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B. Wolfe's discussions on collecting.

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Brian Wolfe

Can we learn from history?

 

In my last blog we looked at the battle of Kadesh (1274 BCE) where classic errors were made and perhaps the first opportunity for those following after to learn.  The Egyptians left large gaps between their divisions allowing the Hittites to exploit those gaps and move on the command HQ.  There were, of course, perfectly good reasons for the gaps between Egyptian divisions, all of which were covered in my last blog.  What may have not been as clear was the first recorded tactical error by the Hittites. Their exuberance to exploit the gap between the Egyptian divisions resulted in their chariots out-pacing the infantry and therefore supporting troops.  With the Hittites slower chariots surrounded by the Egyptian infantry and their faster deadlier chariots they were destroyed. 

 

Jumping ahead 1,300 years (give or take a few decades) to 9 CE we look at the three Roman Legions, the 17, 18 and 19th, under Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany for our next example. Following earlier victories over the Germanic tribes a young man named Arminus was sent to Rome as tribute.  He was educated as a Roman and became a trusted confidante of Varus. If this were a plot of a movie we would think the outcome of this alliance between Varus and Arminus was obvious.  Too bad Russel Crowe wasn’t there to advise Varus, but history didn’t have two millennium to wait for benefit or Mr. Crowe’s wisdom.

 

As a little background information we should note that the brilliance of the Roman military machine was firmly rooted in maneuvers involving two armies meeting in open fields, a luxury not afforded in the close confines of the dense forests of Germania.

 

We now find Varus leading his legions in a column miles long weighted down by equipment and baggage trains along with the usual camp-followers.  The Romans were confined on both sides by forest and forced to trudge along mile after agonizing mile of seemingly endless wilderness.  Even the most inept armchair general will tell you this is a classic example of a need for advanced as well as flanking scouts.  Varus was not a complete fool (at least not a “total” fool that is) and indeed did employ both advanced and flanking scouts. The error was that these scouts were from “loyal” German troops recommended by the equally loyal Arminus. Those “loyal” Germanic flanking scouts quickly disappeared, moving ahead to join their tribesmen in the ambush ahead, as did the advanced scouts.

 

The location for the German ambush was carefully planned with the area being even more restrictive than had been the case prior to this. On one side there was a steep incline while the other side of the trail was an impassible swamp.  This allowed the Germans to fire on the Romans from both flanks while the different elevations assured that one side was not in direct line of fire from the other.  Added to this a severe weather front moved in soaking the Romans and their equipment increasing the weight each Roman was carrying by more than double. The Romans couldn’t advance up the incline which was also fortified, they couldn’t attack the swampy ground as doing so would find them mired in the soft ground and easy targets for the Germans.  Retreat was blocked by their own baggage train and transport so continuing along the trail was the only option.  An option that proved even more disastrous than holding their ground.  Due to the rough ground and a continuous rain of missiles the Roman column was not all moving at the same speed.  This left gaps in the column which the Germans were quick to exploit. In the end this led to the ambush by the German tribesmen crushing the three legions.  Many books, the internet and even recent documentaries have stated that the Romans were lost to a man.  Research into original documents from that time by real historians has found that several Romans did survive the massacre and found their way back to Roman territory.

The Emperor Augustus has been said to have uttered in frustration, “Quintili Vare legions redde!” (Quinctilus Varus give me back my legions!).  Looks like not even the most powerful man in the world of the time could command the dead.  Documentaries have also stated that the Legions Eagle standards were lost forever, however there is evidence that some if not all of the lost eagles were recovered.  The series “I Claudius” states that the Germans were eventually conquered, however even though there were some punitive actions taken against the Germans, probably the reason for the recovered eagles, the German territory east of the Rein was never conquered. 

 

Before The National Enquirer, the yellow journalism of the tabloids and television documentaries perverted historical facts and research in favour of sensationalism and profits history was researched by serious historians. Military leaders have been schooled in tactics of the past and cautioned about the errors of those who came before.  Leaving gaps in your columns to be exploited by the enemy was to be avoided while watching for and exploiting the same errors by your opponents was of paramount importance.  So, don’t leave gaps in your column and don’t out-pace your supply and support troops…sound advice…right?

 

There are many examples of military errors, far too many for a blog.  As well there are good examples of military leaders learning from history, applying what they have learned, only to find things didn’t go as planned.  In my next blog we’ll look at a couple of examples of this from the 20th century. 

 

Thanks for reading my blogs.

Regards

Brian

 

 

 

 

Brian Wolfe

 

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”.

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

Winston Churchill, Britain’s Lion

Part three: In the Skies of Britain





“The Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.†– Winston Churchill, 18 June, 1940.

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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.

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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 Army’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 Germany’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.

“We 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 God’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 Churchill’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 “machine†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 “V 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,
“If the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour’â€.



Next month: The North Africa Campaign.

Brian

Brian Wolfe

Winston Churchill, From Scapegoat to Hero




Part One: The Boer War to 1939.

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.

Brian.


Brian Wolfe

Neville Chamberlain a Maligned Hero


Not too long ago a close friend, a man I both respect and admire, offered the suggestion that politeness was the most acceptable hypocrisy. Following our friendly debate on this point of view I thanked him for providing such a provocative subject upon which to ponder; later that evening I removed him from my Christmas card list.



It occurred to me, as I later revisited the subject of politeness and hypocrisy in my mind, that politeness and diplomacy are conjoined twins of the same philosophy, interchangeable and indistinguishable one from the other. Not to digress too far; I do believe that if I were to be able to choose any profession in another time period it would be the Diplomatic Corps in the Victorian era as I am not unfamiliar with diplomacy (a.k.a. hypocrisy). As is often the case one line of thought triggers another and this was no different as I soon started to consider the subject of how popular history has treated Neville Chamberlain and his attempts to avoid what turned out to be the unavoidable Second World War. I have used the term popular history to indicate that history can be divided into several categories. These being, propaganda; history manipulated for the masses in order to shape their opinions to match the current powers, popular history; history that may or may not be accurate but is held as true due to past propaganda (see the first example) and remains accepted until someone delves into the facts and reports them, and lastly, the true historical facts.

This following recitation is both opinionated and derivative and therefore freely open to debate, so, as they say, lets have at it. I wont bother to reference the work of others in regard to quotes with a citation because these are easily found in biographies and on the internet.

I think it best to look first, not at the times when Mr. Chamberlain has undeservingly gained his negative reputation but rather take a moment to review the powers of a Prime Minister. To think that the Prime Minister on his own has the sole power to declare war on another sovereign nation and thereby commit his countrys population to invade another nation is naive, to say the least.

While the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party in power he is still bound by procedure. If the PM were to table a motion so outrageous as to be against the will of his party and the motion was defeated then the opposition party could, and probably would, demand a vote of no-confidence. If the vote passed in favour of the opposition the government would fall and an election would be held. I must assume, due to lack of knowledge, that the American Government is structured in much the same way. I do stand to be corrected on this or any point of view I hold. This fact of Parliamentary procedure alone dictates that a PM should not be held solely responsible for the actions of the governing party or majority of the publics will and wishes.

Next we need to look at the time period itself. Much has been written about the economic and personal devastation brought on by the Great War. The desire for peace at any cost was a commonly held desire, even for the vast majority of the German people during the early years of the Nazi Party and I would hazard to say even through the build up to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and what would become known as the allies. Certainly there was a feeling of euphoria in Germany as Hitler regained lost territories, rejuvenated the economy and generated a fanatical level of national pride. In other words the majority of the population on either side was not prepared to enter into another worldwide conflict as had been experienced a mere twenty five years prior. Into this atmosphere of avoidance of conflict Mr. Chamberlain was tasked to carry out the will of the people.
Following the will of the people in those times Mr. Chamberlain was driven to assure that the youth of Britain and her Empire would never again be led like sheep to the slaughter of the battlefield. I would challenge anyone, without the benefit of hindsight, to find fault in that conviction. If we are to hold Mr. Chamberlain solely responsible for the failure of diplomacy and therefore the outbreak of WWII then we need to look at other examples from the same time period.

On February 24, 1933 the League of Nations adopted a report blaming the Government of Imperial Japan for events in Manchuria (Manchukuo). In response to this action the Japanese representative, Yosuke Matsuoka, delivered a speech claiming that Manchuria belonged to Japan and they would not entertain any motion that they withdraw from what was, in their view, territory that was theirs by right; then walked out never to return. What was the action taken by the League of Nations to Mr. Matsuokas rejection of the report? Virtually nothing. Their lack of action, possibly a result of their failure to foresee any such actions by a fellow member nation and insufficient plans for a military intervention, caused hundreds of thousands of Chinese men, women and childrens death. Perhaps it was felt by the Western delegates that it was on the other side of the world and it didnt really affect their own people. However, there were British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders, Indian and Americans who would be caught up in the onslaught of Imperial Japanese aggression. A good number, far too many, would lose their lives both in the battles and afterwards during their imprisonment as Prisoners of War.

