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Bardiya (Bardia) Masterpiece

My name is John Seccombe and I have been reading your web site and can give you the true story of the Mural painted by John Brill.

I visited the site whilst stationed in Libya. Intrigued by it - I was told by the locals that John Brill (the artist) was a prisoner in the building and had painted the mural with boot black.

Curious about this I wrote to the Old Codgers of the Daily Mirror. My letter was published and read by Mrs. Brill, mother of the artist and she wrote to me on 31st January 1966 giving me the history of her son's ambitions and achievements.

John was commissioned by the RASC Officers at Bardia to paint the walls of the mess. The mural was called the Pleasures of Avarice and an opposite wall was the Pleasures of Art. He started on the Last Supper but this was not completed. He had produced other murals in the soldier's canteen entitled A Soldier's Leave in Cairo, a work that caused much interest and amusement. The paints were purchased by the men whilst on leave in Cairo and sent up the line by convoy.

I also received a letter from Knight's Castille - the firm for whom John worked before the war and sending me a magazine with other samples of John's artistry.

Also as a result of my letter being printed in the Daily Mirror my half sister wrote to me after we had lost touch for many years.

If you are interested I will scan the letter from Mrs. Brill and send to you. I have attached a copy of the painting that she sent me.

John Seccombe Ex F/Sgt. RAF   see Reminisce page

[Don]: Please remember that the mural covers only one wall.
The photograph is split because the wall is too long and the room too narrow for a wide angle lens to take in the whole painting. The opposite wall is bare. The painting is notionally split as stated in Mrs Brill's letter between two subjects.
Mrs Brill, never having seen the room, could only see two photographs joined.

...as for the face in the window - it has a very masculine look to me, the shadow around the lower jaw almost suggests a beard, is it a self-portrait of him looking out onto the world changing from beauty in the dancers to death and hell with the skulls and bodies? If another look is taken though the clothing doesn't seem to fit a male - it looks almost more like a nun's habit but with only a black headpiece.

Andrew Simmonds

I found your page while working on the TEARS The El Adem Radio Service web-page. I found the Bardia pictures very interesting, I didn't get the chance to visit there during my tour in El Adem.
The TEARS web-page has a lot of photographs taken by various members that were at El Adem. Maybe you have already visited the site. If not please take a look you may find some of interest to you.
http://www.tears.org.uk .

Mike (webmaster Tears)

I think the person that painted the mural was trying to show what life was like in all areas. not just the rich peoples life but also poor peoples life and what they did in the evening or day.
The man in the window could be looking at all the dancers and people aging from life to death. It is a very confusing painting and it was hard to get an idea of what was going on.

Emily Buck (age 12)

hello dear
I alwayes visit this picture still there now in BERDIA village to soldier bril his picture in museum tobrouk ..its realy great painting . eventually i would like know more about this soldier BRIL

Mousa Saad (Tobruk, Libya)

What building in Bardia are these murals.? I was there many times . Before & after 42
Have you heard of or seen the murals that encircled a large hall in Bennina airfield?
It is excellent art work.On the wall high up near the ceiling.
They were definitly German, From the view of a serviceman in the desert. Humour, with the "Bawdy" thoughts of returning home to his sweetheart .
Although Benina changed hands they were never damaged or harmed in any way.
They were seen by British & Commonwealth troops & American Airforce when they gathered there for the Ploesti Oil field operation.

On discussing Benina with any who had been there, the Murals are always a subject in the conversation. My regret is that it appears there are no photographic copies available. at least I do not think so.

If by chance you have or recieve any imformation on them . I would appreciate hearing from you.
Hoping you are successful with your research

Ray Eale

I am Major General Suleiman I am in Tobruk...
I visit many time the room which we want to do some thing to keep it for the history.
I met GENERAL Westphal many years ago he told about the knighthood of both side in Africa war theater.

J. Bill he was not in prison in April...D.A.K was around AIN Agazala ( Gazala line) in that time there no one of Axis Army in that part of the war theatter... I wrote a book about Rommel.
You welcome as my gust in Tobruk FOR ONE WEEK

yours Suleiman (Obeidi)

Dear Don

I am in libyan Army . I born in Tobruk ...I am in service.
I wrote a book about africa corps( Rommel and the african corps- the war in the desert.
I met german general whom been Rommel head quarter in the desert theater .

I met MR Manfred ROMMEL IN GERMANY I received some documentes...
I met some retired BRITISH General...
Yes their a house south Al- Adem ( we call it now naser air base) ..you will find it in the maps..

i have new pictures in the same Brill pic. the date iam sure 21 / 4/ 1942 ...

The 8th ARMY WAS IN BARDIYA ..Rommel (THE DESERT FOX ARMY was in Gazala line...
in TOBRUK THE 70 british Division under Genral kluper from South Africa.

