John Stroud – illustrator, aviation expert, photographer and historian

by: Colin Higgs

Avation photographs from Flying History Limited

John Stroud was born on 3 April 1919 in Balham, south London. Unlike many of the people associated with the early days of British aviation he did not come from a wealthy family. His father, Albert Stroud, was a shop assistant, who had married Laura Archer at Lambeth the previous year.

Early Aviation Experiences

Among John’s earliest memories was a visit to Croydon airport when he was three or four years old by which time the family had moved to Streatham Common. Even though he was very young at the time he recalled seeing two de Havilland DH.34 aircraft at the airport, one red and one blue, one from Daimler Airways and one from Instone. John also remembered seeing the last Handley Page W.8b in flight. However, it was not the visit to the airport and the sight of aircraft overhead that awakened what was to become a lifelong interest in aviation – rather it was articles in Meccano Magazine and paper kits of aircraft that he encountered around 1928-29.

Another move and his parents’ choice of a new home town was ultimately to have a huge impact on the life and fortunes of the young John Stroud. In the summer of 1929, the family moved to Hatfield. The reason for picking Hatfield is not clear – at the time there was no airfield. Whatever the reason John Stroud was in the right place at the right time and he saw aviation take root at Hatfield. The family’s stay in Hatfield appears to have been only for a few years (he left the area around 1935) but during those years he was able to see all the mighty Imperial Airways HP42s and HP45s on their test flights from the Handley Page factory at Radlett.

Imperial Airways

In 1933. at the tender age of 14, John went to work for Imperial Airways where his artistic capabilities were first shown as, in a later article, he mentioned he was involved in designing the Imperial Airways cobalt blue livery for their DH.91 Albatross fleet before the war. During his time with Imperial Airways he visited the Short Brothers’ factory at Rochester on several occasions and was privileged to see most of the iconic Short C Class Empire flying boats (a design that gained lasting fame during the war as the Sunderland) during their build. After three years with the airline John was allowed to fly in the aircraft and well remembered his flights in the DH86 Demeter, Short L.17 Syrinx, three HP42s, Heracles, Horatius and Hanno, the Armstrong Whitworth Ensign and DH Albatross.

Imperial Airways was one of the five organisations (the others being the four main UK railway companies at that time) that owned Railway Air Services, one of the early internal airlines, which was later incorporated into British European Airways (BEA) shortly after WWII. John Stroud knew many of the people and pilots involved and made his first flight with RAS on 31 August 1935. When he published a book on the airline, in 1987, he included a chapter on his personal memories of flying with them before, during and after WWII which includes mention of flights in DH.84 Dragons, four-engine DH.86’s, and DH.89 Dragon Rapides.


He appears to have been involved with recruitment and information / propaganda and possibly even intelligence work during the war (Imperial Airways was replaced by British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1940). John Stroud is credited for holding a series of exhibitions around Britain to educate people on aircraft recognition. The first was held in London, the second exhibition was at Princes Street, Edinburgh on 19 March 1940. This is known to have included scale models, photographs, colour drawings and silhouettes of British and German aircraft. Also models or dioramas of the Kiel Raid, the raid on the Firth of Forth and a balloon barrage. 17 June 1940 was the date of the Glasgow exhibition – at Rowans Ltd, Buchanan Street. Later in April that year, his illustrations of unit markings found on German aircraft were published in Flight magazine. He also did work for the Air Training Corps Gazette (it’s not clear whether as an employee or just a contributor). In late 1941, a folder he had prepared detailing 52 aircraft types used by the Russian Air Force was published by Rolls House Publishing Co Ltd for the ATC Gazette.

John Stroud illustrated a 1942 article on the Chinese Air Force in the Air Training Corps Gazette, which had been written by Captain W E Johns – the creator of Biggles. His first aviation book on the Russian air force was published by The Pilot Press in 1943 (possibly this was an expanded version of the Rolls House folder).

Post war aviation journalism

In 1946 he published the first book on Japanese military aircraft in the West through Harborough Publishing Company Ltd of Leicester.
By now he had established himself as an authority on aviation, and post-war he concentrated on civil aviation. He had married before the end of 1952, and he and his wife Patricia travelled widely. He was a regular contributor, including an article on Moscow Airport in 1952, and correspondent in the aviation press. His wife clearly shared his interest in aviation and had articles on the subject published independently and jointly.

In 1954 he became the aviation expert for The Journal of Commerce, and had a regular column.

The Times published his article commemorating the 40th anniversary of British Air Transport in 1959 (and also published articles under his name in 1962 and 1963).
In 1961 he took over from Owen Thetford as general editor for Putnam’s Aviation List (later Putnam Aviation Books and Putnam Aeronautical Books). Many of these books, which were written by expert authors, are still used as standard reference works on individual manufacturers (like A J Jackson’s De Havilland Aircraft since 1909), British aviation development and airports (JS literally wrote the book on the last subject). John himself was responsible for writing some Putnam titles including those on Soviet Airliners, European Transport and Airports of the World.

In 1985 he wrote his last column as the aviation expert for The Journal of Commerce, ending a 31-year unbroken stint.

His last published work before his death is thought to be The Imperial Airways Fleet, published in 2004-5 (Passenger Aircraft and Their Interiors 1910-2006 was published shortly after his death in 2007).
Flying as a passenger during civil aviation’s infancy was not without risks, and he had his share of excitement (he is reported to have worn gloves during takeoffs and landings in case he needed to clear jagged wreckage out of his way).

John Stroud died in hospital on 14 March 2007, aged 87.

The John Stroud Collection

Through all his aviation adventures John took many photographs, sometimes for his own interest but mainly to illustrate the articles he wrote. There are images of his wife, his friends around the world and the towns and cities he visited. But at the heart is a collection of well composed and rare images of aircraft and airports, not forgetting many areas of scrub flattened to take aircraft!

John Stroud’s archives

Soon after John’s death his collection was put up for auction in a number of lots. Most of it was a vast array of manufacturer and airline prints, artefacts, memorabilia etc that he collected on his travels. However his main collection of negatives, still in their original film rolls, was never part of it. Elements of his colour work, mainly taken from prints, appeared in occasional articles but the bulk of the material, the black and white images taken by John from the 1940s to the 1970s, has not been been seen since the small selection from each reel was used to illustrate his articles in Flight and Aeroplane at the time.

The collection secured

A Flying History, with the great assistance of Nick Stroud (no relation), editor of The Aviation Historian magazine, located the collection and bought it with a view to bringing it to aviation enthusiasts, mostly for the first time.

The job of scanning the, mainly unmarked, archive has now begun. Those articles written by John in the 40s and 50s perhaps used three or four shots but we have now found the complete reels and ever more great images are appearing.

The first few reels alone have revealed shoots in India, Pakistan, the UK, Norway, Belgium, Finland, Uganda, Greece and Cyprus.

Working with The Aviation Historian magazine

The first stage of bringing these images to the aviation public will be a series of regular articles in The Aviation Historian
Starting in the July 2015 issue, number 12, Nick is publishing new articles illustrated by many of the images. The first will be about a Pakistan International Airlines proving flight on a Douglas DC-3 from Rawalpindi to Chitral in the Hindu Kush, now virtually inaccessible to visitors. John’s majestic images taken at Chitral and on the flight perfectly illustrate Nick’s revealing text…and there will be plenty more to follow.

Images for this website
Stage two will be the slow addition of the images onto this website, gathered in their original reels but still searchable under the usual range of keywords such as airline, airport, manufacturer and aircraft type. It’s a slow process but please keep coming back to the site to see what is new.