All of My Heroes Are Dead
All of my heroes are dead and I have, for the most part, killed them.
I’ve never been one to hero worship sports figures, those over paid adolescent jocks who actually think their political, environmental and economic opinions matter. I find it strange that someone who hits a small ball with a baseball stick sending it over a fence then running around a diamond shape track stepping on pillows laying in the dirt is paid more than someone who will possibly be saving your life after a heart attack, a police officer or firefighter who protects you, your loved ones and your stuff or takes up arms to defend your way of life. I’ve seen the advertisements for the Fifa world cup which involves grown men again running around a field this time kicking a small white basketball and trying to get it into an extra large hockey net without using their hands. The ball catcher/stopper fellow never seems to stop the ball, as far as I see in the commercials, and makes a futile dive in the relative direction of the ball, missing it by yards (or meters). Then the fellow who kicked the ball last is mobbed by his team mates in jubilation. What’s with that! The net is the size of a school bus, how could you possibly miss? At least in the game of ice hockey the net minder is almost as wide as the target net. Often the net minder will fall on top of the hard rubber disk thing, which substitutes for a ball, to stop a score from being recorded against him. Then the other team members who are close by will poke the goal tender with their curved bladed hockey spears until the referee, dressed in a zebra-like black and white striped shirt blows his whistle. This is a signal that it is time for fisticuffs between the two teams. Sometimes the extra players the teams have brought along are allowed to leap over the fence, behind which they were sitting, onto the ice and join in the melee. After this some of the team members from both sides are given a “time out” and must sit on a wooden bench with the fellows they brought along to watch the game while their little friends get to continue playing. It’s all very confusing. These are great games for children but for adults, who often throw tantrums much like spoiled brats, it seems ludicrous to me.
I have stated that all of my heroes are dead, true enough, but I didn’t actually kill them (figuratively) myself; the culprit was the truth. The other factor, for the most part, is that my interest lies with the Victorian era or more precisely starting with the Napoleonic Wars (pre Victorian) until the end of the Boer War (post Victorian). Therefore, of course my heroes are all truly dead in that sense.
It is not always the truth that “kills” heroes, or more accurately hero worship of historical figures. A WWI Canadian hero, for me growing up, had always been Billy Bishop, the WWI leading flying ace. A number of years ago there was a book written offering the mostly unfounded theory that he could not have actually shot down the number of enemy planes that he had claimed. It was pointed out by some that it was ironic that a German had authored the book discrediting an allied pilot. I have always thought it was ironic that a country that prides itself on its diversity would point out the nationality of the author. All of this prompted the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa to erect a notice with the Billy Bishop display pointing out that resent critics had doubted these accomplishments. Well done War Museum! As Canadians we seldom crap on our heroes but let someone else do it and we’ll be happy to take a stand were we don’t have to actually take a stand. We are positively and absolutely in support of taking a stand against taking a stand, unless that makes us look like we are taking a stand; then no comment. Or, “We’re totally against taking a stand against taking a stand, unless you are not upset, then we will strongly take a stand against not taking a stand”. Please fill out the questionnaire below and we will attempt to come to a consensus, as our opinions may change without prior notification. Thank you for your understanding, unless you don’t understand then we apologize for taking up your time. Have a good day, please call again.
Then again if there are enough people who don’t like what the Canadian War Museum has to say with their displays, such as the bombing of civilian targets during WWII because it up sets the War Vets then they change it. To Hell with the truth if it means taking a stand and we’ll be quite clear in not taking a stand, because we are not for or against it. Facts are the facts and war is war, I would think the museum would have figured that out by now even if the public, desperate for heroes, wants to reject the truth.
Your dad (and mine) didn’t go out to kill civilians! Here’s a shocking statement, neither did the German Airmen, in the beginning before Hitler decided to “punish” the British for bombing Berlin (arguments welcomed). There was no such thing as pin point bombing or taking out a target with surgical precision. You simply bombed the general area and trusted in a higher power to guide the explosives to the intended target.
Heroes from the past seldom stand up to the scrutiny of time, the truth that was so carefully hidden suddenly shows these men for what they were; in most cases, human. The Duke of Wellington, Wolsey and Kitchener, all heroes of their day, or as a book I was just reading put it “Heroes in a time of heroes”, have had their darker sides. If we are to follow the Latin advice De mortuis nil nisi bonum (Of the dead, [say] nothing but good), we sacrifice the truth. If we are going to seek the truth then we must be prepared to live with what we find, no matter how distasteful. My heroes are still my heroes but now I see them as ordinary men doing extraordinary things that I would find personally impossible to accomplish.
So let us lift a glass to the average man, among his kind have walked giants.
Not too long ago I was attending a Gun Show in our area and had just completed a negotiation for the purchase of a Pattern 1908 British Cavalry Sabre. The guard had “possibly” been repainted green in the same shade as the WWI models, though I see no indication that this is not the original paint job; some of these were green and some a khaki colour. The seller stated that it had been issued to the Fort Gary Horse (Canadian) which to his mind warranted a slightly higher price than one might normally expect. This example, I did agree, commanded a higher value but not for the reason he presented as the guard was stamped R.H.G. (Royal Horse Guard). As a shameless fan-boy of Victorian era military, anything marked to the Horse Guard is prized. “Hold on there sunshine”, you may be thinking, “haven’t you forgotten the dates of Victoria’s rein (1837-1901) or missed the fact that the sabre is a Pattern 1908?” The Pattern 1908 was in fact accepted into service by King Edward VII (1901 –1910), rather reluctantly according to some sources as he considered it a very ugly pattern compared to those patterns that came before. I considered this specimen a real treasure and therefore was prepared to pay a bit of a premium. For a change the lack of attention to detail was not mine and I came home with a treasure, in my opinion. Granted I could have pointed out that the stampings did not support his original claim with the intentions of negotiating a lower price, however, since he felt the sword commanded a premium price and I agreed, albeit for a different reason, therefore I feel no remorse at withholding the information. A case where Caveat emptor was somewhat reversed; Caveat venditor perhaps?
The Household Cavalry and I believe Royal Horse Guards still use their Pattern 1892 Mk.II for ceremonial purposes, however during the WWI period they were issued the Pattern 1908 while on active service.
By way of some explanation as to why, if I am so inclined to collect Victorian era black powder military firearms and swords, have I added the Pattern 1908 Cavalry troopers sabre and the Pattern 1912 Officer’s Cavalry sabre to the collection? My collection theme, and I do have one, (a method to my madness if you will), is that I like my collection to tell a story and yet not necessarily including every Pattern of sword or Mark and Number of every musket ever made. Therefore the Pattern 1908 and 1912 is the final chapter in the story of British Cavalry sabres. Also, I do collect in the “other direction” so the collection also has examples of weapons from George III, George IV, William IV as well as Victoria, a range from 1760 to 1901 or 1912 in the case of the last cavalry (Officer’s) pattern.
I find it interesting that the Patterns still in use today by Officers, though for ceremonial purposes only, end with the Victorian Patterns. One exception that I am aware of is the use of the Pattern 1908 by Canada’s R.C.M.P. in their world famous Musical Ride. Now, finding one marked to the R.C.M.P. would be a banner day indeed.
After I had secured the sword I slipped it into what is called a “rifle or gun sock” for transport around the balance of the show. My reasons for this, other than treating the sword with respect and protecting it from any damage while it is in my care, is the unwanted banter that often comes from the vendors. If you carry around a firearm or sword, for that matter, every other dealer is shouting out at you asking if “it” is for sale. I find it rather annoying though I understand their reasons. Sword collectors immediately recognize the shape in the rifle sock and some will ask if they can see what you have. Naturally one would never decline to show off a new prize and the resulting conversation that follows. Eventually I came to a table of a long time acquaintance of mine who is also a fellow sword collector. He is a collector of ancient Japanese weapons and armour, the real thing not the WWII NCO and Officer’s katanas or the cheap scrap metal reproductions out of China. I showed him my latest purchase and he said, upon handling it, that it was a really poor sword and felt awkward in the hand and he thought it would also be a poor sword for fencing. It should be explained that this is common between us, his running down of British military swords and me asking once in a while, when no one else can hear, if a certain blade on his table came out of China recently. I would agree with his tongue-in-cheek assessment that the 1908 Cavalry Sabre feels much different in the hand than a Japanese katana, and he was as usual joking, as I have a couple of Japanese swords in the collection dating from the early 1650s. I also agree that the 1908 would make a terrible fencing sword based on the fact that in my younger days I belonged to a fencing club, using the epee for the most part. Then he hit upon the obvious that the 1908 had no true (sharp) edge and was “too dull to even cut butter”, I have not experimented but I assure you the butter remark was a little over the top. My friend knows his swords so his comments only elicited a laugh from me as I knew he was kidding. The downside is that he now has one up on me!
This has led me to thinking about the current trend on television to run programs comparing different weapons systems and warriors throughout history. Comparing a ninja to a fifteenth century fully armoured knight for example. Who would win? First off there is no such thing nor never has been a ninja outside the realm of fiction and fantasy, so let’s call our imaginary friend a samurai. They were both in more or less the same time periods but the warfare they engaged in was completely different calling for different tactics and equipment. Also the samurai portrayed in these silly “competitions” is almost always indicative of the warriors of the 1650’s period and probably should at least be the fully armoured samurai of the 1500’s. Total nonsense! No different than comparing the Japanese katana of the 1650’s, of which I have two examples in my collection, to the Pattern 1908 British cavalry troopers sabre. Katanas are cutting, or slashing, weapons and the 1908 is a “thrust centric” sword, not even a true sabre; it’s actually more of an estoc. True you can thrust with the katana but just looking at it tells you that the principal use is as a cutter. You’ve probably seen samurai movies where the hero has just polished off 1,714 of the opposition’s samurai then flips his sword under his arm and stabs another opponent who is coming up behind him. Nice move for the camera but not one that would be very useful on the battle field. To make my point, the distance from the body of the samurai to the point of strike (about 4 inches from the tip) on the blade is 42 inches. The point of fatal contact with the enemy approaching from behind is 10 inches taking into account a needed four inches of penetration for a kill. Why would the enemy not simply strike his opponent, who is facing away from him, using a cut at 42 inches away instead of coming within the 14 inch strike range of his adversary? If you stand 14 inches away from your opponent it is almost impossible to make a power cut or even “give point” (thrust, or stab). You may simply say, “There he goes again, making unsupported claims”. Surprisingly enough, while I may blend a couple of stories together to make one better tale every now and then, I never make unsupported claims. Today was a very nice day so I went out into the back yard with my wooden practice katana (officially called a “bokken”) and my tape measure and carried out some experiments. The neighbours are used seeing to my so-called experiments in archeology. Some neighbours tend to describe me as eccentric, for some reason. There are probably less polite terms used when speaking to each other about their neighbour, I am sure.
If we now look at the 1908 cavalry sword and read the history behind it we find that it was designed as a thrusting weapon only and only while on horseback. It was to take the place of the lance for the most part. It is not a fencing epee or a slashing weapon, this I assure you as I have studied and participated in both European and Japanese styles of fencing.
In conclusion there is no comparison, not because one is superior to the other but simply because you can’t compare the two; they are totally different “animals”, different time periods and using different tactics.
I apologize that I have not included photographs this time. I am not set up for photographing larger items and had a lot of trouble when I tried to insert Photoshop reduced backgrounds (canvas).
To the Point, Part 1
British Edged Weapons Problems.
Yet another function where my attendance is somehow mandatory, seated at a round table with barely room for five couples none of whom I know; if I did get to know them I am confident I would not like their company. Men in suits that look like they originally belonged to their fathers with dress shirts that are so small that the top button can only dream of ever being reunited with its intended closure. A failed attempt to hide up the fact that the shirt is far too small made by disguising the open space with the large King Edward’s knot reminding one of a convicted felon, neck in the noose, awaiting the final drop to oblivion. Then there is the inane conversation. The ladies content to swap stories of grandchildren and the men struggling to find a mutually respected sports team. My wife has cautioned me on several occasions about my conduct and what I should and should not say or discuss among those of whom I am unfamiliar. To the question as to whether I follow or have an interest in a certain sports team I now simply say “no”. Apparently this is preferable, according to my spouse, to replying with, “not in the least”, to the sports question. Personally I can tolerate those with single faceted, career related, interests at least they can be interesting and there is a slight chance that one can actually learn something new, making the sacrifice of my time, a finite commodity, somewhat worth the expenditure. I like to hope that at least a couple of these posturing male gorillas attempting to establish themselves to be the alpha silver back has enough intellect to avoid metaphorically throwing their own feces and even accidently offering up a topic of interest; but sadly, no. It’s not that there are no topics that I could be engaged in to discuss, even debate. Of course history, but also science and the feared taboo topics of politics and religion, both of which I am quite capable of carrying on a civilized, or a more heated, conversation.
Finally there is an oasis in the midst of this sea of banality, the “seven minute lull”. It has been said that during any conversation, I suspect even more so during trivial banter, there will be a lull in the conversation every seven minutes or so. It is times like these that I find myself wishing there was a terrorist waiting in the lobby ready to rush in, encased with explosives, screaming some ridiculous babble, intent on ending our existence. Oh, would it were so. I assure you that I would run up to this fanatic, hugging him, pulling the detonator pin myself; but, again, sadly no. Just prior to the so-called lull and my wish for escape, any escape, someone said, “The problem with today’s society is social media”. Eureka, the topic for this month’s blog suddenly came to me. No, no, not today’s social media as my “world” is the mid to late 19th century; it is the media of the Victorian times and in particular the “fake news” (yes, I know the modern reference) as it pertained to the British military swords and bayonets of the day. Oh, yes, the topic of what is wrong with the world today quickly deteriorated into what was wrong with today’s youth. From what I see today’s youth is basically not a lot different from the youth “of my day”. I just may not have yet reached the age where I am convinced that I know what the problems of today are and especially how to solve them. Though I suppose some people are wise beyond their age; yep, sarcasm.
We are all exposed to today’s media, be it through the handheld devices, laptop, PC, or traditional media. It is apparent that some sources are very bias toward a certain political idealism or popular consensus but while we may think we “own” this phenomenon as it seems so relevant to our times it is nothing new. Reports back to the home front from military actions, for example, have been common place for centuries in the form of official war diaries and more “as it happened” journalism through war correspondents. In the mid to late nineteenth century war correspondents were often “in the thick of it” during battles such as the Zulu and Sudan campaigns. In the case of the Sudan campaign, the Battle of Abu Klea 16 January 1885, some of the war correspondents defended themselves during this vicious battle with their privately purchased revolvers. As a point of possible interest an ancestor of mine, Lieutenant Richard Wolfe, No. 4 Co., HCR/Scots Greys, lost his life defending the British square during this battle.
