Yes, yes I am an Expert!
Or, Experts and other random things I rant about.
For years I have ranted and railed against the proliferation of so-called “experts”, especially on the internet; these people who seem to hold onto the idea that if they write something then that which they have written suddenly holds validation as the truth. I am reminded of the old movies where the Pharaoh announces to the scribes and others in attendance, “As it is written so shall it be”. Well, it may indeed “be” such as a law but that is not necessarily true about every “so shall it be”. Writing that all pyramids from this day forward shall be built with the point down will not make it so. Besides if that were possible think of the impact it would have today on Ponzi schemes.
A few weeks ago we had house guests for a week in the form of my wife’s brother and his wife. My brother-in-law is not the stereotypical brother-in-law featured in comedic performances but rather a highly educated man and to call him an extremely successful business man would be a great understatement. He related that he was once told that the definition of an expert was someone who has read one chapter ahead of you in the instruction manual. He is an engineer so “instruction manual” suits him; my point of reference would have been “history book”. But, you say potato and I say, “ Solanum tuberosum”. Put the cell phone down, no need to verify that botanical name, I already looked it up. Yes, this time I cheated.
This whole “what is an expert” thing got me to thinking. My brother-in-law is correct, an expert is not necessarily someone who knows everything about a subject, but simply is required to know more than you. Did we really think that our math teacher in High School could calculate the mass of Epsilon bootis (it’s a binary star system)? Personally, the teacher who comes to mind had a bad habit of counting the number of weeks with his thumb on the fingers of the same hand to determine when the school year would end and “this insanity would stop”. It was just a habit, one I have been guilty of from time to time, and I am sure it was an un-necessary exercise...or was it? By the way, go ahead and fact check Epsilon bootis on Google I was just “winging” that one; though I think it is correct. Besides it was an astrological joke as the teacher I am thinking of would have had to use the fingers on both hands (binary system, get it; yah, you got it).
Speaking, or more accurately writing, about fact checking though the use of Google on the cell phone, there was a time when students would attend a play bringing with them a copy of the piece and check to see if the actors knew their lines perfectly. A number of years ago my wife and I were attending a Shakespearian play in Stratford, Ontario. The play was the Tempest and stared William Hutt as Prospero in what was to be his final appearance on stage. The front row was filled with High School students all armed with their copies of the Tempest ready to “fact check” the actors’ ability to deliver their lines to the text book’s exacting standards. Ah, the school system, what better way to enrich these pudding headed accidents of failed birth control than to have them follow the performance word by word in a text book. I suppose it was appropriate as in their future employment they would then be equipped to pose the question, “To flip the burger or not to flip the burger; that is the question”. I will pose this question regarding the education system. When a student excels we credit their teachers, however, when a student performs poorly in school where should we lay the blame? Of course, with a malfunctioning condom!
Back to the play, as the play is the thing. Mr. Hutt was the first actor to insist that he perform using the English language commonly spoken by Canadians.
It was most amusing to see the students flipping pages back and forth looking for the lines spoken by Mr. Hutt. Don’t worry little ones that beeping in the back of your head, indicating that the fries are done, is simply your future calling you.
Before you comment on my gibes at the burger joints I was there both on the grill and the front row at Stratford trying to follow along with the play Midsummer Night’s Dream. Man, what was Bill Shakespeare on when he wrote that play; he must have been smoking some pretty righteous weed.
To close this series of rants I will reaffirm that I am indeed an expert, as long as you don’t read ahead of me in the manual. Expertise is such a fleeting and very subjective state.
By the way, did you catch my intentional error? I used “astrological” in
place of “astronomical”. One is the study of the planets and stars; the other is right up there with the study of sugar plum fairies and unicorns pooping marshmallows.
In keeping with today’s political correctness and a check of the forum’s rules I realized that astronomy may in fact be held by some to the degree of a religion. With that in mind I apologize if anyone was offended by my comments. Also I am led to believe that if you consider yourself a “sugar plum fairy” that it is an acceptable life style choice and again I apologize for any offence I may have unintentionally given. It’s an age thing and I must admit to having not kept up with today’s trends. I would ask that anyone, sugar plum fairy or otherwise, please carry an empty marshmallow bag and clean up after your unicorn, their droppings tend to gum up my lawnmower.
As to unicorns, I have nothing against them in the wild or domesticated, just clean up after your tame ones. See photos below for clarification.
History, especially military history, is ripe with myth and legend in regard to politics, battles and war leaders. Myths such as “Germany almost won the Second World War”, which is pure nonsense and a topic for another blog at a later date, or the myth that Winston Churchill alone won the War abound, especially in the post War era. Most of the Churchill myth was generated by his own six volume “History of the Second World War” which did little to dissuade readers such as myself from including him from our personal list of the ten greatest people in modern history. So why, considering that I hold him is such high esteem, would I suggest such a thing? Or better yet why, if I am correct, would he shape his historical account to reflect anything but the bare, and therefore true, facts? As I have been harping on about for quite some time, you need to consider the times when events took place, or in this case when he wrote his accounts. Many of the war leaders of that time were still alive, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then President of the United States; Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union; Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC; Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, DM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS to name but a few. Being the consummate politician it would behove Churchill to keep in mind the reputations of these powerful men and leaders of their nations; men whom Churchill would continue to interact with during the Cold War period. In perhaps guarding the good names of his fellow post War leaders he may have inadvertently left himself in a more positive light than he might have otherwise intended. Regardless of this being the case or not let’s look at the Winston Churchill of the 1938 to 1941 period and see what conclusions can be reached.
I have chosen these dates for the main reason that often we, who are influenced by British history, tend to view history from that perspective. As an example we tend to see the Second World War as being won by Britain and her allies, rather than looking at it in view of the deciding factors from 1942 to 1945 and the countries that were able to contribute the men and material to assure victory. This would place the “tipping of the scales factor” in the favour of the United States and the Soviet Union as to who actually won the Second World War. This is not to belittle Britain and her Empire and their contributions; however, victory over Germany, Italy and Imperial Japan would hardly have been possible without the Americans and Soviets. Again this is a topic onto itself and needs to be debated another time.
Up until the entrance of the United States into the War after the attack on Pearl Harbor (or “Harbour” for the correct English spelling), 7 December, 1941the only thing between Hitler and his complete dominance of the whole of Europe was the tenacity and defiance of the British people and their war-time leader Winston Churchill.
As a young man of twenty five years of age he was engaged as a reporter for the London Morning Post covering the Boer War, in 1899. An armoured train that he was a passenger on was derailed by a contingent of one the Boer commandos and because he was considered to have taken too great a role in the engagement he was taken prisoner. He was not a prisoner for very long before he managed to escape and lead the Boers on quite a chase before reaching safety in British held territory. The reward offered by the Boer government, for his capture, amounted to less than the cost of a bottle of Scotch; after all he was just a newspaper reporter, however the whole adventure was stuff of legend. Churchill always held the Boers and their armies, known as commandos, in the highest esteem and their lightening fast, hit and run tactics would leave a lasting impression on him, as we will see later.
During the Great War Churchill served as First Lord of the Admiralty which was a governmental appointment. During this time he devised a plan to basically take the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, out of the War in 1915 by “Forcing the Straights” in the Dardanelles. This turned out to be a British naval disaster as the Turks had the straights set with underwater mines and the passage well defended by shore batteries. A land operation at Gallipoli was also coordinated at this time and met with equal or greater disastrous results with horrendous losses by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The blame for this failure was set squarely on Churchill’s shoulders even though he was not alone in the planning of the action. Much as Chamberlain, in the early years leading up to the Second World War, Churchill became the scapegoat for the actions of those who were complicit in the “crime”. The generals involved in the fiasco, caused by their hesitation during the action and their lack of planning beforehand, were left almost blame free. Churchill was removed as First Lord of the Admiralty and took leave of the government and accepted an appointment as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. His service at the front was a significant factor in many of his attitudes toward waging war affecting his decisions concerning the German threat during the 1930s as we will discuss a little later.
It is interesting that as First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill supported the idea of using aircraft in the attack on the Dardanelles; planning to have aircraft launched from Arc Royal to bomb land based defences. This planned coordinated attack by naval, air and land forces never took place, however it is interesting that he saw the value of air support as early as 1915. While we are on the topic of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty it should be mentioned that he was also quite instrumental in the development of the tank. Both of these weapons, ship launched air support and army tanks, were to see wide spread use in the next great conflict of 1939/45.
During the inter-war years Churchill once again entered politics winning a seat in Parliament, placing him and Chamberlain in the same political arena. Chamberlain was met with applause when he took his seat in Parliament while Churchill was met with near silence in the House upon his arrival. The blame for the catastrophe of the Dardanelles had followed him like a spectre into his post war political career. It is interesting that both Churchill and Chamberlain held many of the same views at this time. Both men harboured a hatred of Communism and therefore the Soviet Union. This hatred, on the part of Churchill, would delay any diplomatic ties leading to an alliance with the Soviets and causing distrust between the two which would last well past the end of the Second World War. Stalin, fearing he had no potential ally in British, formed a non aggression pact with Hitler which resulted in the two nations attacking Poland later on in 1939 and dividing the Polish Nation between them.
Both Churchill and Chamberlain believed that the answer to any military aggression on the part of Germany could be dealt with by maintaining a very strong navy. With the use of a naval blockage along with air support (bombing) Germany would not be able to sustain any prolonged aggression, therefore a large and well armed army was not seen as necessary. One of the aspects of a naval blockade, that seems to have missed their consideration, is that large battleships make great targets for bombers.
Both men also remembered the horrors of the Great War, Churchill having experienced the War firsthand, and wanted to avoid the repeat of trench warfare. The idea of a blockade supported by extensive bombing seemed to be the logical and most sensible alternative. This belief of bombing the enemy into submission would lead the allies into a program of aggressive bombing against German cities during World War Two, led by Sir Arthur Harris, GCB, OBE, AFC. Sir Arthur Harris was known to the press as “Bomber Harris” and to the RAF as “Butcher Harris” for his aggressive campaign. It is questionable whether the bombing of German cities had the desired effect as the German bombing of London, as we know, only served to toughen the resolve of the British people; a nation already determined to hold out and win at all costs.
Not to get ahead of ourselves in this discussion we should back up a bit to the “era of appeasement” for which Neville Chamberlain was to become best known in the history books. Prior to the attack on Poland in 1939 by both Germany and the Soviet Union there was the “gift” of Czechoslovakia in 1938 by Britain in an attempt to avoid what was soon to turn out to be the unavoidable. Czechoslovakia, at the time, was a well defended country with natural barriers, fortresses, a well disciplined army along with tanks and a formidable air force. It is interesting that one of the best light machine guns of the Second World War, the .303 Cal. British Bren Gun, was developed from the 7.9mm Czech ZB26 LMG. It has been argued, and I believe successfully, that had Czechoslovakia not been conceded to Hitler and allowed to resist the German invasion and the combined forces of Britain and France been employed on what would be a second front that the war could have been ended in 1938. While the British army was not large nor especially well armed, at the time, the combination of the Czechs on a German Eastern Front and the Anglo-Franco forces forming a combined force on their Western Front Hitler would have been forced to at least back off. Certainly Stalin would not have allied with Germany as he had already taken half of Poland the previous year and would have seen the democratic countries of what would have been a triple alliance against Germany as the lesser of two evils. Hitler had been riding a political and popularity high in Germany due mainly to his ability to gain territory for Germany without the need for another large war. If a humiliation such as would have occurred by his backing down or worse, for him, a military defeat may have ended his career then and there. Even if there had been a stalemate, which was the fear if any land based actions were undertaken, a soft landing on the coast of France to supply the front would have been a lot less costly than the hard landing provided by “Fortress Europe” on D-Day.
We can speculate all we would like; the historical facts are that there was no military intervention by the British or the French. The French had a false sense of security behind their Maginot Line of “impregnable” fortresses and the British held onto the idea of the naval blockade scenario. I often wonder if the French or the British for that matter, upon seeing the news reels showing the empty fortresses of Czechoslovakia being viewed by their new German owners thought about the possibility of the Maginot Line suffering a similar fate.
