SWEETHEARTS ACROSS THE PACIFIC
Jewelry made by US Serviceman in the South Pacific during WWII from the collection of Byron Roche.
Introduction to Sweethearts Across The Pacific :
This collection of jewelry and decorative objects was handcrafted by soldiers, sailors, and marines, mostly U.S. servicemen stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Some pieces were also made by Australian troops, and over time similar work began to be made by civilian residents of Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines to sell to servicemen. This kind of work was made in every theater by soldiers from all countries, including the Axis powers, and was a way to creatively pass the time. Many of the pieces were sent home to wives, mothers, sweethearts, and children to wear on the homefront.
Pins & pendants made from Plexiglas from airplane windows, paint, rhinestones, wire, Australian coins and photographs c. 1944-45
P38 Lightning made from shell casing, 50 cal. machine gun bullets, and smaller bullets, c. 1944-45
Lockets made from Australian coins and Plexiglas and airplane metal, fit together like watch cases c. 1944-45
Bracelets made from Australian coins and airplane metal, c. 1944-45
Cuff bracelet made from shot-down Japanese airplane metal. Front: "Jap Zero"; right side: "Luzon"; left side: "Manila" c. 1944-45
Pipes made from scrap metal, plastic, wood, thread, metal tacks, Plexiglas, in the shape of tanks c. 1944-45
Many pieces were made from Australian coins. Thousands of U.S. troops were trained in Australia and fought their way up through New Guinea and the Philippines in 1944-45. These men had silver Australian money in their pockets, and it was an ideal material for making jewelry. The makers of these pieces also used other materials available to them, including bullets, Lucite from airplane windows, scrap metal, wood, tortoise shell, shell casings, and aluminum from shot-down Japanese aircraft.
The work includes primitive pieces made in the field and more elaborately crafted pieces made using tools available in machine shops on bases and ships. It reveals the creative drive as both a coping mechanism and an intrinsic emotional response to the horror and chaos of war.
I put the collection together over the last 15 years, one piece at a time, from pieces found at flea markets, antique shops, and other sources. Many of the people that made and received these items in their youth have now passed away, and the pieces may have been stored in the backs of dresser drawers or jewelry boxes before being sold.
The collection has personal resonance for me. I was in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict, and we participated in several exercises with Australia and New Zealand. I remember with amusement that after the Australian and New Zealand forces left our base in the Philippines, there were red kangaroos and black kiwi birds stenciled throughout the base. My mother was a U. S. Marine and my father was in the Army Air Corp during WWII. My dad spent time in Australia during the war, and always spoke fondly of the way he was treated there. I remember him talking about a pair of jodhpurs he had made for him in Australia; he always wished he could get another pair. He had a couple of handmade pieces of jewelry from the time in his drawer, and seeing these as a child piqued my interest in the subject.
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