Our Flying Jeep Project
Updated: Oct 1
‘Climbing very carefully into that delicately balanced Jeep and taking our positions, we thought hard about those very young women we were re-enacting.
They had come straight from high school to work at the Toledo Jeep factory.
Thousands of miles away from the fighting in Europe, they knew how important their work was. They were rightly proud of the part they played.
We quietly thanked them.’
Five years ago - researching ideas for styling & costumes for our UK singing group The Liberty Sisters - I came across this wonderful image of three young women in an iconic WWII Jeep balanced on four beer bottles. It was an original 1944 publicity photo by the Willys-Overland company, showcasing how light the Jeep was.
It told a story of innovation and the development of one of the key pieces of equipment which helped to end the war. It also revealed an 75 year-old story of an American family’s commitment to the war effort. The picture was a little piece of history that simply would NOT go away. We simply had to try to recreate the image.
It took five years, but with re-enactor, serial Jeep owner & restorer Louis Brzozka and Harry Fowler the Liberty Sisters’ sound technician, mechanic, and man of many tools, we eventually found a way to balance 'Lester' the Jeep on four beer bottles.
How did we do it? VERY carefully, using a combination of ramps and jacks.
Yes - it was fully recorded, and no - it wasn't easy.
We don't know how they did it, but we suspect beer bottle glass was a lot denser in 1944!
Just sourcing suitable beer bottles took over a year. The only large stubbies we could find were from Australia – the 375ml bottle of Victoria Bitter – and you can’t buy that at a UK supermarket. It was a very precious import to us, a case handled with great care.
Only one bottle was actually drunk. So much beer was sacrificed to the tarmac!
Production of the Willys MB, better known as Jeep, began in 1941. The original photo was taken in late 1944 (we can see this from the Jeep serial number) to demonstrate the many qualities of the vehicle. These young women were secretaries from the Willys-Overland offices in Toledo, Ohio. This production plant was the place where so many important decisions were taken regarding the details of this incredible vehicle. The images were originally published at Derek Redmond's https://cj3b.info/ (THE source of jeep history). His fabulous original post about the photographs can be found here.
We know the name of one of the girls - Margaret McTigue, the secretary sitting far left in the shot below. Born in 1921 she would have been 23/24 at the time. Margaret’s son, Jim Burand, still lives in Ohio. We were SO thrilled to find him. He told us that his mother had gone straight from high school to the factory. She had been surprised and happy to be asked to be part of the photo - the beginning and end of her modelling career!
The family’s contribution to the war effort went still further. Margaret’s only brother, Sgt John Mctigue, had lied about his age to join the US army. He had also been working for Spicer Manufacturing, producing Jeep gearboxes. John crossed the Atlantic to be posted to Newquay for training with the 35th div/137th Infantry regiment. Landing in Normandy from Falmouth in July 1944 (as the photos of his sister were being taken) he was part of the second wave. Injured and awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, Sgt John McTigue thankfully returned home, married, and lived a long life.
We'd like to extend our sincere thanks around the world, as follows:
Derek Redmond in Kingston, Canada owner of https://cj3b.info/ for publishing the original photos & offering information and encouragement. Derek's knowledge is incredible. He travels internationally to speak about the Jeep.
Jim Burand in Ohio, USA, for sharing the story of his mother and uncle.
Here in Devon, UK.......
Louis Brzozka Re-enactor and owner of 'Lester', his original 1943 Jeep, for his patience, handling skills and enthusiasm.
Kaye Brzozka - for her super-cheerful support and encouragement to us all when we really needed it! Harry Fowler Technician, fixer & jeep wrangler. A man with ramps, jacks and iron will. Mike Alsford - calm, enthusiastic, and who takes beautiful photographs
Seale Hayne, Devon – grade II listed - our marvellous photo location
....but maybe still not quite as strong as the bottles in 1944!
The Liberty Sisters vintage vocal trio, based in the South West of England, are:
Clare Fairburn, Vikki Hewitt and Helena Gater
tel 0044 7730 557110