Regardless of how the French viewed the possible fate of their own fortresses one thing was certain, that the British people cheered Chamberlain in the streets for his placation of Hitler. A lone voice of protest went almost unheard in the sea of enthusiasm over avoiding war at such a low cost, to the British at least. Winston Churchill was appalled, once again, at the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government and possibly even more appalled at the general public acceptance of these acts. It would seem that protest was about all that Churchill was offering, as no alternate action plan was ever brought forward. The reliance upon a naval blockade and the bombing of the enemy by the air force almost precludes that Germany would almost have to reach the coast before any blockade and bombing could take place. By this scenario it would seem that Churchill counted on Hitler to invade France, proving Chamberlain wrong and, putting him in a position of being the only person to have seen the truth. As I have mentioned before, Churchill was not the only person in all of Britain who was opposed to the Appeasement Policy, however, he was the only person to be openly against these acts. Had Hitler not invaded Poland in 1939, which resulted in Britain and France declaring war on Germany, Churchill may well have gone down in history as the most ignored man of his time.
In Part two we’ll take a look at Churchill from 1939 until the American entrance into the War in 1941.
â€œThe Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.â€ â€“ Winston Churchill, 18 June, 1940.
In writing about Winston Churchill I often have found myself writing about the history of the Second World War itself rather than just about the man. In a way, I suppose, that is unavoidable as the story of Winston Churchill from 1939 to 1945 is about the War and the War about Winston Churchill. It would not be a stretch to even suggest that Winston Churchill was the personification of Britain itself for much of the world during this time period.
A most interesting point is that Churchill actually named the Battle of Britain a little less than a month before the battle actually took place, starting on 10 July, 1940. One should probably not be surprised that of all leaders throughout the history of warfare it would be Winston Churchill to name the battle beforehand. Was this due to intuition or that Churchillian Luck again? I would put it at 80% intuition; however that is open to opinion and debate. Historians tend to compartmentalise history into neat linear easy to follow stories due to the complexity of the events of the Second World War. I believe this has been done so often that most people tend to think that one event takes place and then by some convenient coincidence the next follows comfortably on the heels of the other. As we know this is seldom the case and the Second World War was no exception to the general rule. The North African Campaign, as an example, started on 10 June, 1940, one month before the Battle of Britain. The Russians entered Romania in June of 1940 to take back the province of Bessarabia which put the Soviet forces alarmingly close to the Romanian oil fields so important to Germany. This triggered an action on the part of Germany in 1941 that had a profound effect on the North African Campaign as we will see later.
As we have read Churchill wanted to avoid a head to head clash with the German Army on the continent. This was now a moot point as there were more Germans in France at this time than at a Bavarian Oktoberfest. To recap, Churchill, and Chamberlain, agreed that a naval blockage and aerial bombardment by the RAF would bring Hitler and his army to their knees. This would serve to avoid the war of attrition brought about by the trench warfare of the Great War. Both Britain and France thought any future wars would be static and fought from fixed positions and not the fluid warfare of the Blitzkrieg that they had just experienced. The Maginot Line was perhaps the best example of this common held, though erroneous, belief. What is not generally known is that Churchill actually lacked confidence in the British Armyâ€™s ability to meet and even hold their own against the German Army. While this sounds scandalous and perhaps even impertinent of me to say I think we need to realize that the size of the British Army was greatly reduced after World War One in favour of a large navy and air force. Added to this the material was not very modern compared with Germanyâ€™s and what they did have was, to a great degree, left behind on the beaches of Dunkirk. The situation in the aftermath of Dunkirk was that the British Army as a whole was not up to the task of an invasion. However, this is and was not to say that the individual British soldier was less than willing and capable of any challenge put before them; it was a matter of numbers and material.
In order for Germany to invade England (Operation Sea Lion) they first needed control of the skies over Britain requiring the elimination of the Royal Air Force. An attempted amphibious invasion of England without the elimination of the RAF would mean that the Germans would be attempting the crossing while being attacked by the RAF and the Royal Navy, not to mention the shore batteries of costal artillery. Two factors were against the Germans using their navy as support for Operation Sea Lion, one known and one still to be realized. The first, and known, factor was that the loss of so many ships during the British invasion of Norway left the Germans short of necessary naval support. The second point was that larger battle ships are fairly easy targets for bombers. While both sides were aware of this the magnitude of this fact was not brought to the forefront of military thinking until the great sea battles in the Pacific Theater between the American and Imperial Japanese Navies, much later in the War.
The Battle of Britain was to turn out to be the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces and involved the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. The initial targets of the Luftwaffe were coastal shipping convoys and shipping centers such as Portsmouth. It was later that the Luftwaffe shifted their concentration on RAF airfields then aircraft factories and other such infrastructure. Much late, as we will see, the German bombing targeted areas of political significance including the employment of terror bombing strategies, (as an example, the London Blitz). As stated earlier, the British put emphasis on bombers, (due to the naval blockade and bombing strategies before the War); therefore the German concentration on bombing the airfields and aircraft factories put a great strain on fighter command. Up until this time Fighter Command was operating at full capacity and without any reserve fighters to replace those lost through battle and wear and tear.
Things were looking bad for Fighter Command and Britain in general at this time. It was desperate enough that a significant number of the British population and politicians favoured a negotiated peace with Hitler. Churchill and a majority of his cabinet refused to even consider negotiations with the Germans. Churchill gave the following speech on 4 June 1940; I think it is appropriate that we review it here to give some insight into his determination and resolve.
â€œWe shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in Godâ€™s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.â€
On 24 August, 1940 Churchillâ€™s luck would once again serve him well when a German bomber accidently dropped bombs on London. Churchill grasped the opportunity handed him and ordered the bombing of Berlin. He calculated, correctly it turns out, that the bombing of the German capital would enrage Hitler and he would order his bombers away from RAF targets to the cities of England. A terrible choice had to be made but the saving of the RAF form destruction would mean the salvation of the Nation itself. It was from this point on that the Germans were at a disadvantage in the battle. The Luftwaffe was at a disadvantage from the start which was offset by the British lack of reserve fighters. The disadvantage was in the German strategic use of their bombers. Up until the Battle of Britain bombers were used to support ground troops and this worked very well. The whole â€œmachineâ€ was run on the theory of fighter/bomber/ground forces supporting one another. During the Battle of Britain they were faced with the use of radar giving their position away to the RAF, this included their fighter escorts. With no ground support to take out the radar stations the German fliers were in a very vulnerable position. While the London Blitz continued until May 1941 the failure of the Luftwaffe to break the RAF led to the postponement and finally the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion.
The London Blitz was the one event, perhaps above all others, was the making of the image of Churchill. His tours through the bombed out areas of the City, famous hat and coat, cigar in one hand and the two fingers held up in the form of the â€œV for victory and numerous photo opportunities catapulted him to world celebrity. The Battle of Britain itself was the turning point of the whole war, though this was not recognized at the time. Up until Hitler lost the Battle of Britain he had not suffered a significant defeat. This is not to come as much of a surprise as the vast majority of his victories, up to this point, had almost been gifts; in some cases bloodless campaigns. This is where the Germans were stopped and from this point forward, with exceptions, the course of the war would go against the Nazis. Even the great battles such as Stalingrad, which has been held up as breaking the German military might, it was the Battle of Britain that showed both the world and the Germans themselves that Hitler was not invincible and a determined nation could indeed make a difference.
Winston Churchill summed it up well in his Battle of Britain speech, â€œIf the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts a thousand years, men will say, â€˜This was their finest hourâ€™â€.
Most of my points and comments are easily confirmed by the reader, either from books or from the internet, therefore I have not bothered to make a lot of citations regarding them. Some points, I feel, are not that well known so in those cases I have included references within square brackets.
For Winston Churchill the year 1939 could arguably be seen as the lowest point in his political career. However, with Germany marching into Austria and then Czechoslovakia, the British Nation started to wake up to the harsh reality of the situation in Europe; a situation Churchill had been warning about for years. It would seem that prior to this time everyone was almost going out of their way to ignore him. As a case in point, when Chamberlain took office as Prime Minister he refused to take Churchill with him because he feared that Churchill would dominate the House and make speeches supporting his ideas resulting in no one else having the chance to speak at all. In another incident Churchill proposed that the RAF should engage in “shuttle bombing”, which involved taking off from Britain, bombing German targets and then landing in Poland. Groups of bombers that would be then stationed in Poland would reverse the process so that there would be on going bombing of Germany from both the east and the west. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would have nothing to do with this proposal. The newspapers said that he (Chamberlain) should bring the First Lord of the Admiralty (Churchill) into his cabinet. Churchill was a warrior who knew about aerial bombardment – bring him in. Chamberlain didn’t want Churchill in. [Human Smoke, Nicholas Baker, pg. 127, as reported in the New York Times, August 23, 1939]. Before the year was out Germany would invade Poland and Britain and France would declare war on Germany, bringing about the fall of Chamberlain and launching Churchill into the lime light.
This was a time in the history of the Second World War were nothing seems to have been taking place if you go by what is presented by most television documentaries. True, there was a time when all of Europe was holding its breath “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, but in reality the nations involved were a beehive of activity.
Norway, a neutral nation, was being watched by Germany with envious eyes for her ice-free port of Narvik. Germany relied on iron ore from Sweden for steel production and the only prime winter (ice-free) port for them to ship the iron ore to Germany was in Norway. As early as 8 April, 1939 Churchill instructed the Royal Navy to mine the Norwegian waters. This was planned provoke the German Navy into engaging the British and thereby allow the Royal Navy to destroy the German Navy.
Here we need to back up just a little to the time when Germany invaded Poland and the British and French declared war. Both sides were now poised for combat not unlike two heavy weight prize fighters waiting for the bell to ring announcing the start of the conflict. Waiting, waiting but nothing happened; no bell was rung no shell was fired. Instead the RAF dropped leaflets containing propaganda over the German lines. The Germans set up loud speakers, sometimes within sight of the allied forces, and broadcast their rendition of “The Capitulation Waltz” (aka propaganda). Churchill termed this the “Twilight War”; we know it better, at least here in North America, as the “Phony War”. This “Twilight War” was waged, or more accurately “not” waged, from September 1939 until May 1940. In a speech on January 27, 1940, Churchill would remark that what he often wondered was why England had as yet not been bombed from the air. Also during this speech he asked, “Ought we, instead of demonstrating the power of our Air Force by dropping leaflets all over Germany, to having dropped bombs?” [Churchill, Complete Speeches, vol. 6, pg.6187-88]. It is interesting that Churchill’s opinion that the correct option was that Britain should have taken the offensive was later supported by German General Siegfried Westphal. He said, “If the French had attacked in force in September 1939 the German Army could have only held out for one to two weeks.” At the time Britain and France had 110 Divisions in the field while Germany had only 23 Divisions. As a side note, the first Canadian troops arrived in England during this time period; Britain’s forces were on the increase.
It is here that I would like to remind the reader that both Chamberlain and Churchill wanted to avoid a land war in Europe as the memories of the First World War and its horrors were still fresh in the minds of their citizens. A clash, somewhere in France would quite possibly end up in a trench warfare stalemate similar to1914-18. This being the established facts I find it interesting indeed that Churchill should say later that Britain and France should have undertaken an action that was completely against what he, and France, believed in and, in fact enforced, at the time. Perhaps this was Churchill’s way of admitting that he had been wrong about avoiding a head on clash with the German Army on the continent in 1939.
One of the areas that Churchill thought as an alternative to Europe in which to engage the Germans was in the north, in particular, Norway. The British realized earlier that Norway and especially the port of Narvik was important to Germany due to the year around ice-free waters. This was necessary, as has been mentioned for the shipment of Swedish iron ore to Germany. Britain had already sewn the waters with mines and now it seemed appropriate, to Churchill, to actually invade and secure the country itself. Chamberlain opposed this plan as he feared it would widen the war and in essence it was illegal. Churchill countered this opposition with the reasoning that if they succeeded it would deprive the Germans of the much needed iron ore and perhaps provoke them into making a rash move that would spell disaster for the Germans. The German admirals had debated the consequences of the loss of Norway. They felt that the war could very well be lost if the British were to seize Norway and in particular the port of Narvik.
As many secrets are prone to do the Churchill proposal leaked to the press; not in any great detail but enough to alert the German government to the, now, real threat. The Norwegian Government protested strongly to what amounted to a breach of international law by the British. It was March 1940 when Vidkun Quisling, the former War Minister for Norway, approached Hitler in regard to setting up a puppet government under the Germans. Up until this point there were no plans by Germany to invade Norway, of course this now changed.
