“Sweetheart Grips” – WWII soldiers would make clear grips for their pistols to display their sweethearts

Sam Dickson
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Soldiers throughout history have always personalised their equipment. By using something as artistic as nose art on a 16 ton bomber, or as simple as scratching their initials into their canteen or into the butt of their rifles. Since WWI, we have been used to battlefield art known as ‘trench art’.

Not limited to the World Wars, the history of trench art spans conflicts from the Napoleonic Wars to the present day. Although the practice flourished during WWI, the term ‘trench art’ is also used to describe souvenirs manufactured by service personnel during WWII.

Some items manufactured by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians during earlier conflicts have been retrospectively described as trench art.

Ever since cameras were invented, service men and women have tucked away precious pictures of their loved ones. Pictures end up tucked under helmets, stuffed in pockets, in cigarette cases, bibles – there’s always a way to keep your nearest and dearest close to you. If  you didn’t have a loved one – there were always pin up girls.

During WWII, GIs found a pretty unique use for the clear plastic Plexiglas. The material was developed in 1928 in several different laboratories by many chemists such as William Chalmers, Otto Röhm and Walter Bauer and was first brought to market in 1933 by the Rohm and Haas Company under the trademark Plexiglas.

It was a great invention and was used heavily during WWII, especially for the windows in planes. It was used in windows on vehicles and, due to its lightweight and malleability, began appearing on warplanes used by both sides, covering canopies, gun turrets, and aircraft viewing ports and anything else that needed glass.

 

From a Reddit reader - Here's an image of my grandfathers issue 1911 with my grandmothers photo in the grips. The Luger grips were were also made the same way with the glass from a plane. He picked the Luger up off of a nazi soldier. I have no clue who Janet is. I assume the officers wife. The image is a flower Now they're in my collection. source

From a Reddit reader – Here’s an image of my grandfathers issue 1911 with my grandmothers photo in the grips. The Luger grips were were also made the same way with the glass from a plane. He picked the Luger up off of a nazi soldier. I have no clue who Janet is. I assume the officers wife. The image is a flower Now they’re in my collection. source.

Servicemen started to use Plexiglass from downed aircraft to carve replacement grips for their Colt M1911 pistols. Taking off the standard wooden grips from their sidearms, to replace them with handmade transparent grips.  Then they would personalise them but placing a picture of their sweetheart of a pin up girl underneath. Thus, these became known as “sweetheart”grips.
Sometimes, these were set up with the sweetheart’s picture on the right plate while the left plate was left unadorned. This was so that the right-handed user could look into the magazines from that side of the gun to see how many rounds he had left. The owners of these guns most have been expecting a lot of use for the M1911s if they went to that much trouble.
Sweetheart grips are an interesting piece of WWII history and don’t anyone with a big collection. And surprisingly few people seem to know about them. However, if you look closely, you will see Brad Pitt carrying a “sweetheart” gripped revolver. Here are some examples of “sweetheart” grips………..

The story behind the above grips: James L. Morris returned from war, and he kept the sidearm that served him so well throughout that part of his life. Velma’s photos remained underneath the clear plastic grips of the pistol. He began a new life with his bride and the war relic was placed away as an old memento of a time he hoped would never reoccur. They had a long and fruitful life, and a son who grew up to join the US Navy. In 2005, Velma died. In September 2007, James joined her again. The pistol he carried was bequeathed to his son Jim.

In October, Morris’ home was burglarized. Three firearms, including the precious M1911A1 were stolen. “Nothing in this world that I owned had more sentimental value to me,” Jim Morris said. “That gun meant the world to me. It means the world to me.” Even though he did not have the serial number, he still listed the lost firearm as stolen, writes Xavier Thoughts

 

Closeup of pistol grip w. photo of girlfriend of Lt. John Ernser, 26, leader of the US infantry engaged in attacks of German fortification positions at the Italian front, 88th US Inf Div, 1944. source

Closeup of pistol grip w. photo of girlfriend of Lt. John Ernser, 26, leader of the US infantry engaged in attacks of German fortification positions at the Italian front, 88th US Inf Div, 1944. source

 

 

During WWII, soldiers were known to take precious family photos (and Pinup Girl photos) and put them under clear grips on their 1911 pistols - called Sweetheart Grips. source

During WWII, soldiers were known to take precious family photos (and Pinup Girl photos) and put them under clear grips on their 1911 pistols – called Sweetheart Grips. source

 

Many of the grips were made from pieces of broken plastic windows from crashed aircraft. source

Many of the grips were made from pieces of broken plastic windows from crashed aircraft. source

 

 

My dad was a medic in the South Pacific during WWII. He brought back an 8mm Nambu with sweetheart grips. The old photos aren't in great shape. source

My dad was a medic in the South Pacific during WWII. He brought back an 8mm Nambu with sweetheart grips. The old photos aren’t in great shape. source

 

 

A well-worn US Navy PBY pilot's 1918-made Colt with repurposed plastic grips. These allowed the flyboy to see the rounds left in the magazine through the visible witness holes. source

A well-worn US Navy PBY pilot’s 1918-made Colt with repurposed plastic grips. These allowed the flyboy to see the rounds left in the magazine through the visible witness holes. source

 

Close-up of the left panel of Wardaddy's "sweetheart grips" on his M1917. source

Close-up of the left panel of Wardaddy’s “sweetheart grips” on his M1917. source

 

That one is a Walther Patent Mod. 9, Waffenfabrik Walter Zella-Mehlis in .25 caliber. source

That one is a Walther Patent Mod. 9, Waffenfabrik Walter Zella-Mehlis in .25 caliber. source