As I have stated above some of the news papers of the time were very quick to point fingers, as to blame military failures, on the political party in power, in particular the Prime Minister. It was found that some of the swords and bayonets failed to perform as needed during the fierce battles often resulting in the death of the British Officer or soldier. This resulted in what was called the 1885 Bayonet Scandal. Basic blame was placed on the poor quality of the swords and bayonets used by the troops. In the case of the Officers they purchased their own swords as opposed to the NCO and other ranks who were issued government supplied weapons. At the time many sword blades were made in Germany and then sold to sword makers in Britain who would then finish the sword and sell it to the government for issue to the NCOs and other ranks, then swords for the Officer class were sold to retailers for private purchase. Some of the tailors, or retailers, would even place “proof marks” on the ricasso as if the sword had passed testing and were therefore “battle ready” which many were not. The “scandal” resulted in the testing of swords and bayonets already in the hands of the military as well as those in stores. It was found that a large percentage of weapons failed the trials; in the case of the socket and sword bayonets for the Martini-Henry this involved both the bending and twisting tests.
One of the early excuses for the failure of bayonets in the field was the accusation that soldiers used their bayonets as pokers to keep camp fires blazing. This was a “smoke screen” used by authorities to hide the testing results and associated blame from the public. An article in The Times, 13, January 1885 discounts this quoting an army source as saying, “Any use of a bayonet as a poker would not likely pass inspection the following morning”. This served to discount the original accusation. While the contractors who produced the sub-standard bayonets were never officially named there were two factors uncovered by the investigation in the manufacturing process that caused the defects.
“Firstly, the bayonets were all subject to bending tests and, so that the contractor could get the bayonet passed, he left them unhardened. This was necessary because, if hardened, they would break under tests, as inferior steel was used in the manufacture. The second reason was that some contractors used casehardening so that when bayonets were manufactured they were ground, then hardened and were then passed on for final grinding. If the bayonet was not much oversize then the bayonet would probably be all right, but if it were too much oversize all of the casehardening would be ground off, leaving the soft metal.”
Source: “British Military Bayonets from 1700 to 1945” by R.J. Wilkinson Latham.
The Patterns involved in the scandal, the Pattern 1853 sword-bayonet and the Pattern 1876 socket bayonet, were replaced by the Pattern 1886 which brought to an end the problems experienced. Future sword and bayonet manufacture was dominated by the firms of Wilkinson and Mole and manufacturing of weapons from firms in Germany ceased.
In this blog we looked mainly at the British bayonet and the associated scandal, in next month’s submission (Part 2: Staying Sharp) we will discuss the earlier problems with the British Cavalry swords, in particular those used during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the Sepoy Mutiny).
I Hate Moving!
It has taken a while but the Home Office has moved two doors down the hall and the vacated room is now converted over to a second collection room. My dear astute wife is starting to suspect a form of Lebensraum is taking place within our home. She has countered my resent move, generated by the need to expand my territorial claims, with a policy of her own which states that she will concede the space but this is the last time appeasement will be offered before some undisclosed action is taken. I have assured her that if this latest claim is granted then I will make no further territorial claims. Of course the agreement was written on a piece paper which she proudly waved to the family proclaiming that there was to be peace in our time. This is strangely starting to sound familiar.
Like the size of most collections mine has waxed and waned over the years yet continued to survive in one form or another to the point where the space is filled and a move was necessary. You will notice, as did my dear wife, that the option to sell off large sections of the collection never seemed to enter this equation. To be fair I have reduced the collections somewhat in the past couple of months, getting rid of a lot of “smalls” both military and non-military antiques. Naturally some of the items were used in trade for other collectables and the cash realized from the balance of the sold items was quickly rolled over into even more military collectables. My latest obsession is a renewal of an old passion for British military swords, specifically Victorian and older. So while at first it might have appeared that I was indeed reducing the size of my collection (my initial intention) as soon as the cash was in hand something took hold of my better judgement and more items were secured. The other factor that foiled my good intentions was that the items traded and sold were indeed “smalls” but the items I gained in their place were swords; so not so small.
Even though the move was not of any great distance there was the usual complaining from the staff here at The Home Office. The computer needed to be moved and hooked up and book cases relocated, new sword racks constructed and a lot of rearranging so that neither collection room looked too sparse, though the new room (former office) has ample space for a couple more years of collecting available. A large and very comfortable arm chair was “liberated” from the family room and after turning it on its side, with a lot of manipulation through the door way, found a new home. I doubt this chair will be reclaimed by the family as it was very difficult navigating it into the room, though it may end up costing me for a new chair to replace the vacant spot in the family room. Perhaps they won’t notice.
Since I seldom post photos of myself or the staff members here at The Home Office I decided to make an exception this time, especially for those who wonder if there really is a Home Office complete with staff. The photo below is of us and our move and a second photo thrown in just for fun shows a group of friends at a military show contemplating the purchase of a new addition to one of their collections. The fellow looking on from the right hand side of the photo seems to have done well, scoring some nice Swiss military equipment. Well done!
That’s all for now as I am going into the new room with a cup of coffee to relax in the arm chair and admire the new additions to the collection.
The Value of a Collection
A lot is said by collectors as to what their collection is worth. Last month I threw out a subject for dialogue regarding the use of avatar names on the Social Network sites and one of the comments was in regard to collection value; more specifically that there is a need for anonymity to help prevent theft. This is a very valid point indeed and one that could generate much discussion on its own merit. It has been pointed out that one may even discover someone’s identity if they use an avatar on eBay, for example, and their proper name here on the GMIC. This may be accomplished by paying attention of what is in the background of the picture of the posted item for sale then noticing the same background here on this forum. I’ve seen this myself in regard to one of the GMIC members who also sells on eBay, though I only know his real name as we both have been members here for a long time. I am also guilty of this in that I used to sell a lot on eBay and always employed the same grey corduroy back drop cloth in every photo both on eBay and on the GMIC.
I usually wait until later in a Blog to get sidetracked but this time I started with being distracted, though it may be argued that it was after the first paragraph when this blog went off the rails, so-to-speak. I leave that up to you.
One comment, last month regarding security started me thinking, which is the very reason for these Blogs, about my collection and the attractiveness to criminals that it might present. I do have a security system but not of the James Bond laser, poison gas type. The concept that someone could easily cut the phone lines just outside of the house has been eliminated when I built a shop attached to the side of the dwelling. The lines all remained in the same location and the shop was built over them so the lines are eight feet below the surface of the yard and enter the dwelling inside the shop. We live in a small community and an extremely quiet neighbourhood where the biggest event of the year is when the first robin arrives back from the south in the spring. So it is a fairly safe and secure neighbourhood in a small and low-crime town. This left me with looking at what my collection was actually worth and with this exercise came a rude awakening.
Exactly what is any collection worth? Certainly if you have kept good records of the amount paid out for your collectables you could state the cost of a collection. Probably a figure best kept locked away in a secret safety deposit box and the key hidden from your spouse. What you paid and what it is actually worth are two completely different figures. If a criminal broke in and was able to steal whatever they wanted what would they take? Firearms would be on the top of the list I am sure and then anything they could easily sell, usually to support their drug habit. Unless you have diamond encrusted military awards or solid gold medals the criminal may have to sort through dozens, perhaps hundreds of military medals in order to take only those made of silver. Keep in mind most thieves are “grab and run” types and do not take the time to sort, especially if an alarm system is blaring away. Most pawn shops are hesitant to take in any quantity of so-called collectables, though anything that could be easily melted down may be more desirable to the less honest pawn shop owner. I would say that electronics would present a more attractive target than 200 bayonets, even with their original scabbards.
Moving on from the possibility of criminal activity because you have either taken precautions to “harden the target” (police terminology) or preserved your anonymity by not allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry in to see your collection, let’s look at post mortem sales. This may be the fate of a lot of our collections. Certainly our own mortality is not in question; unless you have found out something I haven’t. If you have, sharing it would be much appreciated. So here we are in a state of personal extinction, dead as a dodo bird and securely under six feet of dirt, with your collection in the hands of your heirs. I have found that spouses and family are fairly quick to dispose of the deceased collector’s hoard. It is not because of greed and the desire to pick the carcass of the estate clean, in most cases, at least in my opinion. It is a time of grief and your collection is a small part of the whole issue at hand. One should never discount how much your hobby has irritated the family and their point of view may not be that of the selfless parent or spouse but rather has always been a silent point of contention. There may be a small bit of resentment over the time and money you have lavished on your collection, time and attention, if not money, that could and should have been spent on them. This could be a moment of self-reflection for me, if it were not for my deep seated lack of empathy; my dear wife calls me her, “cold hearted old bastard”; that rather sums me up on so many levels. In retaliation I call her, “yes dear”. Perhaps that should make me even more reflective but, nope, it doesn’t. I’m sure my collection will be sold as soon as they can pry it from my cold dead fingers. At least I hope they will wait that long.
So you are gone and your heirs go to a dealer or two and offer your collection for sale. What could they expect to see out of your “investment”? We’ve all heard such discussions between collectors and it usually goes something like this, “Those @#$%& bastards (dealers) will only give you ten cents on the dollar”. With this in mind I asked around and found that the range from those dealers who would actually offer an estimate varied greatly. The highest was from an American source at 60 cents on the dollar with the average here in Ontario at 20 to 25 cents on the dollar, Australia came in around the same as here. Bear in mind that any dealer must consider the purchase of a whole collection as a long term investment tying his money up perhaps for years. The highest estimate was from a collector/dealer with the lowest estimate from a dealer with a “brick and mortar” shop and therefore with the highest amount of overhead to cover monthly expenses. The average came from dealers who set up at shows with little to no overhead.
Looking over my own collection, which includes firearms (all deactivated except my muskets, they are all in working order), I realize that I have two room filled with history’s unwanted junk. Obsolete tools of war and medals to persons long gone that tell no real story on their own. All items that any self-respecting thief (an oxymoron is I ever wrote one) would not risk his freedom to take. This, you may think, would be a bit sobering, even depressing for me and it would if I weren’t so self-absorbed and believed my collection is indeed my treasure trove of historically significant objects.
So what is your collection really worth? To others perhaps an average of 40 cents on the dollar for your investment but more importantly to people like us it’s priceless.
Avatar names; Why?
What I would term as odd or bizarre human behaviour has always interested me and the search for why people act as they do has not only fascinated me but at times eluded my powers of comprehension. The person who said that there is nothing as funny as a barrel of monkeys obviously was not, at the time, situated in a room full of people. Since politics and religion are subjects non grata here on the GMIC, and rightfully so, I will resort to the plethora of other subjects that I personally find irritating; subjects upon which I obsess.
Straight off I will say that I do not tend to keep up with modern lingo as used in today’s internet communications. Using the letter “n” to represent the word “and’ or ISO (in search of), IMO (in my opinion) and BRB (be right back) simply seems as foreign to me as putting maple syrup on your French fries (chips for those of the British persuasion). This brings me to today’s rant, so get ready as this is probably going to ruffle some feathers.
Why do people insist on using avatar names? For the most part I am talking about avatar names on the internet in general, You Tube, as an example rather than a forum such as ours. Since I have admitted that I do not keep current on modern terms perhaps I just don’t know what the term avatar means. Upon looking it up I found that in Hinduism it is a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth: an incarnate divine teacher. Well, this could not be the definition I am searching for as we are not allowed to talk about religion here and from some of the comments on the internet I can ascertain they not likely come from any form of divine teacher. The next definition given was from the computing “world” as, “an icon or figure representing a particular person in video games, Internet, etc”. Ah, there we have it a suitable definition from which to work; something that represents a person on the Internet.
Of course I knew this ahead of time but why say something in a few words when a whole paragraph will do (besides I am paid by the word). Again I will reiterate that I have no problem with avatar names here on the GMIC as we do have very good controls regarding ungentlemanly behaviour. Over the years we have seen a few members “cautioned” as to their conduct. However, on the Internet in general that seems to be exception rather than the norm. I never use an avatar name whether here or commenting on the Internet because if I am willing to put something down in writing I am will to stand by what I say. If I am incorrect in my convictions I do stand to be corrected followed by my apology or expression of gratitude whichever is appropriate.
On the other hand I don’t see myself as an offensive sort of fellow, I have never found pleasure in kicking a cat for example, not even unintentionally. There was an incident a number of years ago when one of our daughters arrived home late from her part-time pizza shop job sans her door key. She decided that sleeping in the car was a poor choice and rang the door bell to awaken someone to let her in. This resulted in my rushing through a darkened house to let her in before she woke the whole household. I should mention that we had a cat; a cat whose name evolved in proportion to his girth to the point where the kids aptly renamed him “Fat Tony”. Fat Tony was fast asleep, his natural state when not gorging himself on Fancy Feast, or some other over-priced cat food. Unknown to me this lump of a cat was transfixed, due to his preponderance, to the floor in line with my path of travel. My left foot apparently just missed him however my right foot made contact with the force of a footballer (soccer player for those of you of the North American persuasion).
As a science lesson this is an example of Newton’s First Law of Motion, sometimes referred to as the Law of Inertia, “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”. Just to clarify, the “object at rest” and the “unbalanced force” represent the lethargic and comatose Fat Tony. The “object in motion” being yours truly. Imagine, if you will, a football player taking a penalty kick or attempting to kick a field goal (depends on your definition of football) and the ball is replaced by an anvil. Suffice it to say that the object in motion, in this case, still stayed in motion though transformed from a vertical state to a horizontal one in a split second. Thus ends the science lesson and the answers the question as to why you never kick a cat, or at least not Fat Tony.
To return to the question at hand, why do people use avatar names? Do they feel more at ease giving an opinion and if so what is it about expressing their ideas that frightens them. Is it giving free range to rude and crass people? Well, sometimes. Perhaps it much the same as using an avatar picture, such as the Canada General Service Medal’s reverse that I use. It hints that I am a Canadian and it is a bit of fun, after all life without a little whimsy would be most dull. At times I find it awkward to respond using the avatar name as it is just too impersonal, therefore I usually simply make the response and live with the feeling that I have failed to act in a polite manner by not starting with “Hello X2bKl9”, or whatever their avatar name happens to be. I would like to see the use of a first name in the closing of an entry or response with “Regards (your first name here)” as an example. At least a reply could be made to what would appear to be a real person and not some sort of Bot. I do hope I used that Internet term for Robot correctly, in today’s terminology I run the risk that this is somehow an offensive term. If so I apologize.
By now you must have realized that I had nothing for this month’s blog but I hope this amused you somewhat and gave some folks pause to think.
Brian (a real person not an Internet Bot).
Hoarder to Historian
One of the types of articles I absolutely distain are the “personal journey” stories with some sort of life changing message at the end. The only thing intentionally placed at the end of one of my blogs is a full stop. That’s a “period” for our American friends. I actually say “full stop” just to irritate my Canadian friends who insist on speaking like Americans, which is alright if that’s what you are going for. I said it was “alright” with one exception. One of my all time favourite modern actors is Benedict Cumberbatch, a British actor who has brilliantly brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, “Sherlock Holmes” into the twenty-first century. As an open letter statement to Mr. Cumberbatch, please, please do not attempt an American accent as you did in the movie Doctor Strange. Listening to him announce that he (his character) was an Am-air-ik-an was painful. It makes me wonder what Americans ever did to him.
