Rob Forsyth (see acknowledgements)

Tom and his family came to live in Deddington at The Hermitage in 1936. This article gives a brief summary of his artistic career and the circumstances of his death in 1941 on service with the army.


Thomas (Tom) Willem Van Oss was born on 14 March 1901 in Walberswick, Suffolk. He was the second of eight children born to his Dutch father, Salomon Frederik, and and his British mother, Winifred Agnes née Davidson. 

His parents moved to Holland with Tom and his elder brother, Mark, in 1902. There were occasional visits to his English maternal grandparents and Tom remembered that it was messing about with oil paints in his grandfather's studio that first gave him the idea of becoming an artist.

In 1909 he followed Mark to Lynams School (now Dragon School) in Oxford where his drawing master was "a gifted and charming man called Higginson who was killed in the Great War" and no doubt influenced him. In 1914 his father decided he would not send Tom back to Oxford but continue his education in Holland seeing him as a potential successor to take over his newspaper Haagsche Post one day.

Tom demonstrated an early talent for seascapes and had weekly art lessons from an ex-soldier who drew caricatures for Haagsche Post; a talent that Tom also demonstrated via his satirical school magazine La Revue Anti-mathematique. He wanted to make a career of art but his father remained strong on his taking over the family paper. Nonetheless, aged 18, and via his father's contacts, he drew a caricature of British Prime Minister Lloyd George who autographed it. On the strength of this he then painted a portrait of King Constantine of Greece. Tom's charm and confidence in achieving these commissions was an indication of the society portrait painter he became in due course.

He was admitted to Leiden University in 1921 to study law. He became progressively disenchanted with his legal studies but, as a very gregarious man, made full use of his social and artistic talents. He tried working for his father's paper for a brief while in 1923 as an artist and writer but they fell out over a cartoon printed without his father's permission. From then on he concentrated more and more on his art from which he started to make a small living and in 1928 he exhibited at the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo.

In June 1930 Tom married Favell Bevan, a girl he had first met in the Hague where her father was English Chaplain.They lived in France for a year before returning to Walberswick in England where his mother lived, as had her late brother Allan Davidson, also a painter.


Tom took over his uncle's studio on the river Blyth near the ferry to Southwold where he painted primarily landscapes and portraits. This photograph of his eldest son Richard (l) and Cecil Kerridge (r) was taken in 2010 and shows his former studio in the background.

Richard provides an interesting footnote about the studio " I was looking at my mother's little memoirs, written in her eighties in about 1984, and came across this rather charming, if understated, note: ' We had a studio by the ferry and we used to let the upper floor to people for the summer. One very interesting family, the Freuds, came one summer. Lucien Freud has since become well known' - you could say that!


He experimented with other types of commission as well: in 1932 he was asked to design a mural for the Dragon School, Oxford, to go above the proscenium arch of the school hall stage where it remained until the 1980s when it was inadvertently destroyed by builders renovating the hall. The only surviving image is this grey-scale one below. The money was raised by subscription as reported in the school magazine The Draconian


Allegorical painting - Dragon School Hall - 1932

Click on thumbnail for larger image with key to figures


Their first son, Richard, was born in 1931 and second son, John, in 1932. Tom later painted John in bed recovering from an illness. This picture was hung at The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1938 and was also reproduced in the  society magazine The Sketch.

Click on thumbnail for larger image


In 1932 Tom mounted a joint exhibition with Denis Fildes at Walker's galleries, New Bond Street. The catalogue included 40 of Tom's paintings. The Sunday Times art critic said of him..."View from My Studio, Paris is such a brilliant piece of actuality, so full of light and air, with the relative degrees of illumination so succinctly stated, that it puts everything else rather in the shade." We do not have an image of that painting but we do have one of Foggy Afternoon Boulevard St Michel Paris which almost certainly was in the same exhibition..

 Click on thumbnail for larger image

In 1936 the family moved to Old Corner House (now The Hermitage)  on The Bullring in Deddington. Ben and Elsie Kerridge, who, as a couple 'walking out together', had helped with children and garden in Walberswick, decided to marry and came with them to live in a cottage on the property. Tom and Favell's third son, Peter, was born in Deddington in 1936. The Kerridge's son Cecil John, born in 1940, grew up with the Van Oss boys and has remained a friend of the family ever since.


Tom was sufficiently prosperous to open a London Studio at Avenue Studios, Sydney Street, Chelsea. In the same year that they moved to Deddington (1936) the annual 'Navy Week' exhibition at Portsmouth included a portrait of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes who had been famous for his part in the Boxer Rebellion (1898) and the Naval Zeebrugge Raid (1918) and who, as Inspecting Captain of Submarines (1910), was responsible for establishing the Submarine Service as an effective fighting force in time for WW1. This painting is now in the National Maritime Museum collection.

 Click on thumbnail for larger image

In 1936 he also held an exhibition of his works in Oxford which is described in full in a contemporary cutting from an Oxford newspaper. The reviewer was pleased that "...there was no trace of the extreme or excessive modernity in the work."