I have read several accounts of this action over the years. Modern supporters of Churchill write that Britain had decided to come to the rescue of “poor little Norway” in peril of being over-run by German forces. Those who tend to be less enthusiastic about the man will write something to the effect, “despite Norway’s status as a neutral nation Churchill ignored that and planed an invasion”. I have also read that the British intercepted a German communiqué which informed them that the Germans were planning to invade Denmark and Norway. This is one of those times where I tend to believe all of the above, as in a sense they are all one and the same. The only difference is in the method the writer would like to use in order to lead you into thinking along the same lines as him or her. The one point that is clear, at least to me, is that Norway did indeed protest the laying of the mines in Norwegian waters [as reported in the New York Times, April 9, 1940]. The invasion of 11 April, 1940, on the other hand took place much too quickly to have offered the luxury of a diplomatic protest. The small British and French force landed around midnight but were totally unprepared to carry on the fight, lacking such things as mules for transport and even snowshoes necessary for moving through deep snow. The German air force hammered the allied invasion forcing them to retreat. As far as the ground troop actions were concerned this was a complete disaster; however the Royal Navy managed to inflict a crippling blow to the German Navy. The result was that Germany captured Norway, which lasted until 8 May, 1945; however they lost control of the Atlantic.
The plan was completely Churchill’s yet true to “Churchillian luck” the blame fell squarely on Chamberlain. Perhaps this lack of blame was the cause of Churchill’s obsession to recapture the port of Narvik. “Here it is we must fight and preserve on the largest scale possible”, he wrote to one of his naval commanders on 28 April, 1940. “He wanted to divert troops there from all over the place”, General Ironside noted in his diary. “He is so like a child in many ways. He tires of a thing, and then wants to hear no more of it. It is most extraordinary how mercurial he is.” [Edmond Ironside, Time Unguarded pg.278]
On 10 May, 1940 Churchill becomes Prime Minster with little time to celebrate as on that same day, eight months after Britain and France declared war on Germany, Hitler ordered his troops into Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and France, ending the “Twilight War”. France soon surrenders and Hitler turned his thoughts toward an invasion of Russia, which may have been one of the saving graces for the British and surviving French forces in France concerning what was about to unfold at the coastal towns of Calais and Dunkirk.
I think it worthy to note that the German advance was not without stiff resistance from the French troops stationed in the fortresses of the Maginot Line. This line of fortresses was built to stop the advance of any future German attack and we often hear that the Germans quickly destroyed these and moved on toward Dunkirk. I suppose this has been done to get back to the British story of the evacuation rather than an attempted to make the French Army’s resistance appear weak or half-hearted. Many French soldiers fought to the death attempting to hold back the German onslaught. It is true that some French strong points were knocked out more or less easily, however some proved impossible to destroy, at least in the timely fashion needed and were by-passed.
The Germans defeated the Maginot Line due to the lack of coordination between the French troops in the fortresses and those in the field. For the most part the individual fortresses fought in isolation against overwhelming odds. Another weakness was the lack of French anti-aircraft artillery. The one saving grace for the French was that the German dive bombers had a 60% rate in missing the fortresses completely. While the French were overwhelmed and surrendered many of the main fortresses remained intact and capable of continuing to fight. These were only surrendered after being ordered to do so by French General Georges one week after the French Army surrendered; and then only under protest by the officers commanding these fortresses. [“Maginot Line 1940” –M. Romanych & M. Rupp]
The relentless drive by the German troops through France left the British and French allies bottled up in a corridor to the sea by German Army Group B, to the east and Army Group A to the west. The allies fought a withdrawing action to the coastal town of Dunkirk while to the west the mainly British Garrison in Calais was under siege by the German forces. The garrison at Calais was to be sacrificed in order to buy time for the forces at Dunkirk to be evacuated. Churchill had written to the garrison commander, “Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not, repeat not, take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover.” [Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pg. 79-82]. Churchill’s critics have called him a “killer of men”; however any wartime leader must make decisions that are less than desirable. Even the greatest of generals throughout history were “killers of men”, including their own men, due to the choices that the times dictated that they must make.
Meanwhile the German forces outside Dunkirk were given an order to “stand down” for three days. It is unclear as to where this order originated; however, it is usually assumed it came from Hitler himself, the reasons have never been clear. Regardless of where the order came from, or even why, what it provided was time for the allied troops to prepare for evacuation. It has also been debated as to whether the sacrifice of the troops at Calais had any positive bearing on the evacuation of Dunkirk. The one thing that cannot be debated is that the holding action at Calais tied up a whole Panzer Division that otherwise may have been deployed at Dunkirk.
Another aspect that is missing in the documentaries and in most books on the subject is in regard to the German Navy. We know that the German Army and Air Force were employed in this action but where was the German Navy. One would think that this arm of the German forces would have or should have played a decisive role in preventing the evacuation of 192,000 allied personnel, 144,000 being British, by 4 June 1940. The answer is actually pretty clear; remember Narvik and the Battle of Norway? Churchill’s failure on land was a success on the seas with the German Navy in no shape to interfere with the Dunkirk evacuation. In addition to this 250,000 German troops were stationed in Norway for the duration of the war to assure there would be no further attempts to invade. A quarter of a million German troops taken out of the equation by Churchill’s fortunate blunder (Churchillian luck).
On 18 June, 1940 Churchill said, “The Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” It did, less than a month later on 10 July, 1940.
Winston Churchill, Desert Warrior
Part Four: The North African Campaign.
There was so little time to rejoice at his appointment as Prime Minister on 10 May, 1940 with that same day being the fall of France to the Germans, a month later on 10 June Italy declaring war on Britain followed by the Battle of Britain on10 July. It must have seemed that the world was celebrating his appointment by promptly falling apart; it makes one wonder if Churchill was starting the dread the 10th of each month. Unlike so many other politicians of his day and especially those of our modern era Churchill was not simply a man of rhetoric but a man of action, more than capable of cashing the cheques his mouth had written in the pre-war era. At times his hubris may have led him to make decisions that would later be condemned by his critics but the time for hesitation was over. I am reminded of the old saying that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Hitler was to find out, in time, that Churchill was the man to light that candle and when he did it was with a flame thrower.
I covered the Battle of Britain in last month’s entry of this series even though chronologically the North Africa Campaign started a full month earlier. This was done in an attempt to avoid appearing as if we were jumping around from one place to another and giving the story a bit better flow albeit at the risk of anachronism.
In earlier installments of this series we talked about Churchill’s fear of creating a static war like that of the Great War by attacking the Germans head to head somewhere in Europe. To use the word “fear” when speaking of Winston Churchill is unfair and, I believe, quite inaccurate. To decide that driving up a mountain road in winter may be too dangerous then waiting until spring, taking a safer route to achieve the same goal is not the action of a coward but the actions of a sane and calculating person. Churchill would later write of his feelings during the war as his only true fear was that of the U-boat menace. Churchill much preferred the re-invasion of Norway over the direct confrontation in Europe and held onto this argument even as the preparations of D-day were being prepared.
Of all the campaigns of the War perhaps the actions in the deserts of North Africa brought into the spot light of history the most notable and near-mythic personalities of the century. The names, Alexander, Auchinleck, Eisenhower, Patton, Rommel and Kesselring, to name just a few, would become household words from one end of the glob to another. The North Africa Campaign would perhaps be the beginning of Churchill being seen as one of the many rather than the main player in the war.
The declaration of war by Italy upon both France and Britain was not any great surprise considering her alliance with Germany and the German declaration or war. This was not the first aggressive act by Italy against a target in Africa as they had attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) on 3 October 1935. If you recall, earlier in this series, the League of Nations did nothing to assist Abyssinia and by May of 1936 Italy had virtually defeated the forces of Abyssinia and Emperor Haile Selassie went into exile, living at Fairfield House in Bath, England. He returned to the capital, Addis Ababa, as Emperor on 5 May, 1941 after the withdrawal of the Italian forces from Abyssinia.
Churchill was facing a great deal of pressure from the Soviets to undertake a second front in Europe at this time; a proposition that Churchill did not favour as we have made mention numerous times. He preferred smaller confrontations that brought much needed victories to bolster the British peoples’ resolve. Time and time again he fought against a second front in France, even after the entry of America into the war. His arguments ranged from not having enough landing craft to the lack of training of the allied troops in attacking a well defended “Fortress Europe”. Statistics show that there was more than enough landing craft in England at this time to support an invasion. While the argument of the allied troops being unprepared may be debatable the fact that by D-Day the German defences were much stronger is an undeniable reality. Churchill’s reluctance to launch an invasion against the Germans in Europe held D-day up for at least a year. One cannot but speculate the additional cost in life this hesitation cost the allies. In the resent past, here in the West, historians would have us think that Britain was alone against Germany at this time. I have somewhat even suggested this earlier in this series. The fact is that Britain had a potentially very powerful ally in the form of the Soviet Union. Churchill distrusted the Soviets and was in no hurry to commit troops to a second front, which did nothing to endure the West to Stalin. One of the tactics Churchill did support whole heartedly was the use of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) in clandestine raids within Europe. His idea was, to use his words, “set Europe ablaze”. Churchill was a proponent of learning from history and drew his ideas from his time spend fighting the Boers in South Africa. He noted the success of the Boer commando raids and wanted to employ the same tactics in Europe to disrupt the Germans and deny as much materials of war as possible through sabotage. While these operations did achieve in bringing in valuable intelligence as well as causing a good deal of mayhem critics have pointed out that the cost in lives through German reprisals was appalling. One of the greatest examples of the costs of these operations is the assignation of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhardt Heydrich on 27 May 1942 by Czech SOE operatives. The assignation resulted in the extermination of 192 men, 50 women and 88 children from the Czech town of Lidice. Even given the balance sheets of war one has to ask whether the removal of one high ranking Nazi official was worth the cost; our generation is fortunate to have the luxury of such debates.
Another criticism of the SOE was that it kept competent military leaders from leading their troops in the field due to their preoccupation with sabotage. While the above two examples may be fuel for debate as they are based on personal observation and conclusions the one cold hard fact is that not one of the sixty-six German divisions stationed in France on D-Day was committed to internal security. [John Keegan, Churchill (London: Weidenfeld and Nicoloson), 2002 pg. 128]. Keegan goes on to state that things in Southern Europe were much worse. “Greece and Yugoslavia were ravaged by reprisals and by the civil wars that resistance provoked ...The consequences of encouraging resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece were socially and politically disastrous; they persist to this day.” [Ibid.]
Another discussion that was directly linked to the North Africa Campaign was the disastrous Dieppe raid, 19 August 1942. For over half a century the facts about the raid on Dieppe were kept from the public. Speculation as to the purpose ranged from the reasonable to the realm of those who find conspiracy in everything from the cause of the death of Tutankhamen to the truth about the Moon Landing. Resent evidence has shown that this was a “pinch raid”, that is to say a raid to steal something, in this case the German Enigma machine. The British had been making some progress in breaking the enemy code when the Germans decided to add an additional rotor wheel which made all of the work by British decoders nearly useless.
Captured intelligence revealed that the German U-boats were poised to enter into the Mediterranean. Rommel was about to begin his second offensive (21 January 1942) and the threat of the U-boats was considerable to the supply of the Allied troops in North Africa. While the raid was unsuccessful it would seem that the true nature of the “pinch raid” was as unclear to the Germans as it was to the British and Canadians who took part in it; at least this allowed the British code breakers to continue on deciphering the Enigma machine, working in secret.
We are getting ahead of the story so we’ll back up a bit. The war in North Africa went quite well for the British troops and the Italians soon found that taking on the British Empire was going to be no where as easy as their Abyssinian Campaign of 1935. The North Africa Campaign started on 10 June 1940 and nine months later, by 7 February 1941, what was left of the Italian 10th Army had surrendered. Churchill favoured smaller campaigns that would return positive results and, as we have discussed, took the attention away from a landing on the European continent. Campaigns, even successful ones, all have one thing in common; men and materiel wear out and need replacing. Even though this was not taking place the British were on the verge of victory. A victory in North Africa at this time would have prevented the commander of the newly formed German Afrika Korps, Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel, from even landing. Unfortunately Churchill snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by his next tactical decision based on political obligation to Greece.
