Dazzle Ship Scotland

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War Artist

Dazzle Ship Scotland (aka the Every Woman) was exhibited in Leith during the 2016 Edinburgh Arts Festival and rapidly became a popular attraction away from the city centre, where the vast majority of festival activities take place.  The ship was also popular with local photographers, not least for the prospect of colourful mirror-like reflections in the still waters of the Prince of Wales dock, Leith, where it was berthed.

Even so, the Every Woman dazzle ship was a challenge to photograph due to the limited vantage points available.  Essentially, only one side of the ship (in this case, the starboard side) was open to view from across the basin.   The other problem was the Edinburgh weather, which is frequently on the cool side and breezy with grey overcast.  It was a matter of luck in finding the ship in clear, calm conditions with the right light.

With the rise of the U-Boat threat in the First World War, it was clear something had to be done to try and protect ships carrying vital war supplies to Britain.  Statistically, there is no evidence that the novel camouflage scheme made ships significantly less vulnerable to torpedo attacks.  The most effective defence against U-Boats in both world wars was actually the convoy system.  That said, many merchant seamen reportedly felt more protected in a dazzle-painted ship, so it was apparently of psychological value if nothing else.  An account of how the dazzle camouflage idea became a reality may be found in the following links: https://daily.jstor.org/the-camouflage-that-dazzled/ and https://www.history.com/news/dazzle-camouflage-world-war-1.

Dazzle Ship Scotland was one of a number of similar projects co-commissioned by the 14-18 NOW WW1 Centenary Art Commissions programme.  A description of the programme and of the other ship commissions may be found at https://www.1418now.org.uk/commissions/dazzle-ship-series/.  Ciara Phillips’ own account of the project, with its emphasis on women’s contribution to the war effort, may be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDBjlH_5o6A.

Sadly, the Every Woman dazzle ship no longer exists.  The vessel on which the artwork was based, the MV Fingal, was subsequently converted into a luxury floating hotel that is now moored just a few metres away in the Alexandra dock, once a dry dock in the Albert Basin.  Interestingly, at the time of writing this post, the Every Woman may still be seen, being worked on in preparation for conversion, on Google Maps’ satellite view of the Prince of Wales dock in Leith.

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