Robert Maurice Conly joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 1941 to train as a pilot but a freak accident left him unfit for active service, so he turned to his other love, that of painting and soon after he was appointed the RNZAF Official War Artist.
Over the next 50 years, Maurice Conly had the opportunity to travel wherever the RNZAF was serving – from Fiji and the Solomons to South East Asia.
However, in 1969 at the age of 49, he travelled to Vietnam not for the RNZAF, but to cover the actions of the New Zealand Army, who had approached the Air Force to “loan” Conly to be their artist as they did not have an ‘official’ one at the time.
He accepted and soon found himself in the thick of the action, based at the isolated, hot and dusty Fire Support Bases that occupied the front-line. He commented in later years that he was intrigued to see that the US Official Artists never ventured to the front-line but relied on photographs to produce the battlegrounds ‘as they saw it’.
Maurice Conly was promoted to Temporary Squadron Leader and spent one month inSouth Vietnam sketching and drawing the New Zealanders carrying out their duties.
On exhibit in the museum’s latest exhibition, “Vietnam – An Artist’s Impression” are just a sample of his work, with the majority of his art hanging in Army General Staff, various camps throughout New Zealand and the Air Force Museum in Christchurch.
In later years he recorded the RNZAF’s involvement in Antarctica and London and extended his skills to designing stamps and coins.