Italy and Greece were at war with one another since Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940. At first the Greek Army held the Italians at bay; that is until Italy requested assistance from her ally Germany. Churchill has been criticized for his decision of 9 February, 1941, to pull experienced troops out of North Africa in order to strengthen the Greek defence of their country from the combined forces of Italy and Germany. This decision greatly weakened the British presence in North Africa and while the men transferred to Greece were replaced by fresh troops, these new troops were not battle hardened such as were the men they were replacing. This decision on the part of Churchill, despite his generals’ protests, not only allowed the Italians to receive much needed reinforcements set the victory in North Africa back by two years; with the loss of countless more lives. In addition to this the number of troops transferred to the Greek conflict was insufficient to prevent the inevitable defeat of Greece and then Crete.
Was this an unforgivable blunder on the part of Churchill, or was there more to the decision than whim, which seems to be the suggestion by many historians less supportive of Churchill than this author. What is conveniently overlooked by Churchill’s critics is the Declaration of 1939 that in the event of a threat to the independence of Greece or Romania that the British would take all actions possible to come to their defence. It must be remembered that at this time America was being “romanced” by Churchill to enter the war on the allied side. Even though it was a moral decision that had to be made to defend Romania and Greece it would not have bode well in the view of the United States had Britain simply turned her back on these allies in need. It may have also led the public to believe that Britain had returned to the Chamberlain era of looking only to her own immediate needs (the avoidance of another war) at the expense of those with whom she had claimed alliance. The failure of Italy to take Greece in a timely manner and the need for German intervention may have had far reaching consequences in the German plans for the invasion of Russia. Hitler blamed the failure of Operation Barbarossa on the delays for that campaign due to Italy’s failure to conquer Greece without the aid of German troops. [Kershaw, Ian, 2007, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-1941, pg. 178]
With Greece and Romania now firmly in German hands one would assume the writing on the wall of history would be a portent of doom for the British in North Africa. However like most graffiti on any wall promising, “For a good time call Betty”, often proves erroneous, history would once again record that famous Churchillian luck that I am so fond of mentioning. Code breaking of the German transmissions had experienced a breakthrough and now the Allies could monitor the movements of supply transport in the Mediterranean. It has been estimated that up to 60% of Axis shipping was destroyed due to the breaking of their code. [Kingsly, Sir Harry “The Influence of ULTRA in the Second World War”]
To make things worse for the Germans the Allies, under the command of General Eisenhower, landed in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November 1942. This opened up what the Germans have been taught to be avoided at all costs, a second front.
The lack of supply, the strengthened allied forces, new materiel plus the requirement of fighting on two fronts spelled doom for the Afrika Korps and victory for the allies, and Churchill, of course. It should be mentioned that as of 22 June 1941 (almost a year and a half before the fall of North Africa) German military planning had turned its attention from North Africa to Russia.
I think we need to take a minute to look at the decision by Hitler to commence operation Barbarossa even though history books point out that his generals advised against it, much as Churchill’s generals advised against the British involvement in Greece at the possible expense of North Africa. Churchill based his decision on ethics, but what about Hitler and his decision to invade Russia and open up that dreaded second front. Part of the problem stems for history written just after the Second World War where any suggestion to the contrary regarding Hitler being a megalomaniac, a raving monster incapable of making sound decisions was frowned upon. This would be much like making a statement, soon after 911, that the attack on the World Trade Centre involved incredible planning and co-ordination. This type of statement, no matter how little actual praise was intended toward the instigators would be met with distain by a shocked and disillusioned public; much as is any suggestion of intellect being involved in the decision to invade Russia in 1941.
In 1940 a war broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union called the Winter War (a subject for a later article) in which it appeared that small Finland had held out against the Goliath, Russia. While basically true in the beginning the exploits of the Finnish military certainly were partially a matter of myth generated by the media and the free world’s need to believe it was so. The free world was not the only ones watching what was unfolding in Finland; Hitler was also following this conflict with great interest. He came to the conclusion that Russia was so ill prepared that a small well armed, trained and dedicated army could stop the Russian juggernaut in its tracks. If Finland could do this then Russia had no chance against Germany’s war machine. [Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, New York, 1970, pg. 169]
While it was true that Hitler’s generals advised against a second front and cited Napoleon’s mistake, however, they were basing their advice on information that was 130 years old while Hitler was basing his decisions on information (albeit erroneous) that was most current.
It wasn’t just Hitler who noticed the Finnish/Soviet war of 1940; Joseph Stalin also showed interest in it and the reasons his troops faired so poorly, at least at the onset of the war. His analysis of the conflict led him to revamp the strategy and reporting structure of the Red Army. Lessons from the Winter War may have attributed to later Soviet successes that assured their victories from Stalingrad to Berlin.
Now with North Africa in Allied hands Churchill convinced the political and military leaders to invade Sicily and then Italy, the “soft under belly of Europe”. The one thing I quickly found out as a young man interviewing Italian Campaign veterans, for my own interest, was that you never mentioned the “soft under belly of Europe” to them, lest you were assaulted with a long lecture filled with colourful and abusive metaphors. The implications of that phrase was, to the veterans’ point of view, that the Italian Campaign was something much easier than it actually was.
This is the last installment in this series on Winston Churchill and I do hope that I presented his story during these troubled times in a fair manner. It is my opinion that the Italian Campaign, D-Day Invasion, the Conquest of Europe and the Japanese conflict are all too large to deal with within an article about one particular leader. I also feel that from the onset of WWII until the entrance of the Americans the war was mainly a British and Commonwealth show with Winston Churchill at the forefront of events. After North Africa it became an international affair with Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union all making decisions rather than everything being in the hands on one leader.
We’ve taken a look at the man, Winston Churchill, and his decisions from the years leading up to the Second World War and through to the North African Campaign and made mention of his less than successful Balkans Campaign of World War One. All in all I find it difficult to hang the blame entirely on Churchill for the Gallipoli disaster simply because a decision was made and executed, then found lacking. This is a matter of record. Also a matter of record is that the British and colonial Generals and leaders involved continued with the campaign for an additional eight months after Churchill was removed from his position of Lord of the Admiralty. Some blame must be attributed to those who continued with the disaster once it had been deemed that success was impossible. True, Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty during the plan to “force the Straights” of the Dardanelles, however the plan was devised by Churchill AND Kitchener. This was to be a naval action as no land forces were available for a landing. The attack on 15 February, 1915 failed, as we all know. As to the landings at Gallipoli are concerned, the plan was devised by General Sir Ivan Hamilton and Vice Admiral Sir John de’Robeck in March, 1915 and approved by Kitchener. Churchill offered his support. It should be noted that no one in authority objected to this plan. It could very well be argued that Churchill was in favour of the plan based the approval by that military genius, Kitchener. To criticize Churchill for making decisions of a military nature against the advice of his generals then turn around and criticize him when he did take their advice, albeit a mistake, shows a certain degree of obscurantism on the part of his critics.
We’ve read where Churchill’s actions actually delayed the D-Day invasion at least for a year. The result being that the Germans were better prepared by the time of the invasion than they would have been a year earlier. Well, to that I would say, “Bravo for perfect hindsight’, which is a wonderful tool for criticising those who had an impossible job to do in a world gone mad. In the interpretation of history we need to be mindful not to fall into the trap of “presentism”; that is to say looking at events from the past through the eyes of the present and judging those events by today’s values and concepts.
We can lay blame for the bombing of German cities, for whatever purpose, on “Bomber” Harris or Winston Churchill. However, true to western propaganda, we are left with the impression that Britain was completely alone at the beginning of the war; which is not completely true. The first bombing raid on Berlin by the British was 25 August 1940; however by 8 August 1941 the Soviet Union had also joined in the bombing of Berlin. Regardless of one’s opinion of the bombing of German cities it was not Britain alone involved in these attacks. As many veterans have reminded me, “It was war!”
The one point I would like to leave you with is this. After the fall of France and in spite of many of the British public and political leaders, who were suggesting capitulation, it was Winton Churchill who rallied England to stand and fight. Had Hitler not been stopped at the English Channel what was to be the combined military might of the British, her Commonwealth and the United States would not have had the staging point provided by the United Kingdom to launch the D-Day invasion. With no second front to worry him Hitler would have been free to attack Russia with the full might of the German armed forces. The prospect of such a scenario is most sobering indeed. Churchill stopped Hitler at the channel and that fact alone may have saved the world.
Thank you for bearing with me over the past few months and thank you for all of your constructive comments, they are always greatly appreciated.
You might not have much of a life if you are working on compiling material for a book titled, My Most Memorable Games of Solitaire, or writing a blog titled.
Why Collect? – The Best Answer
In my ongoing quest to ascertain why things are they way they are and why people do what they do, I offer the following blog.
A question often asked on forums and by people we meet who are aware that we collect is “why do you collect”. For the sake of this discussion I will stay within military collecting but the answer to that question is generic to all forms of collecting; Beanie Babies to bayonets.
The classic answers to this question are quite varied and I have no doubt that some are actually truthful, or at least believed so by the orator. I should digress for a moment, which I am wont to do with more frequency than my readers would prefer. There is a tendency among us sceptics to treat many answers to this common and more or less personal question with a strong dose of cautious doubt. The Internet makes it very easy for those who may not be on speaking terms with the truth to say just about anything. There is no chance to apply lessons learned in the field such as changes in facial features or body posture to ascertain probable truthfulness or attempts at deceit. As an example, many years ago I was assisting a Sergeant in an investigation and we were interviewing a street person who had been known as a storehouse of useful information. This was a chance encounter and, in retrospect, interviewing her on the street was very poor procedure, the repercussions of this lapse of protocol is a subject for a story another day. The young lady was known by the name of “Cigarette Mary”; and she had intimate knowledge of many of the local characters. After we had written down her information the Sergeant said, “That was a very interesting story, Mary; now tell me something I can believe”. Interestingly enough she did just that which eventually led to several arrests. I will admit that I was a bit naive and didn’t pick up on Mary’s body language; however the experienced officer “had her number” as soon as she began speaking. This would have been impossible through emails and holds true not only for deceit but in cases where the truth is being related. I tell you this as many of the reasons given for collecting may sound a bit contrived yet can still be one hundred percent genuine. To paraphrase Mr. Ed Haynes, “Anything is possible and can happen; and probably has; twice in India”. People also tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. A collector’s spouse says, out of frustration, “You really think you need another old gun”, all the while thinking that funds are stretched far enough and that the collector’s an idiot. The collector in a vain attempt at transferral says, “It’s an investment for the future dear, it’s for the kids’ college fund”, even though the kids are as dumb as a bag of hammers and have no hope of attending college unless it is in a custodial capacity. He is actually saying, “Get off my back!” To which she says, “If you say so” at the same time rolling her eyes. This is “woman-speak” for “Jackass”. Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know this as it has taken me two marriages and seven decades to decipher “woman-speak” and I still get it wrong most of the time. On the other hand it seems that womankind is born with the ability to recognize male smokescreens for what they are.
By this I am saying that any reason for collecting has the potential for truthfulness or at the least the answer to the question is believed by the person delivering the response. I think it is a given that at times we all tend to give answers to questions from others in the form of what we believe they want to hear. “Oh, sorry officer, I didn’t see that stop sign”, certainly comes to mind. In truth I saw the stop sign and I am anything but sorry yet I will not hesitate to insult your intelligence with this lame excuse.
Other answers such as having a keen interest in history, or an urge to preserve history, a way to honour those who serve, a great need to research and investigate are all possible valid and truthful answers. While I don’t usually buy into these statements they are still better than, “Because I am a latent psychopathic homicidal maniac”. Though that might be a quite humorous response in certain venues, not involving an official police investigation in the sudden disappearance of your business partner. The answer to the question as to why someone collects that I find hardest to accept with any degree of validity is as an investment. True some may have found that magic formula to turn “war junk” into gold, however it smacks of alchemy to my ears. Over all it is a very poor investment considering the return on your money over even a lengthy amount of time and certainly if you need to get your hands on the cash quickly...see how fast the dealer/sharks start to circle. Even the ridiculous idea of 50% on the dollar or pound would be a terrible return on investment; let alone the 20% or lower most dealers are willing to offer. Either way it’s a loss.
