Tell a little about yourself and how you became interested in WWII aviation?
I am 40, I am married and we have 3 children: 2 sons and a daughter. I have started collecting militaria items when I was 15, grabbing some things in my grandfather's attic. He was a seaplane flying engineer aboard the french cuirassier "Lorraine" in 1939-1940. After the Armistice, he joined the French Resistance in the maquis "Ace of Clubs" and fought until the Liberation. The first things I found were a captured German campaign phone and a british magazine for Bren automatic rifle he had kept. When I was a teenager, I made some plastic models and I was fascinated by World War II american planes. They are all so perfect ! Then, around the age of 19, I decided to specialize myself collecting WWII US aviation flying equipment. I had the opportunity to publish my first article in the French Militaria Magazine when I was 24 and my passion is still intact.
Speak about your past research and past book on the 9th Air Force
After having collected flight equipment, I found interesting collecting photo albums, scrapbooks and groupings about US flyers. I published more articles and one day I decided to make a book. As I had many never published photos, I thought interesting making a book around named men using their personal albums or groupings in view to show their daily life, than keeping all these albums stored at home in a cupboard. That was my first book about 8th Air Force heavy bomber units in England. Some years later, I was able to make another book. This time, I chose the 9th Air Force which is not very well known and for which there was a terrible lack of book. I wanted to make a photographic one.
How did you become interested in United States Marine Corps aviation?
When I was young (around 10) I used to watch the TV series "Baa Baa Black Sheep" with my grandfather. Boyington was my hero. One day, when I was around 28, I had the opportunity to purchase a photo album about the VMF-222, a Marine Squadron who fought in the Solomons : the pure dream ! I was contacted by a man asking me if there were some photos showing a pilot named John Morris. There were some and he gave me the email address of his daughter who gave me the email address of another pilot of this squadron. Then, I tried to find other groupings or photo albums, storing them for a future book which finally resulted in the book you know USMC Aviators.
One day I met David A. Reid whose father was also a pilot assigned to the VMF-222. Fortunately, David is fond of French literature and reads French in the text. He helped me a lot for the English version, as several other persons did.
Tell about your work with veterans - to collect these amazing photos, log books, documents, etc It is an impressive effort. Did you also collect photos from their relatives / ebay purchases, etc ? Visit to the US National Archives, etc
The first contacts I had with some veterans were before the year 2000. At this time we used classic mails as I had not Internet at home yet. I succeeded in obtaining the address of the 344th BG veteran association as I had a nice photo album about this unit. I was very interested in the B-26 Marauder and, slowly but surely, I was in contact with many veterans who flew this plane. I met six of them as I was travelling in Louisiana and in Texas in 2001. Most of them passed away, but I am proud to having shared their combat experience. I had sent many letters to the National Archives in view to obtain some infos about several flyers but according to a fire which occured in 1973 (if I remember well) millions of Official Military Personnel Files were destroyed. Step by step, I got some contacts with collectors and militaria dealers in view to purchase or trade some items. Sometimes eBay was a good source to find interesting things, but sometimes a single email address can be the source of a very good surprise.
When I started collecting US Navy & Marine Corps groupings and albums, I sent several letters to the National Archives and succeeded in obtaining some combat reports and the war diary of the VMSB-144. These documents gave me a lot of courage to work on the book USMC Aviators.
Do you also collect the USMC flight gear? The photos of gear, equipment, labels are outstanding parts of the book too.
I had some USMC flight gear in view to make the photos for the book, but as I try to concentrate myself on photo albums, scrapbooks and photos lot, I can not purchase all things I would want. I had to make a choice, but several friends lent me the flight gear I needed for the photos. It was not easy as there is a few USMC Aviation collectors in France, but the result is quite honest, I think.
Tell about the aircraft artwork in the book - some are made from WWII Photos, they are expertly done. Speak about researching and creating these with your artists.
I wanted to include some plane profiles in colors for my book for two reasons.
The first one is that some plane profiles are helpful for modelers.
The second reason is that they bring some color in the book as most of the photos are in black and white.
We spent a lot of hours during many nights with Nicholas trying to obtain the best result. I would have liked to include more profiles, but it is a so hard work to find some photos in view to draw an entire plane, that 19 profiles was the best we could do. There will be more profiles in my next book about US Navy aviators, I promise !
How did you decide on the format / material for the book? The result is an impressive layout and collection. I believe, this is one of the best books made during 2012 (that I have seen !)
Thank you very much for the compliment. Concerning the format, I wanted something large enough to obtain a good result for the photos. Then, depending on the classic formats used by professional printers I kept the same size as my two precedent books. Selecting the photos was one of the hardest step for the book. I did my best with what I have in my collection and with what my friend Adam Lewis was able to provide me through his outstanding work about the VMTB-143 and VMF-512. I agreed with him that these units deserved a chapter in a book. Adam knew my books and he trusted in me. The result is in the book. I always think that a single photo can tells more than ten pages of text. Nowadays, people are very sensible with photos. When you succeed in locating the place and the time when the photo was taken, putting some names on faces, I think it is the best work you can do. I love making the photos speak... but sometimes it is simply impossible !
Tell about your next book on USN Aviators - will that book be the same format?
Yes it will. Well, I do have too much chapters, too much photos. I have started to work on this book. There should be around 12-14 chapters: one about a Hellcat pilot assigned to the famous VF-15 who was a double ace, another chapter about a ground-based dive bomber pilot in the Solomons, and another one about a four engine bomber pilot in the Philippines, the last chapter will be related to a pilot assigned to a special unit capturing and testing Japanese planes in Japan from September 1945.