January 3, 1935, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) appealed to the League of Nations to intervene between Abyssinia and Italy, who had invaded Abyssinia. Article X of the Leagues charter forbids any member nation from invading the territories of another member. The Leagues response was to place an arms trade embargo on both countries. Italy had built up her armed forces in the years leading up to this crises and therefore was unaffected by the embargo. Abyssinia, on the other hand, was ill equipped to carry on a modern armed conflict and was therefore greatly handicapped by the Leagues actions. On May 2 1936 Haile Selassie was forced into exile and on May 5, after the capture of the capital of Addis Ababa by Italy, the sanctions placed on the two countries were withdrawn. Emperor Haile Selassie himself appeared before the League to plead their nations case on June 7, 1937, after Italy defeated the forces of Abyssinia. Even without the Leagues help Italy was only able to control three quarters of Abyssinia due to the continued guerrilla campaign carried on against the invaders.
These are two examples of the avoidance of war at any costs that permeated the thinking of the time. Yet the image that is often portrayed is that of Mr. Chamberlain holding up a white piece of paper and assuring the people of England that I believe it is peace for our time is the one used to express his and only his failure and ineptitude at preventing war.

If we look at the failure of the League of Nations in the two examples noted as compared to Mr. Chamberlains attempts to prevent war it reveals an interesting statistic. Very few people had lost their lives in Europe up to the time of the outbreak of WWII. True people had died, there is no doubt about that, however, the real cost in lives of civilians up to that time was unknown. The impending horrors of the extermination camps was still not a known fact, though in hindsight we can say that it should have , and perhaps was, suspected by all of the leaders of free Europe. What was known to the League of Nations was the murder of thousands of Chinese civilians as well as the slaughter of the Abyssinian troops using primitive weapons to combat modern military hardware and a nation, Italy, equipped with an effective air force, Abyssinia having none. Yet time and time again we are shown that photo of Mr. Chamberlain and the white sheet of paper as an example of failed diplomacy. I would put it to you, the reader, that 63 members of the League of Nations (42 nations founded the League in 1920) plus the number of human casualties caused by their failure to maintain peace is miniscule when compared to the one man blamed for the failure to placate Germany.

It is much easier to cheer on and lead a dedicated and enraged crowd bound and bent on wreaking havoc on an enemy than it is to stand up in front of a potential protagonist and attempt to calm the situation and work toward for peace. This is not to diminish the achievements of Mr. Winston Churchill in any way as he was a great war leader and was and is respected throughout the whole world, and well he should be. Having said that it is a lot easier to wave the flag, make stirring speeches to a nation, and even to the world as a whole when your audience is on the same page as you. I doubt Mr. Churchill ever missed a photo opportunity in his life (carefully staged as they may have been), while Mr. Chamberlain will forever be remembered for holding up that white piece of paper not unlike a flag of surrender.

In one of his last addresses to Parliament Mr. Chamberlain said,
Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do; that is to devote what strength and power I have to forward the victory of the cause for which we have sacrificed so much.

Neville Chamberlain passed away on the 9th of November, 1940 never to know whether the evil he had attempted to protect his nation from would ultimately be stopped or not. On November 12th Mr. Winston Churchill stated in his eulogy of Mr. Chamberlain,

Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capability and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.






Neville Chamberlain
March 18, 1869
November 9, 1940



1 Other than quotes this blog consists of my opinions
2 Quotations have been freely borrowed from different sources easily verified by the reader.
3 Citation = a clever way to make my article appear to be much more scholarly than it warrants on its
own merits. Besides a citation is only a reference to someone elses work which may or may not be either original or accurate.
4 The term his is to be taken as meaning either male or female and is not meant to be gender specific.
5 There are exceptions to this and an election is not necessarily a foregone conclusion
6 I use the term Great War as at that time we had not yet started numbering our World Wars, fortunately after number 2 it was decided that perhaps world wars were not that great an idea after all and dropped the numbering system.

Brian Wolfe

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. 

 

 

 

 

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Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Learning From History – A Rant

 

One of the aspects of the New Year’s season that I dislike the most, aside from the obligation to congregate in herds at parties, is being expected to converse pleasantly with the attendees.  I don’t mind parties at our house as I can simply remove myself either to the office downstairs (aka the Home Office) or the shop and work on a project...and I have been known to do so. Yes I am a solitary rather anti-social type who has been lucky to have found a wife who can tolerate my rather, at times, rude behaviour.  I don’t blame myself for my attitude; people like me seldom do, the problem is with those who refuse to stick to conversations and opinions well within their own knowledge and comfort parameters.  For example I don’t attempt to converse about sports, entertainment, automobiles or motorcycles and or their repair.  I don’t know about these topics and quite frankly don’t care.  In my defence I will stand by and listen with feigned interest, a glass of cola in my hand to provide the visual mistaken assumption that partial impairment is the reason for my glazed over eyes and not mind-numbing boredom.  Inevitably at sometime during this personal purgatory someone will wander into my areas of interest, one being history and its associated politics.

 

In such rare moments the dragon awakes!  The mind sparks to life, eyes glisten with interest and the senses near salvation at the prospect of fresh meat in the form of an intellectual discussion.  The first comment has been answered with the disappointing, “No one wants war” and then “If you don’t learn from history you’re doomed to repeat it”.  It looks like their arsenal of knowledge on the subject has been spent and now they are starting to withdraw to a safer topic.  But no! They have wandered into the sanctum sanctorum of my mind, my lair; like innocent lambs and they will not suffer me to allow them leave unscathed.  To the statement “No one wants war” I reply that someone must want it as we sure as hell are engaged in them often enough.  In regard to learning from history I throw out the challenge for the fellow to support his statement.  I can see the fright in their eyes, smell the fear; they are mine, mine I tells you, and now I intend to destroy them utterly and completely.

 

It’s about now my wife swoops down like an angle from the heavens and brings with her a sense of peace and calm, changing the subject to the relief of all but yours truly. They have no idea just how lucky they were, unfortunately you dear fellow member know all too well, based on my other blogs over the past year.  I do feel a twinge of remorse for you having to read these pieces, but then upon contemplation, it could simply be a touch of heart burn. ;)

 

I’ll close off this tongue-in-cheek blog now and let it stand as an introduction to more serious discussions within the next few weeks on the topic of learning from history, or the inability to learn from it. 

 

Happy Year to all, from the Home Office, deep beneath the ground in New Hamburg, Ontario Canada

 

Brian

 

 

Brian Wolfe

The Middle East and Propaganda

 

I’ve often heard the statement that man (mankind) is unable to learn from history.  As a general statement this is, of course, ridiculous. As an example we tend to no longer defecate in our drinking water; with the exception of the City of Victoria, British Columbia that still dumps their raw sewage into the ocean. To be fair it is not actually drinking water and it does serve to give people like me something to be smug about while committing some other violation against the environment; so thumbs up Victoria.  What the statement regarding learning from history usually refers to is the history of human conflict.  On an individual human level it would seem to be true as far as abusive marriages as can be attested by any police officer.  People in abusive relationships, when and if they “escape”, will often find another abusive partner.  On a national level involving military engagements we may not actually be able to learn from history due to several reasons.

The fact that the histories of wars are usually written by the victors and often by those who shape their books to favor themselves and or their careers flooding the shelves of libraries and book stores.  Another nemesis of accurate histories is propaganda; in order to learn from history we must know what the truth is and identify the perversions of the truth.  I suppose this should not be a total surprise as US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson said in 1918, “The first casualty of war is truth”, so why would there be an incentive to set the record straight post war, especially for the victors? Propaganda certainly has its uses and after all we need to know that we are ethical while the enemy are evil agents of Satan; “Gott mit uns” leaps to mind.  Propaganda can be a most useful tool especially in time of war and actually amounts to misinformation and out and out lies, usually directed at the very people the government is meant to be protecting.  It’s a little like being caught by your wife with your mistress and having the presence of mind to introduce her as your long lost niece; it might work, as long as you actually have a brother or sister.  If not….plan “B”.  Plan “B” works every time and I would share it with you but I know you want me to get back to the subject at hand.  Propaganda can take different forms and intensities.  For example in an effort by the British to conceal the reason for an increase in RAF night mission successes against Luftwaffe bombers the rumor was started that the pilots had been consuming vast quantities of carrots which accounted for their superior night vision.  The success of this propaganda had lasting effects well after the war, and managed to keep the use of radar a secret for a lot longer than a policy of silence would have accomplished. An example “from the other side” involves the 2nd Waffen SS Panzer Division Das Reich after the D-Day invasion when they were taking a pounding by the allies.  The movie going public in Germany were informed through the news reels that Das Reich was making significant advances and the allies were reeling from the might of the Division as well as other German troops.  The truth was that while the division and the German military in general was a force to be reckoned with Germany fought mainly a war of defense and  tactical withdraw until the allied victory.