To get back on track, while I was making notes for this blog I suddenly realized that the topic was pretty much about my own journey in collecting. As I have said I really dislike those types of articles so I will end this blog with a tip on how you can save money to allow you to do more collecting rather than some hippy-like transcendental useless spiritual advice. Yep, another public service announcement from the Home Office. I suppose you are surprised to read that I actually make notes prior to banging away on my keyboard. If you think I ramble on and on now, you should read the unedited notes.
Getting back on getting back on track, see what I mean; and these are the edited results. Many of us start out collecting as hoarders, to a point. Not real hoarders such as seen on television programmes that deal with the physiological illness of hoarding but the accumulation of specific items at an accelerated rate to the exclusion of any in depth research and study. As an example I offer the short story of a fellow I knew who collected British War Medals and Victory Medals from WWI awarded to Canadians from a specific regiment. This was the same regiment he had served in during peace time just before the Desert Storm era. It is understandable why he would collect WWI medals from his old regiment and there is nothing wrong with that. Another fellow from his regiment was also trying the “corner the market” in these medals and a stiff rivalry ensued on the internet auctions between them, complete with bidding wars and heated emails between the two competitors. The fellow I knew would receive the medal or medals he had won then place them in a large zip-lock bag hiding them in the attic space under the insulation. He claimed it was to foil burglars, however, considering he left the small step ladder in the same place directly under the attic hatch it was obvious he was hiding the amount he was purchasing from his wife; a fact that I know to be the true reason. He often said that he intended to open a museum to his old regiment but in reality even a few hundred medals is not enough on their own to fill a museum. I have 210 drawers (I just counted them) filled with collectables, mostly medals and even that would make a pretty poor showing for a museum. The fact that he simply stored the medals away, out of sight and out of reach of his wife, she is quite a short lady, makes me categorize his as a hoarder. I will admit that I was in much the same category for many years then something strange (not Dr. Strange) happened. My collecting started to slow down and research started to interest me more and more. I say “strange” because as I aged my disposable income increased. I am much happier now than when I was driven by an obsession to add to the “pile”, as organized as it was. Now the accumulation of knowledge, and still adding to the collection of course, has become paramount in my obsessive little mind. Perhaps it is age or perhaps it is a simple matter of available space to house my collection, I’m not really sure. The one thing Nature and a collector agree on is that they both abhor a vacuum and will try to fill any void.
Now for that money saving tip.
One of the areas one can save money and therefore have more funds to spend on a collection is by doing-it-yourself. Take the high price of children’s shoes for example; they’re just little shoes so why do they cost so much? Why not make your kids foot wear in your shop; no shop then in your kitchen, as the materials are cheap and tools readily available in the average home. Take two cardboard boxes of the correct size, or cut larger boxes down to the appropriate size; use the ones your latest collectables from e$cam arrived in. Once you have them to the correct size cover them with duct tape. I used silver but it comes in black as well. If your child is a boy then adding a strip of “camo” duct tape (I used Gorilla tape) will give it that masculine look that most boys strive to achieve. If you have a daughter then duct tape also comes in bright colours as well. Take a black magic marker and draw laces on the tops of the shoes, after all we don’t want to emotionally scar the little buggers too much, and besides we are not animals. Once this is done, “Robert’s your father’s brother”, you have a nice pair of shoes, and darn sporty looking if I do say so myself.
Just another public service from The Home Office...you’re welcome.
One of the greatest obstacles, ignoring spelling and grammar, in the way of writing pieces related to history is staying objective. I have never made any secret that I tend to be a bit of an Anglophile, which is not the worst “phile” one can be, even though my family has been here in Canada well before Confederation and our roots are, for the greater part, German. I recall, when I was very young, being in the classroom and seeing the large pull-down maps at the front of the room showing the map of the world. The British Empire was shown in red and the rest of the world in rather different shades of “we don’t care about them” colours. I recall being told that we were to be proud of being a part of the great British Empire and will admit that the message left a lasting impression on my little mind. Strange that we tend to tell children what they think and what they are proud possibly out of fear that they won’t see it the same way once they start to develop a more analytical mind. I would have said an “adult mind” but let’s face facts what we are told as children sticks with most of us and conservation of energy being what it is we tend not to bother taxing our brains all that much. The vast majority of people took a “sure whatever” attitude towards history taught in school so it could be argued that any potential self-serving propaganda inherent in any memoirs of the war years of modern history is lost on them. Still there are those who took a greater interest and even went beyond what they were initially told to look for the truth or should I say accuracy as “truth” implies so sort of conspiracy. Gathering intelligence on a local Neo-Nazi group a number of years ago clearly showed what a little knowledge, perverted and distorted, can produce. As a side note; at one of our debriefing meetings the question was posed as to whether gathering “intelligence” on a Neo-Nazi group would qualify as an oxymoron. It was pointed out that it would be more of an “exercise in futility”. While they were anything but a joke a little levity is often welcomed. Changing the minds of certain fanatical groups is more or less an impossible task; however, our efforts certainly showed what exposure to strong sunlight and fresh air can do to stop the growth of a fungal infestation.
Some other issues effecting objectivity is around what we are told as the truth and perhaps as detrimental what we were never told. Both of these issues are often cured through the passing of time and the expansion of our horizon. As an example when I was taking some engineering courses there was a fellow student from Hong Kong who was already an engineer and was here on leave from Hong Kong Hydro and planned to return after his courses. Just to clarify I am and have never been an engineer. He related a story about a question he was once asked, by a fellow student, soon after he came to Canada. He was asked what he thought about the Opium Wars (First Opium War 1839-1842, Second Opium War 1856- 1860). He told me that he was absolutely dumb-founded at such a question and had to admit that this was the first he had heard of such events. At the time there was no mention in any school history books regarding either conflict. There is no doubt, in my mind, that this was not simply an oversight but purposeful omission, possibly for political reasons.
The second point is in what we are actually told compared with what actually took place or rather why certain events took place. Two good examples, from World War Two, would be the raid on Dieppe and the bombing raid on the island of Heligoland.
The Raid on Dieppe, 19 August 1942, has been shrouded in mystery by the Official Secrets Act until only a few years ago. The raid was initially and officially touted as a raid to test German strength along the so-called Atlantic Wall. The raid was quite costly in lives and material with a total of 3,623 either killed, wounded or taken prisoner out of the 6,086 involved in the action. It was only after decades that the real reason for the raid was made available to the public. The raid itself was a diversion staged in order for Military Intelligence for secure a working example of the German Enigma coding device. Unfortunately the machine had already been moved out of Dieppe and to make things even worse they were planning on adding another coding disk, in the near future, to make their messages even more secure.
Another example of the reasons for a raid being kept secret was the 1,000 plane bombing raid in a small German island named Heligoland on April 18, 1945. The reason given in the post mission briefings was that there was a need to completely destroy the last remaining German planes and the submarine pens located there to prevent any last minute suicide raids by the German personnel stationed there. This seemed odd to many who took part in the mission as the island had been cut off completely earlier on and the fuel for any such retaliatory strikes unavailable. The cost of the raid was nowhere as great as the Dieppe Raid with 3 Halifax bombers being lost due to malfunctions and not enemy fire. As an aside; I personally knew two independent witnesses who saw two of the planes go down over the sea. The planes were “stacked” one above the other in waves, the upper plane hit an air pocket or down draft and was forced down directly on the bomber below. These two witnesses, both in separate bombers watched as the two planes spiralled, still one on top of the other all the way down into the sea below. There were no survivors. The true reason for the mission was to deny the Soviets any possible access to the submarine pens in the post war era. The continued bombing of the island until 1952 as “practise” can be better understood in the context of, if you want to blow things up then better on your neighbours land than your own.
However, we are not here to judge history just to record and hopefully try to understand it.
I suppose the two examples above could fall under things that frustrate and impede the historian in attempting to report on history accurately rather than preventing objectivity. The necessity to keep certain information from the general public has long been a reality and the current trend by today’s generation for “totally transparency” is rather naive and potentially dangerous to the security of nations. A good historian avoids stating personal views so I would instruct the jury to disregard that last statement...has that ever actually worked. In some cases the history of an action may have been recorded for posterity based on the facts given and the judgement of those recording the incident. A good example could be post-coital regret, officially known as post-coital triestesse (PCT) or dysphoria (PCD) which in extreme cases could result in charges of sexual assault. If the accused is found guilty then he could very well be labelled as a sexual offender for life; even though the original act was completely consensual. Unlike post-matrimonial regret where the end result is coitus of an ongoing monetary expenditure nature.
In retrospect, looking over this blog, I have arrived at the conclusion that I don’t really have a problem with maintaining my objectivity; my problem is remaining serious for any length of time.
Happy New Year to all who read my blogs and for those who don’t; well, what I can say that would matter, you’ll never see it anyway.
On the Lounge Paul asked the question, “What is the dumbest things you ever did” under the heading “Let’s liven things up around here” in the Lounge. This is an excellent topic and one which allows for many different styles of response from serious to the jocular. Yes I used the word “jocular”; only because it is a word you seldom see these days, much like “happenstance”. Don’t worry I won’t use “happenstance” today but only because I couldn’t figure out where to work it in. There’s always tomorrow.
When I thought about Paul’s question and the possible real life responses I said to myself (I do that a lot the older I get) this sounds like it would require something embarrassing, a mistake or a regret from one’s past. My personal philosophical take on this is that if one is happy with one’s life or circumstances then can you really say that anything that transpired in your personal history was a mistake. If you could go back and make changes to your past then it could and very likely would have dire consequences on the present and therefore the future. If you said that you are not happy with your present circumstances then you could make those changes by going back to school, for example. I noticed that some of the members have done just that after retirement from their careers. This thinking rather ruled out “mistake” from any response I might undertake to write.
I do wish I could have made some sort of humorous reply, however a lack of any appreciable sense of humour on my part would make that an impossibility. I blame a lack of comic ability on my rather stoic British/Germanic upbringing, which at times was rather Dickensian in nature, to say the least. That old “stiff upper lip” and “staying the course” or simply “man up” has left me the rather bland and linear thinking person you see today. Just so you know, we anal retentive people tend to prefer “linear thinking” as a term to describe ourselves.
I was left with regret as a subject for a response but felt that this would only serve to “pirate” Paul’s post somewhat; therefore, I decided to write this message as a blog.
Around Christmas time, several years hence, a very good friend of mine passed away. We were extremely close and shared in numerous adventures including hunting and fishing as well as just “hanging out” together. His passing had a devastating effect on me, not so much that he is no longer with us, which is a deep sadness, but because I never got to tell him something I think was very important. Perhaps you know what I mean. There never was a correct time or place; we were either having too much of a good time to possibly ruin the moment or the moment was too serious or sad to bring up what might have been an awkward subject. Now my close friend has gone to his grave and I can never tell him that which I agonized over for many years.
I so wish I had simply blurted it out regardless of the situation or the atmosphere of the moment. Sadly my dog died never knowing he was adopted.
Merry Christmas everyone!
This Blog Could Save Your Life...well...maybe
Ever notice that as you age you start to feel a lot more run down, tired, listless and perhaps even slightly depressed, though not really a depression per se. Is getting through the day becoming harder and harder and staying focused has become a challenge. Well, here’s some really good news for those experiencing those symptoms mentioned above. You may be suffering from a lack of iron and other essential metals in your system. After a good deal of research we here at the Home Office have developed a cure aimed at many of us here at GMIC and others worldwide.
With this in mind we (my wife and I) started on an experiment, which is not the first time here on the “News from the Home Office” blog, to cure the above mentioned symptoms with an increase in iron and other very important metals. To begin with, just over a year ago, I purchased a 2000 GMC Sierra 4X4 truck. This was one of those once in a life-time “barn finds” in excellent condition and owned by a car collector who had stored it in a climate controlled facility.
Once we had arranged the purchase the work started, even though it was in almost pristine condition. The body was stripped down to the frame, then rebuilt, and the engine, a small block V8 (4.8 litre), and drive train completely rebuilt, with the help of a good friend of mine who happens to be a retired auto mechanic. Any of the body parts that did show signs of deterioration were discarded and a new replacement piece was purchased from the GMC dealer and installed. The only section that was actually replaced was the box side on the driver’s side, known here as the “salt side”. All parts such as brakes, rear axles, and exhaust system were discarded and new top of the line parts installed. The interior was in almost showroom condition so that took no work at all. The whole truck was painted black, which was the original colour with new black rims and large-lug truck tires just to make her look “bad”. To date I have invested around the $18,000.00 mark for what is essentially a vehicle that looks like it did the day it rolled off the assembly line, though the parts you can’t see have all been upgraded. There is absolutely no body fillers in this vehicle; it is all original steel parts.
I have always wanted to rebuild a truck but could never afford a classic so when this came up for sale my dear wife agreed that I should “jump on it”. At my age a “once in a life time deal” is actually that!
The process from start to finish took over a year and while it was fun I would not want to do it again. I did learn a lot, one of the most interesting things I learned was that mechanical and vehicle restoration takes a lot of time and seems to involve a lot of foul language.
In addition to this project my interest in British military swords has been revitalized and along with the infusion of the new/old iron (truck) I feel middle aged again. Ok, so when I am in my truck I do feel like one of the cool kids.
So when you are feeling low and just seem to be dragging yourself through your day add some iron to your life. Medals, firearms, swords etc, also counts. After all it’s not just collecting it’s a matter of your continued good health.
Caution, this is not a substitute for real medical advice and I do not provide marital counselling in the event you follow my suggestions.
Remembrance Day – Protocols – Comments
November 11 is Remembrance Day here in Canada, a day where we remember and honour those who have and are serving their country. During this time we, like people in many countries around the world, wear a poppy in honour of the fallen and those who served and still serve in our armed forces.
I felt it timely to post the protocols here in Canada for the wearing of the poppy and welcome the members to add anything regarding this practise in their own country.
1. Do not change the pin, not for a safety pin to prevent loss and not using a flag pin in place of the original. If you would like to prevent the loss of your poppy, as often happens, let me suggest that you take a piece of wide elastic or rubber band, fold it in half and pierce it with the pin. When you pin the poppy on take this piece of rubber band install it on the pin, sliding it up to the closest possible point where it cannot be seen and your poppy will be secure.
2. Wear the poppy on the left lapel. No lapel? Then wear it on the left side (same side as your heart, unless you are an alien from outer space then you are on your own).
3. Wear the poppy from the last Friday of October until the end of the day on November 11. You can wear your poppy respectfully at other times such as funerals of veterans or official ceremonies. Some wear it all year around stating, when challenged, that they remember their service people all year and not just on Nov.11. For the most part I call B.S. on this statement. I’ve seen poppies worn on greasy dirty old hats and you know that the poppy, being as dirty as the hat, that no thought was given to its significance once it was originally placed there. On your hat in the middle of your forehead is not on the left lapel, Buddy. Before anyone replies with a scathing message let me just say ahead of time, “Yes, you are one of the few who honours our soldiers every day you get out of bed and before you say your nighty nights to your loved ones every night. You are in no way feeling indignant and self-righteous and you do not wear the poppy to let others know how sanctimonious you are”. Yep. I’m a bastard. There I hope I saved someone a little time.