So what is the answer to the question of why we collect, barring any of the usual fantasy answers that may actually be true in a few cases? I think the best and shortest answer in almost any case is, “I like collecting and it makes me happy”. At the end of the day isn’t that what should really matter?
Happy New Year Everyone.
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.
Originally I was going to write a blog titled “What I know About Women”; forty five minutes passed and the screen was just as vacant as my sixth-coffee-caffeine-induced-comatose stare. It was at this time that I realized I had exhausted the full extent of my knowledge in that field of research. True, a title such as “What I Know About Women” followed by a blank page would not only be quite humorous but at the same time sadly accurate. Lesser men would have been deterred by this revelation from continuing along these lines of exploration into the human condition but not yours truly. No, I simply decided to write about “What Women Know About Men”. Ha! Much easier I said to myself and poured yet another cup of coffee. By this time I had the shakes from a little too much caffeine so after wiping up the spilled coffee and the bottom of the wet cup (see, men can be trained my wife would love to interject here) thereby eliminating the coffee ring on the desk, I continued. The subject, what women know about men, would have to withstand the scrutiny of any scientific paper in order to be taken seriously. Under that condition I would, of course, have discount what women “think” they know about men as we all know that they almost always miss the point, well a man’s point; which would be the subject of this thesis after all. Let me ponder this for a moment...
More blank screen, more coffee, can no long see straight, bright spots of light in front of my eyes. Brain stuck on “I Got You Babe” over and over. Oh, my God I’m in the movie “Ground Hog Day”. Need sleep, mind clearer in the morning.
Ah, the next morning and a revelation.
I poured myself the first coffee of the day, no I learned nothing from the previously evening, and sat down in front of my computer and typed the title of this month’s blog, What Women Don’t Understand (About Men) .
Even in my youth I realized that women were incapable, for the most part, of understanding men. For example most women don’t “get” the Three Stooges”. Understanding the Three Stooges is much like understanding the principals of Zen Buddhism. To understand either concept one must stop looking and allow Zen or Stoogeness to wash over you and then you can become one with the Stoogeness. Simple? Right? Obviously not according to any women I’ve known and the few unwary enough to accept my proposal of marriage. The other area of entertainment seemingly beyond the acceptance of their gender is Dr. Who. What’s there not to get about Dr. Who? I’ve been a Whoist, as they now call the fans of the good time lord, for decades and “getting it” has never really entered into my mind. The greatest part about Dr. Who is the exchange between a male Dr. Who fan and his girlfriend, or his wife. It’s usually best to have either one or the other. If that is not your situation then it is definitely best the two don’t ever meet. She asks, “What do you see in Dr. Who? To which you reply, “What?” She repeats “Who”. You say, “What are you talking about?” “Who” she replies, to which you say “You; I said what are you talking about”. Usually this results in her telling you to never mind, it no longer matters, knowing this could go on all night... with luck.
When it comes to attending gun and militaria shows they seem to be completely lost. Women can’t understand why men will get up at 04:30 on a Sunday morning, drive to their buddy’s house and then travel several hours to stand in line in order to be the first through the door of the show all in a blinding snow storm. Especially when she can’t get you out of bed in time to drive to her mother’s, on Mother’s Day, for dinner with her family. Ok, that one should be self-evident.
Most of this month’s blog was arrived at due to the renovations to my new office. Women seem to think that you should sweep and wash the floor and dust down the walls of an empty room before you start to bring in large cabinets. What’s with that? The cabinets are going to cover much of the floor and even the walls so who’s going to see if the floor was dusty before the cabinets went in? Then there’s the crazy idea that you should repair all of the nail holes and small damages to the walls and repaint. Don’t they realize that’s why you frame all of those huge photos, prints and documents? They’re great for covering up these so called defects. You can choose the correct width of framed picture in accordance to the spacing of the damage to the wall. It’s brilliant!
I’ll wrap this blog up with the one question that no man would seldom dignify with an answer, though I shall not shy away from doing so here. Question: “Why would you need a beer fridge in your office”?
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”.
From time to time family can get on one’s nerves and you just need a change of pace. Somewhere to go that, with luck, proves to you that things at home are not all that bad; that or at least, your own family is not all that dysfunctional after all.
I believe the same is true with forums. After a while one starts to read posts and think, “Oh, grow up for God’s sake”, “Stop wasting my time” or “You have to be kidding me!” We all have our “buttons”, people and posts that irritate the only healthy nerve one has left. You know the types, those you consider post too many subjects at the level of an adolescent school boy or those pompous types who insist on referring to themselves with the word “one” rather than “I”. Now you would think that last example would give one pause to reflect, but it didn’t.
The catalyst for this blog was not anything here on the GMIC, as you might think would be obvious, but rather from visits to some of our neighbouring forums. It should be said right off that this is not a critique of other military based forums or any particular forum but rather a collection of observations over the years. I (you see I can use that to refer to myself after all) have several interests besides military history, some of which includes geology and paleontology, antiques, archeology and science in general, as well as woodworking and gardening. With all of these interests you would think I spend a lot of time on the internet but not so. For the most part my internet time is spent here on the GMIC, with occasional forays into other territories from time to time. My dear wife spends time on yarn and knitting, as well as quilting and genealogy forums. Talk about boring! Seriously, over the years we have read a lot of rude posts and odd reactions from the forum administrators.
All forums have their rules, some more extensive than others; the one thing that they all have in common is the requirement to be civil and the, at times, subtle warning that you can be banned if you cross the line too many times. These are all very reasonable to be sure.
Here’s some of the posts and administration reactions, somewhat paraphrased, but still in the spirit of the exchange.
My first example:
A member posted a reply pointing out, rather bluntly but still in a civil manner, that the author of the initial post was wrong. Administration replied that the originator of the post was a personal friend and a long –time member and that any further “attacks” would result in the respondent’s dismissal (banning).
I guess that Administrator should have posted a list of her friends along with the rules so that no one ever questioned them and therefore could avoid being banned.
Another case involving several members went as follows:
Member number one posted that the author of the initial post was wrong and that he should check his facts before making a post. It happened to be a comment about research that member one had published but the posting member was not aware of this.
Administration banned member one with no explanation.
Member two asked for the reason for administration’s banning of member one.
Administration banned member two.
Member three posted a comment that it seemed a little harsh to ban member two just because he had asked for the reasons behind the banning of member one.
Member three...yep, banned.
I was thinking about applying for membership but I figured that would result in me being banned!
On yet another forum:
A member had asked why a suggestion for improving the forum had gone unanswered even though this member had asked it several times on the forum and once in a PM to the Administrator.
The Administrator finally answered with a warning that if this member continued to harass the membership they could face disciplinary action. I found this strange as the suggestion was a simple enough one that was only directed to the Administrator yet the reply regarded the harassment of the whole membership.
Talk about confusing. Looks like the best advice here is to ask only once to avoid harassing the membership and being threatened with banishment. Maybe the membership consisted of only the Administrator?
In this last example I will need to be very vague because this exchange was so offensive that I can’t give detailed descriptions without the possibility on insulting the reader. One of the strict policies here and on many forums is the avoidance of the topics of politics and or religion. Of course on any military history forum the discussion of the politics of the past is not only unavoidable but perhaps desirable in order to understand the events that took place.
Member one posted a vase with some inscription on it with a translation and a general comment about the culture of the area from which it came.
Member two commented that this was not the exact translation as this was his native tongue and that the comment regarding their culture was far from accurate.
Member one countered that he knew what he was talking about and that member two, let me put it this way, ate the meat of, wore the skins of and cavorted with swine. This was no doubt an attack on the fellows religious views and as you can imagine was met with an unbelievable personal attack, albeit provoked, by member two on member one.
This went on for several posts until both parties seemed exhausted and stopped posting. As I read this I kept wondering where the administrator was and why he or she was not putting a stop to this. It generated a mix of emotions in me from disbelief to anger. In the end I started to think that perhaps the administrator shared the views of member one. I didn’t check but perhaps member one and the administrator were one and the same.
That was enough for me to decide that I would avoid this forum in the future as not only was the administration out of line by doing nothing, but also I did not want to be associated with that forum in any way.
I’m sure we could all add to this list and I would have posted the topic on the regular forum but it would have been too hard, as you can see, to stay away from breaking our own rules by just relating these horror stories. So now I am (oh how I wanted to say “So now one is”) back from visiting the neighbours and I have only one more thing to say.
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).
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).
Option A or Option B What you are about to read you may find disturbing or even offensive. If you do then you need to grow up. The permanency of life is an illusion and you cannot afford to delude yourself to thinking you are immortal. Therefore, if you have elected to read on, you have been duly warned and I will make no apologies if you find your delicate feelings have been hurt.
Jim [not his real name] was 6 foot 2 inches tall, a big guy but not such as you would say was overweight at all. Age had left him, as it does most of us, a little soft in the midsection. This was just about all that was soft about Jim. He had the weathered look of someone who had worked hard out in the elements; a grizzled beard peppered with gray and a gruff personality pretty well summed up what Jim looked like. To most of the office staff he was a scary fellow best avoided and this had not changed since he became Zone Officer and was now stationed in head office. Others, like me, who have been seasoned by years of working in the field recognized a kindred spirit and fully appreciated his dark sense of humour.
Jim had been with the Authority for 31 years and had become part of the corporate landscape. Late in 2011, after feeling unwell for a period of time, he made a rare appointment with his doctor. At 59 years of age he was told, after a battery of tests that he had prostate cancer, and worse it had spread to his bones and was now throughout his body. Jim knew his chances were extremely slim to none, with “none” being the odds on favour. He also knew what lay ahead of him with the proposed radiation and chemotherapy followed by what would most likely be a long agonizing death filled with unimaginable pain and suffering, held at bay for a while with massive amounts of drugs. In the end he knew he would be in a vegetative state out of touched with the world and loved ones only to finally die in a haze of confusion and pain. He was aware that his family and friends would be put through their own form of suffering as he slowly wasted away. It was time for Jim to weight his options. Option A: To go through the torture and suffering ahead knowing full well that death awaited him in the end, or Option B. Early this week Jim made his choice and took his own life.
I cannot judge Jim’s choice of Option B, even though I have fought and won two battles against cancer, as I have never stood at the threshold of the great unknown and had to make that fateful decision. I only wish he had chosen to have had a simple prostate examination a few years ago. If he had I would not likely be writing this missive today.
Rest in Peace old buddy.
Now, my friend, it is your time to make a decision. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your doctor and set up a prostate exam. Otherwise you may have to make the choice of, Option A or....Option B. Respectfully Brian
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.
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.
A few days ago, over in the Japan Section, a discussion was started regarding the use of “shills”. If you have never visited the Japan Section you should do so, it is quite interesting and quickly becoming the place to go for researching Japanese medals and decorations.
A “shill”, in case you didn’t know, is a person who is employed by an auctioneer to drive up the bids so that the item sells for more than it normally would have.
Years ago and before the internet I used to dabble in antiques, buying, repairing and reselling them. This involved a lot of evenings spent in auction houses and estate sales. One auctioneer in particular kept several burly rotund fellows employed to move the items onto the stage and off again after the item had been auctioned off. When not engaged in this activity they would sit in large armchairs which were perched on folding tables like well fed yet dishevelled scavengers, at the rear of the bidder’s area. If you watched them closely one would always make an indiscrete bid if the item was not reaching the bid that the auctioneer was trying to reach. Remember, the higher the final bid the more the auction house profits in their “cut”. Now, with the advent of the internet and the auction sites available, more people than ever are placing bids and “attending” auctions from the comfort of their own homes. With this new venue comes the return of the old practise of employing shills, though in a slightly different way.
Today, regardless of the rules set out by the online auction sites, people are able to cheat through several means if they are inclined to do so. Spouses can each have an account and bid on the other partner’s items to run the bid higher. Other adult family members and friends can also perform these duties not even to mention the person who will set up two separate memberships and bid on their own items. I’m not sure if this is still the case but eBay used to charge extra to place a reserve bid on an item assuring the seller would get a minimum amount for the item that would be acceptable to the seller. Using one of these underhanded means circumvents this “legal” reserve bid option and at no extra cost; which finally brings me to the meat of my story.