This brings me to an example, perhaps the first example, of an incident in the Middle East involving a world super power, weapons of mass destruction and the cover-up propaganda that many still hold as the truth today.

Cover-up in the Middle East

Near the border of modern Syria and Lebanon was situated the city of Kadesh, on the Orontes River. Kadesh itself controlled the trading routs between to great areas and the control of Kadesh was paramount. Over the centuries the Egyptian and Hittite Empires had been at odds.  Egypt had been in one war after another in an attempt to reclaim their empire and in 1274 BCE the Hittites under Muwatalli II threatened to conquer the city of Kadesh.  The Hittites greatly out-numbered the Egyptians by over two to one especially in infantry; the interesting fact about the battle is that the Hittites never had the chance to employ their infantry and while they out-numbered the Egyptian in chariots the Egyptians were far superior. Think of comparing a modern fighter jet (Egyptian chariot) to a propeller driven transport plane (Hittites). 

Kadesh was in relative close proximity to the Hittite Empire while the Egyptians faced a two month march to the city.  The Egyptian Army was led by Pharaoh Ramesses II at the head of the Amun Division. Three other divisions joined this force, the Re, Ptah and Seth divisions named for the areas from which they were raised.  Each area or the prominent city of the area had a particular God and these divisions were named in honour of those Gods.  While crossing this huge expanse of desert area each division took its own course rather than as a single army.  This would lead to a tactical error by Ramesses as we will see later on.  While to the modern Armchair General this splitting of the divisions may seem an obvious error, however, there are other factors at play.  For the most part wars were won or lost in one decisive battle and usually by only one Egyptian division which was the division of that particular area.  This makes the Kadesh campaign a rather unprecedented undertaking.  The second factor and perhaps the most important one is that living off the land during a two month trek is a lot easier for one division rather than an army of four times that size.  Therefore each division taking its own path to Kadesh made perfect sense.

Upon arriving just south of Kadesh Ramesses formed up his divisions but rather than combining the divisions into one large force he left a great deal of space between them.  A tactical error that almost cost him the war.  This seems to be an error that has plagued the military for centuries and I’d like to explore this in more detail at another time.  Acting on intelligence that the Hittites were almost 200 miles away and were afraid of the Egyptian army Ramesses decided to cover the 11 miles between his army and the city of Kadesh as quickly as possible.  The advance was made with the vast distances between the divisions remaining in place.  The intelligence proved to be a trap and the Hittites were upon the Re Division with their chariots catching the Egyptians unprepared.  The Re Division broke and some headed for the nearby Amun Division commanded by Ramesses while others turned their route around to the rear of the Hittites who were now closing on the Amun Division.  One might say that the day was the Hittites to lose as the future looked bleak for the Amun Division and the whole of the Egyptian army. 

At this point several factors came into play, which is often the case in warfare, which saved the day for Ramesses.  Along with the defenders of the Amun Division the Hittite chariots encountered the materials that often surround an encampment along with tents and abandoned Egyptian chariots.  This slowed the leading Hittite chariots and the next waves started to “jam up” as progress slowed to a stop.  This made the Hittite chariots easy targets for the Egyptian archers.  Remember those Re Division chariots that had turned their route and headed towards the Hittite rear and flanks?  One of the advantages of being a God-King when your solders see that you are in peril they come to your aid with an unmatched fanaticism.  Added to this the Path and Seth Divisions closed on the Hittite flanks.  The Hittite Emperor, Muwatalli II had also made a tactical error in allowing his chariots to advance too quickly and without the support of his archers and infantry; both of which played no part in the battle. It would seem that front line troops out pacing support and supply has been a problem for a long time. 

The aftermath saw both sides claiming victory over the other and I suppose in an odd way they were correct as neither side actually lost so it could be said that a draw is when both sides, in a manner, win.  Ramesses II had his “claimed” victory commemorated on the walls of the temple at Karnak, showing how he, almost alone, crushed the Hittite foe.  Ah, propaganda at its best!  Propaganda that may be still seen today, over 3,000 years after it was carved. 

The positive aspect of this conflict, regardless of the victor, was that not only was this the first documented military action it resulted in the first known peace treaty in history.  Who knows, perhaps in another 3,000 years we’ll see peace in the Middle East; I’ll keep you posted.

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Myth Busting, Part 1

 

I do hope no one will feel like I am being condescending with the way I have written this blog.  My intention was to treat the reader like a fellow GMIC member and therefore more like a friend than a stranger.  With this in mind treat the following in the manner in which it is intended and that is as a conversation between friends.

 

Myth Busters, a popular television program takes popular myths and “puts them to the test” and awards a rating of “Confirmed”, “Plausible” or “Busted”.  The show often concludes with something from the episode being blown to oblivion.  This is NOT one of those blogs.  We are prohibited from the use of explosive devices here in cyberspace as the resulting shock wave may cause damage to sensitive computer components.  Besides, you know if we started with lower grade controlled explosives it would only be a matter of time when someone from here at the Home Office would ramp it up to a thermo nuclear device and the magnetic pulse would undo all of Nick’s hard work getting the new server up and running smoothly. 

 

What I thought we’d take a look at is some of the commonly or uncommonly held beliefs, or myths, in the fields of collecting and within history itself.  Let’s start with collecting and specifically the myth that collecting anything, short of precious metals, is an investment.  First let me state that I am not economist or investment banker and my opinions are based on a good number of years of experience and observation.  Further, unlike many who will wax prophetic, I base my observations and resulting conclusions not on my mistakes in life but mainly on a few successes.  That should be somewhat of a refreshing change from, “don’t do what I’ve done”, (break into the music and lyrics from “The House of the Rising Sun”), to here’s what I found works and the mistakes of others. 

 

Collecting, and we will stick to militaria, should only involve disposable income.  Disposable income is the money you have left over after all the bills are paid and an appropriate amount has been invested (at least 10% of your income) into non-collectables investments.  For most people the concept of personal disposable income is more myth than reality.  If you have a mortgage, or more than one, or if you owe money for a vehicle or two, and after the bills are paid you have little to no money left over I can pretty well tell you that you DO NOT (yes I am shouting here) you DO NOT have disposable income.  If you are working two or more jobs to make ends meet... you may have guessed it...you don’t have true disposable income. Working yourself to death just so you can collect is a whole new set of problems – seek help. The credit card is not a form of disposable income either and certainly should never be used to finance a collection. 

 

I’ve often read or even heard first hand that a person is collecting as an investment.  An investment?  Perhaps that person should look up the definition of an investment. The last time I checked our investment portfolio and spoke with our investments banker there were no options for investing in collectables.  Hmm, should that perhaps be telling us something?  It’s a little like the myth of the ninja; if there had been ninjas as portrayed in films and books wouldn’t there be authentic ninja swords being offered for sale.  Ninja swords NOT made in China that is.  The clues are there just look for them...oh yes; they’re ninjas so I suppose their artifacts would also be invisible.  I knew I should have used zombies as an example!

 

It is a really a stupid thing to tell your wife that the purchase of the latest sword, firearm or medal etc. is a good investment.  She’s really not that dumb, or at least there will be a day of awakening when she realizes that the so called investment won’t bring in much more the 25 cents on the dollar of “investment”.  Think I’m mistaken?  Seriously, speak with an established dealer and see what he or she is willing to pay for your collection.  You will be most unpleasantly surprised; likely as not the offer will fall between 15 to 20 cents on the dollar.  That doesn’t mean you will realize $1.20 for every dollar “invested” but rather 20 cents, period. 

 

I recently sold a geological collection that took fifty years to amass, though I have not been seriously collecting for the past decade.  I offered it to a dealer at 25 cents on the dollar and at first he was hesitant, until he actually viewed what I had.  He usually pays the 15 to 20 cents on the dollar for collections but much of my collection was no longer available on the market due to many countries deeming the specimens as national treasures.  They are illegal to collect at the source now but previously collected specimens may be bought and sold.  I did manage to break even on some of the specimens I collected decades ago but for the most part I let them go “cheaply”.  Could I have sold them one piece at a time and realized more in the long run?  Sure, however, considering it took three trips with his van, packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall, in order to ship them to his warehouse, I would have to live to be 175 years old in order to sell the collection off piece meal.  Most large militaria collections fall under the same category.