4. Anyone who is honoring our veterans can, and should, wear a poppy.
5. How many can you wear? I would have said 1, until I saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth wearing several at a ceremony and checked the Canadian protocols, which I am sure, would echo the British protocols. Besides if Her Royal Majesty wears more than 1 poppy then it just can’t be wrong. Is my monarchism showing?
6. How to dispose of your poppy. You can leave it at the memorial or cenotaph at the end of the day on the 11th. Many will leave them on the cenotaph after the service, commencing at 11 o’clock, as a sign of respect. This has always been a problem for me the few times I have not attended the services. Like worn out Canadian flags I tend to place them in a box and store them away as I just can’t seem to bring myself to tossing them out. I feel it is an insult to those I just honoured, but that just how I feel.
Whatever you do with your poppy at the end of the day, DO NOT reuse them!
A number of years ago when I attended my first Remembrance Day ceremonies, in full uniform, which included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Regional Police Services and the Fire Department I recall standing at attention while they played The Last Post. My eyes started to well up with tears, which is odd as I am not known to show emotion. I was wishing I could hold them back when I strained my eyes to my left (we were at attention remember) and next to me was an RCMP officer who must have stood 6 foot 4. Tears were streaming down his face; there went any chance of me remaining my usual stoic self.
If you are able please attend the Remembrance Day services in your area, it means a lot to those who have and are giving so much for us.
Lately in the Books and Films section of this forum there have been discussions of the current movie, “Dieppe”, and the inaccuracies found by some of the members. My first impulse was to make a list if all of the movies that I could remember back to the days of my youth and before where accuracy was obviously not an issue. I soon realized that most would not relate to such movies as “Lives of the Bengal Lancers”, 1935 staring Gary Cooper; “Gunga Din”, 1939 staring Cary Grant; “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, 1968 with Trevor Howard (one of my favorite movies); or even “Waterloo”, 1970 with Rod Steiger. Many of these won numerous awards yet are riddled with inaccuracies.
I looked to more resent movies such as “The Blue Max”, though it was in 1966 staring George Peppard. In one scene of the German trenches it shows the soldiers awaiting the order to go over the top while holding British Number 4 Rifles first produced in the 1930’s equipped with the Number 9 Mk 1 bayonet. This was the short bladed No, 5 (jungle carbine) bayonet blade welded to a socket similar to the 4 Mk 1 or 2 spike bayonet. These bayonets did not appear until after WWII, possibly around 1950.
“Saving Private Ryan”, 1998 starring Tom Hanks. A movie many World War Two veterans claimed was the most accurate depiction of conditions on the beach on D-Day. If you are yet to see this film then do so if for no other reason than the landing scenes. I suspect that if someone were to put out a remake with double the gun fire the same vets would proclaim it an even more accurate portrayal. Perhaps they would be correct. I was really getting into this movie until Tom Hanks’ character disabled a German Tiger tank (if my memory serves) by firing his Thompson machine gun into the viewing port of the tank and killing the crew. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! That must have been the only German tank to be without its very thick protective glass in the viewing port. I need to research German tanks to see is they were actually using a periscope-style viewing device or not. Either way, good for you Captain John Miller (Hanks), too bad the rest of the allies didn’t know this trick; could have saved a lot of lives.
“Zulu”, 1964 starring Michael Caine, is another of my all time favorite movies. My biggest complaint about this movie, aside from the medals worn by Colour Sergeant Borne, was the presence of a female in the movie. What were they trying to accomplish? Appeal to the female movie viewer? You could have marched unicorns barfing rainbows and pooping bunnies across the screen and it would have still missed the female market!
“Zulu Dawn”, 1979 featuring Bob Hoskins, Peter O’Toole and Burt Lancaster. Another of my favorite movies. I listed Burt Lancaster because if this movie was not flawed enough Burt Lancaster cast as being Irish is an insult. His Irish accent is so bad it should be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. His range of emotion is slim to none and slim just left the room. In one scene there is a line of what appears to be dismounted cavalry or perhaps artillery men using the Martini Henry Carbine. The problem is that in some cases they are using what would appear to be the Martini-Metford carbine. The Martini-Metford did not appear before the 1890’s and the Battle of Isandlwana took place in 1879.
Certainly bad acting has ruined many movies. Charlton Heston comes to mind in such movies as “55 Days at Peking”, 1963 and “Khartoum”, 1966. Even now I have to remind myself that Moses was at neither location or in the movie. Heston is another “one trick pony” of an actor in my opinion.
If I were going to nominate resent movies on bad plot and worse acting the two top would be “Inglourious Basterds”, 2009 and “Fury”, 2014, both starring Brad Pitt; usually one of my favourite action movie actors. The first one, overlooking the misspelled title, is a romp through some sort of fantasy Nazi-like world with lots of violence. Better to go watch “Zombieland”, 2009 with Woody Harrelson. There is just as much adventure and history is not insulted. Is it true Mr. Harrelson is moving to Canada as soon as we legalize weed? Hmmm.
Then there is “Fury”. One of the best movies showing tanks in action bar none, however after one gets past the great tank scenes the rest is an insult to both the American and German soldiers. The Germans are shown, in one scene, as marching down a dark road singing a song more like an army of Orks from Lord of the Rings. Then they decide to destroy a disabled M4 Sherman with mostly small arms rather than the Panzerfaust carried by several soldiers. Once the German casualty rate keeps going up it looks like the German commanding officer simply turns and walks away. Was he late for Oktoberfest or going to a BYOP party (Bring Your Own Panzerfaust) since the soldiers carrying the panzerfausts seemed to leave before or just after the officer. Yet the German privates ,poor “basterds” (that was for you, Tarantino) keep attacking the tank with small arms.
So the question stands, is accuracy in movies necessary? Of course it is! People who make movies and those acting in them are awarded all sorts of acclaim, provided the movie makes a lot of money. Unless it was one of those Cannes Film Festival Best Foreign Film award things then it is hard to tell what they are trying to say or portray. I’ll just say it, if I wanted to read sub-titles I would have bought the book.
Let’s look at a book and the movie about the same topic. “How Can Man Die Better, The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed” by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Snook verses “Zulu Dawn”, original story and screen play by Cy Enfield. The book sets out the preliminary history that led up to the battle as does the movie, though less clearly. Remember the movie had only 113 min. to make its point where the book had 302 pages. Even so the movie could have been clearer. All in all after you read the book you have an excellent knowledge of what happened as compared to the movie where you saw a large battle after a long and drawn out succession of scenes that only served to display the actors talents, or lack of talent in the case of a certain American actor trying to talk with an Irish accent (you know who I mean). The impact of the movie battle was, of course, more poignant than the book due to live action and a sound tract. Before I go any further it has probably come to you as it has to me that it depends upon what you are looking for in a historical drama. It is difficult to pit action against the historical accuracy of a well written book.
It is my position that movie producers need to spend more attention to accuracy in story line as well as in the accoutrements that go along with a historically based film. If all you are going to do is to produce an adventure loosely based on an historical event then you have simply churned out an adventure fantasy. Even Game of Thrones is based on the War of the Roses, or so I have read; I don’t see it but that’s what I’ve read. Rather than turn out a flawed historical farce then they should keep making films such as “Avatar”, 2009, staring...oh, who cares, it’s only a dammed fantasy movie anyway.
I suppose the greatest benefit to historically based films made today with all of their flaws is to give people like us a challenge to point out all of those flaws. I’ve been told that others also viewing said move are less than accepting when we voice our disapproval. Don’t be too concerned, they just lack a need for accuracy and attention to detail. Best you drive home after the movie, we wouldn’t want them to have to concentrate too hard on the finer details of road safety.
PS: Yes, that mention of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” earlier was a movie title reference from Tina Fey’s, 2016 movie. That title is quite appropriate as I wanted to say “WTF” after I watched this time (wasting) bomb.
I often describe myself as slightly paranoid, which then seems to make others think I have some sort of philological issues. I don’t believe I am being “watched” for example. That would, in my opinion, suggest that I hold some degree of celebrity in my mind; this would also, if it were the case, indicate that I think that I am somehow a fellow of above average interest to others. I must admit that if I were any less interesting people would fall asleep during a hand shake with me. Perhaps what I should say is that I strive to be more careful than average when it comes to making purchases and in believing everything I am told. Purchases such as left-handed baseball bats and non-flammable candles may be easy enough to avoid. However I have lost count of all of the collectables I have purchased and then a few days later wondered how I could have made such unwise choices. A few examples of what I allude to are, prices being far too high or items that really didn’t fit into my collecting themes.
The problem of knowing when you are being told something other than the truth can at times be difficult. There are some physical signs which must not be taken on individual basis, such as someone rubbing their nose or excessive blinking of the eyes. These so-called signs, on their own, can be explained away as having nothing to do with attempted deceit. Collectively such signs, along with other indications may be used, in law enforcement as an example, to accept the statement or doubt what you are being told.
The most difficult “stories” to determine their truthfulness is when the person telling the story actually believes it to be the truth. This and the manner in which the story is delivered and the interpretation of what has been said may end in one doubting the story as being the truth. Two examples come to mind. If you hear someone say that smoking can be bad for you and you need to take measures to avoid smoking, you may think of someone inhaling smoke from a cigarette, which fits the caution; or something else. If you are standing too close to your BBQ and your clothing is starting to smoke then surely you need to take measures (stepping back) to avoid bursting into flames. My second, and last example, comes from the television comedy, Saturday Night Live (SNL) that first appeared in 1975 which is famous for their rather juvenile humour appealing to the adolescent mind. I became rather old and stuffy about 40 years ago and therefore stopped watching SNL. One of the sketches involved a group of people telling an individual on a beach that “You can’t look at the sun too long”. Most of us would take this as a warning and realize staring at the sun could be detrimental to your vision and not misinterpret this as you can’t get over the majesty of the sun, for example. Of course the poor fellow being advised took the first interpretation with disastrous results.
No, my retelling of this story is not very funny however, as has been said, “You had to be there to see it”.
One of the stories that has floated around guns shows and places where people interested in military history gather, at least here in Canada, is the topic of this blog. Yes, I know it has taken me a long time to get to the point...as usual. Why say something in a couple of dozen words when a plethora of paragraphs can achieve the same results? That’s a rhetorical question of course.
The story is that one can turn an FN FAL C1,or C1A1, rifle from a semi-automatic to a full automatic weapon by inserting a piece of match book in the correct place in the internal workings. This I have always held as being complete garbage. Any of those reading this who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the past and used the FN FAL C1 and the FN C2 please hold off on your hate mail until the end of this blog.
The Canadians used the FN FAL C1, a semi-automatic battle rife with the 7.62X51mm NATO round from 1953, being the first to officially adopt the FN FAL, until 1984 when it was replaced by the 5.56x45mm NATO C7 rifle and the C8 carbine both based on the American US AR-15. The British and Commonwealth Nations used the same rifle as Canada but called it the L1A1. I have read that the rifle was commonly known as the FAL however in my area of Ontario at least, we refer to it as simply the “FN”.
Here’s where the claim of using the FN C1, inserting a piece of match book to turn it into an automatic weapon, becomes argument. In each case where this has come up in the past I have tried to delve more deeply into this claim by asking if the service person is saying that with the insertion of a matchbook into the FN C1 they have changed it from a battle rifle (semi-automatic) into an assault rifle (full auto). Without exception the answer is “yes”. The problem in my mind, I have just recently discovered, is not whether you can modify an FN C1 with a foreign object to malfunction and discharge the weapon in rapid succession but have you actually “changed” this battle rifle into an assault rifle. A basic definition of an assault rifle is that it is a carbine sized firearm using a large capacity magazine capable of sustained full automatic fire. The FN FAL, even fitted with a large capacity magazine, falls short of being an assault rifle on two of the most important requirements that I have stated, even with the matchbook modification.
To all of the servicemen in my past who have engaged me in this argument, and there have been quite a few, I apologize. You are correct in that you can make an FN FAL C1 malfunction to fire several rounds in rapid, automatic-like, succession. On the other hand I would offer the suggestion that this could be done with almost any semi-automatic rifle.
On the other hand (you knew there would be an “on the other hand”) to all servicemen in my past who have engaged me in argument you failed miserably in qualifying your claim fully. You did not, I must repeat, did not, change this battle rifle into an assault rifle, and especially to one fellow who claimed to have changed the FN FAL C1 into the C2A1, the squad automatic weapon (SAW), as the C2 has a much more robust barrel to withstand the heat generated by sustained rapid fire. Some of our members might note that they have seen an FN FAL C1 with a selective fire option and you would be correct. There were some FN FAL C1 rifles fitted with the selective fire option and used only by the Royal Canadian Navy to give boarding parties the option of a full automatic weapon without the weight of the C2A1.
In past blogs I have managed to attempt to prove and at times disprove some claims. I’ve disproved some claims about the Battle of Crecy and the crossbow. We then proved the capabilities of the crossbow in experiments that were undertaken with minor casualties. These experiments also brought to light that during an apology for a range mishap the suggestion that, “It is only a cat”, is best left unsaid.
I think we successively supported claims regarding the possibility of an accidental discharge of the STEN gun. Now we have supported the claim that the FN FAL C1 can be made to fire with the insertion of a foreign object; yet without actually fully admitting that I was wrong.
It’s a win, win situation!
I will continue with my version of paranoia and look for myths that I can prove or disprove, while being on guard against my own poor purchase decisions.
The post has just arrived and I need to close now and open the shipment of prefabricated postholes I purchased on eBay.
In our ongoing effort to improve world security we, here at the Home Office, have been working on a new project with the working name of the Political B*ll Sh*t Detection Device, or the PBSDD. So far we have experienced a great deal of what seems to be one malfunction after another. Every time we get the device in seemingly working order we direct it at the Parliamentary Channel and the darn thing begins to make a very high pitched scream, starts to smoke and then shuts down completely. Taking it to a local gun show and using it near some of the dealer’s tables had the same effect. Pointing it at the GMIC web site seems to prompt no reaction at all, hmmm, strange indeed. We are continuing to attempt to correct these malfunctions and will report back to you when the proto-type device is functioning at peak performance. Thank you for your patience.
Ah, if only I had such a device when I was in my younger years. However, it would seem that age has some benefits, not necessarily wisdom I am sorry to report. The benefits of which I speak is the ability to detect the lies and misinformation we often refer to as b*ll sh*t. I do not like using an asterisk in place of letters however in so-called polite society that seems to be the norm. Interesting that we can still “write” an offensive word as long as we somewhat disguise it. Somehow b*ll sh*t is less offensive than the actual words “bull ”; it really has always astounded me, but then hypocrisy often has that effect. I do digress, blaming it on the mental meandering of age.
