by Christopher Long
© (1992) Christopher A. Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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