There is a local collector that I was acquainted with through our wives who worked together. This fellow used to spend each and every day on eBay and bought and sold with a passion that surpassed the border between fanaticism and a sick obsession straight to the lunatic fringe. He had taken an early retirement for the armed forces and had a small pension so this allowed him the luxury, if not the funds, to sit in front of the computer screen all day long.
He had approached me several times to place bids on his items at what he considered a reserve bid, without having to pay eBay for their service. Each time he asked I declined.
As a bit more background information, he collected WWI medals named to members of his old regiment. One of the arrangements he made with me, that I agreed to, was that if he were away and not near a computer I would bid on items he was interested in so that he would not miss out on them. While he was away one time there was a BWM named to a Sergeant from his regiment offered for sale. I waited until near the end and not seeing his eBay name as a bidder placed a maximum bid high enough to assure I would “win” it for him. Unknown to me he had access to a computer and had been watching the medal himself. Being a paranoid and rather untrusting person he placed a very high maximum bid just before the auction closed (sniped) and won the item. He then wanted me to plead with the seller, a well known dealer here in Ontario, Canada, that he should only have to pay the price that my first bid would have come to and not the final bid. He even had the nerve to ask that I pose as his wife bidding on the item as his birthday gift. Talk about one sick individual! I flatly refused to do this. A day or two later I was contacted by the seller (remember we, my wife and I, are quite well known to this dealer) and asked for the facts as he had spun her several odd stories. I told her that she should ignore them and that I would purchase the medal if he didn’t want to pay the amount he had bid. Needless to say this fellow was enraged at my decision. He paid the deal the agreed upon price of his final bid. I didn’t tell him but I would have let him have the medal for what I paid if he hadn’t purchased it. The difference between the two bids was only twenty dollars. Actually I still considered him a friend at that time, (talk about gullible), and would have gifted the medal to him, had he not been such an ass.
Shortly after this he asked me once again to act as a shill on a couple of auctions he had going. One was an individual medal and the other was a small South African War group. By this time I had had it with him so I said I would do it under these conditions. He would tell me his “reserve” bid that he wanted me to assure and I would place a maximum bid higher than that. Then if my bid was the winning bid he would have to actually follow through and sell the item or items to me. In the end I did indeed win both auctions and I had placed my maximum well above what he wanted as I really did want these in my collection. I made the payment through Pay Pal and then, he went ballistic. He didn’t want to let me have the items and said he would refund my Pay Pal costs. I gave him a choice, either hand over the medals or explain to eBay why he had broken the rules regarding following through with the conditions set out by eBay and also why he was trying to use shills in his auction. I knew the names and eBay user names of two of his friends who were actively acting as shills for him and was ready to burn him. Yes, I am the type of person who, if you piss me off bad enough, will hug you as I pull the pin on the grenade!
In the end he acquiesced and let me have the medals after telling me what I could do with them. I didn’t follow his suggestion, of course, opting instead to place them in my collection. We haven’t spoken since and that’s alright by me as this is one time revenge, if not justice, was levied on a seller who was using shills.
The Perfect “Sick Day” Don’t you really dislike those dedicated types who will come to work sick? After all, who needs to pick up whatever “bug” they have just because they lack the common decency to stay home. Well, I am one of those miserable sods. In all fairness, this time of the year, I have almost no human contact as my days are spent outside “in the field” (as we say). So unless I pass this cold on to a raccoon or deer no one suffers but me.
Friday morning rolled around and I take the afternoon off on that day in lieu of payment for being on call 24/7, 365 days a year. So a cold was not about to keep me home for the morning, the night before we had experienced an ice storm and the roads were a sheet of ice. Still this didn’t deter my intentions to go to work. My wife hates riding in a vehicle when I am driving on weekends, when I am not at work of course. She says that I am not as good a driver as I think I am. I always agree with her but come back with my theory that I may not be the most skilful driver on the road but I have a great deal of luck, I follow this up with a quote from Star Wars, “Trust in the Force, Luke”. She is never impressed, as we careen our way down the highway. Here’s my reasoning. I’d rather be a lucky driver than a skilful one. Why? You never say, “Lucky bastard, he was killed on the highway”. You might say, ‘I can’t believe old Fred was killed in an accident, he was such a good driver”. I rest my case.
It was at this time the radio announced that there were several severe accidents on the highways between here and the office. While I think I am Lady Luck’s favourite child there are times when you get the feeling she may have gone to the shopping mall leaving you on your own. Even though this was the first time in five years that I didn’t go to work I was not particularly disappointed as I had a whole day to play in the shop (Truncheon Competition project) and surfing the net, especially here on GMIC. I had intended to contact one of our members on Skype but this cold causes me to go into coughing fits whenever I try to talk for any length of time. It’s Sunday morning and my dear wife says she is still enjoying the peace and quiet. Women can be so cruel. After half a dozen coffees and with the new abilities to be able to thread a sewing machine while it is running, thanks to the infusion of copious amounts of caffeine, I headed to the work shop and the truncheon project and the start of the perfect sick day. Please include cash in any “get well” cards. Ha ha
After a year of retirement and after more landscaping projects completed than any one person of any age could expect to be done in one summer I am ready for a rest. I’m looking forward to the first frost and then the first heavy snowfall. With my snow blower back from the maintenance shop and binoculars in hand I await that first snowflake’s appearance like a cat ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse, or a WWII British Costal Defense Watcher scanning the skies for enemy planes. One task, now taken care of, was the packing up of the patio umbrella back into its case in which it was stored when we purchased it. The case is made of a very tough Nylon mesh with a large reinforced loop from which it can be hung up for storage in the garage or shed. Taking into account the price we paid for this giant bumbershoot we should proudly display it on the living room wall. Considering how my dear wife vetoed my plans for a rather large moose head in that same area I don’t suppose there is much chance of the umbrella being displayed there either. That was not really the perplexing issue with the umbrella as it turned out. The problem was one of displacement, or that is how I saw it. The case was a lot smaller than the umbrella, for some reason. It came out of this mesh “sock” so it seemed a matter of simple physics that it should be able to be returned as the volume of both the space and the object had not changed since we made the purchase in the spring. Having come to the end of my patience I decided to apply the following formula for displacement as a function of velocity and time:
The above is just another way to say I lost my temper and tried to give the umbrella the “bum’s rush” into the bag. It didn’t work. Starting over again and more slowly and calmly working the bag over the umbrella an inch at a time I managed to learn two things. First that slow and steady usually prevails over the Attila the Hun approach. Secondly I have learned to appreciate the dining difficulties of the Giant Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) especially if it were attempting to ingest a Volks Wagon Beetle (Das Auto insectus).
Perhaps the one activity that I look forward most to, when the weather places me on virtual “house arrest”, is returning to writing more informative articles and posts for the forum. Over the spring/summer season I have managed to acquire several nice additions to the collection some with a good deal of rarity associated to them. Writing blogs is an enjoyable pastime that I fit into my day piecemeal, as time permits, but they tend to lack much in the way of informative material. My series, “Collecting the Periphery” , which I intend to continue with, was an attempt to inform and educate the reader in regard to items that were associated to the military aspect of collecting, yet slightly on the fringe. Other blogs were simply my observations and peculiar slant on the world in which I live both in reality and in my imagination (such as News from the Home Office). Therefore in an attempt to both inform and educate the reader and at the same time keep this issue of the “News from the Home Office” as trivial as possible I’ll now discuss the title of this blog.
The Perfect Darth Vader Voice
James Earl Jones made the voice of the Star Wars antagonist, Darth Vader, iconic not only to the movie itself but to the very essence of Sci-Fi villainy. As a bit of Star War trivia, “Luke, I am your father”, was never in any of the movies, but has become acceptable as such by many of the uninitiated into the world of the science fiction aficionado. You may lack the deep voice of Mr. Jones but here are a few tricks that may amuse some, ok, maybe one of your friends or at least get puzzled looks from your grand daughters if they are under 8 years old such as mine. Find a Pringles Potato Chip tube or a mailing tube with one end, or bottom, still on. Place the open end over the open end, and breathe heavily through your mouth into the tube. Don’t forget that the inhale and exhale are equally as important here. Exhale forcefully and inhale more forcefully but not as long in duration as you exhale. Now in your deepest voice say the erroneous phrase, “Luke I am your father” into the tube. Use this phrase as it is the most recognized and will also irritate the die-hard Star Wars fans within ear-shot. Here’s the most important part, a trade secret of the annoying nerds who love to imitate Darth Vader. Pronounce each word as if the individual word was on a pedestal. Also emphasize the vowels. For example (note the letters in bold), “Luke...I...am...your...father”.
Note: If you are a single male this probably won’t help you find a woman. If on the other hand it does...marry that gal; she’s perfect.
Never let it be said that you can’t learn something and get dating advice at the same time on the GMIC.
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”.
On the eve of the beginning of the First World War we are blessed, or cursed depending on your point of view, with many new and old documentaries dealing with the Great War. Of course originally it was referred to as the “Great War” because we had not yet realized that we enjoyed the carnage so much that we started to number them. Finally after years of waiting and countless boring and pointless Olympics, FIFA, NFL, NHL, baseball, basket ball games etc. wasting good research time filling up the television we will have our moment of glory as these documentaries and discussions about the First World War are presented. Before someone inevitably does a spit take spraying their favourite beer all over their computer screens I shall offer an apology regarding my comment about sports games being pointless. Of course there is a point. As far back as the days of ancient Rome it was recognized that presenting sports games not only entertained but distracted the unwashed masses, the plebeians as it were, from seeing what was actually taking place around them. So for those who may have the attention span of a squirrel, that is to say easily distracted, I have apologized for my rudeness in pointing it out. Oh, look, something shiny!
Now that I’ve had my fun, I’ll move on to the topic for discussion which is, as the title suggests, whether the Great War was indeed avoidable, as many contest, or an unavoidable consequence resulting from a complex and perhaps naive culture of the times.
Often, over the years, I’ve either read or heard it said that the First World War was totally avoidable. The only war that is avoidable is the one we have yet to have. You can’t avoid something that has already happened; it’s like saying that a vehicle accident could have been avoided. How we often have heard that one; though it does seems to make sense unless you take into account everything that occurred from the start of the day up to and including the point of impact. Position of the sun, time of the day, speed and...was that a squirrel? We can take precautions to avoid an accident or steps not to repeat another mishap and with a little luck prevent the accident that we haven’t had but the one we have experienced, as they say, is history.
If we could travel back in time to the turn of the twentieth century what would we find? What was the political and social atmosphere of the day? France was still stinging over the loss of territory to Germany as a result of the Franco Prussian War and still in distrust of Britain, Germany and Russia due to their alliance against Napoleon. The British were embroiled in a very unpopular war in South Africa and was being criticised for their involvement by just about everyone outside of their own Empire. The Russians had been a pain in the behind of the British and the French in the Crimea and through their involvement in adding to the hatred of the British Raj in India through Afghanistan resulting in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (First War of Indian Independence?). Fear and distrust were the watch words of the day. It would be quite accurate to suggest that this period in history was not unlike the Cold War of post WW II times, which was experienced by many of the older members here at GMIC.
Add to this atmosphere of international paranoia an arms race and we have what modern man would recognize as the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s. The biggest difference being that no one had the common sense to back down. Not to get too side tracked, but I often wonder who the real hero of the Cuban Missile Crises really was. While President Kennedy rightfully prevented the installation of missiles by potentially hostile parties in the very back yard of the U.S.A. it was the Soviet withdrawal that actually prevented an all out war. It really hurts to have to say that and it flies in the face of everything we have learned through decades of James Bond movies.
Back to the topic at hand...darn squirrels. The British had the greatest navy which bothered the Germans considerably and especially the Kaiser, who was the head of the German navy. It would seem that the German government controlled many things in the country but it was the Kaiser who held sway over things military and in particular the German navy. To be fair, the British naturally had the largest navy, after all when you have an empire upon which the sun never sets it only stands to reason that you need a large navy to hold it. The Kaiser feared that the British would use their large navy to control German commerce on the high seas and could threaten the German Naval ports in Europe as well. So the best way to prevent this from happening was to not only match the British but do them one better or even two or three better. Naturally the British couldn’t let the Germans maintain a large navy right in their back yard (see Cuban Missile Crisis) so it was a situation of naval one-ups- man-ship.