When I was very young the only source of military history came from the men who were there, service men from the Boer War, WWI, WWII and Korea. The vast amount of oral history centered mainly around putting one over on the RSM, leaves spent at pubs and the monotony of military life in general. This certainly mimicked the saying that military service, especially during times of war, was 90% monotony and 10% sheer terror. However my first point is not in regard to stories spun by the veterans but what I was told in regard to medals. Remember there was no internet, dealers close by or even very many books available on the topic, not in my area of Canada at least. The medals awarded by the Canadians and British as well to a lesser extent the Americans was a topic well covered by my unintentional mentors but those awarded to the “other side” was less well covered. The Germans, I was told, only gave out the Iron Cross, and they did so by the bushel basket. The Japanese on the other hand never gave out medals to the common soldier reserving the few awarded to the generals and politicians. It didn’t take long for that young novice collector to discover the Royal Canadian Legion was not the place to glean information on the topic of phaleristics. Too bad we didn’t have access to the internet and especially the GMIC website back then, but then who would want a smart ass kid telling those who had “been there, done that” that they were wrong. I was lucky they allowed my in with my father as it was and no they would never serve alcohol to a minor, but the stories went down just as smoothly with a Coca-Cola.
Some of the other myths that have “made their rounds” have to do with firearms, in this case particularly the Sten gun. I have been meaning to write an article, in the proper section, on the STEN and feature the examples from my own collection but time never seems to accommodate my good intentions. We’ve all heard how the sten could go off without warning and empty a clip of 9mm before one could react, putting everyone in the squad in danger. No doubt this has some basis in truth as any weapon with one in the pipe, so-to-speak, and the safety off has the potential for discharge. I think most of the accidental discharges had more to do with having the finger on the trigger and either a every nervous soldier or due to the transport vehicle hitting a bump in the road making the STEN jump upwards engaging that finger on the trigger. It should be noted that “one in the pipe” or a round in the chamber does not apply to the STEN it was the bolt itself that must be cocked, then once released by suppressing the trigger advances and picks up the round injects it into the chamber, firing it and blowing the bolt back to repeat the cycle. In other words if you did have a round in the chamber, cocked the bolt then fired the bolt would still pick up a round from the clip but then slam it against the rear of the round already in the chamber. If the bolt was in the cocked position then one would only need to pull the bolt back a bit farther move the cocking handle straight upward locking it in place. True the bolt could be jarred out of the safe position but this is true with any firearm so I would say it is a poor argument just pertaining to the STEN. Another way the STEN could be accidently fired, according to the sources I consider myth perpetuators, is that the bolt in closed position could fire if the stock was jammed to the floor of the truck or the ground with enough force to move the bolt rearward starting the firing cycle. First of all the soldier would have to neglect to push the cocking lever through the chamber wall by way of the drilled hold used to secure the bolt. Let us say this has not been done so the bolt can move, not being locked closed. I have a Mk. II and a Mk. III in the collection as well as the Mk, V so I decided to attempt to cause the bolt to move to the rear enough to pick up a round and start the firing cycle. The Mk. V bolt is fixed in closed position but both the Mk. II and III specimens are in working condition, except for the ability to discharge a round as per Canadian Law. I slammed the butt of the weapons on a board in my shop and the bolt traveled downwards (or backward) possibly far enough to start the firing cycle. I could not actually measure the amount of travel nor could I say whether this would have been enough to pick up a round from the clip and then cause the round to fire or not. Let me say that I would not rule out the possibility of an accidental discharge, given this scenario. Even so this would only fire a single round, unless the operator has held the trigger back.
Again I will say that the above is possible but only because the operator failed to secure the bolt in the closed position not because the STEN was a poor design.
The myth I have a problem with and one that was conveyed to me by the very soldier who supposedly preformed this maneuver.
This supposedly happened in France just after D-day and involved a squad approaching a farm house occupied by several German soldiers. These Canadians manage to sneak up on the farm house and observed, through a window, a couple of high ranking German officers and several lower ranks inside the house. Apparently this was at night as the room was lit from within allowing the allies full view. It seems that there are no words in the German language for “picket duty” or “sentry duty” as none had been posted. You would think that after going through WWI the German military would have invented such words or commands; makes one wonder if this contributed to their defeat. Our dauntless hero was out of grenades so he cocked his STEN and threw it through the window. When it hit the floor it discharged and didn’t stop firing until it emptied the clip, all 32 rounds, killing everyone inside. One shudders to imagine what would have happened had the STEN not discharged. Possibly a quick witted German soldier would have scooped it up and threw it back out the window, followed by a couple of MP40s just for good measure. One can imagine whole engagements where the air was full of MP40s and STEN guns being tossed by opposing sides. It is interesting that first of all, this veteran never held a rank above Private, the STEN being usually carried by the NCOs and above. Some exceptions were made for those soldiers where a rifle was too cumbersome such as transport drivers, commandos etc. Another interesting point was that everyone in the patrol was out of grenades yet the story never involved prior engagements with the enemy. The final evidence that the story is just that, a story, is that the story teller was in a non-combatant role throughout the war. However, this too was an important function and the fact that he indeed did serve as a volunteer in France, going in just after D-day, commands our respect.
As my wife, an avid knitter likes to say, “You have to love a good yarn”.
Strange Creatures, These Collectors
It seems that I, like many of you, have been a collector for most of my life. Starting as a child, to be clear, I “started” as an infant, and should have written that it seemed that I started “collecting” as a child. Back on point; I was one of those odd little buggers who, for the most part, kept the original boxes that had contained my new toys. Cap pistols were among my favourite toys and again that’s the same as most of us, at least most of us who were boys; though there is nothing wrong with girls having toy firearms. Note the added political correctness after-thought. It would be quite debatable to insist that I was a collector much before the age of sixteen, when I purposely ordered an Enfield WWII spike bayonet, the No. 4 Mk II* for a grand total of .99 cents, plus shipping form International Firearms in Montreal with the express intention of starting a collection. Could that really be over half a century ago? Now there’s cause for reflection.
Anyone who has been with the GMIC for any number of years has read about the extent to which some (many?) collectors will go to secure that “once in a lifetime” piece. I have lost track at how many times I have told my wife that a pending purchase was a “once in a lifetime” find. I seem to have, she’s reflected on many occasions, more “lifetimes” than a cat. Yes, she is most droll.
On March 26 there was a gun show at Orangeville Ontario, about 1½ hours drive from here, that my friends Brian, Mike and I were attending. At the show a dealer, with whom I have had a long standing relationship, offered me a British Police painted truncheon from the rein of William IV (1830-37). I was short of funds and asked if he would hold it until I could find a cash machine, of which there was none at the show site, meaning I would have to go into the city to locate one or at least a bank branch with such a machine. I am not a fan of the ATM as I can’t help feeling that it is somehow akin to gambling, one of these times the machine will win, I am sure. The dealer insisted that I take the truncheon and pay him the next time we meet. This is not the first time he has made that offer as it is not the first time I was short on funds with no ATM on site. We have a long standing joke between us in that I will not take him up on that offer as one never knows if one will be run over by a bus, so-to-speak, before the debt can be paid. This has become such a common joke between us that he ends emails to me with “Watch out for busses” in place of “Regards”. This has, I am sure, puzzled other show attendees when he says that to me when we part company at the shows. While at this same show I found a 1912 pattern British Officer’s Cavalry Officer’s sabre for sale at the table of another dealer. I did not make the purchase as, you will recall, I was short of cash. I told Brian and Mike about it and had to listen to Brian’s lecture on how I could have borrowed the cash from him for both items. I do not like borrowing money from friends even less than using one of those infernal ATMs. I had decided that if the sabre was available at the next gun show, this time in Jerseyville Ontario on April 9, which is about an hour’s drive from here, that I would negotiate a price for the sabre. To be clear, the truncheon would not be available at the next show and I would have to wait to secure it until the next Orangeville show on May 7.
Time flies when you are having fun, they say; however when you are waiting for a treasure to be available for your collection, time takes the bus, a slow bus! Finally the show date arrived and we all set out much earlier than we would have normally to assure we were through the door in quick time and the sabre would be mine.
Horror, oh the humanity of it all, the dealer and my sabre had decided not to attend this show. Had the Collecting Gods forsaken me? Was this some sort of punishment for evil deeds long past and if so what deeds? True there was that incident from when I was a kid involving a lit illegal Roman candle firework that fell over, a garden shed, an open door and a gas can. In my defence and as I pointed out to my father there were no witness to the alleged explosion; none that were over the age of majority that was. So really it was simple hear say that I was anywhere near this unfortunate set of coincidences, and therefore inadmissible as evidence. It surely couldn’t be that small bit of misadventure and besides I was the injured party in that I served a period of grounding for an offence that the prosecution (aka parents) failed to prove, due to lack of evidence, and then denied me an appeal process. Regardless of the reasons I was now doomed to wait until the next Orangeville show of May 7; a total of a month and a half. The longest month and a half of all time which includes time waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones.
Alarm set for 04:30 in anticipation for Sunday morning and the Orangeville show, and then in the middle of the night I was hit by one of the worst cases of the flu I have ever experienced. By morning I was in a terrible condition running a high fever, among other symptoms that were also “running”. At 05:00 Brian and Mike arrived and I was not in any shape for the hour and a half drive to the show. I arranged for Brian to pay the dealer who had the truncheon put away for me and bring it back and also to negotiate a price for the sword with the other dealer. I knew the asking price, which at this point I was more than willing to pay and therefore knew how much cash to send and so like the Ringwraiths sent by the Dark Lord Sauron (Lord of the Rings) away Brian and Mike went on their quest. This was actually a better idea than had I been able to attend the show as I am one of the poorest price negotiators you will ever meet and Brian one of the best. If I were to negotiate the price I would probably end up paying more than the asking price and think I had made the deal of a lifetime. You would really like playing poker with me as if I am excited about an item, as would have been the case here, you can read it all over my face. It turns out that Brian indeed negotiated a better price for the sword and would have secured an even better settlement had another attendee at the show not said, part way through the negotiations, that if he (Brian) did not take the sword that this new “player” would. That was actually very rude, not only because there was an active negotiation taking place but it is not polite conduct to interrupt any conversation between two people. Not that I care about the price, as I have said I would have gladly paid the asking price, but there is an ethical and proper manner which society needs to maintain, otherwise we are no better than the beasts of the field. I suppose this makes my earlier point regarding the extent to which collectors will go to assure the procurement of an item. The bottom line, and the only point, is that the sword was now mine, mine I tells you (insert maniacal laughter here).
I would estimate now that at or around (police speak) 11:00 hours I vaguely remember what sounded like Brian’s voice in the distance, through a fog of fever, talking to Linda in our kitchen. The next time I was conscious was around 1700 hours (5:00 PM). I shuffled out into the strong day light of the kitchen from my dark abyss of illness (me feeling quite sorry for myself) to see what Brian and Mike were able to secure for the collection. It was then that I saw the treasures they had brought, the sabre and the truncheon still waiting on the kitchen table where they left them. I totally reject the story Linda likes to tell as to how, like Smeagol aka Gollum (Lord of the Ring reference again), I clutched these treasures mumbling references to myself in the plural and calling the truncheon and sabre “my precious”. Further to this I did not, and I must emphasise, I did not, scurry back to bed with “our precious”, this is a conspiracy-style story that seems to have already made its way thought the whole family; one that will no doubt be repeated at every family gathering for years. I have found that one never wants this family to “get one up on you”, not that I don’t deserve it, however, turn about is not, I repeat not, fair play when it happens to me.
While it may have seemed at the beginning of this blog I was going to criticise the extent that some collectors will go in order to secure yet another treasure; this is not the case. Had Brian and Mike not been able to attend the show I would have grabbed several sick bags and drove the hour and a half each way even if it had risked my very life. Considering that I have, in the past, driven two hours to a gun show in a blinding snow storm this would have been nothing that would have surprised my family.
Am I crazy, as one of my friends has suggested. No I’m not crazy, just one of those strange creatures...a collector.
This is not the blog I had in mind for this month as may be evidenced by the lateness of its submission. I usually have several ideas in the works with most needing more research and fact checking. No doubt this surprised you since I almost never state references or even sources for my blog content. My reasons are as uncomplicated as I like to think I am. I do not aspire to be held up as an expert or even an authority on history or the collecting of historical artifacts. I have never thought the amassing of large quantities of items qualifies me as anything much above an organized and selective hoarder. There are, believe it or not, 212 drawers in the collection room which contains our medals collection and I assure you this doesn’t qualify me as an expert. I use the term “our” when referring to the collection as my wife has added many specimens over the years, mostly from the Victorian era. Therefore, the collection is not “mine” alone and therefore the use of the term “our”. Sorry to disappoint those of you who may be trying to psychoanalyse me; I have no other personalities, not that “they” have told me about, at least. You’ll notice from the photo below that I am still working on the drawer labels. Oh, I see, Brian decided to ramble along for several paragraphs and attempt to pass it off as a legitimate blog. No, I tried that, in a manner of speaking, during my mid-term French examination in my first year of high school, I took all of the French phrases and words I could remember, arranged them into sentence-like strings and hopped for the best; it didn’t work. On my final French examination, the questions of which were totally in French, I simply wrote, “I don’t read French, therefore I am unable to complete this exam. Considering you, as the teacher, have never spoken a word of English during the year I must assume you will also be unable to read this note”, and signed the bottom. I dropped French the next year, but picked up a working knowledge of Canadian French, the only true French a real Canadian should speak (check out any restaurant in Ottawa) during my years with a French Canadian construction crew. I’ll bet Madame what’s her name would be surprised, perhaps a little shocked, at some of the language I learned on the job. Viva Quebec!
Now back to the title of this blog. It is a reference to the closing scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and the warehouse where the Ark was finally sent for storage. Indiana Jones, (you remember), that’s the theme music that plays in your head as you enter a military collectables show; or does that just happen to me? Anyway, as I was working on the blog for April’s edition I needed some reference material and a really nice picture I purchase about a year ago, but where was it. I looked through every drawer and cabinet here in the office (aka the “Home Office”) with no luck. Where did I put the darn thing? I know it is not in the collection room as I don’t store such items there, only a few reference books and they are all in order and accounted for.
It has been said that everyone has three lives; one that the public sees, one that the family sees and a third one, possibly the real you, that only you see. I too have a dark side, a horrible little secret that I am about to share for the first time. Not even in my past did I reveal this to the “shrink” during my evaluation; whom I might add found me quite normal, in fact he wrote in his evaluation that I am A.B.Normal, so there. We have two large storage areas in our basement where, years ago, I started to store those items that I had no real place to keep them, papers, research material, pictures books and some collectables. In the beginning I would mark “Bankers boxes” with “Brian’s Stuff” and store them away. After a time I would mark subsequent boxes as “Brian”, then simply “B” and more recently I left the new boxes without markings as I am the only one to use these areas. With doors closed it was a case of mind over matter, that is to say, I didn’t mind and it really didn’t matter. So the image I have so carefully crafted as an organized and regimented person has been a sham all along.
