Why Collect Militaria?
I am often asked this, and it's difficult to answer. Some people just like the concept of buying something and spending their money, others enjoy the thrill of the chase in finding something. For me, the thrill is actually holding something that old, has been there, and can tell a story.
Acquiring a military artifact from the past, is not for the sake of collecting, but rather for preserving the memory of individuals and events from a previous time period. An artifact opens a doorway into history, by providing tangible evidence of that era. It helps to bring the past into the present and allows our thoughts to imagine more accurately the events which transpired.
For many collectors, artifacts provide a rare escape for the rigor of everyday life and, more importantly, often provide an often inspirational glimpse into the realm of bravery, human endeavour and achievement.
A military artifact tells a story of men and women who served, and in probability died for their country upholding the beliefs and morals of that nation. It should be remembered that the artifact you now hold was in all likelihood worn by a individual who took great pride in the uniform, piece of cloth, badge or item of equipment that marked them as a member of the force they represented. Be it an elaborate badge of rank, decoration or a simple piece of cloth, these emblems often remain precious possessions to their owners and descendents long after a conflict has ended.
You are not the owner of the artifact, but rather a “keeper of history” and the article which you currently possess should be passed along to the next keeper to ensure its perpetuity. Treat your possession with the honour and respect – it is part of history, and part of a man's or woman’s heritage.
Collecting militaria is preserving history (where spoon collecting is not).
Dedication to Service
On another note, the lifestyle achieved by many individuals today is directly based on the service and sacrifice of individuals during several 19th Century conflicts; in particular: World War One and World War Two. Many people ignore this service or don't think about the past in any substantial way.
These conflicts have served to ignite and focus the activities of whole countries, and servicemen and woman fought for their country in a war that would have resulted in far-reaching consequences were it lost. The effort of entire allied nations was required to defeat the axis powers (Germany, Italy & Japan). Countries that are divided today for relatively minor reasons were united in one cause. People from these earlier times were tougher, more resilient and more resourceful than people today. Why? Because they had to fight to achieve their living standards and freedom - that we only inherited.
I can remember attending the various ANZAC and Veteran Day ceremonies as a young boy in the early 1970's, the rows upon rows of marching soldiers who had served in World War Two. I hardly gave them a thought as there were so many. Now in 2006, I note that the rows and rows have dwindled to only a few. I believe at last count, there are less than ten soldiers alive today (2006) who served during the First World War. Time is marching faster than they can, and soon there will be few left from the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam; they will be replaced by soldiers currently serving in Middle East conflicts.
So next time you curse an old man for driving slowly, or roll your eyes as a flight attendant spends time helping an old lady into her seat aboard the aircraft, or become annoyed at the time an old man is taking his time fumbling for his money at the super market check-out, think again. That elderly man may have been a dedicated pilot of an aircraft, and the elderly lady may have been a flight nurse tending to those injured and wounded. These people maybe indirectly responsible for you actually being alive! What would Australia be like if the Japanese had achieved victory during the Second World War? What of America? Would the "Stars and Stripes" have been replaced with the swastika and the "Southern Cross" by the red meatball. Before you ridicule you should thing about this.
So what has this got to do with collecting? The collecting and preserving of certain pieces of militaria is a way in which the deeds and service of these earlier forbears is appreciated and remembered.
My Specialties / Interests
So what are my collecting interests and how long have I being doing this for? I started collecting in the early 1970's and have been addicted more or less ever since! My interest waxes and wanes, but is always there (kind of like a fatal disease or persistent illness!)
I sold off much of my collection in early 1980's and decided to specialise in only a few areas - mainly to save on the required space to store items, but also to concentrate on specific areas of interest.
My specialty mainly is collecting aviation wings (USAAF, RAAF, RSAAF, RNZAF and RAF), decorations and awards (WW1, WW2 and Vietnam). I also am interested in Third Reich awards (WW1 & WW2). For the most part I have not strayed from this narrow track, although I have side-lined in a few areas such as USAAF crusher caps and survival equipment. I also am interested in civilian aviator wings from the "Golden Years" of flight. This period is from the early 1900's to around circa 1960 and was a period when aviators had to be aviators as there was no computers and satellites to aid in pilotage and navigation.
I am often why collect wings in contrast to other badges. Wings are a testament to person's skill and ability; wings are earned rather than just issued; wings are small in size and easy to store; wings hold a certain amount of interest to most people as they can identify with a pilot wing; and the moths do not eat them!
I have ceased collecting Third Reich awards as there are far too many excellent reproductions on the market and reproductions are difficult to detect from authentic items. I now only obtain these awards and decorations from veterans or their immediate families. If providence cannot be proven then I will not purchase an item.
No I am not discussing France or a television "heart-throb" series.
Provenance, from the French provenir, "to come from", refers to the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object.
Provenance is VERY important to a collector; an aviator wing, uniform, badge or decoration is basically only a piece of cloth or metal without some historical connection. It's true that the item signifies something, but the item has no character or life associated with it.
History comes "alive" when the provenance of an item is known. You are holding an item that was "there" and it's like a crucible to the past.
For example, I have in my collection an Australian rank insignia that belonged to a Captain (name and history known) who actually wore the insignia during the first attack wave at Galipoli. By itself, the insignia is a chunk of brass, but knowing who wore the insignia, where it's been, and what it has endured is what makes an item such as this valuable, at least intrinsically.
Therefore, if you know the provenance of an item, ensure you accurately record the history and its association to the item. You will not be the only person that owns the item - it will outlive you!
Please Note / Intellectual Disclaimer
Although I have a strong interest in military history and the collection and maintenance of military artifacts, I do not condone, immortalise or support any wartime action or event, whether committed by allied or axis forces. Nor do I support or promote the policies of any political party. My interest is just that - an interest!
IMAGE: The icon image on this page is a the squadron patch from the 13th Bombardment Squadron known as the "Grim Reapers". The Squadron was based in Brisbane and Charters Towers, Queensland during the Second World War and flew Douglas A-20 and Mitchell B-25 attack bombers. The 13th Bombardment Squadron along with the 8th, 89th and 90th Bombardment Squadrons made up the elements of the 3rd Bombardment Group, 5th Airforce, USAAF. This cloth patch was the insignia of the squadron and was worn on A2 leather flight jackets and other items of flight clothing. A painted version of the motif adorned Squadron aircraft. The patch is constructed of felt and cotton and is attached to cheesecloth backing. It was made "in-country" (locally within Australia) for the unit. Similar patches are highly collectable and prized by collectors.