Image: a barrage balloon being hoisted into position by WAAF women in blue overalls. Coventry is visible in the background.
First used during the First World War, barrage balloons were also an integral part of Britain's defences during the Second World War and by September 1941 2,748 were in use. By forcing German planes to fly above 5000 feet, they reduced the accuracy of their bombing and also made them more vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. In April 1941 women were first used to fly the balloons, a round- the-clock operation. After much discussion, it was found that fourteen women, rather than twenty as initially thought, could replace a ten man team. Coventry had been attacked by the Luftwaffe 14 and 15 November in response to an RAF attack on Munich. Fire bombing destroyed the city centre, including the medieval cathedral of St Michael. Some factories were also targeted. The ballet and the circus were frequent subjects of Knight's paintings and it is the coordinated physical performance skills of the balloon team that she emphasises here.
War Artists Advisory Committee Commission, 1942