So far I have been unable to find that picture I was looking for though I have just begun looking through the items in storage. So far, along with several photos of military themes I have found a Special Constabulary medal in the original addressed box and a WWI named trio, but no picture. Be assured the if I happen to run onto the Holy Grail or the lost Ark of the Covenant I will be sure to let you know.
As time passes I find things that were considered common place have changed while I was distracted by life in general. At one time I would question why I was here and what my purpose for being was. In other words, I was questioning my existence and place in the universe. This, of course, was a deep philosophical question. Today as I age I find the question remains the same but seems to arise every time I enter another room. Now no longer a deep philosophical question it has become a matter of, “I know that I was looking for something when I entered the office, but I’ll be dammed if I can remember what it was.” The other day I returned from picking up some groceries and said something regarding the cashier to the effect that “the girl at the store was checking me out and...” In the early part of my life this beginning of the statement might have raised an eyebrow by my wife as to why a girl was checking me out. Now days such accidental double meaning statements go unnoticed as she knows no “girl” in her right mind would bother to “check me out”. In a way today is a lot less stressful albeit much harder on my male ego. On Family Day (a holiday here in Ontario in February) I walked into the living room and simply inquired as to what the day’s weather was like. A conversation starter; nothing more. Four of the six daughters and sons-in-law took out their
I-phones and announced the state of the present weather even though a glance out of the front window would have given them the same information; how things have changed. I am definitely not a big fan of change, finding comfort in the familiar, and the linear.
When I was a youth I liked to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) as often as possible. There I could lose myself in row upon row of displayed items from Archaeopteryx to Zacanthoides, Archeology to Zoology. Fossils and dinosaurs displayed row upon row all ever so neat and carefully labeled. The Ancient Roman section had tables in two rows on which was displayed hundreds if not thousands of coins mounted on slanted bases and covered with what would best be described as long glass tent-shaped panes of glass in frames which resembled table mounted green houses. Again row after row all neatly labeled. I used to like the section with animals all prepared to the highest level of the art of taxidermy and the Indigenous Peoples exhibit displayed with their tools and in a setting that looked like their camp sites. I’m sure these were artistically made mannequins though I told my brother that they were indeed real stuffed people. To this I added that I saw a sign stating that they were looking for an example of a “little brother” to stuff and I had entered his name as a candidate. I recall this led to several sleepless nights for him and my mother, and no end of satisfaction for me. My poor mother; I must have been an intolerable child.
This was my world, at least when I could arrange to be there as it was several hours from the town where I was doomed to reside. It’s located in a cultural wasteland where academia was routed out and burned at the stake for the witchcraft it was. Of course this was simply the observations of a child to his surroundings. As an adult, looking back through the haze of time, I realize that no one actually routed out academia to burn at the stake; they would have much more likely thrown the concept into a burlap bag and drowned it in the river followed by crazed dancing around a huge bonfire.
However I do digress; a privilege claimed by and reserved for the elderly.
A number of years had passed from my last visit to the ROM caused by marriage and raising a family and other less worthwhile activities. When I once again paid a visit to my former sanctuary the place had undergone a transformation. I suppose that I should have not been surprised as I too have not remained the same person I had been decades before. In place of the neat rows placed in displays one room adjoining another in a manner not unlike some series of above ground catacombs was something I was not prepared to see. It now looked like a department store-front with displays akin to the talents of a window dresser. In one large case there was exhibited medieval armour alongside an example of textiles from the Ming Dynasty, on the floor of the display rested a large skull of a carnivore from the Cretaceous Period and to add insult to injury a pair of muskets rested against the skull. If Father Time had cleaned out his basement then this could very well be the dumpster into which he was depositing his junk.
It was evident that what has happened is that they are now catering to a different target audience. Being situated on the campus of the University of Toronto they most likely were geared in the past to the academia of the University both staff and students. Now they are aiming at a wider market and with that new direction they need to entertain as much and possibly more than just educate. I don’t have a real problem with this except at times I think the museums have gone from the idea of the grey haired old professor haunting the galleries to Sponge Bob Square Pants leading the children in a song about passing wind.
I suppose this had to come to pass considering the government cut backs in every facet of society where they used to fund these organizations. The bottom line is now foremost, through necessity; accountants and bean counters before curators. Are these organizations really turning into profit mongers I pondered and if so, what effect do they have on today’s youth.
My last visit to the ROM, after my initial shock, didn’t seem as much like an alien environment as it had initially. Perhaps it was change itself that was bothering me, clouding my perception and rational. While in the paleontology section my wife and I witnessed something that nearly brought me to tears of elation. There a little girl with her parents was looking at a display of trilobites when she said, “Look, a Greenops boothi and there’s a Phacops rana. Did you know that in Latin rana means frog?” I wanted to ask if this kid might be up for adoption! Perhaps things hadn’t changed all that much after all. There were still little nerds in attendance and the old geezers haunting the galleries were still there, except now that old geezer it was me. So the need to pay attention to the bottom line has caused museums to be profit mongers through necessity but still educators through desire. While the asymmetrical displays of specimens and the seeming helter skelter of topics made more sense this time, when I got home I went straight to the study, made some more labels and realigned my medals into even straighter lines than before. Museums may still be places of education and surrounded by chaos but my world remains regimented and linear.
Somehow there is comfort in that.
The Battle of Crecy conclusion:
As we discussed in my last blog the Battle of Crecy was a disaster for the French and an undeniable victory for the English. For the English it could be said that they had fought a flawless battle. Just how badly did the French suffer in this defeat? It has been said that they were unable to support Calais when the English laid siege to the city following their victory at Crecy. On the face of it this sounds reasonable, just having been crushed by the English. However, when you look at this siege a little closer you find that the English laid siege to Calais for a full year. It really brings home the realization just how badly the French had suffered.
It would be wrong to assume that the English longbow was the only factor in the French defeat. On the other hand it would be just as wrong to underestimate its value. All through this engagement English arrows rained down on the hapless French. The English also had the high ground and were in a position where the French could not outflank them. Added to this there were trenches, pits, sharpened steaks and rows of caltrops strewn out in front of the English defences. Caltrops were multi-spiked devices that were thrown out in rows, much like modern day minefields. These were effective in stopping mounted knights and cavalry. If you think of a horse’s hoof being like your fingernail. A horse actually runs on the tip of a modified digit, or finger, with the nail being thick to provide a tough resilient material on which the horse walks and runs. A caltrop is designed to puncture the soft part of the horse’s foot not protected by the hoof. This would be the same as you taking a needle and, if it were possible, pick the end of the finger nail, no real problem. Now move the needle back to the soft fleshy part of the finger and you may very well discover words you would never use in front of Mom.
The English also had cannon, which were huge and cumbersome to move, but none the less delivered salvo after salvo of iron balls into the Genoese crossbow men, mounted knights and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in their way. Even if the cannon balls of the day were unable to penetrate full plate armour of that period the blunt force trauma would kill as easily as if the knight had been shot by a modern firearm. To make my point using a modern example, think of the bullet resistant vest worn by police officers. NOT bullet “proof” as is often the term used but merely bullet “resistant”. While the vests will withstand the impact of a .357 handgun projectile a high power rifle bullet will zip right through them, and the wearer. Just to add a little more about bullet resistant vests, they are NOT puncture proof or even resistant for that matter. A demonstration during my training brought this point home (no pun intended). A vest placed over two supports, leaving the section between the supports unsupported was struck with a stick pen, like a Bic brand ball point pen, and it passed straight through. The lesson learned was simple enough; the vest is no substitute for caution. Fact – complacency kills.
Back to my point about blunt force trauma; a blast from a .357 pistol round may be stopped by the vest but you will be knocked off your feet, suffer sever bruising, perhaps broken ribs and if the bullet hits just right it could stop your heart. So the point of French knights wearing full plate armour is rather moot when it comes to cannon balls at any velocity.
Another factor which made English victory easily was that the French did not co-ordinate their different sections, such as mounted armoured knights, foot soldiers or light cavalry. Instead each group attacked pretty much as the individual commanders saw fit. This allowed the English to move out and deal with each component as it was offered for annihilation rather than each French component being supported by other ranks.
I have one more factor to propose; a theory of my own and not one gleaned for the work of others. Medieval battles fall into one of two categories; open field and siege. The open field battles, such as the English fought against the Scots, was a fluid movement style of warfare. Siege warfare was fought with one side behind the walls of fortified cities or castles, while the other side encamped around the fortification and used a combination of probing for weakness in the defences and starvation of the inhabitants. At Crecy the English had created a fortified position albeit without stone and mortar; while the French had arrived with the intention of attacking in a more open field, or fluid, style attack. As we have discussed this was impossible due to the terrain and heavy defences offered by the English. The French certainly had the superior numbers required for a sit and wait siege style campaign yet threw away their forces piecemeal. We were to see a similar tactic used over and over again by the French and later their allies during the First World War. Wave after wave was thrown against heavily fortified positions. This is not to insinuate this is a French trait as all combatants, including the later entry into the war by the United States, followed this strategy. It was not until around 1917 that tactics changed, but that is not a topic for this blog. Had the French realized that they were using the wrong tactics against a position that was, in essence, needing a more static siege style, then tactically withdrew to more favourable terrain things might have been much different. Could have, should have...didn’t.
I followed the basic design as closely as possible to examples of original light to medium crossbows of the 1300s. I did substitute professionally made steel prods (bows) in place of composite or wooden prods of the period. This decision was made for several reasons, the least of all not being safety. A broken prod while under draw of 150 pounds can launch the broken end into the side of your head and or face with deadly consequences. Steel prods are safer and besides after several attempts at making wooden prods, all ending in dismal failure I gave in and ordered steel prods. The other factor was that the experiment had little to nothing to do with shooting the crossbow as much as removing the string without the use of special tools as sited in almost all accounts of the Battle of Crecy. I also used modern string, polyester, for the same safety concerns. Again I was not interested in whether the string, when wet, would stretch or not, but rather could I get it off the prod. Another point I doubted was the claim in almost all accounts of the Battle that the bow strings could not be adjusted once they stretched. Construction of the bowstring was identical to the original in everything including the jig I used to build up the ¼ inch thick bow string. My first attempt looked good but was too short. Once I had the correct length I used a secondary colour to give the end connectors and the middle area where the string and bolt (arrow) met a little added style. The stirrup at the front of the stock (or “tiller”) and the tickler (trigger) were both made for me by an armour maker who lives a few miles from my home. This gave the finished product a very authentic look and feel, which is what I was going for. The nut (the revolving catch for the string) was made of mild steel at a local machine shop; again a safety issue. The stock itself is made of white oak and the total weight of the finished crossbow is 11.2 pounds, the draw weight is 150 pounds with a 7 inch draw. This draw is right at the maximum suggested by the prod manufacturer which I felt was within safety parameters.
The range we set up for testing our crossbows was at 50 yards, which we found out was far too close especially when we initially over shot the target. To be honest neither Brian nor I had as much faith in our bows as they proved to warrant. A search for our missed bolts showed a range of 80 yards; perhaps the bolts we were unable to locate reached even farther distances. We both found that hand drawing the string was exhausting after an hour. We finally used the system of hooks on a length of leather fastened to our belts to draw the string. This involved bending over; attaching the hooks to the string and then standing straight this pulled the string back to engage the nut. This method was used in the 1300s so met the criteria for authenticity. Even with this mechanical advantage we were exhausted well before we had enough fun with our new weapons so we have met several times since to play William Tell; anyone for an apple?
I was not concerned with distance or accuracy for the purpose of the experiment however, I was impressed with both. Getting the correct range was our biggest problem but as far as the right/left issues we mastered that very quickly. To my way of thinking this upholds the theory that even village idiots can be taught to fire a crossbow with a reasonable degree of accuracy in a fairly short length of time. We found that the length of the tickler (trigger) gave a great deal of mechanical advantage and allowed the bow to fire with very little pressure. Considering the power of these bows and the shocking ease of launching the bolt (arrow) one needs to be as respectful toward them as a modern firearm. Think of a high powered rifle with a “hair trigger” and no trigger guard; deadly. One of the things we discovered, which I have never encountered in research material, was concerning the length of the tickler. Once the bolt is fired the nut spins and if you let go of the tickler right away the weight of this lever will engage the hut so as to be ready for the next loading procedure. In essence the long ticklers serve two purposes, one to allow ease of launching the bolt and secondly reengage the nut to allow fast reloading.
Removing and Adjusting the String:
Here is what we discovered. First of all we decided that with the assistance of Brian’s son, Mike we would see if three grown men (two of us retired old guys) could take the string off and put is back on easily. Remember at the Battle of Crecy there were 2,000 Genoese, all of whom were proficient with the use and care of their crossbows. By placing the butt of the crossbow on the ground and Brian and I standing with the side of our foot against the tiller and grasping the prod end on our side then pushing down, Mike could take the sting off and replace it with no problem what-so-ever. We tried this with two people and while a bit more difficult it was by no means impossible. So what about a one man effort? Let’s say that the Genoese were self-serving jerks and refused to help one another; perhaps they were all jerks or just had a death with, I don’t know but let’s look at a one man effort. To string a longbow, and I have done this, you place the outside of the bow against the outside of your left foot with the bow behind your right leg. With the string attached to the lower tip of the bow bend the top of the bow toward you and attach the string.
So what about a crossbow? Palace the crossbow with one tip on the ground in a position much like you would find if you were using a pick axe to dig a hole. With one foot against the back of the lower arm of the prod push toward the ground. With the right hand on the back of the upper arm pull upward and at the same time use the stock like a pick axe handle and push down with your left hand. This takes the weight off the right hand a bit allowing you to slip the string off the prod. To replace the string simply repeat the exercise but replace rather than remove the string. What if the string had gotten wet in the first place, how would you adjust (shorten) a stretched string? We now know you could remove the string so simply twist the string one of two turns and, Robert’s your father’s brother, you have a proper length string.
After nearly a thousand dollars of investment, hundreds of hours of research construction and testing over the course of two years I can confidently say that the history books and documentaries have it wrong on this point. Proof positive and you read it first right here on the Gentleman’s Military Interest Club.
Often when I start to write what is supposed to be a serious article and I get into the research I find that suddenly I start to doubt my original viewpoint.
I was researching into the Battle of Crecy, 26 August 1346 with the intention of writing a piece on the event when I found a good deal of contradictory opinions and sketchy so-called facts. It is not my intention to hammer on and on about these opinions but as an example I found one source as stating the number of Genoese Crossbowmen mercenaries being at 5,000 and another at 15,000. I can over look a few hundred or even a couple of thousand but not a difference that equals three times greater or lesser. Interestingly enough King Edward III set sail from Portsmouth with a fleet of 750 ships and 15,000 men on 11July 1346. Perhaps this is where the confusion came from in one of my sources. Another source doubts the capability of the city of Genoa to be able to provide even 5, 000 mercenaries, though we’ll accept that number for now. As you can see right away I started to doubt my sources.
