Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was a Royal Airforce Pilot during World War II. Before he wrote any of the beloved children's titles that are popular today, his first children's book was The Gremlins which was illustrated by Walt Disney. A popular myth among airmen, gremlins were blamed for sabotaging aircraft through their mischevious tampering. In Dahl's book, written in 1942, the gremlins are attacking RAF pilots in retaliation for the destruction of their forest to build an aircraft factory. The gremilns are convinced by a pilot named Gus to make peace with the RAF and join forces with the British to combat a more sinister villain; Hitler and the Nazis. The gremlins are then re-trained by the RAF to repair British aircraft instead of destroy them.
In the book The Gremlins, Dahl illustrates the daily lives of gremlins and includes widgets and fifinellas. Widgets are baby gremlins and fifinellas are female gremlins. Dahl named the female gremlins after the British Thoroughbred racehorse named Fifinella, also referred to as the "flying filly," who won the Epsom Derby and Epsom Oaks in 1916.
To read the complete text of Roal Dahl's "The Gremlins" visit http://www.roalddahlfans.com/books/gremtext.php
Though The Gremlins sold over 80,000 copies world wide, including a copy purchased by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Dahl's and Walt Disney's hopes of making it into a full length animated movie were never realized. Purportedly copyright issues surrounding the origins of the gremlins and the British Air Ministry's insistence to have final approval of script and production due to Dahl's military status left Walt Disney no choice but to cancel production on the film.
Byrd Howell Granger, a member of WASP class 43-1 was the editor of the group’s newsletter "The Fifinella Gazette." In November of 1942 Granger sent a request to Walt Disney, a connection made possible by her brother Frank Howell, asking permission to use Fifinella as the mascot for the Women Airforce Service Pilots. By Febuary of 1943 Granger received a telegram from Walt Disney and she published his respone in the first edition of the "The Fifinella Gazette." The telegraph read as follows:
"Permission granted for two years from date hereof to WFTD Houston to use without charge, name, and design of Fifinella also to incorporate same in that outfits Fifinella Gazette. After expiration of two years we will be glad to renew if requested. Insignia being prepared."
After receiving permission "official" (versions of Fifinella were already being created by the female flyers themselves prior to receiving Walt Disney's blessing) Fifinella “went to war” and was worn in the form of patches. Some were leather, some were cloth, and they were worn on WASP flight jackets.
Read the Women Airforce Service Pilot's newsletter the Fifinella Gazette announcing Walt Disney's agreement for using Fifinella as their mascot. http://www.twu.edu/library/wasp/newsletters/1943_Feb10.pdf