Colonel Frederick Beddington

London Newspaper Group — CN/WPN 18-05-1979

Fred Beddington: Sharp-shooter and artist, he became leading expert on camouflage...

By Christopher Long

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A memorial service last week paid tribute to a Chelsea resident whose tact, imagination, humour and great-heartedness made him 'the perfect nanny for young artists'.

Colonel Frederick Beddington, who died recently, lived for some years in Egerton Crescent. But it was on his home territory of Piccadilly and St James's that a large number of friends, admirers and members of the art world gathered to hear the Rural Dean of Westminster pay tribute to the arts, his country and his many friends (writes C.A.L.).

In the beautiful Wren church of St James's, Piccadilly, a large congregation were asked by the Rev. William Baddeley to remember Fred Beddington for his wit and gaiety, his gift of friendship and his devotion to those dear to him.

For his service to his country throughout two world wars; his knowledge and love of beautiful things and his own special talent and contribution to Art.

And in particular, it was his generous encouragement and help to others that was remembered.

Frederick Beddington was born in 1896 and educated at Wellington before leaving school at 18 in order to join up and serve in the Army during the First World War.

His acute eyesight and natural instinct for shape, colour and form rapidly led him to become one of the leading sharp-shooters on the Northern Sector on the Western Front in France.

After a distinguished war service record, Frederick Beddington returned to London to study art at the Slade before leaving, all too soon, to earn his living in the City.

But on the outbreak of war in 1939, the unlikely combination of his experience as a sniper and his knowledge of art combined to make him the country's leading expert of camouflage.

Having spent great periods of time alone in saps and front-line vantage points, he had acquired a unique knowledge of how to hide himself and seek out his targets during World War 1. This expertise was recognised when he was called upon to initiate and organise the whole army camouflage programme during the Second World War.

And again his service to his country was publicly acknowledged.

But his most enduring contribution will, undoubtedly, be the kindness, generosity and encouragement that he offered to young artists in London when, as a director of Wildenstein's, he devised a method of promoting young artists in the years after the war.

By arranging to exhibit their works alongside those of established artists, many familiar names were offered their first chance of recognition without the agonies of the one-man exhibition.

One such artist was John Ward, R.A., who gave an address that laid stress on the natural kindness, tact and encouragement that Fred and his much-loved wife Rosie showed to struggling painters after the war. Surrounded by paintings, bronzes and beautiful furniture, his home was also home to many others who relied upon his help, advice and generosity in order to make their way.

"Some of his swans turned out to be geese," said Mr Ward, "but many of those geese returned in swan-like form."

His talents as an artist himself were also to be reckoned with. And even as a writer he had shown a maturity beyond his years when, writing of the horrors and pointlessness of the First World War, he said that he had discovered that 'the more I laugh the happier I shall be'.

"I think," said Mr Ward, "that he should have said that the more he loved the happier he would be."

So, with the sun shining, the trees in blossom and spring on its way, it was in a spirit of great love that so many of his family, friends and admirers gathered to remember him.

Even in his final years, his friendship, encouragement and humour inspired many old friends and will continue to bring hope to those valued friendships he made towards the end of his rich and distinguished life.

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Fred Beddington was a frequent visitor at Slaley Hall in the 1970s, where he often stayed with us for long periods. He was a close friend of my cousin Christine Priestman for whom the final sentence above was written. I enjoyed his company enormously – only fearful that I might have to shoot with a renowned marksman. Fortunately he was far happier painting. We scarcely ever discussed WWl, despite my great interest in the subject – it did not seem to be something he wanted to talk about. He was one of the finest and most delightful raconteurs I have ever met.

Drawing Fire the wartime diary of Private Len Smith (published by Collins in 2009) gives an remarkable personal account of life in the trenches of the Western Front as well as of the introduction of specialist camouflage units to protect guns, stores, snipers, tanks, etc. It was presumably these units for which Col. Fred Beddington was responsible although neither he nor the official name of the engineer branch concerned appears in the text.

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