 

I’ve heard of collectors claiming to keep their collection in a safety deposit box in the bank due to the value.  Ok, so you have purchased, as a source of investment, and rather than enjoying the collection it is hidden away in the bank.  What do you have, $20,000 tucked away in the bank vault, on which you need to pay a fee?  So in the end you might realize $4,000 to $5.000 dollars in total when you sell?  If that was going to put your child through university, I think little “bonzo” will be out looking for a job to foot the costs of schooling.  Here’s a tip. Let the kid work his (or her) way through university; this will accomplish a couple of things.  It will keep them focused on the goal and not on the parties. Plus they will have a better chance of a useful degree rather than a Masters in Norse Mythology and Interpretive Ancient Babylonian Folk Dancing if they are working to pay for their own education.  Yep, I’m a cold hearted bastard. 

Here’s a thought.  Once the last child has graduated you can give them all cheques for the amount of their initial student loan, provided you can afford it, and haven’t “invested” in cornering the market on WWI Polish Victory Medals. 

 

I hope that those reading this blog are indeed in a position that they have their youth and have true disposable income now. It took me a long time and a lot of work.  I also hope that you are collecting because it makes you happy and you have kept the investing myths out of the hobby.

 

Next time I won’t be so preachy and we’ll discuss some of the myths attached to history and the artifacts themselves.

 

Happy collecting.

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

Why can’t we discuss politics on the GMIC? It all has to do with ketchup.

Today my dear wife, Linda, wanted me to go into the City to exchange something or other; I wasn’t listening because I didn’t really want to go. Knowing this she suggested that we stop for breakfast in our small town first. She is a wise woman as she knows my fondness for breakfast meat, not to mention over-easy eggs. This would make me both cheap and easy. I would have been the most popular girl in school had I been born a female.

During breakfast I decided I required a small bit of ketchup for the sausages and in picking up the full bottle I realized that talking politics on the forum was just like what was about to take place. To be clear I am not clairvoyant, just a creature of habit and one who will repeat mistakes with an alarming regularity. The ketchup (or catsup if you prefer) bottles are always full at our local restaurant, the “Old Country Restaurant†or O.C. as we locals refer to it. We live in New Hamburg so we often meet up with friends at the O.C in N.H. It’s a small town thing.

Now for the political discussion comparison; one starts out gently patting the bottom of the bottle in an exercise in futility hopping that by some miracle the contents will flow out easily. When that doesn’t happen we all do the same thing, hit the bottle harder. Perhaps you bounce the neck of the bottle on your finger but the next step is always the same – apply more force. You might see if there is a knife by your plate, which has yet to be used and therefore clean, in order to insert in into the bottle. Thus producing an air space allowing the ketchup’s release from the effects of the bottle’s vacuum. Once in a while this works but most of the time all you end up with for your efforts is a knife covered with the red sauce all the way up the blade and well onto the handle. Now you’re getting a little hot under the collar, but still in control of your inner rage against the physics of a vacuum and Mother Nature herself fort having invented the dammed tomato in the first place. The bottle is now firmly grasped in your left hand and you start to strike the bottom of the bottle with the heel of your clenched right hand. Still nothing! At this point with your spouse showing signs of somewhere between embarrassment and disgust you lose all control. Beating the hell out of the bottle, uttering muffled statements that may or may not cross the line into blasphemy, while everyone in the restaurant looks on wide eyed. “Yes lady you heard me correctly now get over it and piss off!†you think as you notice that kindly eighty year old lady looking your way in shock. You’ve come to the point where you are committed, you will be the master of this bottle and its contents; this is the hill upon which you are will to die! You committed all of your resources and now it is you or the bottle, “No quarter, you’re going down you glass vessel from the lowest bowels of Hell itself!!!!!†RAGE, unadulterated rage!

Then without warning it happens, like some sort of demonic orgasm or an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the red thick sauce finally burst forward covering the largest area of your plate with half an inch of ketchup. The whole place is looking on witnessing your triumph yet missing the point entirely that you were victorious and your manhood is once again verified. Needless to say the trip, to the city and back, was very quiet indeed. Oh yes, here’s tip. If you find yourself in one of these situations where the silence emulating from your significant other is almost “deafening†do not; I repeat, do not, turn on the radio.

And this, my friends, is why we can’t discuss politics on the forum.

Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

Often when I start to write what is supposed to be a serious article and I get into the research I find that suddenly I start to doubt my original viewpoint. 

I was researching into the Battle of Crecy, 26 August 1346 with the intention of writing a piece on the event when I found a good deal of contradictory opinions and sketchy so-called facts.  It is not my intention to hammer on and on about these opinions but as an example I found one source as stating the number of Genoese Crossbowmen mercenaries being at 5,000 and another at 15,000.  I can over look a few hundred or even a couple of thousand but not a difference that equals three times greater or lesser.  Interestingly enough King Edward III set sail from Portsmouth with a fleet of 750 ships and 15,000 men on 11July 1346. Perhaps this is where the confusion came from in one of my sources.  Another source doubts the capability of the city of Genoa to be able to provide even 5, 000 mercenaries, though we’ll accept that number for now. As you can see right away I started to doubt my sources.

 

My viewpoint has always been that the British longbow was far superior to the crossbow of the same era, as in the case of this battle in 1346.  Spoiler alert!  I still hold to my original hypothesis that the longbow was superior but not as it was based on the information I have always held as accurate. 

 

A quick overview of the Battle of Crecy as it pertains to the difference in bows is as follows.  The British had the longbow the French the crossbow; to be more accurate the Genoese mercenaries had the crossbow in the employment of the French.  The English held the high ground, a classic tactical move, on a south slopping hillside at Crecy-en-Ponthieu.  This put the French mounted knights at a disadvantage from the start.  Out flanking the English was impossible for the French as the English left flank was anchored at  Wadicourt and the right flank protected by Crecy and the Maye River just beyond the city.  In essence this constricted the French into what could be termed a confined killing zone. Since the English had arrived well before the French they were well rested and fed, in contrast to the French who were weary from the long march and had not had time to take sustenance. King Philip VI of France was advised to encamp for the night so the troops could be fed and well rested prior to the battle.  Unfortunately for the French, King Philip listened to his to his senior nobles and elected to fight on that very day.

 

Around 16:00 hrs (4:00 PM for you non-military/police types) a heavy rain started.  The British took their bow strings off their bows and stored them under their waterproof hats.  The Genoese could not remove their bowstrings as this required special tools to install and remove the strings.  The wet crossbow strings, which could not have been removed or even adjusted to” take up the slack”, greatly reduced the range of the crossbow while the dry longbow strings, once the British bows were re-equipped maintained their range. As the Genoese advanced the setting sun shone directly in their eyes blinding them. At the same time the British arrows started to rain down on them well before they could reach the range to use their crossbows.  The Genoese commander ordered a tactical withdrawal (another and more honorable term for retreat) which enraged the French knights, which was comprised of their nobility.  History states that the French mounted knights slaughtered the 5,000 (or was it 15,000) Genoese crossbowmen for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.  As we have all probably read the French knights then fell before the British arrows throwing the French battle strategy into complete disarray and defeat.  This defeat sapped the fighting strength of the French to such a degree that defence of Calais at a later date was impossible, allowing the British to control that area for several hundred years afterward.

 

My issue was with the long held theory that the Genoese crossbowmen could not remove their bow strings in the rain and therefore the range was lessened.  It seems to me that professional mercenary crossbowmen, if the bow string could not be removed, would have planned for such an event, based on their past experiences and training.  Crossbowmen had large shields, called pavises, where they could take shelter from enemy arrows while reloading.  So why not use these to cover the crossbows while the weather was wet?  There are two stories to this question (stories are not necessarily facts).  One story was that while on route to Crecy in the August heat the crossbows plus the heavy shields were too much to carry so they discarded them.  This seems unlikely for two reasons; first you would not discard your pavis in the face of an enemy who could launch almost twice as many arrows as you.  Second the crossbowmen did not carry their own pavises as they had pages, or squires, to do so.  Another theory was that the pavises were on the baggage trains and they simply had not arrived in time for the battle.  The battle did not actually need to start that day but at the insistence of the French nobles it did and the crossbowmen were pressed unto the attack, therefore this might lend credence to the theory that the pavises were indeed absent.  Had the pavises arrived in time would this had made a great difference in the outcome of the battle?  I tend to doubt that it would.  The French were too confined and with the greater range of the longbow and the higher number of shots per minute the Genoese would have suffered greatly.  The impatience of the mounted armoured knights would undoubtedly lead them to attempt an attack which would have been through the front line (the Genoese).  One of the facts of using mercenaries is that you don’t need to pay a dead mercenary and often they would take causalities from “friendly fire” in order to thin their ranks once the battle had turned in the favour of their employer.  The distain for mercenaries by the nobility and the need to reduce the number of survivors needing to be paid may have meant that charging through their ranks was a positive move on several levels.  If we can accept this scenario then the outcome of the battle would have been much the same.

