As a fan of history, it is not often that one has the opportunity to "touch" history. And yet, I had the rare chance to do just that last week, when I photographed several WWII aviation artifacts in a private collection. They belong to my friend and P-51 Mustang fighter ace, Bob "Punchy" Powell. Having lived through the dark days of WWII, he has since amassed quite a collection of memorabilia, including several items I'd never seen before.
One of the things that most struck me about the different items was how design "traits" of the various countries was evident in their military insignia. I found the German wings beautiful, but "showy" and a bit foreboding as well. I'm sure that was intentional...
I found the Japanese wings to be subtly beautiful, almost like a piece of jewelry. Apparently the training to become a Japanese pilot was very rigorous emotionally, physically, and militarily. The washout rate was high and if memory serves, it took over a year to complete the training, which did not work in their favor as losses escalated later in the war.
Punchy introduced me to "V Mail", which I had never heard of before. In an effort to keep the weight down, and therefore the logistical requirements to ship home letters from servicemen, V Mail was developed. Letters were written home on a standard sized sheet of paper, which was then reduced in size, using microfilm. Shipped back to the US, it went to prescribed locations near the recipient, and was then enlarged onto lightweight photo paper, 4.25 x 5 inches in size, for delivery to the recipient. The soldiers were urged to write legibly so that the reduced sized letters could still be read. Punchy still has over 100 letters he wrote home to his parents...
Playing cards help servicemen learn how to recognize aircraft as friend or foe. The metal models were hung from the ceiling of break rooms, and bets were often made as to who could name the most aircraft correctly.
16mm "gun cameras" were linked to the pilot's firing button, and recorded the action for an additional 10 seconds after release. This was so subsequent hits and explosions could still be recorded, and was important for verifying shoot downs. The film was often used to gather intelligence as well. The camera was in such good shape that it looked like it could work today, and had a #12 yellow filter on the lens to increase contrast.
Lastly, Punchy shared with me a personal item issued to the airborne troops who jumped on 6 June, 1944. It was a small, metal "clicker" that we often played with as kids. I'm sure it drove my mother crazy, but they served a very important function on D-day.
Thanks! are in order to Punchy, not only for his generosity in allowing me to photograph these rare items from his collection, but for his WWII service too.