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Boats at Moonlight, painting by Harold Auerbach

Pilot’s painting back with family after a century

The daughter of a First World War fighter-plane pilot has been able to return a painting of his to the family after it unexpectedly turned up for sale at an auction house.

It was painted in 1910 and, 110 years after it was gifted to a nurse, it is now back in Ealing.

Kevin Clark, the great great nephew of the nurse (or nanny) Mary Lyle was clearing out his mother’s house when he came across the painting, Boats by Moonlight.

Nurse Mary Lyle with Harold's sister Violet
Nurse Mary Lyle with Harold’s sister Violet

Kevin did some research on Harold Auerbach and discovered that his daughter Patricia Aubrey was still alive and living in London and contacted her.

The painting had been kept in the Lyle/Clark family but by now was at Railtons Antiques Auctioneers and Valuers in Northumberland and was sold on 5 December 2020. Patricia promptly bought it back from the buyer.

It is almost a repeat of history, with it being the second time Patricia had found a long-lost item originally belonging to her father. We reported in 2017 how Patricia happened to be looking on Ebay when she saw her father’s war medal had been put for sale by an antique shop owner; and she was able to bring it home. A lady had come into the antique shop with a bag of coins and Harold Auerbach’s war medal was found in the bag.

Lt Harold Auerbach in uniform
Lt Harold Auerbach in uniform

Lieutenant Harold Wilfred Auerbach was from Ealing. He flew as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor of the RAF, between 1917-19; and he was awarded the Campaign War Medal.

Rejected by the army while trying to enlist at the start of the war, he had joined the Royal Engineers before training as a fighter pilot in 1917 for the Royal Flying Corps.

Having fought in France, he returned to England in 1920 after having served in the occupation of the Rhineland.

In 1921 he studied at Slades School of Art before following a career in banking.

The painting Boats by Moonlight had been painted in 1910 during a spell being tutored and influenced by two well-known artists as a young boy while on holiday with his family in Southwold in Suffolk, namely Reg Carter – an English cartoonist – and Silvester Stannard R.BA, a well-known landscape artist between 1910-12.

Artists Carter and Stannard
Artists Carter and Stannard

Nurse Lyle, as she was known to the Auerbach family, had been an employee for several years while Harold recovered from a knee injury at the family home in Ealing. He gifted his painting to her.

Patricia is happy that she now has her father’s painting returned and that it remains in the family.

We also told the story previously of the First World War experiences of Harold’s brother Albert Auerbach, including the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915-1916, and then the battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916. Sadly, he was killed in 1918 and was commemorated on the Ealing War Memorial, which is in front of Pitzhanger Manor.

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