 

It is my opinion that the English were simply superior archers with a far longer ranging bow, the long bow.  The arrows being much longer and with more weight tipped with a four sided tip called a bodkin tip had greater kinetic energy at impact.  This not only brought down the Genoese but the flower of the French mounted knights. There has been doubt that a longbow arrow could penetrate plate armour; perhaps this is true as it is supported by contemporary observation.  However, the armor on a horse is relatively light and certainly not even close to full covering.  Bring down a knight’s horse and you have finished off the man.  I say this as a man in a couple of hundred pounds of steel armour hitting the ground at speed (full charge) would cause multiple debilitating and mortal internal injuries.   Add to this a 2,000 pound horse and its armour rolling over him and you have what could best be described as “puree of knight in a can”.

 

I am suggesting that the wet bow strings and perhaps even the missing pavises (if that is even true) combined with the French knights slaughtering the Genoese as cowards as they were retreating is something that was made up by the Genoese survivors themselves.  A mercenary is only as good as the last victory in which he was engaged.  To admit that the enemy (English in this case) were simply using superior bows and were the better archers would not bode well for potential future employment.  To tell the tale that they were exhausted prior to the battle and upon moving back out of range of the English archers, as a tactical move to regroup, then be cut down by the French (a betrayal) would be acceptable to potential employers who may not be friendly toward the French.  Add to this possibility that the French used the Genoese as a reason for their defeat. Always be quick to take credit for your victories and be quicker to deflect blame in the case defeat. It would be folly to suggest the reason for English victory was due only to their superior bowmen as there were other factors such as the tactically wise choice of terrain by the English and King Philip’s decision to give in to his nobles poor advice. This, of course, is pure speculation on my part.

 

So how can I sit here in the Home Office and make such profound statements?  On what am I basing my opinions and assumptions?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Almost two years ago this question, in my mind, of wet bow strings drove me to produce two exact as possible copies of a crossbow based on the weapons of the 1300s.  Research alone took almost a year then testing both bows over the course of several months, when time allowed, saw two years pass by.  I built the two crossbows, one for me and one for my friend Brian, in order to see if they would perform in the same manner in the hands of two people who never fired a crossbow before.  The cost of these two bows, considering some parts were made by professional armourers, was just under $1,000.00 Canadian.  I’ll take you through some of the processes of making the bows and the materials used as well as our findings in the next blog.

 

Please stay tuned for a little applied archeology and discussion as to what we discovered.

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

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

Brian Wolfe

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.

 

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

What's The Use?

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.  ;)

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Are you kidding, no really are you kidding?

Last Saturday one of the largest, if not the largest, outdoor antiques fairs was held near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It has been a few years since we were able to attend and most of the dealers have been the same for many years so it was like a family reunion with some that we’ve dealt with over the years.

One of the first things an antiques dealer will tell you is not to refinish antiques as their value is lost once you do this. You will hear this mantra chanted over and over especially when they are looking to purchase the furniture dear old Aunt Betsy left you. Of course you “cave in” and let the dealer take the refinished ruined junk off your hands for a pittance and letting you feel that they have done you a big favour. Well pilgrim you’ve just been shafted. A walk around any antiques fair will prove me out as you pass display after display of finished and what I would call over finished antique furniture. At the show you will hear these same dealers preaching that it is better to refinish the antique so that you can live with it and use it the way to was supposed to be used. Two definite schools of thought I will admit. However I recognized a couple of these fellows and they talk out of both sides of their faces more easily than could the Roman God Janus. Thinking of ancient Rome I am all for S.P.Q.R. in business, which in this case stands for “Small Profit Quick Return” however some seem to think “buy low sell high” is always an honourable act, no matter what bovine excrement they are required to spread in order to close a deal. Contrary to what I seem to be saying, most of the dealers are honest folk but you know what they say about a rotten apple in the barrel.

This is not really the theme of my article it was just an observation. The theme is all of the fakery that seems to be going on and sold by so-called reputable dealers under the excuse that they are not knowledgeable in this or that field when “called” on the authenticity of an item. This self same dealer will be waxing prophetic to a prospective client one second and then crying that they are as innocent as a new born lamp with the very next breath when trying to explain a fake being passed off as authentic. To be sure this is not the show to attend if you are looking for military collectables though there is always bit to choose from. The prices are usually well above market for medals, weapons etc. so this is a show to attend for other collectables. However, having said that, I found it interesting that so many dealers managed to be displaying fakes and replicas of mostly WWII German medals mixed in with some over prices genuine articles. It is almost as if they are pricing the authentic items in order to hold onto them and low balling the fakes. Low balling the price if it were genuine that is.

I looked at a pair of Figure Of Eight handcuffs that the dealer said he picked up in Georgia last week (it is always “last week” with these guys) and he’d let it go for $200.00. I was polite and passed on the cuffs, however, if I had wanted such a pair I could pick them up for around $35.00 on eBay from the same fellow who makes them...in Georgia. The quality was not really bad though nowhere near that of Hiatt but the poor quality key is always a dead giveaway. I will post mine to show the difference someday (he said in embarrassment) along with a genuine key and you will see a world of difference.

Another booth proudly offered a Police Helmet from the Metropolitan Police sporting a ball top for only $200.00. I think the other police collectors will support my claim that the Met has never used a ball top. Amazingly, though I suppose it should not have come as a surprise, the dealer claimed he had purchased it directly from the officer himself while on a trip to the UK. The officer must have really stood out among the rest of the police all wearing the familiar Metropolitan Cox Comb Style helmet. I wonder if his name was Benny Hill.

Back in the early 1970s there was a flood of Indian swords offered for a pittance; these were over cleaned for the most part but they were authentic. Just after this Tsunami of Tulwars another “after shock wave” hit with thousands of newly made copies being offered in every flea market stall from Chicoutimi to Bella Coola (you’ll have to look those up yourself). ;)

Meanwhile back at the antiques fair.
A fellow was looking at a curved sword that had been ground down as if sharpened before every battle ever fought with sword. The handle was wooden and the knuckle guard was an open style basket and quite well done. To enhance this treasure someone (I wonder who) had recently painted it gloss black. This was obviously one of those replica Indian swords that had the design on the blade removed, over-ground to change the curve a bit and then painted black. The grip showed no wear which should have made the perspective buyer wonder how the blade had seen so much wear while the grip was pristine as was the hand guard. I suppose it could have been a one of those miracles preformed by the Giant Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The dealer played right along and mused as to how many battles the sword had been in and just how many men it had killed. Easy answer...NONE! The customer started to dicker on the price which had started at $300.00 and I couldn’t take any more and walked away muttering “Caveat emptor”. If I was overheard I’m sure the dealer told the customer that was the name of the style of sword.

Most of the time I am pretty good at controlling my indignation and keeping my self-righteous rage in check. However I will admit that the reason I have not been to this show for a while is that I was banned from going for at least a year by my dear wife. We were at the show with some friends, formally from the UK. My friend Graham and I were looking at a drawer unit that I was interested in and I was seeing if the drawers were all in working order. The dealer said “It looks like we have a couple of yankers here” and I thought he said “s”. There was a bit of confusion as to whether I actually grabbed the fellow by the front of his shirt or not...just to make a point mind you. Graham, a quick thinking East Ender, was between us before anything else could happen, but I think I made my point. So now I keep my distance and regarding the over- priced fakes and I just think, “Are you kidding, no really are you kidding!”

Let’s hear from the rest of the membership regarding their collecting experiences over the summer.

Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary:

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Regards

 

Brian

 

 

 

 

Brian Wolfe

Femoraliaphobia

I might be famous as the one person to start a phobia all by myself and I have deemed it to be Femoraliaphobia.

