The REME Museum has recently acquired a large collection of items relating to George Galsworthy (GG) Palmer.

Born in 1913, GG Palmer studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in the 1930s and went on to become an art teacher whilst continuing to produce his own works. Although not originally serving with REME, Corporal GG Palmer began his service with the Army in September 1940 under the Royal Tank Regiment. He was initially posted to Egypt in 1942 where he was involved in the Battle of El Alamein. As a result of a head injury sustained during battle, he was later attached to ‘D Camp’, 2 Base Workshop REME, Middle East Forces (MEF) in 1944.

2 Base Workshop REME was located in Tel-El-Kebir, Egypt. The workshop was responsible for vehicle modification, particularly for desert conditions, and repair. Due to its location near the Suez Canal and Port Said, 2 Base Workshop worked on many of the vehicles arriving in Egypt. Whilst there, GG Palmer is thought to have worked as a draughtsman.

History of the unit reveals that the Technical Records Branch, of which Cpl Palmer may have worked, was responsible for drawings, record keeping, photography and design among other tasks. George Galsworthy Palmer’s creative works are well documented in the recently acquired collection and give a unique insight into the social activities of the workshop.

Black and white photo of a squat but long building with several windows and doors.

Photograph of the Drawing Office, 2 Base Workshops REME, c 1941-44, A:1960.0245.193

A production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, Christmas 1944, proves to be the best recorded event in the collection. George Galsworthy Palmer was responsible for designing the scenery for this production as well as producing pamphlets and programmes to publicise the event. He kept a scrapbook documenting each scene.

 Two images. From left to right, the first is a sketch in red of a large flower and mushroom inside a square. The second image is a black and white photo of three actors on a small stage with a large mushroom painted on the scenery behind.

Colourful painting of a red and yellow spotted mushroom and daisy in some soil in the foreground. Mountains and clouds painted in the background.

An early sketch found on the reverse of a drawing clearly reflects later set designs for the production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and gives insight into Palmer’s process. 2021.41

REME personnel acted in the production, including Cpl Palmer, of which we now have an extensive collection of photographs. Coincidentally, 693 Base Manufacturing Workshops, based in Italy at this time also put together a production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ over Christmas 1944/45.

Annotations provide an added level of detail that photographs alone often are unable to offer. In the case of this collection, GG Palmer not only annotates the reverse of photographs to describe the scene of the production but also anecdotal information regarding the set. One amusing account reads ‘The beanstalk was a pole hinged to the spot where it had to be [?]  with the axe. Incidentally at the first performance Jack was so enthusiastic he ripped a foot off the back cloth!’

Black and white photo of six actors on a small stage with village scenery painted behind. A large prop beanstalk is on the stage.

Annotations on the reverse of performance photographs add insight into the details of the production. 2021.64

Research across the Museum’s existing collection has drawn some strong connections with the work of GG Palmer. The scriptwriter of 2 Base Workshop’s annual pantomimes also compiled a scrapbook of his work at the same time as GG Palmer. Productions including ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and ‘Dick Whittington’ are recorded. These add further understanding of the production and the evolution of its scripts in conjunction with the scenery sketches.

A group of handwritten letters from an English School based in Cairo express gratitude to the workshop for performing the play to their students. These were retained by the scriptwriter and show the performance’s widespread reach in the local community outside of the workshop.

Typed script with the title " Jack and the Beanstalk, Act 1 Scene 5 ".

Extract of the script from Jack and the Beanstalk production, 1944, 2 Base Workshop REME, E:08.0404.08

From the material that we now have in the collection, there appear to be three distinct categories within which GG Palmer’s work and collection sits during his time serving with 2 Base Workshop REME: Theatre productions, social events and propaganda. The example of GG Palmer’s work in propaganda (below) reflects the efforts of initiatives such as the government’s ‘Careless talk’ campaign around this time.

Black and white hand drawn poster of a cartoon Hitler with comically big ears. Text reads " He's got big ears, think before you speak ".

Propaganda Poster, Ink Drawing, Signed GG Palmer. 2021.64

Further photographs from Palmer’s collection give an insight into daily life with 2 Base Workshops REME, c 1944. George Galsworthy Palmer made efforts to add extensive annotations to the reverse of many photographs in his collection, many of which he can be seen in, including cycle meetings.

Black and white photo of a long row of soldiers sat outside. Tents and people on bikes in background.

Photograph titled: ‘Cycle Meeting, ‘D’ Camp, 2BW, ME, Sept 1944’. 2021.41

It is thought that GG Palmer was eventually transferred from REME to the Royal Army Education Corps. He returned to the UK from Egypt in 1946/47 where he resumed his role of teaching art, a career that he had begun in 1938 and continued to pursue whilst with 2 Base Workshop REME.

Black and white photo of an L-shaped table with models, books and other craft items on top. Paintings and sketches hung up on wall behind.

Photograph of an arts and crafts exhibition by 2 Base Workshop. Cpl Palmer is credited as Art Instructor. A:1960.0245.390

George Galsworthy Palmer passed away in 1972 as a result of complications from the head injury that he sustained on the battlefield in El Alamein. 

Every effort has been made to ascertain the copyright ownership of the material in this article. Please feel free to contact us with any concerns regarding the copyright ownership of the material included, at [email protected].

Laura Stewart, Assistant Curator