Throughout history, soldiers have always wanted to personalise their equipment. Sometimes with something artistic, like nose art on a 16 ton bomber, or as simple as scratching their initials into their canteen or the butt of their rifles. Since WWI, battlefield art has been known as ‘trench art’.
But it's not limited just to the World Wars, the history of trench art spans conflicts from the Napoleonic Wars to the present day. Although the practice was common during WWI, the term ‘trench art’ is also used to describe souvenirs manufactured by service personnel during WWII.
Ever since cameras were invented, service men and women would keep precious pictures of their loved ones under their helmets, stuffed in pockets, in cigarette cases, bibles – there’s always a way to keep a reminder of your dearest close to you. And if you didn’t have a loved one, there were always pin up girls.
Around 1933 the Rohm and Haas Company developed and brought to many markets a clear plastic under the trademark Plexiglass. It was deemed a great invention, due to its lightweight and malleability, and was used heavily during WWII, especially for vehicle windows, warplane and gun turret windows.
Some creative servicemen started to use Plexiglass from downed aircrafts to replace the grips for their Colt M1911 pistols, taking off the standard wooden grips from their sidearms. They would personalise them by placing a picture of their sweetheart or a pin up girl underneath. And so, 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 clear, 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.
Sweetheart grips are a very interesting piece of WWII history and surprisingly, few people seem to know about them.