For years one of my many obsessions which includes a need to check the weather forecast, always knowing what time it is and the need to have everything in neat rows has been to create drawers in everything I build in the shop. This coming year I plan to build another kitchen table, this time longer than the eight foot one we presently have, at least a twelve footer, and I’ve included drawers in the drawing. Years ago my Amish ancestors always included a drawer in the end of the table, where the elder sat this, I have been told, was a Bible drawer. I’m thinking silver ware etc. but still a functional and quite practical application, even if I do say so myself.

While on the topic of the Bible, it says in the Good Book “...go forth and multiply...”. We had five children, all married and in the process of adding to the population of the world. One would think that an eight foot long table should suffice but at times I think the kids are taking the Bible a bit too literally; this has caused the need for a longer, twelve foot table. Of course not only do I digress from the subject of this blog but I do so in jest.

Yes, I’ll put drawers in anything and everywhere I can. I once built a table for one of the washrooms that fit in between the wall and the bathroom vanity. My wife was less than impressed to find that not only was there a drawer in the front of the table there was one in each end as well, even though they could never be pulled out due to the wall on one side and the vanity on the other. She of course needed to know why; she is a bit of a “needy” woman, always needing to know why, in her words, “would anyone in any imaginable universe even think of doing ...(fill in the blank)?” My answer is always to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary in that I did it because I could. This makes me once again digress with the thoughts of Sir Edmund Hillary at the summit of Everest and never having his photo taken to commemorate the event. He took a photo of his Sherpa holding his ice axe but never had his own photo taken. Did he have fears that Tenzing Norgay would take off with the camera and run to the nearest pawn shop? I suppose one could argue that there may have been a pawn shop as close as 29,029 feet away, albeit straight down. You really need to work on those trust issues Sir Edmund.

Sorry for the side tracking, I’m back now. I believe that most of the world’s problems revolves around drawers, either the over abundance of them or the lack of drawers in some cases. In the past some countries obviously had too many drawers and found most were empty. Hannibal is a good example, too many drawers and not enough to fill them, so he went to Rome because they had more things than drawers to put them in and brought stuff back for the drawers of Carthage. Everyone was happy until the cabinet makers of Rome made more drawers and Rome wanted their things back and therefore went to Carthage to get their stuff back to fill their new drawers. They liked Carthage so much they stayed in the area after they applied salt to the lands where the city used to exist, as a biodegradable weed control, or so I surmise.

Almost everything should be kept or could be kept in drawers. Socks, in drawers; silverware, in drawers; handguns, in drawers; cats, well perhaps not everything. I like to keep most of my collection in drawers as to display all of it in display cases would take up the whole house, seriously. So as I finished up the second drawer cabinet of the year my dear wife expressed a deep concern about my obsessive behaviour. She thinks I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is sheer madness because first of all it should be CDO because that is the correct order the letters should be in, and secondly, ... alright I don’t really have an argument. I think she is the one with physiological problems and I have even come up with a clinical term for it, Femoraliaphobia; a fear of drawers. Her argument is that as soon as I build more drawer cabinets I can’t stand not filling them and that starts the collecting mania once again. Yah, like collecting could ever be considered a mania; sometime I wonder why I even try to have a conversation with her. Women! They’re always bringing reason and common sense into every discussion.

Just to prove her wrong I went into the study, at her request, and counted the number of drawers holding my collection. I only have 199 drawers, all in beautiful neat rows. It’s not like I have 200 drawers or anything, now that might be considered obsessive. Not by me mind, but by some.

So there you have it. I may have accidently caused my wife to develop Femoraliaphobia. If she decides to seek help I can build her some drawers to keep the files in, after all most things should be kept in drawers.

I’m off to surf eBay now as I noticed there were some empty drawers in one cabinet.

Keep smiling and never stop collecting.

Regards
Brian



Brian Wolfe

'Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

 

Ho, ho, ho, here we go again with the annual season seemingly created to make a cynic’s life nearly effortless.  It’s a little over a week before Christmas and the orders placed with my cabinet shop with expectations of them being completed before that day of gift giving nearly realized.  Which brings me to my first observation; I call them “observations” in a desperate attempt to avoid the term “cynicisms”.

 

Approximately a month ago the rock music station I have tuned into in the shop announced that they would be playing Christmas tunes 24/7 until Christmas Day.  Strange that the disc jockey was able to reveal that information with an apparent air of pride.  True I will be deprived of the songs by that delightful Meghan Trainor  constantly telling the world that “It’s All About the Bass (no treble)” and Elle King bragging about her “Ex’s & Oh’s”. They prove that slightly plus sized blonde white girls can make gimmicky music as well as any skinny inner city inked gang banger/biker babe type.  I first heard about these two particular tunes when our daughter related a story that our six and eight year old grand-daughters took their i-pods to Sunday school and suggested that these would be great song to perform at the annual Christmas concert.  Apparently the most disturbing aspect, at least for their pastor, was when our six year old grand-daughter taught the words and dance moves to “All about the Base” to the other little girls of the class.  Check out the video on the internet.  Another thing I discovered was that this story was NOT FUNNY and my apparent amusement upon hearing the story was a bad influence on our grand-daughters.  To think, last year the songs and dance numbers were all from the cartoon “Frozen” now even their five year old is “All about the Base”.

 

Back to the radio music.  Over a month of Christmas music?  Really?  Ok, I like Christmas music at least as much as the next Ebenezer but surely even the most accepting Who in Whoville has his or her limits.  One more version of “Baby Its Cold Outside” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I’m going to lose my egg nog.  Then there’s Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Cumin’ To Town”, where he comes out with his condescending monologue asking if the band and audience has been good this year.  I’ve been a musician and the chances of that or any band being “good” all year is about as high as Frosty the Snowman tending a blast furnace located in the Amazon Basin.  Perhaps the worst of the lot is John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas” (War is Over).  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful song written by one of the greatest musicians of our time.  But listen to the lyrics, if you dare.  The words can make the most charitable person in the world feel like he or she has burned down the orphanage and sent the children to a Siberian gulag in order to construct a bordello on the former shelter’s site. 

 

Last week I took my musically inclined if not slightly inappropriate grand-daughters to the mall to visit the patron saint of retail sales, the one and only Santa Clause.  He happens to be appearing there in person for the next couple of weeks, so don’t forget to tip your waitress. Photos with the old gent from the North Pole cost $10.00 each but he certainly earned it  when the youngest (five year old) grand-daughter, after asking for a sleigh for her American Doll, said that “mommy says she would like anything this year as long as it comes from La Senza.  So apparently Santa’s face can get as red as Rudolph’s nose.   Actually our daughter’s face was a glowing shade of red as well when her little angle pointed her out to be sure Saint Nick knew who to deliver the “delicates” to, along with a proud thumbs up with her other hand.  To be honest that’s not the worse gesture she can make with one of her digits, but that’s another story.  It’s our daughter’s own fault in teaching the girls to think of others. There was a fellow set up in the aisle selling crafts at the mall.  One of the items was “repurposed” light bulbs painted green, with a Santa’s cap and the face of the cartoon character the Grinch pained on them.  He said that children really liked these and they would make great gifts for our grand-daughters.  Who, besides Sweeny Todd, would give any little child a glass light bulb as a gift, let alone the three Chaos Sisters?  I call them “the Chaos Sisters” for several reasons but at the moment I recall the time when, a few years ago, the then youngest middle grand-daughter accidently pressed 9-1-1 on her mother’s phone.  The police arrived and because our son-in-law, their father, is a fire fighter for the city the police would not leave until the house was “cleared” of any potentially dangerous suspects.  I could write a book...

 

So with that small glimpse into my world I wish you a very Merry Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other celebration) and the Happiest of New Years. At least most of can agree on the New Year... unless you follow the Lunar New Year.  This political correctness thing is tougher than one might think. Well, be happy whoever or whatever you might be, just remember what the Chaos Sisters told their Sunday school class and Pastor, “It’s All About the Base”. ;)

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Applying Lessons from History

 

“I’m so smart” said Homer Simpson, “S-m-r-t”, spelling the word while bragging and at the same time showing the evident lack of intellect.  Perhaps not the best example of multitasking.  While Homer is the “star” of the popular cartoon sit-com this statement reminded me of the multitude of armchair generals surrounding us.  I don’t follow sports, on any level (thereby cementing my status as a “nerd”), but I believe “Monday Morning Quarterback” is the sports equivalent to “Armchair General”.  Both making calls well after the fact and with full knowledge the outcome.  Most so called sports game experts at least actually watch the game in question.  The history expert must draw his or her (yes these irritating people are not gender specific) from the works of others, some of which have as little formal training in the field as…well…me.  Making things worse are those who “were there” and then write histories that favour their own side or in an effort to further their own career and or egos. I won’t mention any names but I believe I have covered that Churchillian practice in an earlier blog.