While the boys were busy building bigger and better boats, not to mention a lot of them, the diplomats were doing what they do best, diplomacy. Early in the new century (1905) Japan had defeated the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, destroying most of Russia’s Pacific fleet and wiping out the Baltic fleet as they steamed to the aid of the Pacific fleet. The Japanese had made an unannounced pre-emptive strike on Port Arthur destroying the Russian Navy stationed there (can anyone say Pearl Harbour). This left Russia looking for an ally and since Britain had allied herself with Japan Russia turned to France for an alliance. France needed the large military might of Russia in order to offer two fronts to Germany in the chance Germany was to attack France. France also distrusted the British who had been their mortal enemies far back in time to the day when the British had captured Joan of Arc and some cleaver lad decided to burn her at the stake as a witch, rather than imprisoning her as the solidifying or rallying point of the French army. Smart move, now you’ve created a martyr! Then there was the little matter of the Seven Years War and the loss to Britain of Canada and that little matter of the Battle of Waterloo.
German diplomats couldn’t just let things alone either and attempted, as did the British to ally themselves to anyone who would consider it. Even a British/German alliance had been tossed about for a while. In the end Germany allied with Austria Hungary, France with Russia and Russia with Serbia. The British made up with France and formed an alliance and in the end the public must have been quite confused. Just when the comedians in the British music halls had developed ripping racist jokes about the French, their cheese and wine and they had to change their material to include poor imitations of German accents and making jokes about bratwurst sausages und beer.
Europe was poised on the brink of disaster and not unlike a row of dominos was just waiting for the first domino to be tipped over. Who at that time would have thought that the whole thing would be set in motion by a single pistol shot in Sarajevo by a Bosnian youth on 28 July 1914?
Was the whole war avoidable? When looking back and knowing what we know now one would be tempted to answer in the affirmative. However, as we today are blind about what is just about to happen and the effects of our actions on the future so were those people at the turn of the twentieth century. I submit that the First World War was, due to the times, unavoidable. It’s much like this. What are you going to do right after that giant meteor that’s heading towards earth strikes us early next month?
Oh, sorry I wasn’t supposed to tell you that...look, over there...a squirrel.
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.
Space: The Final Frontier
or the Confessions of a Addict
It starts out quite harmlessly, perhaps at the insistence of a friend, peer pressure as it has become to be known. It seemed harmless enough; after all it was just a “one off”, and not something you were intending to become a habit. Not like those others, all consumed by the drive for more. You know them, with their excuses of being able to stop at anytime, no one is getting hurt and staying well within their financial parameters. After a while you started to look for more sources, buying wherever and whenever you could, tying the purchases to every aspect of your life. Vacations, business trips and days off all centering around getting more until you start using money you have yet to earned, getting out the plastic, the card, the old swipe and carry; “they” make it seem so easy. Then comes month’s end and payment must be made, made for product that you have already acquired and it seems pointless to have to pay for something you already have. Pay the minimum and you’re good for another month of obsession.
Yes, it starts out as one item, a single item, a curiosity some would call it, then another similar or related object makes itself available and you have two; it’s only two, a pair nothing more. Besides they look good displayed on the mantle or bookshelf, what harm could that do? Then, much without you even realizing why, a third appears and you have three, you now have a collection my friend; a small collection to be sure but a collection all the same. No big deal it’s not that it takes up a lot of space; after all you can keep or display the trio anywhere. This is where a normal, rational human being would hear warning bells, a red flag would be raised or some sort of alarm would sound. You are not quite at the “tipping point” that point where you are still part of the majority of humans, functioning like everyone else. Without warning of any kind a fourth item presents itself and you think, “Who wants to be just like everyone else”? You’ve now crossed that line, the Rubicon of no return; you are a collector my son, one of the lost, the hopeless; the obsessed.
At first being obsessed is not a real problem for you or even your spouse, there is lots of room to accommodate your collection or in my case collections. It all fits well in a corner of the basement or your office/den and it keeps you occupied and it is all pretty harmless, or so it seems. As the collection grows ever larger, much like an infestation, hardly noticed for a long time, you find the little area that you have been allowed to use to amass your “stuff” is getting too confined. You and your collections are starting to feel choked, smothered almost trapped, the need for space, more space, is becoming a driving force in your life. Just when you and your collection are starting to suffer claustrophobic anxiety one of the kids is going to University. An empty space is now available and there is no need for an additional guest room and you certainly are not going to entertain the child’s moving back home. What to do. You and your spouse have joked about how to make the room unavailable in case the graduate decides to take up residence with you again until “they find themselves”; a common excuse to free-load off Mom and Dad. The idea of filling the room to the top with concrete has been kicked around in jest, but you, you have a much better idea...
Ah, your own room, the collection room, your sanctum sanctorum a place for you and the collection. Not you and “your” collection but you and “the” collection as it has now taken on a life of its own, ever growing, ever consuming resources and that most vital of all necessities, space. Life, my friend is indeed a cycle, an ever revolving wheel of searching, acquiring followed by more searching for material to feed the collection. Just as it seems as if the very walls of the collection room are about to burst the second child announces plans of “leaving the nest”. All praise the collecting Gods, you now have a second room ready to accept the overflow that has accumulated; and so the cycle starts anew.
Oh happy days, the elation of space to fill, of territory conquered; no more stacking specimens in corners placing them in boxes for future display. You think you are once again the master of space; oh you poor, poor deluded man. It never fails that history repeats itself and room two, the room you now call the “Sword Room” has started to constrict you. “The Collection Room” is now the “Main Collection Room” as you feel the need for definition and while there is more in the new “Sword Room” than swords and because you have submitted to the reality that these collections have become living entities you know the rooms deserve names of their own. “Surely this cannot go on”, is not a thought that crosses your mind, not openly that is; still there is that nagging feeling that space is once again at a premium.
Strange how as each child has announced her decision to move out, to school, to get married or to find their own place they have become your favourite child. As life would have it, the third daughter is moving and at this point no one doubted the destiny of the newly emptied space. A new problem, however, presents itself in the form of a need for a permanent photographic area and a “shipping department’ for two businesses that have taken off and are thriving. So while the third room is there it is not open to the collections in the same context as in the past and while the photo area supports the hobby it is not intended for its residency. What to do?
After just over fifty years of collecting, the last twenty with your present wife, you have the whole downstairs (basement level) to yourself; with the exception of a guest room which has been declared “off limits” to the collection and any part thereof by the true ruler of your house. Three rooms dedicated more of less to your collections, a three piece washroom and the family room which the whole family calls “the museum lounge”; which it pretty much is. All of this and yet there is that need, the need to feed the obsession; the need for space..
The only answer seems to be a reduction of all that is excess and not required to keep the collections alive and thriving. A call to two dealer friends and an antiques “picker” is made and suddenly the Collections are leaner and perhaps improved somewhat. Gone are three car loads of mineral and fossil specimens, two dozen surplus Bobby’s helmets, and a collection of cameras, firefighting equipment and military radios. So many collectables gone but in their place is a tidy quantity of cash. This scenario may sound quite desirable however it is much like a drug addict getting clean and as a reward he is handed the keys to a pharmacy. Still there is the matter of all of those items you worked so hard to accumulate being gone, gone forever, as you realize that you won’t live long enough to ever collect them or like objects back again. You look around the empty room, a vacant place such as you have always been striving for and now have gained. In shock at what you have done, you take a deep breath and before you utter a sound you realize the horror that...
...in space no one can hear you scream.
Happy obsessing collecting.
I was born in a place in the Northern part of Ontario that no longer exists as a name place, Fort William. No, it was not razed to the ground during the French and Indian Wars, I'm not THAT old. Fort William was amalgamated with its sister city, Port Athur, to become the City of Thunder Bay.You will find this city on the map at the north western tip of Lake Superior. I grew up in a small town in south western Ontario and presently live in an even small in Central Ontario. I would not mind one more move in my life possibly closer to Ottawa as the terrain is more like that of my birth place, which I am told looks much like the Scottish Highlands, please do not imagine me in a kilt. However, I fear the next move I shall make will only put me six feet closer to sea level.
The small town I grew up in underwent an urban renewal movement a number of years ago spurred on, I believe, by the threat of a large shopping mall being proposed just beyond the outskirts (you're still thinking kilts aren't you) of the county line. We've seen downtown cores of both cities and towns become ghost towns in the past because of the allure of these mammoth shopping Mecca's so the threat was not unfounded.
The first building to fall under the blade of the bulldozer was the town's library. This demolition had been contested because, as the conservationists argued, this was a Carnegie Museum. The protest was withdrawn when it was pointed out that Carnegie was not an architectural style but had been a fund set up by the Carnegie Foundation for the construction of libraries throughout the United States and Canada. In fact the architecture of the whole town is what is known as Ontario Vernacular, a polite way to say, "hodge podge". The new library turned out to be a very nice modern facility that was well designed to serve the community now and well into the future.
The next building, and right across the street, that was slated for the wrecking ball was the town hall and its surrounding neighbourhoods in order to make way for a new downtown shopping mall with the municipal offices on the second floor. The old town hall was truly Ontario Vernacular in the strictest sense. A conglomeration of additions built on through the years, the quality of which depended upon the economy of the times. It sported the letters TH within a rectangle which were constructed of white bricks set into the red brick of the original building. TH, of course, stood for Town Hall; oh God, shoot me now, it all looked quite amateurish and...well..."vernacular".
In the front of the town hall sat the cenotaph, which is the focus of this report, and you thought I would NEVER get to the point. The cenotaph was not the spectacular structures seen in many cities. It was rather plain, a basic obelisk with the dates and names of the wars for which this monument represented as well as for those from the community who had served and those who had fallen in those wars. It lacked any such embellishments as seen in large cities. There were no statues of unimaginative inspiration such as those copying Michelangelo's Pietà (1498 - 1499) so common in these monuments, nor even polished marble. Just a plain pale gray obelisk.
The proposed plan was to remove the cenotaph and relocate it to a designated park well outside of the downtown core, there to be the focus of the Remembrance Day ceremonies and, no doubt, the hand of every vandal and half-witted would-be graffiti artist with a can of spray paint for miles around.
This is the gensis of the protest that started over the relocation of the cenotaph. It started with a petition bearing the names of a few WWI and WWII veterans then more people came forward, then more and more. Doctors, lawyers, grocers, labourers, men women and school children put their pens to paper in support. What had started as a modest effort engulfed the whole community and the outlying areas for miles around. The protest had begun. Unlike today, no one pitched their tents on municipal property, no cars were overturned or put to the torch. It was not necessary to call out the constabulary in their riot gear, which in those days amounted to a bull horn used to advise people to remain calm and orderly. The very thoughts of that, in those days, would have been...what can I say...unthinkable. No it was quiet and dignified and an attribute to the vetrans who fought so that we might petition government without feeling the need to resort to senseless violence.
The night of the council meeting held to discuss the fate of the cenotaph arrived and the council chambers had never seen such a turn out. Someone jokingly remarked that the last time there were so many people at a council meeting was the time they tried to pass a By-law to licence cats. However, the story of that horrendous protest is for another time. The gray haired old ladies (God bless them all) of the , now infamous, Cat Crusades were joined by citizens of all ages and from all walks of life. They filled the council chambers, the hallway and out onto the steps of the town hall and even into the street itself.
Two years later when the confusion that seems to rein supreme over large building projects and the dust of construction had settled, there in front of the new modern downtown mall stood a simple , unadorned, plain light gray obelisk. The same obelisk that had served to remind us of the scarifice our community's sons and daughters had made so that we might live in peace and have a say in how our government was run. I think those who gave their all would have been proud to have known that their sacrifice assured that the voice of the people can and will be heard without the neet to resort to violence.
So tomorrow, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, if you can't join me at a cenotaph please turn off your cell phones, minimize the computer screen and take two minutes to reflect in silence on what others have done and given up for you as will, I know, the people in that small town.
Abysmal was the only word to describe this moonless overcast autumn night. The neighbourhood had been forgotten by society, polite society that is. The street lights were old and outdated. New lights found in the up-scale areas would never see this neighbourhood, not even when they were felt to be out of style. The lights would be sold to smaller municipalities; never to be installed here. Many of the lights were out, shot out by pellet guns making the darkness here purposeful and with an intent repulsive to gentler folk. This the city planners called “Urban Blight”, however in more knowledgeable circles where actual “doing” was the norm was whispered a different term. “Ghettoization of the Poor” was the term bantered around, a purposeful concentration of those less fortunate to serve as fodder, victims if you will, to the criminal element. After all as long as you can ignore an area in decline thereby creating a hunting ground for the wolves of society the chances are less likely that they will ply their trade in the white bread world of “up-town”. This is nothing new and every city has their Cedar Street, corner of St. Ledger and Young and “Shooters Lane”. This will never change as high speed commuter train systems are more important than the welfare of our fellow man. It truly is still a Dickensian world.