My viewpoint has always been that the British longbow was far superior to the crossbow of the same era, as in the case of this battle in 1346. Spoiler alert! I still hold to my original hypothesis that the longbow was superior but not as it was based on the information I have always held as accurate.
A quick overview of the Battle of Crecy as it pertains to the difference in bows is as follows. The British had the longbow the French the crossbow; to be more accurate the Genoese mercenaries had the crossbow in the employment of the French. The English held the high ground, a classic tactical move, on a south slopping hillside at Crecy-en-Ponthieu. This put the French mounted knights at a disadvantage from the start. Out flanking the English was impossible for the French as the English left flank was anchored at Wadicourt and the right flank protected by Crecy and the Maye River just beyond the city. In essence this constricted the French into what could be termed a confined killing zone. Since the English had arrived well before the French they were well rested and fed, in contrast to the French who were weary from the long march and had not had time to take sustenance. King Philip VI of France was advised to encamp for the night so the troops could be fed and well rested prior to the battle. Unfortunately for the French, King Philip listened to his to his senior nobles and elected to fight on that very day.
Around 16:00 hrs (4:00 PM for you non-military/police types) a heavy rain started. The British took their bow strings off their bows and stored them under their waterproof hats. The Genoese could not remove their bowstrings as this required special tools to install and remove the strings. The wet crossbow strings, which could not have been removed or even adjusted to” take up the slack”, greatly reduced the range of the crossbow while the dry longbow strings, once the British bows were re-equipped maintained their range. As the Genoese advanced the setting sun shone directly in their eyes blinding them. At the same time the British arrows started to rain down on them well before they could reach the range to use their crossbows. The Genoese commander ordered a tactical withdrawal (another and more honorable term for retreat) which enraged the French knights, which was comprised of their nobility. History states that the French mounted knights slaughtered the 5,000 (or was it 15,000) Genoese crossbowmen for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy. As we have all probably read the French knights then fell before the British arrows throwing the French battle strategy into complete disarray and defeat. This defeat sapped the fighting strength of the French to such a degree that defence of Calais at a later date was impossible, allowing the British to control that area for several hundred years afterward.
My issue was with the long held theory that the Genoese crossbowmen could not remove their bow strings in the rain and therefore the range was lessened. It seems to me that professional mercenary crossbowmen, if the bow string could not be removed, would have planned for such an event, based on their past experiences and training. Crossbowmen had large shields, called pavises, where they could take shelter from enemy arrows while reloading. So why not use these to cover the crossbows while the weather was wet? There are two stories to this question (stories are not necessarily facts). One story was that while on route to Crecy in the August heat the crossbows plus the heavy shields were too much to carry so they discarded them. This seems unlikely for two reasons; first you would not discard your pavis in the face of an enemy who could launch almost twice as many arrows as you. Second the crossbowmen did not carry their own pavises as they had pages, or squires, to do so. Another theory was that the pavises were on the baggage trains and they simply had not arrived in time for the battle. The battle did not actually need to start that day but at the insistence of the French nobles it did and the crossbowmen were pressed unto the attack, therefore this might lend credence to the theory that the pavises were indeed absent. Had the pavises arrived in time would this had made a great difference in the outcome of the battle? I tend to doubt that it would. The French were too confined and with the greater range of the longbow and the higher number of shots per minute the Genoese would have suffered greatly. The impatience of the mounted armoured knights would undoubtedly lead them to attempt an attack which would have been through the front line (the Genoese). One of the facts of using mercenaries is that you don’t need to pay a dead mercenary and often they would take causalities from “friendly fire” in order to thin their ranks once the battle had turned in the favour of their employer. The distain for mercenaries by the nobility and the need to reduce the number of survivors needing to be paid may have meant that charging through their ranks was a positive move on several levels. If we can accept this scenario then the outcome of the battle would have been much the same.
It is my opinion that the English were simply superior archers with a far longer ranging bow, the long bow. The arrows being much longer and with more weight tipped with a four sided tip called a bodkin tip had greater kinetic energy at impact. This not only brought down the Genoese but the flower of the French mounted knights. There has been doubt that a longbow arrow could penetrate plate armour; perhaps this is true as it is supported by contemporary observation. However, the armor on a horse is relatively light and certainly not even close to full covering. Bring down a knight’s horse and you have finished off the man. I say this as a man in a couple of hundred pounds of steel armour hitting the ground at speed (full charge) would cause multiple debilitating and mortal internal injuries. Add to this a 2,000 pound horse and its armour rolling over him and you have what could best be described as “puree of knight in a can”.
I am suggesting that the wet bow strings and perhaps even the missing pavises (if that is even true) combined with the French knights slaughtering the Genoese as cowards as they were retreating is something that was made up by the Genoese survivors themselves. A mercenary is only as good as the last victory in which he was engaged. To admit that the enemy (English in this case) were simply using superior bows and were the better archers would not bode well for potential future employment. To tell the tale that they were exhausted prior to the battle and upon moving back out of range of the English archers, as a tactical move to regroup, then be cut down by the French (a betrayal) would be acceptable to potential employers who may not be friendly toward the French. Add to this possibility that the French used the Genoese as a reason for their defeat. Always be quick to take credit for your victories and be quicker to deflect blame in the case defeat. It would be folly to suggest the reason for English victory was due only to their superior bowmen as there were other factors such as the tactically wise choice of terrain by the English and King Philip’s decision to give in to his nobles poor advice. This, of course, is pure speculation on my part.
So how can I sit here in the Home Office and make such profound statements? On what am I basing my opinions and assumptions? Well, I’m glad you asked. Almost two years ago this question, in my mind, of wet bow strings drove me to produce two exact as possible copies of a crossbow based on the weapons of the 1300s. Research alone took almost a year then testing both bows over the course of several months, when time allowed, saw two years pass by. I built the two crossbows, one for me and one for my friend Brian, in order to see if they would perform in the same manner in the hands of two people who never fired a crossbow before. The cost of these two bows, considering some parts were made by professional armourers, was just under $1,000.00 Canadian. I’ll take you through some of the processes of making the bows and the materials used as well as our findings in the next blog.
Please stay tuned for a little applied archeology and discussion as to what we discovered.
The content of this blog may be offensive to some readers and should probably not be viewed by readership under the age of 14. Content may include nudity, coarse language and/or violence (though probably not). Reader discretion is strongly advised.
After what could be easily described as a Dickensian childhood I am not what you would term as a warm-hearted individual. The fact that I have never watched the movie “A Christmas Carol” past the first half point, I did like the whole ghost segment, is not to say I am completely lacking in compassion. As an example, living in Canada, we get a good deal of snow and the municipal sidewalks require by law to be cleared by the abutting property’s owner. My section of municipal sidewalk is 180 feet in length. I don’t know what that is in metric measure because, first I remove the snow in the imperial system of measurement and secondly if you want it in metric you can come over and remove the snow and measure it anyway you want. My neighbour next door has a heart condition so I remove an additional 100 feet of snow from his sidewalk. Once this is completed I remove the snow from my driveway and the sidewalks surrounding our home. This year the neighbour on the other side of the street just experience a heart attack so I decided I would also remove he snow at his place for the winter to allow him time to recover. I do these tasks with a snow blower machine; the largest, most powerful machine I could find. The neighbours have nicknamed it “The Beast”; or at least I think they are talking about the snow blower. The first time I removed my neighbour’s snow, which was unannounced, his wife hugged me....now understand that I do not like to be touched. If I knew doing a good turn would result in a hug I would probably have avoided the act in the first place. Today I received a large plate of cookies. Now we’re talking. I speak fluent “cookie”. I said to my dear wife. Linda, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were peanuts in the cookies and by thanking me she killed me (I have a peanut allergy). Linda didn’t think that was funny at all. So I am not a warm individual and also have a sick sense of humour. This brings me to my point. Anyone who has ever read my blogs knows by now it takes a while to get around to the actual point; if indeed there even is one.
While attending the shopping mall to pay homage to the patron saint of retail sales, Santa Clause, by throwing good money (I mean “investing”) in cheaply made gaudy toys for the grandchildren an interesting thing happened. An older sales representative wished a younger woman a “Merry Christmas”. To this the young woman replied, “That’s Season’s Greetings” not “Merry Christmas”; “Merry Christmas” might insult some people. Well, I though, that’s interesting. You mean that is all it takes to insult some people? All this time I have worked so hard to annoy others and this is all it took. Well you can imagine just how frustrated I was after expending all of that effort over all those years. Here’s my way of looking at it. Don’t care? Too bad, you should have known better than to have read this far; don’t blame me for your short comings. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
If I were to wish someone “Season’s Greetings” then to my compulsive obsessive mind I would be wishing them good wishes throughout the whole season. What, two or three weeks? By wishing them a “Merry Christmas” I am only extending those wishes over a 24 hour period. I might not really know this person and if I actually took the time to do so I would most likely find some reason to dislike them. Merry Christmas (the 24 hour greeting limit) is both efficient and time specific; not all wishy washy, warm and fuzzy like the imprecise “Season’s Greeting” which has the potential to go on and on forever. If I don’t really know you then be satisfied with a “Merry Christmas”, be happy with that and don’t push your luck.
As to the membership of the GMIC, over the years I have gotten to know many of you and even those I have yet to meet seem to be a pretty good lot. So I am wishing you all both a “Season’s Greetings’ AND a “Merry Christmas”. Well, except for “you-know-who” he just gets a “Merry Christmas”.
Applying Lessons from History
“I’m so smart” said Homer Simpson, “S-m-r-t”, spelling the word while bragging and at the same time showing the evident lack of intellect. Perhaps not the best example of multitasking. While Homer is the “star” of the popular cartoon sit-com this statement reminded me of the multitude of armchair generals surrounding us. I don’t follow sports, on any level (thereby cementing my status as a “nerd”), but I believe “Monday Morning Quarterback” is the sports equivalent to “Armchair General”. Both making calls well after the fact and with full knowledge the outcome. Most so called sports game experts at least actually watch the game in question. The history expert must draw his or her (yes these irritating people are not gender specific) from the works of others, some of which have as little formal training in the field as…well…me. Making things worse are those who “were there” and then write histories that favour their own side or in an effort to further their own career and or egos. I won’t mention any names but I believe I have covered that Churchillian practice in an earlier blog.
As many of our membership knows the battlefield can be a confusing place. Perhaps understanding exactly what is taking place at the time is impossible. Even police actions on what the public sees as a small operation can be a nightmare to organize and orchestrate. Fire scenes, even without the smoke and noise requires the highest degree of organization. Then, of course, there is most of the rest of us who would find it difficult to organize a one vehicle funeral procession. From the days of two forces meeting on the battle field, knowing when to form line to take cannon fire and the order to form square to receive cavalry, to the battle ground of the 20th Century matters only got more and more confusing. With that in mind let’s first look what was transpiring in France in May, 1940. The allies were in full retreat from the Germans and heading to Dunkirk with the hope of evacuation to England.
Enter Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt of Army Group A, one of the leaders of the German forces. As noted above the allies were in full retreat leaving what resembled a debris trail in their wake. This “debris” included vehicles, artillery pieces, heavy machineguns and everything except light arms which, to the credit of the soldiers and their training, they had retained. With the German army supported by the Luftwaffe prospects looked dim for the allies. Suddenly the German forces were ordered, by their commander Generaloberst von Rundstedt, to halt. At first history would record this as an order coming directly from Hitler but later it would be found that Hitler had merely confirmed the initial order issued by von Rundstedt. Why would the General order a halt of his forces? We may never know so let’s speculate; as that’s what armchair generals do best. History may have taught the General that outstripping one’s supply lines plus your supporting infantry, thereby leaving the possibility of the enemy exercising a flanking maneuver, was a real threat. We, here in the future, know that allies were devoid of any heavy equipment and armament, however that may not have been as obvious to the German leader back in the day. I do think it safe to make the assumption that had the Germans not halted when they did the allies would not have had time to evacuate. This assumption is made completely ignoring the sacrifice of the brave French soldiers who fought a rear guard action against the Germans further slowing their advance. That action and any other stalling actions by the allies, had the events unfolded in any manner as they did, may have indeed resulted in the evacuation taking place to one degree or another.
Stepping back in time, yet staying with the French, let’s look at some of the military decisions made by them based on of centuries of warfare. The French are an intellectual lot and have, through history been at the leading edge in the areas of art, science and military, to name a few. Since the dawn of the medieval times, and even before then, the French have won and lost battles and even wars using massed armies. The Hundred Years War, Franco Prussian War and the Napoleonic Wars, all employed massed armies, whether France was the victor or the defeated the lesson that massed armies was the “answer” to successful military tactics was driven home. This being the case it is no surprise that the response to The German Schlieffen Plan, a plan to encircle Paris at the outbreak of a war in the early part of the twentieth century was France’s Plan Seventeen. Plan Seventeen was a plan where the French would attack, with a massed army, due east straight toward Berlin. Due to the resistance by the Low Countries to the German advance and the failure of the Germans to implement the Schlieffen Plan with the suggested number of regiments the advance was turned well short of Paris. This left the familiar two massed armies facing one another but this time with advanced weapons of war, i.e. long range rifles and not smooth bore muskets and rapid firing machineguns. The result, the trenches of the First World War. After centuries of massed armies meeting on the field battle something relatively new. Sadly the practice of employing massed armies lingered on in the tactics supported by the leaders of the German and the allied militaries. Even though the static form of trench warfare was broken and the war ended in fluid tactics the French noted that the massed army of the Germans was stopped in its tracks by trenches, a form of fortification, so-to-speak. Between the wars the French dug in along their frontier with the development of the Maginot Line. Once again it would appear that an attempt was made, in this case by the French, to learn from the past. Germany did, however, take lessons from the tactics used at the end of the War and developed the Blitzkrieg to great success. We know how well the Maginot line held up to the fluidity of “lighting war”.
At this point, in wrapping up, I allude to the original theme of this series, “Can we learn from history?” Looks like a rather hit and miss proposition at best, relying, like in so many campaigns through the millenniums, on luck.
Can we learn from history?
In my last blog we looked at the battle of Kadesh (1274 BCE) where classic errors were made and perhaps the first opportunity for those following after to learn. The Egyptians left large gaps between their divisions allowing the Hittites to exploit those gaps and move on the command HQ. There were, of course, perfectly good reasons for the gaps between Egyptian divisions, all of which were covered in my last blog. What may have not been as clear was the first recorded tactical error by the Hittites. Their exuberance to exploit the gap between the Egyptian divisions resulted in their chariots out-pacing the infantry and therefore supporting troops. With the Hittites slower chariots surrounded by the Egyptian infantry and their faster deadlier chariots they were destroyed.
