I seem to recall the elliptical wing and the beautiful curve of the wing to fuselage fillet. I recall the roundels and the relative grace of the Spitfire by contrast to the angularity of the 109. The flight gear of the heroes was handsome, as well.
During the war, metal toys all but disappeared. There were punch out toys of cardboard and I recall P-40’s, often with the shark’s mouth of the Flying Tigers, F4F’s of the U.S. Navy, and possibly, a Spitfire. These were toys that I played with and fantasized myself as the pilot shooting down the Nazis or killing the “dirty Japs.” Life was quite simple, and quite safe, in my Chicago home.
Somehow, somewhere in this, perhaps because of the sound of British accents, a certain erudition, at least as perceived in pre-adolescence, the heroic musical accompaniments, maybe, the sound of bagpipes, my perceived heroic fantasy was to fly Spitfires in the RAF, and shoot down Nazis. I had no idea of the actual existence of Eagle Squadrons, Americans who had done just that, for a variety of reasons.
The Spitfire was a real airplane, however, and it was absolutely beautiful, fast and powerful, and it had weapons with which to express anger…. Good self-righteous anger! The Nazis were unambiguously “bad.” By extension, Germans were bad! The movie cuts from a Messerschmidt in the sights of the British pilot, the four Browning machine guns in the wing flashing as they were fired, the bullets striking home, the pilot of the enemy aircraft struck and reeling over, the Messerschmidt rolling onto its back and arcing downward streaming smoke, crashing into the sea. The heroic pilot returning home to a warm greeting from comrades and pretty girls, in that order, at that time of life.
There was a cigarette called “Wings.” One of my aunts, I think it was Aunt Mildred, Uncle Bill’s first wife, smoked this cigarette and gave me the cards which came with it. These included a Spitfire, and there was a description, as I recall, on the back of it. Thus, Rolls Royce Merlin entered my vocabulary, and a top speed of 378 or 382 m.p.h. sticks in my mind.
Airplane models in balsa and tissue paper were available but terribly complicated for my skills, early in the war. You had to cut out the fuselage formers, and invariably, I failed at this. But the plans showed a very recognizable shape and labeled features such as the underwing radiator, the oil cooler, the carburetor air intake. I could see the landing gear and the wheel wells in the wing, and the fixed tail wheel. The box art always promised a very realistic model but the skills of the builder were tested and always found wanting.
There were other collecting cards with less than accurate representations, including something from a series called, “War Gum,” which, for a penny came with a picture, not a photograph, and a piece of bubble gum.
The public library was a great source of knowledge, though it was a mile and a half away, on Lawrence Avenue near Central Park, and I was limited by the number of books that could be withdrawn at one time, the limited choice, and my limited ability to carry away as many as I wanted to. But, this was a source of additional knowledge.
Finally, and this sealed it. The Museum of Science and Industry on Chicago’s south side, at the other end of the city from Albany Park, had an exhibition that showed me the very first Spitfire I ever saw. I remember the sand and spinach dull paint, and the light blue underside, and the roundels, and the machine gun ports. It was hanging from the ceiling, and my recollection was that it was a veteran aircraft that had seen service and brought over to the United States, along with a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber that had been captured in Africa. The descriptions were factual. The German plane was both fearsome and ugly in its angularity. It had bullet holes in it, and, as I recall a description of the accompanying placards, there was an account of its characteristics. Here was the conqueror and the conquered, the aesthetic and the ugly, the good and the bad. I was hooked! For life! The first thing I would do on many a return trip to the museum is return to that gallery to soak up another dose of intoxicating fantasy. This is the story of my first love, and how it began, and how other, later, and more important objects of love and pursuit, were once merely impediments and obstacles between me and my airplane fantasy, power and beauty and goodness in the mind of a little boy.