Contact us for rights and issues inquiries.
The aircraft involved in the events described in Tom Paulin’s poem ‘The Mechelen Incident’ (LRB, 24 August) was a Messerschmitt Me 108, not an Me 109. The Me 108 was ‘a virtual fighter’, designed in the 1930s as a four-seater touring aircraft. It was similar in appearance to the Me 109, possibly built as part of its development programme: the Me 109 was a single-seater fighter, one of the best produced by any nation in the Second World War. ‘Me’ was the British designation for the planes: in Germany they were called the ‘Messerschmitt Bf 108’ and ‘Bf 109’ after the manufacturer, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Willi Messerschmitt was head of the design team.
I was wondering whether J.G. Owen (Letters, 7 September) could throw any light on the vexed question of whether or not an Airfix anorak, c.1960, was supposed to glue the finished model of the Me 109 to the translucent base provided with the kit or leave it roosting precariously, at the mercy of enemy fire from envious model enthusiasts. The really dedicated, I've heard, would suspend their models from the ceiling by fine thread, in a guise of flight. Which neatly dispenses with the problem of the base and leaves one eager for a glimpse of Mr Owen's attic.
I am another anorak in remission who noticed – oh, all right, the word is ‘spotted’ – Tom Paulin’s Messerschmitt error and, like Marcus Short (Letters, 21 September), I bought the Airfix model of the 109. The biggest and best thing in my little air force, though, was the British Lancaster bomber. The metal one was, of course, the prime instrument of the destruction of Hamburg and Dresden, so notched up two out of five in Thomas Powers’s list of ‘the truly horrific events of the war’. I was gluing my plastic one together – and oh, the happy hours of painting it – barely 15 years after the firestorm and the night the gutters ran with melted human fat. ‘Nice boys’, we were, we who glued Airfix then, with many a swot in our number. They were ‘nice chaps’, no doubt, the men who ran Airfix, with many among them who must have ‘done their bit’. If Marcus Short wants to peer into attics, then perhaps the juxtaposition of his letter and Powers’s indispensable review of Victor Klemperer’s diaries throws a certain sickly light to peer in by. How could ordinary Germans possibly not have known the true extent of the evil? Perhaps they were too proudly engrossed in painting the Swastikas on their little Messerschmitts as the dust was rising, just as little Marcus and I were before it had begun to settle.
I can report to Marcus Short (Letters, 21 September) that no self-respecting hobbyist in my part of the world would glue his plane to the base. To do so would foreclose the possibility of live-action display, using the figures usually provided with the kit, or demonstrating flight manoeuvres, or indeed, as Short suggests, hanging the planes from the ceiling. I always preferred this form of display, especially for my favourite World War One specimens, and it had the advantage of giving a useful place to damaged and incomplete pieces – they could be posed as victims of the fight. My collection remained suspended in mid-flight for many years until my mother recently sold her home, whereupon I videotaped the display and took the dusty veterans down to storage.
I always thought it rather naff to use the little translucent base provided with the kit. I preferred to display my models on shelves, or hung from the ceiling by a fine thread. Today, they are suspended from my study ceiling, since all the vertical spaces are filled with bookshelves and all the horizontal surfaces with books.
As an enthusiastic Airfixer in my early teens it was not until many years later that it dawned on me that the warm inner glow experienced on completing a model was largely a result of the involuntary inhalation of the fumes emanating from the glue supplied. At the time I simply thought it had an appealing smell.
Frank Phillips (Letters, 16 November 2000) writes of the ‘warm inner glow’ resulting, he says, from inhaling the glue used to construct Airfix models. I, too, have warm, though hazy, memories of model plane construction. It wasn’t the glue that caused the glow, though: it was the dope (the stuff you painted on to harden the paper surfaces).
Poza Rica, Mexico