In the future I will send you the pictures as seen now...

you welcome to Tobruk as my guest.

with best wishes
(Suleiman) Obeidi

D.A.K the famouse corp in the second ww2 : 15th panzer 21st and 90 light div. Deuche afrika korps.I forget the spelling ..I mean German afrika korps.
There a famous house the German called it ( the white house ) it is 30 km. west of Tobruk ...

In april while Brill in Bardiya the German in Gazala line from the sea to the desert. 8th Army defence at Ain Al-Gazala from the sea till Bir Hakeim in the desert about 60 k.m the rear British H.Q. near Kambut R.A.S.C stay in Bardiya Bill draw on 21 April.

German attacking Gazala line on 26th may 1942 Tobruk fell on 21 june 1942 then the desert fox advance to ALAMEIN.

i HOPE TO SEE YOU SOME DAY IN Tobruk you will smile the history ..both side did the best ..but Rommel was the best

with best wishes
(Suleiman) Obeidi

Dear Don
...I want you know we need to understand each other ...we need to the other ...we are human we have the dream to live in justice world ...with love ..we all of us have a God some as we call the GOD ( Allah).
We need the love not the hate. GERMAN CALLED Rommel paper ( war without hate )
I AM always visit the the graves of both side whom sleep in peace in our desert.

(Suleiman) Obeidi

I want to thank you for your interest of J. Brill's mural filled one wall of a room in Bardiyah,
I searched the internet to get more information about this photo but I did not

I'm from libya, I was shocked when I saw it in the 1st time, but as well as I was shocked as well I get angry form those ass holes which did not tack care of it.
Sorry for my French :)

Best regards,
Hatem Sabrey


I have seen it now, only one week ago.
I want to know more about it, but I found only your website talking about it. can you help me to find references about it?

Hatem Sabrey

Dear Donald;

I leave in Tripoli, but I have close friends in TBRQ, even I have some work there, here attached some photos token in December 8th 2005 for the mural of j. Brill and the building,
it was so poor I hope to co-operate with some organization to save even the rest of it, it is important for the history of the 2nd war even Libyan history, the people living around it did not understand the historical meaning of it, I wonder if there is any writer have press any subject about this mural in the past it will be important to push saving the rest of it;

How old are u now and how old u was when u visited libya;
If u think to visit libya at any time u r welcome I'm here :).
Sorry that I have no pic for the mural only :(

Best regards,
Hatem Sabrey

Thanks for putting those photos up...
I spent some time diving around Bardia in 1969/70, just prior to being thrown out of Libya with the rest of the British Forces.

I always had a soft spot for the history of Libya, particularly as at the time it was a bit of a time-warp. I'd be interested in seeing more of these photos as and when they become available.

Darrell (Earnshaw)

I visited Bardia in 1969 when I lived in Tobruk when my Dad was in the RAF there.
We lived on the street from Tobruk Garrison down to the harbour opposite a sewage works.
I was 14. We had a school trip to Bardia. We were told the painting was done in black boot polish.
A wonderful picture of everything the man remembered and held dear to his heart.

I remember standing on the top of the cliffs near Bardia, looking down over the crystal clear Mediterranean sea. (There was remains of Italian graves on the cliff tops - I think)?
Also remember people shackled at there ankles breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer. I have often wondered if the masterpiece was still there. How good it would be to save it!

Sue Jones

I was stationed in RAF El Adem in 1964 and I too visited Bardia.
To get there you had to follow the only coast road east from Tobruk. It amused me that you came to a crude sign post just outside Bardia which showed two destinations - the left fork was 'Bardia' the right fork was 'Egypt'.
On entering the town, which was in ruins exactly as left when the Italians vacated it during the 2nd world war, we asked a local, who was living in the ruins, where the mural was.
He showed us into the derelict mediteranean styled house through, what looked like, bomb damaged rooms to the mural itself.

We were also told that the artist was a british POW held by the Italians and that it was produced using boot black. We were also told that it depicted the struggle between east and west capitalism against idealism, art against opportunism.

I remain puzzled as to the artist's intention; but I feel that the interpretation is meant to be deeper than that described by his mother. I still remain fascinated by this mural which' for me shows a maturity beyond the artist's years.

Afterwards we went to the Italian graves on top of the cliffs which had been desecrated following the liberation of Libya by the allies.
The graves had been concreted in - yet still the locals managed to break into them and throw the bodies over the cliffs. Human bones were strewn everywhere. We watched prisoners on the beach below clearing the flotsam and jetsom from the water line.
I think an important official lived nearby who used this beach for bathing.
Dave Johnson

Nov. 2007
have just visited BARDIA.

Best regards from Tripoli;
Kuno Gross

Webmaster:- Follow the link above to see up to date pictures.

Dear Don:

I read with interest the comments on your site Thanks so much for making this information available.
I am reading up on World War II in North Africa and find the history very fascinating.

Thanks again,
Stephen S. Sibert