 

As many of our membership knows the battlefield can be a confusing place.  Perhaps understanding exactly what is taking place at the time is impossible.  Even police actions on what the public sees as a small operation can be a nightmare to organize and orchestrate.  Fire scenes, even without the smoke and noise requires the highest degree of organization.  Then, of course, there is most of the rest of us who would find it difficult to organize a one vehicle funeral procession.  From the days of two forces meeting on the battle field, knowing when to form line to take cannon fire and the order to form square to receive cavalry, to the battle ground of the 20th Century matters only got more and more confusing.  With that in mind let’s first look what was transpiring in France in May, 1940.  The allies were in full retreat from the Germans and heading to Dunkirk with the hope of evacuation to England. 

 

Enter Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt of Army Group A, one of the leaders of the German forces.   As noted above the allies were in full retreat leaving what resembled a debris trail in their wake.  This “debris” included vehicles, artillery pieces, heavy machineguns and everything except light arms which, to the credit of the soldiers and their training, they had retained.  With the German army supported by the Luftwaffe prospects looked dim for the allies.  Suddenly the German forces were ordered, by their commander Generaloberst von Rundstedt, to halt.  At first history would record this as an order coming directly from Hitler but later it would be found that Hitler had merely confirmed the initial order issued by von Rundstedt.  Why would the General order a halt of his forces?   We may never know so let’s speculate; as that’s what armchair generals do best.  History may have taught the General that outstripping one’s supply lines plus your supporting infantry, thereby leaving the possibility of the enemy exercising a flanking maneuver, was a real threat.  We, here in the future, know that allies were devoid of any heavy equipment and armament, however that may not have been as obvious to the German leader back in the day.  I do think it safe to make the assumption that had the Germans not halted when they did the allies would not have had time to evacuate.  This assumption is made completely ignoring the sacrifice of the brave French soldiers who fought a rear guard action against the Germans further slowing their advance. That action and any other stalling actions by the allies, had the events unfolded in any manner as they did, may have indeed resulted in the evacuation taking place to one degree or another. 

 

Stepping back in time, yet staying with the French, let’s look at some of the military decisions made by them based on of centuries of warfare. The French are an intellectual lot and have, through history been at the leading edge in the areas of art, science and military, to name a few.  Since the dawn of the medieval times, and even before then, the French have won and lost battles and even wars using massed armies.  The Hundred Years War, Franco Prussian War and the Napoleonic Wars, all employed massed armies, whether France was the victor or the defeated the lesson that massed armies was the “answer” to successful military tactics was driven home. This being the case it is no surprise that the response to The German Schlieffen Plan, a plan to encircle Paris at the outbreak of a war in the early part of the twentieth century was France’s Plan Seventeen.  Plan Seventeen was a plan where the French would attack, with a massed army, due east straight toward Berlin.  Due to the resistance by the Low Countries to the German advance and the failure of the Germans to implement the Schlieffen Plan with the suggested number of regiments the advance was turned well short of Paris.  This left the familiar two massed armies facing one another but this time with advanced weapons of war, i.e. long range rifles and not smooth bore muskets and rapid firing machineguns.  The result, the trenches of the First World War.  After centuries of massed armies meeting on the field battle something relatively new.  Sadly the practice of employing massed armies lingered on in the tactics supported by the leaders of the German and the allied militaries. Even though the static form of trench warfare was broken and the war ended in fluid tactics the French noted that the massed army of the Germans was stopped in its tracks by trenches, a form of fortification, so-to-speak.  Between the wars the French dug in along their frontier with the development of the Maginot Line.  Once again it would appear that an attempt was made, in this case by the French, to learn from the past.  Germany did, however, take lessons from the tactics used at the end of the War and developed the Blitzkrieg to great success. We know how well the Maginot line held up to the fluidity of “lighting war”.

 

At this point, in wrapping up, I allude to the original theme of this series, “Can we learn from history?”  Looks like a rather hit and miss proposition at best, relying, like in so many campaigns through the millenniums, on luck.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Change

As time passes I find things that were considered common place have changed while I was distracted by life in general.  At one time I would question why I was here and what my purpose for being was.  In other words, I was questioning my existence and place in the universe.  This, of course, was a deep philosophical question. Today as I age I find the question remains the same but seems to arise every time I enter another room.  Now no longer a deep philosophical question it has become a matter of, “I know that I was looking for something when I entered the office, but I’ll be dammed if I can remember what it was.”  The other day I returned from picking up some groceries and said something regarding the cashier to the effect that “the girl at the store was checking me out and...” In the early part of my life this beginning of the statement might have raised an eyebrow by my wife as to why a girl was checking me out.  Now days such accidental double meaning statements go unnoticed as she knows no “girl” in her right mind would bother to “check me out”.  In a way today is a lot less stressful albeit much harder on my male ego.  On Family Day (a holiday here in Ontario in February) I walked into the living room and simply inquired as to what the day’s weather was like.  A conversation starter; nothing more.  Four of the six daughters and sons-in-law took out their

I-phones and announced the state of the present weather even though a glance out of the front window would have given them the same information; how things have changed. I am definitely not a big fan of change, finding comfort in the familiar, and the linear.

 

When I was a youth I liked to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) as often as possible.  There I could lose myself in row upon row of displayed items from Archaeopteryx to Zacanthoides, Archeology to Zoology.  Fossils and dinosaurs displayed row upon row all ever so neat and carefully labeled.  The Ancient Roman section had tables in two rows on which was displayed hundreds if not thousands of coins mounted on slanted bases and covered with what would best be described as  long glass tent-shaped panes of glass in frames which resembled table mounted green houses.  Again row after row all neatly labeled.  I used to like the section with animals all prepared to the highest level of the art of taxidermy and the Indigenous Peoples exhibit displayed with their tools and in a setting that looked like their camp sites.  I’m sure these were artistically made mannequins though I told my brother that they were indeed real stuffed people. To this I added that I saw a sign stating that they were looking for an example of a “little brother” to stuff and I had entered his name as a candidate.  I recall this led to several sleepless nights for him and my mother, and no end of satisfaction for me.  My poor mother; I must have been an intolerable child.

 

This was my world, at least when I could arrange to be there as it was several hours from the town where I was doomed to reside.  It’s located in a cultural wasteland where academia was routed out and burned at the stake for the witchcraft it was.  Of course this was simply the observations of a child to his surroundings.  As an adult, looking back through the haze of time, I realize that no one actually routed out academia to burn at the stake; they would have much more likely thrown the concept into a burlap bag and drowned it in the river followed by crazed dancing around a huge bonfire. 

 

However I do digress; a privilege claimed by and reserved for the elderly. 

 

A number of years had passed from my last visit to the ROM caused by marriage and raising a family and other less worthwhile activities.  When I once again paid a visit to my former sanctuary the place had undergone a transformation.  I suppose that I should have not been surprised as I too have not remained the same person I had been decades before.  In place of the neat rows placed in displays one room adjoining another in a manner not unlike some series of above ground catacombs was something I was not prepared to see.  It now looked like a department store-front with displays akin to the talents of a window dresser.  In one large case there was exhibited medieval armour alongside an example of textiles from the Ming Dynasty, on the floor of the display rested a large skull of a carnivore from the Cretaceous Period and to add insult to injury a pair of muskets rested against the skull. If Father Time had cleaned out his basement then this could very well be the dumpster into which he was depositing his junk.

 

It was evident that what has happened is that they are now catering to a different target audience.  Being situated on the campus of the University of Toronto they most likely were geared in the past to the academia of the University both staff and students.  Now they are aiming at a wider market and with that new direction they need to entertain as much and possibly more than just educate.  I don’t have a real problem with this except at times I think the museums have gone from the idea of the grey haired old professor haunting the galleries to Sponge Bob Square Pants leading the children in a song about passing wind. 

 

I suppose this had to come to pass considering the government cut backs in every facet of society where they used to fund these organizations.  The bottom line is now foremost, through necessity; accountants and bean counters before curators.  Are these organizations really turning into profit mongers I pondered and if so, what effect do they have on today’s youth.

 

My last visit to the ROM, after my initial shock, didn’t seem as much like an alien environment as it had initially.  Perhaps it was change itself that was bothering me, clouding my perception and rational.  While in the paleontology section my wife and I witnessed something that nearly brought me to tears of elation.  There a little girl with her parents was looking at a display of trilobites when she said, “Look, a Greenops boothi and there’s a Phacops rana.  Did you know that in Latin rana means frog?”  I wanted to ask if this kid might be up for adoption!  Perhaps things hadn’t changed all that much after all.  There were still little nerds in attendance and the old geezers haunting the galleries were still there, except now that old geezer it was me.  So the need to pay attention to the bottom line has caused museums to be profit mongers through necessity but still educators through desire.  While the asymmetrical displays of specimens and the seeming helter skelter of topics made more sense this time, when I got home I went straight to the study, made some more labels and realigned my medals into even straighter lines than before.  Museums may still be places of education and surrounded by chaos but my world remains regimented and linear. 