 Tom found inspiration in many different places

Left: In an operating theatre

Right: A Christmas Card suggests he   may have flown over Deddington at some time.

  Click on either image to enlarge


This small selection of paintings below were executed in the pre-war years but no dates are known.
MrsAVNicolle.zoom MedHbrzoom
Mrs AV Nicolle A Mediterranean Harbour Francis Lys*
Provost of
Worcester College
John Mander*
as a boy
Robert Marret*
Rector of
Exeter College

                                                                                  *Click on thumbnail for larger image

A Church Tower Restoration Fund with a target of £300 for urgent repairs was launched in 1937; Tom contributed by way of a lino-cut cover for a calender. This was not a day and date one but contained a collection of sayings, proverbs and quotations for each day of the month contributed by parishioners. Mounted copies sold for 1/6d or 2/6d on special paper signed by the artist. The lino cut was reproduced on the cover of the 1978 Deddington News courtesy of an original copy of the calender lent by Mrs Alice Sykes.

The view is of the church tower from an upstairs room of the Van Oss' house (now The Hermitage) across the Bullring with the present day Antique Centre in the foreground.


Tom and Favell's fund raising talents were put to further use in 1938 when they were the artistic directors of a traditional Country Fair put on to raise funds for a new village hall which was held in the grounds of Deddington Manor which was then owned by Major Roberts whose stepson, Pilot Officer Lawrence Pyman, was killed in action in August 1940. His name is on the War Memorial. Photographs of the 1938 Fair can be seen in the gallery and a 6 minute video taken from a contemporary home movie can be seen here. The first raffle prize was a portrait to be painted by Tom and was won by a Mrs F Reed - see press clipping. One Mrs Reed (wife of Clock repairer) lived opposite the Castle Grounds and another Mrs Reed lived in what is now Tays Cottage on Earls Lane. We don't know which one, if either, was the lucky winner nor do we have an image of that particular painting but...


... we do have an image of a portrait of William (Bill) Gardner who won it as a commission at a Deddington Bowls Club Competition.

 Click on thumbnail for larger image. Note: the scan was made through the glass because the frame was too fragile to remove - courtesy of his grandson, Rob, who lives in Hook Norton.


Perhaps his most widely known painting was Salute to Invaders. This was a response to the threat of war. It showed the new secret Vickers 3.7 anti-aircraft gun pointing aggressively into the sky with searchlight beams in the background. It was exhibited in The Fine Art Society Gallery in New Bond Street, London, and reproduced in the Daily Telegraph on 29 April 1938.

 Click on thumbnail for larger image

As the war approached Tom joined the Officers' Emergency Reserve. On reporting at the outbreak of war he was selected in a group of about a dozen men for a special course on camouflage. He was given the rank of Captain and appointed Camouflage Officer for the 3rd Corps. He was posted to France with the Corps leaving on 2 April 1940. He worked for two weeks on the Maginot line and driving about France, and then joined the retreat to Dunkirk and was one of the last to be taken off the beach. He was promoted to Major in the Northern Command, and made responsible for camouflage for a long stretch of England’s east coast.

On 3 November 1941 Tom put to sea with a crew of 15 in a patrol boat off Boston, Lincolnshire, to inspect the coastal defences from offshore. The boat hit one of the first magnetic mines and was blown up; there were no survivors.

The story of how he was killed when the patrol boat, Ouzel, in which he was in inspecting camouflaged positions from off the Lincolnshire coast, hit a mine is contained in A Parish at War in two places - The Second World War and Tom's Personal Story. His name is on the War Memorial inside the church and also in the church at Walberswick where his artistic talents came to full fruition and are still remembered. He is also remembered on Panel 4 Column 3 of the Brookwood Memorial in Surrey. This memorial was opened by The Queen in 1958 to commemorate the 3500 men and women of Commonwealth forces who have no known grave.

The story of wartime artists who were employed by the Army as 'camoufleurs' is also recounted in this book  by Mary Horlock. She is the great granddaughter of Joseph Gray who served with, and was a very good friend of, Tom. Click on the cover to read more about how she came to write it and how to buy it.

Mary has kindly provided some relevant extracts from Joseph's letters and images from the book to read HERE


Favell and her 3 boys moved to Waterperry because the income that his painting had brought in had disappeared the day he joined and his Army pay could not support a big house; nor could she afford for the Kerridges to join her so the Kerridge family remained in Deddington until 1979 (cf Parish at War - Supplement p.14). Favell remained living at Waterperry until 1956 bringing up the boys single-handed with a very small income taking in paying guests and teaching French at Rye St Antony, Headington. Following a second marriage to Commander Arthur Pears RN (1951) she taught at a boys' prep school, Sandroyd, in Wiltshire. She died in 1996 aged 95. This photograph was taken on her 90th birthday.

Photograph Album  All the images in this article and more can be found in Tom's album in the Gallery.

Acknowledgements: I am extremely grateful to Tom's sons Richard, John and Peter and to Cecil Kerridge for their help in providing the information and images in this article which records the part Tom and Favell played in our parish life during the few years that they lived here and also brings to general attention Tom's artistic talents which were previously largely unknown in Deddington.