"A Copse. Evening"

"A Copse. Evening"
A. Y. Jackson, 1918
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Home Front" Theater Knives

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. But first, some clarification: A theater knife is one made "in theater". That is to say: by the folks in the shit - or on the boat on the way to the shit. Lots of shipboard machinists made knives to sell to soldiers and marines while at sea. Ashore, my old Alma Mater, the Seabees did the same thing using salvaged aircraft parts etc.
My own French "Trench Cleaner" and the misnamed "French Nail" (I've got to change that page - they were British - put together by the thousands by the Royal Engineers) are examples of this type.
Others that aren't made "in theater" but lack a defining term otherwise are those made on the home front for the war effort. We've already marveled together at the cluelessness of the US Government in not anticipating a need for fighting knives so we needn't revisit it. Suffice it to say, the word went out early in the war for ordinary citizens to supply the troops, hence the Collins #18 being reincarnated as the "Gung Ho Knife" on Guadalcanal.
What is most touching is the huge outpouring of effort on the part of all the ordinary Joes who "stepped up to the plate" to make sure our lads didn't go off into the fray with no blade with which to open their C-Rats, cut their toenails, kill Germans, Japanese, etc.
The opening picture is of a knife made by a student at the "Vocational School, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin". By the way, this and some of the other photos were taken from the most excellent book, "Military Theater Knives of WWII" by Bill and Debbie Wright. Wonderful book with lots of great pictures. Buy it.
This knife is exemplary, the instructor deciding, or maybe the student on his own, to make a knife for a serviceman.

Others were made by employers. The nemisis of my home state, the mighty Anaconda Company, the "Copper Kings" and the killers of Frank Little in Butte in 1917 and direct contollers of 75% of the employment in Montana at he turn of the century, at their smelter in Great Falls, made knives for employees going off to war. Not for relatives, nor friends, nor for people who thought it would be cool to have one, only for employees headed into the shit. Next knife to the left.
Another Montanan was Rudy Ruana, the first person I ever heard of making knives (!!) on his own. My Dad called him "That old guy out in Bonner who used to make knives out of Chevy leaf springs but had to buy his steel when Chevy went to coil springs". He, actually his son in law, is still in business, still in Bonner (a small mill town just east of Missoula - and close to Milltown, home of my favorite poet's favorite bar, The Milltown Union Bar")and still selling knives of comparable quality and construction. A bit pricey but built the same way as old Rudy did it back in the day. How many of you folks have a favorite poet, huh?



Other folks doing the same thing. Taylor Huff, a supervisor at the Fort Knox quarry in Kentucky, was approached by a young lad going off to do his bit and asked if he could get a knife made. Huff rose to the occasion and developed a knuckle knife of such unique quality (left) that is was recommended that he patent it. Why the patent was necessary isn't obvious to me since he sold them to sevicemen for $.01. Yes, a penny. But, before you freak out. Remember this was a 1944 penny. Today, according to the Inflation Calculator website, Huff would be pulling in a healthy $.11 per unit in modern-day pennies.
Others include Ben Rocklin of Chicago. Before the war he'd made kitchen knives in his one-man shop. After Pearl Harbor he bought up all the old files he could and made an extremely simple dagger that he called the "Jap Sticker" (last pic). He was in his seventies at this time and, having fought in the Russian Imperial Army during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, said "...even forty years ago they were stinkers".
Well, I grow long-winded. There are more, Uncle Bill Murphy, Floyd Nichols and John Ek.
I'll cover them next time.

1 comment:

Kevina said...

Well said.

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