Saturday, August 9, 2008

James 'Wabbit' Hare's Italian 'holiday'

Just another classic Venice photo? But look closer. It's not what it seems at first glance. This is the mid '40s, and the photographer, James Hare, is a serving US Air Army Force Thunderbolt pilot on his days off from fighting World War II.

A few months ago, a Swiss contact of mine, Martin Kyburz, put me onto a website featuring the snapshots of a certain James 'Wabbit' Hare. They are, on the one hand, the same old shots of famous Italian scenes that are familiar to us today. On the other hand they are a remarkable and rare record, being colour photographs from the mid- 1940s, as Italy was starting to recover from World War II and the Fascist era.

Mark O'Boyle, the webmaster of the 57th Fighter Group Website, where these photos are, filled in a bit of the background for us:
James Hare told me they went down to Africa in their liason B-25 to pick up booze, and some supply guy gave him the only roll of color film around. Lucky us!

I talk to him on the phone occasionally, he is in remarkably good health, is going to Italy and Corsica in May with several of the 57th FG pilots.
Having crossed his path ourselves recently by visiting Venice and Rome over 60 years later, it was interesting to see what had changed and what hadn't. Given that the photographs were mostly taken while the war was still going on, it's remarkable how much hasn't changed since, and how much Venice and Rome were clearly still in the tourist business.


James Hare's caption reads: 'Our Gondolier appears about ready for retirement'.

Rialto bridge. Above, 2008, by me, below, 1944, by James Hare.

I'd expect that in 1944-45 gondolas would have come back into their own, as any mechanically powered watercraft would have been impressed for war duties, and fuels were at a premium. Was this the last time Venice was essentially gondola supported?

The Doge's Palace with St Mark's lion, 2008 (above by Bev) and 1944 (below by James Hare).

Made famous around the world by a certain tower. August 9th is (probably, roughly) the anniversary of the start of work on this building, in 1173.

One of those poses,adopted by many tourists visiting Pisa (including yours truly as a young man in the early 70s). Above James Hare shows the stance, while below, me. I didn't smile in pictures.

Intriguingly, we nearly lost it in 1944. According to Nicholas Shrady's Tilt: a skewed history of the Tower of Pisa. "During World War II, the Allies discovered that the Nazis were using it as an observation post. A U.S. Army sergeant was briefly entrusted with the fate of the tower. His decision not to call in an artillery strike saved the edifice."


The Colosseum. 'A stadium to top all others'. Again, it's is notable how much seems unchanged to today.

'Victor Emmmanuel Monument with film from Egypt.' Apart from more colourful pedestrians and traffic, it doesn't look that different today.

It wasn't all sightseeing. The reason I was put onto this website was my researches into the Supermarine Walrus aircraft. Wartime colour photographs of it are ultra-rare, so I was delighted to see this:

James Hare's caption reads: 'RAF "Walrus" on the Pisa Airfield. The type plane that fished me out of the Adriatic in March 1945'

Through the website owner, Mark O'Boyle, I was able to get James' permission to use a photo in a feature I wrote on Walrus Air-Sea Rescue operations in Aeroplane magazine. I was delighted to hear that James is still hale and hearty, and it was great to catch a sight of Italy from a different world. Apparently he was delighted the picture was of use, too. Mark added:
I know very little of the Walrus other than the very brief statements about pilots rescued from certain death or capture when they were picked up by the life-saving amphibs.... What a joy it must of been to see one while pondering the inevitable, and be plucked out of the sea by a friend.

The gent in the picture next to the Walrus is Captain Maxwell P. Fonda, or "Doc Fonda" or as Dwight here says, his nickname was Foxwell P. Monda.... Little known facts. My oh my...
All the photos are shown on the 57th Fighter Group website. Well worth a look for a view of the day to day life of these crews and their friends.


1 comment:

hotel Treviso Airport said...

These photos are amazing and full of history, totally agree!