Along with the blinded street lights very little other light was visible short of the odd window through which an eerie sporadic pulsating glow emitted from a television set. One or two upstairs windows were lit up and there existed hope that in the room was a small desk with a young child who was pouring over his or her lessons with the slight hope of earning their way out of this cess pool. Experience, however, told a different likelihood. That of a single mattress thrown on the floor where a lady of the evening carried on her so-called trade in order to earn just enough for the next hit of crack, smoked using a crushed soda can as a pipe and a butane cigarette lighter as the ignition source. She was old before her time, even though she was barely out of her teens, just more collateral damage in the political gaming circles.
The house in question had long past being described as run down and old. It was an ancient pile or half rotten timbers and broken window panes awaiting the caress of the arson’s touch. A sure fate when the property became more valuable than the rent squeezed by the slumlord from these poor retches. Still it was someone’s home and castle, their refuge from the greater decay looming all around in the darkness. Paint had long since given up trying to make a home on the building’s exterior and what did still reside there was in flakes peeling off as if it too were trying to follow after its comrades to a better existence. The front steps had long since given up being even close to horizontal and the wooden treads were bowed downwards as if the stress of thousands of desperate souls treading on them had been too depressing for them and they now just existed without the will to live. Under the porch could be heard a rustling scurrying sound of creatures best left unseen and unmolested least their unwanted attentions be turned loose on the inquisitive interloper. On the corner of the porch next to a very narrow unpaved driveway, was a square-based tapering pillar holding up the porch roof with the house number 23 affixed to it. The letters had been of good quality at one time, enameled white letters on a metal base. Now they were missing much of the enameling with what was left being stained yellow by the rusting medal. Under the letters was nailed a board with little to no regard to right angles or even an attempt to be slightly horizontal. On the board was scrawled the words, “23½ ROUND BACK!” by someone obviously sick and tired of being inconvenienced to give out directions to 23½.
“Why is it always ‘round back?”
The driveway was put in long after the house had been built, before Henry Ford’s creations, constructed to accommodate the Model T or Model A automobiles of the day. It had gone unused due to its lack of width through the craze for super sized automobiles and the muscle cars. A Smart Car would now fit but that would never be seen in this neighbourhood. The driveway was equally dark and uninviting ending with a dilapidated garage, more than a mate for the ailing house. The sill had long ago rotted away and the vertical wood siding was now all that held the structure erect. The sides themselves bowed out leaving the structure resembling a circus tent more than an accessory building.
The sound of a dog barking in the distance could be heard but it sounded to be a few doors over. No barking came from this property in response to the other dog’s challenge so that may not be an issue here.
“At least it’s not the end of the shift.”
There was a superstition among the officers in the division that if all went well for your whole shift then the last call was likely going to be the most dangerous. If you were going to “buy it” then that was when it would happen. This caution was probably started to keep the new officers on their toes. As the biggest factor in any officer’s injury or death is quite often complacency.
Taking a deep breath the summons firmly in the officer’s leather encased Kevlar gloved left hand, he drew his right hand back past the Asp (extendable baton), undoing the dome on his 9 mil. holster and finally coming to resting on his three-cell Mag-Lite. He preferred the Mag over the stronger beam of the mini flashlights carried by some of the younger officers. The reason was simple, deadly simple. A Mag might not be able to blind a charging rhino or fry ants at fifty feet such as the young officers bragged about their mini lights, but it gave sufficient light and could serve, as it had on several occasions, as a defensive “weapon of opportunity”. Here is the simple logic. When something “goes down” you have 1.5 seconds to react. So, 1.5 seconds to drop your mini flashlight, un-holster your 9 mill (did you remember to unfasten it earlier?), snap off the safety, point it at the assailant and come up with a memorable line out of a Dirty Harry or Rambo movie and save your butt. All in 1.5 seconds...won’t happen sweetheart! At least with the Mag-Lite in hand you have something, well, at hand, what you do in the next 1.5 seconds is up to you.
“Thank God for my Mag-Lite”
The officer had seen just about every kind of trap and trip fall over the years. From boards with nails protruding waiting like some spiny sea urchin in the dark waters of night, to impale any unwary pedestrian venturing into their domain, to trip wires set across the top of exterior basement access stairways. The lights at the bottom of these egress wells were always “conveniently” out of order. The one that always stuck in his mind was one basement apartment access stairs, as usual in complete darkness, that had a row of soda cans sitting along the front edge of one of the treads, about one half way down the stair case. Stepping on top one or two of these cans would send you down the stairs on your backside in a flash. The worst were concrete stair cases. Then there were the “screamers”. Battery powered alarms that emitted a sharp whine so loud as to nearly split an ear drum and the fright enough to bring on a heart attack, or at least it seemed so. These were attached to one side of the stair case, a monofilament line stretched across the stair way. These were activated similar to a hand grenade with a pin being pulled out when someone tripped the line. If there was one thing in abundance in this neighbourhood it was human ingenuity, whether protective or malicious.
Reaching the back corner of the main house there was a smaller structure attached, probably a former kitchen with accommodation for the “help” dating back to more affluent times. The porch light was off but the window beside the door was lit up. As he scanned the property and especially the path to the door he noticed that the only potential traps were those of children’s toys reluctantly left when “time for bed” was announced. He could imagine the protests of the young adventurers as their mother put an end to their conquests of the imagined castle or the slaying of the evil dragon. Some things common to children everywhere is their ability to ignore brutal reality in favour of their own worlds of make believe. This made him smile slightly.
Reaching the entrance the officer opened the screen door and knocked on the old paint cracked wooden slab. He actually lightly kicked the door with the toe of his shoe but it was still a knock. Immediately the light was turned off that had illuminated the window and the porch light was snapped on. The officer instinctively shut the screen door which he braced closed with his foot; toe on the door and heel firmly against the decking of the porch. This was the moment of truth, the seconds before the bull charges the matador or the moment before when all is revealed, the expected raging bull or a peaceful member of the heard.
A woman opened the door; it was hard to tell her age due to the lack of light as she stayed in the shadows afforded by the frame of the screen door. It didn’t matter at this time as the officer could see that she held nothing in her hands and shining the flashlight’s beam in her face would only serve to annoy more than identify..at least for the time being.
“Is Mr. Larry Oatman living at this address?”
“Yes, I’m his wife”, she offered without hesitation and offered her full name and date of birth following the officer’s request.
“Please give this to him” the officer calmly said in a helpful tone of voice practised to garner cooperation.
“What is this?” She queried as she instinctively reached out and took the document. This happens more than not when serving a summons which is helpful though in Canada there is no need to actually touch the person with the summons to complete service.
“It’s a Summons for Mr. Oatman to appear in court”
She accepted this with a look of someone familiar with the term recidivism; the cycle of conviction followed by incarceration, release and another crime leading to arrest and conviction. This time all went down smoothly and peacefully. It is not always so, but one needs to be thankful for small favours and not dwell on the times when you’re met with violence.
Back in the patrol car the officer couldn’t help but think that this cycle of crime, incarceration, release then crime was like the instructions, wash, rinse, and repeat on the label on a shampoo bottle being applied to life. He also couldn’t help but wonder if this was always going to be the case for many in this part of the city. Deep down he knew the answer to his own question.
This is a scenario played out over and over day after day year after year all over the country. In most cases there is no need for a firearm, the asp is not drawn or the pepper spay not released into an assailant’s eyes. However it’s the trusty old flashlight that is employed repeatedly. So it has been since the days of the watchmen with their burning brands, or torches, the candle lit lamps followed in time by oil fueled and then to battery powered lights, shedding light on crime and making it safer for officers to carry out their duties.
For quite some time now my good friend and fellow GMIC member, Mervyn Mitton and I have been discussing a collaboration of sorts to expand one of his earlier posts, regarding early police lanterns. This will involve specimens from both of our collections and a detailed description along with photos of the different specimens. I anticipate this taking some time as between the two of us we possess quite a good number of examples. In addition to this blog I will kick the project off with a “What do they have in common?” question. Sorry, no prize for the correct answer or even the wittiest response; just bragging rights. Which I suppose could be considered “priceless”.
Watch for the knowledge testing question coming to the appropriate section of your form shortly. Then tune into the police section to follow our post on police lanterns.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope that you found it entertaining and will check out our Police Lantern post in the Police Section under the title “What did they do in the dark...”.
Seriously? No, really...seriously?
A dry dusty street in the Middle East, a group of soldiers is milling around and suddenly one soldier shouts, “RPG! Take cover!” Just then a rocket propelled grenade steaks past, leaving a smoke trail behind, to explode on a vehicle completely destroying it. Typical movie scene and total garbage. From what I can tell a fired RPG travels at around 15 feet every 1/10 of a second, which makes the 3 some odd seconds for the soldier (actor) to deliver his line more than a little ridiculous. Not being a military man I can only go by videos of the firing of a live RPG and in my eyes it would seem the weapon’s trigger is depressed and seemingly instantaneously the target explodes. The other thing most movies and documentaries miss the mark with it the smoke trail. Movie rockets are fired, many times, attached to a wire, strung from the supposed location of the shooter to the target. The weight of the rocket deflects the wire and the resulting, so very important, smoke trail dips toward the ground then rises up just prior to striking the target. Details such as these, or rather the lack of attention to details drives me insane (I know, it was a short trip).
Another thing that really gets my goat (ok, I don’t have a goat, possibly because something already “got it”) is the need for documentaries to explain the length or weight in relation to other objects. “The rocket was as tall as three Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other”; quite a common comparison. I really doesn’t do much for me, not having ever visited the Empire State Building. Besides, the Empire State Building is 381 M tall; or is it? Yes, it could be said that it is 381 m tall unless you are measuring to the very tallest tip then it is 443 m tall; a difference of 61m. And if the rocket in question is as tall as three Empire State Buildings then which measurement were they referring to; it could vary by 183m.!
You could argue that the documentary was written for American audiences and that all American know how tall the Empire State Building is. However, if it were written for a Canadian audience and they said the rocket was a tall as three CN Towers (located in Toronto) then that would make all the difference. No, not really as I don’t know how tall the CN Tower is while I sit on my couch avoiding any form of exercise other than having yet another coffee. The CN Tower by the way is 553m tall, and if you were to have enough coffees then your heart rate would increase giving you a cardio vascular workout without ever finding the need to travel to Toronto to check out the tower; I’m just saying...
Supposing I am standing at either the Empire State Building or the CN Tower, or even the Eiffel Tower (at 301m. tall) the idea of two additional structures one on top of the other is pretty well unimaginable. I don’t even think you could see the top of a “pile” of Empire State Building as it would be 1,143m. In height... or would that be 1,329m.? Either of which would give King Kong a nose bleed.
Another ridiculous measurement is those given in the number of elephants. What the hell does that even mean? African elephants or Asian elephants? African elephants weight an average of 1,048kg. more than Asia elephants. If ten elephants of weight can vary by 10,048kg. this means the weight measurement could vary by two extra elephants! I mean, it is difficult enough to locate and get ten elephants together on some giant weigh scale and now, according to the potential for variance, I will need an extra two elephants standing by just in case I need them? This is as mindless as simply saying, “Gee Jimmy that (object) is really, really heavy; a lot more than your Daddy can lift, that’s for sure”. Just give the height or the weight, any other means of description is pointless and makes me wonder if the documentary producers even know the correct measurement in the first place; unlike me I guess they don’t have the internet.
I was watching a documentary about an American air craft carrier the other evening and the commentator said that the ship was so many football fields in length. Yep, here we go again. American football fields are 91.4m long and Canadian ones are 100m. Wait a minute, what about those who will confuse “real” football with soccer. The length of a football pitch according to FIFA is 100-110m. Just to be clear the documentary was about the Nimitz-class carrier which is 333m long (1,092 feet). Just how many elephants it weights I don’t know.