Book Bag: ‘Photographed Letters on Wings’ and ‘Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible’

Friday, March 09, 2018

by Steve Pfarrer


By Tom Weiner with Bill Streeter

Levellers Press


With the possible exception of the American Civil War, it’s hard to imagine a period in history that’s been covered more extensively than World War II. The story of the most destructive and widespread conflict the world has ever seen has been told in innumerable books, movies, newspaper articles and other media over the years.

But local author Tom Weiner, with research help from the late Bill Streeter of Cummington, has covered a WWII topic that’s less well known.

“Photographed Letters on Wings,” by Levellers Press of Amherst, examines how special short letters — known as V-Mail — to and from soldiers during the war were reduced in size and placed on microfilm, mailed, then blown back up, saving valuable space on ships and planes for weapons, ammunition, food and other vital supplies.

Weiner, who lives in Northampton, is the author of “Called to Serve,” an oral history of American men who were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and how they responded. Bill Streeter was, among other things, a bookbinder in Northampton and a chronicler of the history of his hometown of Cummington.

In his new book, Weiner notes that Streeter, who died last year at age 86, had begun researching the subject of V-Mail, particularly the use of it by his older cousin, Henry, who sent and received many of the miniaturized letters during the war before being killed in Germany in April 1945.

Building on Bill Streeter’s research, Weiner tells a bit of the history of microfilm and its initial use in wartime, such as during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, when the French used carrier pigeons to take microfilmed letters and news items in and out of the besieged city of Paris.

A regular system involving microfilmed letters, known as Airgraph, was first developed in Great Britain early in WWII, and then V-Mail (“Victory Mail”) was introduced in the U.S. a few years later. According to the book, 37 mail bags weighing 2,575 pounds and carrying 150,000 conventional one-page letters were reduced to a single sack weighing 45 pounds by using V-Mail.

Weiner’s book also includes many period photographs showing how the V-Mail letters were produced, processed, checked by wartime censors and blown back up to readable size.

He also includes images of many period advertisements for V-Mail that promoted the service as a patriotic way for U.S. citizens to get letters to the troops because, as one ad put it, “it gets there quicker and saves space for vital supplies that help speed Victory.” 

Tom Weiner will read from and discuss “Photographed Letters on Wings” on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center.



By Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Golin

Illustrated by Vail Mintzi


janeyolen.com, barbaradiamondgoldin.com

Longtime Valley children’s book authors Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin combine forces on a new book that examines several bible stories involving women and girls.

“Meet Me at the Well” includes nine chapters that retell the stories of 14 significant female figures, including Eve, the original woman in the Garden of Eden, and Esther, who became queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide — a story that serves a central role in the Jewish festival of Purim. 

In their introduction, the authors note that they’ve focused on stories from the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Torah or Old Testament, in part because biblical stories “often seem to be about the men … [but] we must never forget that even in the stories about men, there are women. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives. They do a lot of the hard lifting, listening, and reacting.”

“Most often they are part of their father’s or husband’s or son’s narratives,” they write, “so we must do double-duty in order to both situate the women in and then liberate them from the tellings.”

In an effort to explain why they consider these women heroes, the authors include numerous explanatory sidebars, as well as short fiction passages in the characters’ voices.

Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin will read from “Meet Me at the Well” on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Edwards Public Library in Southampton.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.