Jumping ahead 1,300 years (give or take a few decades) to 9 CE we look at the three Roman Legions, the 17, 18 and 19th, under Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany for our next example. Following earlier victories over the Germanic tribes a young man named Arminus was sent to Rome as tribute. He was educated as a Roman and became a trusted confidante of Varus. If this were a plot of a movie we would think the outcome of this alliance between Varus and Arminus was obvious. Too bad Russel Crowe wasn’t there to advise Varus, but history didn’t have two millennium to wait for benefit or Mr. Crowe’s wisdom.
As a little background information we should note that the brilliance of the Roman military machine was firmly rooted in maneuvers involving two armies meeting in open fields, a luxury not afforded in the close confines of the dense forests of Germania.
We now find Varus leading his legions in a column miles long weighted down by equipment and baggage trains along with the usual camp-followers. The Romans were confined on both sides by forest and forced to trudge along mile after agonizing mile of seemingly endless wilderness. Even the most inept armchair general will tell you this is a classic example of a need for advanced as well as flanking scouts. Varus was not a complete fool (at least not a “total” fool that is) and indeed did employ both advanced and flanking scouts. The error was that these scouts were from “loyal” German troops recommended by the equally loyal Arminus. Those “loyal” Germanic flanking scouts quickly disappeared, moving ahead to join their tribesmen in the ambush ahead, as did the advanced scouts.
The location for the German ambush was carefully planned with the area being even more restrictive than had been the case prior to this. On one side there was a steep incline while the other side of the trail was an impassible swamp. This allowed the Germans to fire on the Romans from both flanks while the different elevations assured that one side was not in direct line of fire from the other. Added to this a severe weather front moved in soaking the Romans and their equipment increasing the weight each Roman was carrying by more than double. The Romans couldn’t advance up the incline which was also fortified, they couldn’t attack the swampy ground as doing so would find them mired in the soft ground and easy targets for the Germans. Retreat was blocked by their own baggage train and transport so continuing along the trail was the only option. An option that proved even more disastrous than holding their ground. Due to the rough ground and a continuous rain of missiles the Roman column was not all moving at the same speed. This left gaps in the column which the Germans were quick to exploit. In the end this led to the ambush by the German tribesmen crushing the three legions. Many books, the internet and even recent documentaries have stated that the Romans were lost to a man. Research into original documents from that time by real historians has found that several Romans did survive the massacre and found their way back to Roman territory.
The Emperor Augustus has been said to have uttered in frustration, “Quintili Vare legions redde!” (Quinctilus Varus give me back my legions!). Looks like not even the most powerful man in the world of the time could command the dead. Documentaries have also stated that the Legions Eagle standards were lost forever, however there is evidence that some if not all of the lost eagles were recovered. The series “I Claudius” states that the Germans were eventually conquered, however even though there were some punitive actions taken against the Germans, probably the reason for the recovered eagles, the German territory east of the Rein was never conquered.
Before The National Enquirer, the yellow journalism of the tabloids and television documentaries perverted historical facts and research in favour of sensationalism and profits history was researched by serious historians. Military leaders have been schooled in tactics of the past and cautioned about the errors of those who came before. Leaving gaps in your columns to be exploited by the enemy was to be avoided while watching for and exploiting the same errors by your opponents was of paramount importance. So, don’t leave gaps in your column and don’t out-pace your supply and support troops…sound advice…right?
There are many examples of military errors, far too many for a blog. As well there are good examples of military leaders learning from history, applying what they have learned, only to find things didn’t go as planned. In my next blog we’ll look at a couple of examples of this from the 20th century.
Thanks for reading my blogs.
The Middle East and Propaganda
I’ve often heard the statement that man (mankind) is unable to learn from history. As a general statement this is, of course, ridiculous. As an example we tend to no longer defecate in our drinking water; with the exception of the City of Victoria, British Columbia that still dumps their raw sewage into the ocean. To be fair it is not actually drinking water and it does serve to give people like me something to be smug about while committing some other violation against the environment; so thumbs up Victoria. What the statement regarding learning from history usually refers to is the history of human conflict. On an individual human level it would seem to be true as far as abusive marriages as can be attested by any police officer. People in abusive relationships, when and if they “escape”, will often find another abusive partner. On a national level involving military engagements we may not actually be able to learn from history due to several reasons.
The fact that the histories of wars are usually written by the victors and often by those who shape their books to favor themselves and or their careers flooding the shelves of libraries and book stores. Another nemesis of accurate histories is propaganda; in order to learn from history we must know what the truth is and identify the perversions of the truth. I suppose this should not be a total surprise as US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson said in 1918, “The first casualty of war is truth”, so why would there be an incentive to set the record straight post war, especially for the victors? Propaganda certainly has its uses and after all we need to know that we are ethical while the enemy are evil agents of Satan; “Gott mit uns” leaps to mind. Propaganda can be a most useful tool especially in time of war and actually amounts to misinformation and out and out lies, usually directed at the very people the government is meant to be protecting. It’s a little like being caught by your wife with your mistress and having the presence of mind to introduce her as your long lost niece; it might work, as long as you actually have a brother or sister. If not….plan “B”. Plan “B” works every time and I would share it with you but I know you want me to get back to the subject at hand. Propaganda can take different forms and intensities. For example in an effort by the British to conceal the reason for an increase in RAF night mission successes against Luftwaffe bombers the rumor was started that the pilots had been consuming vast quantities of carrots which accounted for their superior night vision. The success of this propaganda had lasting effects well after the war, and managed to keep the use of radar a secret for a lot longer than a policy of silence would have accomplished. An example “from the other side” involves the 2nd Waffen SS Panzer Division Das Reich after the D-Day invasion when they were taking a pounding by the allies. The movie going public in Germany were informed through the news reels that Das Reich was making significant advances and the allies were reeling from the might of the Division as well as other German troops. The truth was that while the division and the German military in general was a force to be reckoned with Germany fought mainly a war of defense and tactical withdraw until the allied victory.
This brings me to an example, perhaps the first example, of an incident in the Middle East involving a world super power, weapons of mass destruction and the cover-up propaganda that many still hold as the truth today.
Cover-up in the Middle East
Near the border of modern Syria and Lebanon was situated the city of Kadesh, on the Orontes River. Kadesh itself controlled the trading routs between to great areas and the control of Kadesh was paramount. Over the centuries the Egyptian and Hittite Empires had been at odds. Egypt had been in one war after another in an attempt to reclaim their empire and in 1274 BCE the Hittites under Muwatalli II threatened to conquer the city of Kadesh. The Hittites greatly out-numbered the Egyptians by over two to one especially in infantry; the interesting fact about the battle is that the Hittites never had the chance to employ their infantry and while they out-numbered the Egyptian in chariots the Egyptians were far superior. Think of comparing a modern fighter jet (Egyptian chariot) to a propeller driven transport plane (Hittites).
Kadesh was in relative close proximity to the Hittite Empire while the Egyptians faced a two month march to the city. The Egyptian Army was led by Pharaoh Ramesses II at the head of the Amun Division. Three other divisions joined this force, the Re, Ptah and Seth divisions named for the areas from which they were raised. Each area or the prominent city of the area had a particular God and these divisions were named in honour of those Gods. While crossing this huge expanse of desert area each division took its own course rather than as a single army. This would lead to a tactical error by Ramesses as we will see later on. While to the modern Armchair General this splitting of the divisions may seem an obvious error, however, there are other factors at play. For the most part wars were won or lost in one decisive battle and usually by only one Egyptian division which was the division of that particular area. This makes the Kadesh campaign a rather unprecedented undertaking. The second factor and perhaps the most important one is that living off the land during a two month trek is a lot easier for one division rather than an army of four times that size. Therefore each division taking its own path to Kadesh made perfect sense.
Upon arriving just south of Kadesh Ramesses formed up his divisions but rather than combining the divisions into one large force he left a great deal of space between them. A tactical error that almost cost him the war. This seems to be an error that has plagued the military for centuries and I’d like to explore this in more detail at another time. Acting on intelligence that the Hittites were almost 200 miles away and were afraid of the Egyptian army Ramesses decided to cover the 11 miles between his army and the city of Kadesh as quickly as possible. The advance was made with the vast distances between the divisions remaining in place. The intelligence proved to be a trap and the Hittites were upon the Re Division with their chariots catching the Egyptians unprepared. The Re Division broke and some headed for the nearby Amun Division commanded by Ramesses while others turned their route around to the rear of the Hittites who were now closing on the Amun Division. One might say that the day was the Hittites to lose as the future looked bleak for the Amun Division and the whole of the Egyptian army.
At this point several factors came into play, which is often the case in warfare, which saved the day for Ramesses. Along with the defenders of the Amun Division the Hittite chariots encountered the materials that often surround an encampment along with tents and abandoned Egyptian chariots. This slowed the leading Hittite chariots and the next waves started to “jam up” as progress slowed to a stop. This made the Hittite chariots easy targets for the Egyptian archers. Remember those Re Division chariots that had turned their route and headed towards the Hittite rear and flanks? One of the advantages of being a God-King when your solders see that you are in peril they come to your aid with an unmatched fanaticism. Added to this the Path and Seth Divisions closed on the Hittite flanks. The Hittite Emperor, Muwatalli II had also made a tactical error in allowing his chariots to advance too quickly and without the support of his archers and infantry; both of which played no part in the battle. It would seem that front line troops out pacing support and supply has been a problem for a long time.
The aftermath saw both sides claiming victory over the other and I suppose in an odd way they were correct as neither side actually lost so it could be said that a draw is when both sides, in a manner, win. Ramesses II had his “claimed” victory commemorated on the walls of the temple at Karnak, showing how he, almost alone, crushed the Hittite foe. Ah, propaganda at its best! Propaganda that may be still seen today, over 3,000 years after it was carved.
The positive aspect of this conflict, regardless of the victor, was that not only was this the first documented military action it resulted in the first known peace treaty in history. Who knows, perhaps in another 3,000 years we’ll see peace in the Middle East; I’ll keep you posted.
What’s The Use?
At times I wonder of what use there is in researching then writing articles for the membership here at GMIC. Now I read that over I realize how nasty that sounds therefore let me explain. For the most part we all have an interest in history, especially military history; therefore we also possess a more than average knowledge in that field. It is rather like preaching to the choir, so-to-speak. Those only interested in accumulating collectables for the ownership of said items probably hold only a slight passing interest in the subject. This means they will most likely simply pass by such articles while those with the interest will soon see that they have about the same degree of knowledge as I.
As an example, a recent reply to a post posing a question about a certain medal of Independent India made me want to go on and on about the history between India and Pakistan and the subsequent conflicts. Rather than doing so I suggested that if the reader was interested in this history they should refer to the internet which is filled with information on the subject. I’m not too lazy to compose a condensed article on any historical subject it is just a matter that I have more to do with my time, limited as it is becoming, than take on what is often a redundant exercise.
So what is it I’m saying, or trying to say? I’m saying, for me at least, my time and efforts may be better used in passing along information that may be of help in research, preservation, restoration etc. If you have read this far and are bored then please scan to the last paragraph for a possible helpful tip for research.
Another example of what I am getting at is from a resent discussion regarding learning from history, which I still plan on using for a future blog, where the topic of WWII fortifications was broached. I said that one of the best examples of a fortified line, that failed of course, was France’s Maginot Line. I further used the example of Finland’s so-called Mannerheim Line. One of the participants expressed puzzlement at the mention of these defences while another forcefully exclaimed that he was not aware Finland was even involved in WWII, as if trying to instigate an argument. Well, there went my encouragement to continue any discussion with the group and with it the possibility of enlightening them regarding the use of the tactic called, “Motti”, against the Soviet troops. I did suggest that if they were interested they could always Google the topic. That doesn’t mean there are no topics to discuss as there is a plethora (I was wondering where I could fit that word in) of topics and perhaps many that would encourage intelligent debate or at least discussion.
In one of my planned upcoming blogs I want to discuss an issue in the Middle East involving a major world power, weapons of mass destruction and the propaganda and political cover up that followed, one that has been accepted by the population at the time and by many to this very day; but that is for the future.
Last Paragraph (as promised)
My brother-in-law, a computer genius in reality, told me of something that might help some members in their research. I have a very tough time with facial recognition, unless I actually meet someone face to face. Photos of a group of soldiers and separate photos of individual soldiers, even in the case of brothers, prove very difficult to impossible for me to identify. I usually refer to my wife, Linda, who has an uncanny talent for facial recognition. This “tool” involves Google Photos (I think that is the correct name) and the saving of photos to something called the Cloud. This program has a facial recognition option and it can and does recognize people in different photos and point them out. The program can also “look” at a photo of an adult and pick out their baby pictures! I was thinking that perhaps some of the membership might be able to use this to assist in finding a certain soldier within a group etc.
I do hope this helps someone; my wife would not appreciate emails from the membership for help in facial recognition.
Learning From History – A Rant
One of the aspects of the New Year’s season that I dislike the most, aside from the obligation to congregate in herds at parties, is being expected to converse pleasantly with the attendees. I don’t mind parties at our house as I can simply remove myself either to the office downstairs (aka the Home Office) or the shop and work on a project...and I have been known to do so. Yes I am a solitary rather anti-social type who has been lucky to have found a wife who can tolerate my rather, at times, rude behaviour. I don’t blame myself for my attitude; people like me seldom do, the problem is with those who refuse to stick to conversations and opinions well within their own knowledge and comfort parameters. For example I don’t attempt to converse about sports, entertainment, automobiles or motorcycles and or their repair. I don’t know about these topics and quite frankly don’t care. In my defence I will stand by and listen with feigned interest, a glass of cola in my hand to provide the visual mistaken assumption that partial impairment is the reason for my glazed over eyes and not mind-numbing boredom. Inevitably at sometime during this personal purgatory someone will wander into my areas of interest, one being history and its associated politics.
In such rare moments the dragon awakes! The mind sparks to life, eyes glisten with interest and the senses near salvation at the prospect of fresh meat in the form of an intellectual discussion. The first comment has been answered with the disappointing, “No one wants war” and then “If you don’t learn from history you’re doomed to repeat it”. It looks like their arsenal of knowledge on the subject has been spent and now they are starting to withdraw to a safer topic. But no! They have wandered into the sanctum sanctorum of my mind, my lair; like innocent lambs and they will not suffer me to allow them leave unscathed. To the statement “No one wants war” I reply that someone must want it as we sure as hell are engaged in them often enough. In regard to learning from history I throw out the challenge for the fellow to support his statement. I can see the fright in their eyes, smell the fear; they are mine, mine I tells you, and now I intend to destroy them utterly and completely.
It’s about now my wife swoops down like an angle from the heavens and brings with her a sense of peace and calm, changing the subject to the relief of all but yours truly. They have no idea just how lucky they were, unfortunately you dear fellow member know all too well, based on my other blogs over the past year. I do feel a twinge of remorse for you having to read these pieces, but then upon contemplation, it could simply be a touch of heart burn.
I’ll close off this tongue-in-cheek blog now and let it stand as an introduction to more serious discussions within the next few weeks on the topic of learning from history, or the inability to learn from it.
Happy Year to all, from the Home Office, deep beneath the ground in New Hamburg, Ontario Canada