 

Somehow there is comfort in that.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

At the Crossroads Again!

For the vast majority of collectors collecting is a passion, an obsession; some would even call it a sickness, however, those are the people whose opinions are completely unworthy of consideration. They are like vegans at a BBQ telling me that if I knew where that steak came from I would not eat it. First of all Ive been a butcher in one of my varied past work experiences so I know where meat comes from and second I tell them that I see myself as a non-practising vegetarian, I support their views in principal but shut up and pass me another hamburger...please (I always like to be civil if not completely supportive). Im also a supporter of PETA as long as that stands for People Eating Tasty Animals. My perfect meal would be steak and shrimp with BBQ chicken as a chaser just to be fair to the animal kingdom in covering all of the bases of earth, sky and water. Im nothing if not fair...oh yes, and civil. By the way I do know that chickens dont fly, or at least not very well.

Now that we have eliminated the opinions of those annoying people who fail to understand us, be they friends or spouses, we can move on, even though, for some unexplained reason I am getting hungry.

When we start out collecting there seems to be a never ending supply of whatever it is that we have decided to base our collection on. Take medals for example, British medals for the sake of this discussion. You go along building a collection until you have almost all of the common specimens then you realize that unless you are collecting to a particular regiment and want to continue adding to your collection the next level is going to be quite expensive. Going from a WWI Trio at around $195.00 to a Crimea 1854 Sebastopol and Turkish Crimea 1855 pair at $795.00 can take ones breath away. (Current prices provided by Tanya Ursual of Medals of War)

So there you are at the proverbial crossroads of collecting (and the theme of this blog) with decisions to make. Do you take the jump to the higher level of collecting, continue on adding the same old/ same old or change collecting direction completely. Ive managed to come to this crossroads many times. Which way to go? Spend more money or change direction? Decisions, decisions, what to do? Lucky for me I can make such decisions easily as I almost always do both. Unfortunately Ive hit quite a bump in the road in that is as disastrous as the feared crossroads. No its not the advancing years of old age because I shall collect until my children pull the plug, pry the keyboard (eBay) from my cold dead fingers and nail the lid on the coffin. Actually my dear wife, Linda, said that one cannot let age determine how much we do or even what we do, within physical limits of course. Mixed Martial Arts is probably not in my future, nor Olympic javelin catching, but as to collecting its full steam ahead and the devil take the hind most.

Im actually out of room in the study for any additions to the collection that take up much space. So I am left with a decision to make, sell some items (like thats going to happen), stop collecting (seriously?), take over a second room (a possibility, one is available) or mainly collect smaller items such as medals. I do have a good deal of drawer space left for medals in the units I have built for that purpose. On the other hand that other room is looking more and more inviting all of the time. As you can see even collectors who have been collecting for a good number of years still find that they are standing at the crossroads from time to time.

I do have some advice for younger collectors, those who may still not be too deeply in debt to the dark side of collecting, to the point where their collection is no longer referred to as eclectic but rather just a jumble and bits of odds and ends.

Always set goals.

Ive always done this, however once a goal has been met and new ones started your collection will still become eclectic but at least not a hoard as might be expected of a hermit living next to the city dump. I set my goal for the British black powder firearms section of the collection starting with the Brown Bess and ending with the pre .303 cal. Martini Henrys. True somewhere along the line I did add a Bren gun and then an A1L1 FN, which still has Linda wondering how those last two fit into the collection. My only argument was that this section of the collection was a Brown Bess to Bren collection which was a great argument (to my way of thinking) until I purchased the FN then that hastily fabricated rational fell apart rather rapidly. Setting goals will assist you in staying on course and will end up costing less than collecting whatever comes along because you can afford it at the time. Its perfectly alright to have more than one goal at any given time within reason. For example you can be collecting British medals, German medals and cavalry swords at the same time but not also antique clown noses, left handed salt and pepper shakers and high compression muffler bearings. Its just too much. Keep it simple and focus.

Costs should not set the goal of a collection.

Dont let costs be the determining factor in the area you are collecting. By this I mean dont get to a point where there are still a good number of specimens left to collect but the price is getting too high. Still collect but not as much; were looking at quality/rarity verses quantity. Just because a Military Cross is a lot more money than a BWM should not be the only reason for changing direction. Sure if you are ready for a change then do so but if it is based on the cost then you need to slow down and add a new specimen when you can afford it and dont purchase other material at the same time.

Research, research, research.

Part of your collecting activities should be researching and studying the subject of your chosen field of collecting. There is a wealth of information out there in the form of books and on the internet. Take full advantage of them. Nothing is worse than a fellow with a large collection yet lacking in the knowledge of the history of the items themselves. Studying the background of the item in question will not only build a more interesting collection and a more interesting you but will help to ease the temptation to add more and more lower end items which prevents you from adding the more expensive and crucial items. Soon the addition of knowledge will become as crucial to your collection as the items themselves. Warning: While I said you will become more interesting it will probably only be so to fellow collectors. Dont expect the plebeians to understand.


Beware the Card.

Never and I mean never collect on the card. Credit cards are great and as long as you pay them off monthly everything will be alright. The pit fall is (and the banks are counting on this) if you purchase an item on the credit card then make the minimum payment at months end because there is something else you want you are dancing on a mine field and chances are that you will end up with the nick-name stumpy; a fellow who is always just short of being able to pay the credit card bill.


Disposable income.

This is a tough one and ties into the next and last bit of advice. What is disposable income? Thats the money you have left over after EVERYTHING ELSE in your life has been paid off for the month. Its money you can afford to tie up, perhaps for the rest of your life. True you can always liquidate your collection when the need arrives, if it arrives, but at what loss. Youre probably making most of your purchases at market so when it comes to selling you will most likely be looking at wholesale values. If you need to dump the lot as soon as possible you will not likely get much more than twenty-five cents on the dollar invested. Only a fool thinks that everything he or she touches turns to gold, most of the time when you need to sacrifice a collection what you will realize out of it will be more akin to something you would spread on a garden. A sad but true fact of life.



Theres more to life than your collection.

I do not want to sound like one of, or both of, your parents but far too many collectors end up spending their limited free time on the collection rather than on family and friends. Collections come and go and so will family and friends if you ignore them long enough. This is getting preachy but better you hear it from me than a divorce lawyer.


In summary.

Set some goals, stay the course and remember that there will always be more material out there to collect than there is money to purchase it. Most of all dont forget what is really important in life.

Happy collecting.
Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

Quoth The Raven.

Quoth the Raven Nevermore.

There are times as I sit in my study, usually later in the evening, I feel a bit like the narrator in Poe’s “The Raven”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
''Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.'

The exception being that the raven in my case is a Nazi eagle desk ornament and the “forgotten lore” attestation papers of Canadian and British servicemen of the First World War. Perhaps it is advancing age that makes me more pensive, or simply maudlin, but I start to think about these people listed on the official documents more deeply than simply an addition to the seemingly ever-growing collection. I look at the drawers and drawers (literally drawers and drawers) of medals and the filing cabinet of documents, some supporting the medals collection and some standing as the only record of passed souls and think how much this is like a morgue. The last repository of the earthly remains of soldiers long past. Walls festooned with weapons, the tools of war wielded by men much braver than me and think that it is a shame that this may be all there is left of these heroes.

In some rare cases I have been put in the position of being the custodian of almost all of the family history of a soldier; past into my keeping by people who no longer care about their own roots. A sad comment on humanity as a person without knowledge of their roots is like a ship without a rudder. Still, this lack of concern on their part has allowed me to get to know some of the soldiers on a much deeper level than a simple engraved medal or statistics on an attestation document.

One case involves two brothers who both went to war; one married the other a single man. As fate would have it the married brother never returned. The unmarried brother returned and took over the duties of his brother raising the children and looking after his brother’s wife until the end of their years well into their eighties. One may look upon this today as being a bit odd but it was a different time and responsibility for others seen in a different light. If you were to see the photo of them sitting by the seaside well into their eighties, a true loving couple, you would not criticize their decision. In fact what right do any of us have to pass judgement on those who went through the horrors of the Great War and suffered the grief and losses they experienced?

Another case deals with brothers-in-law, one starting in the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1914 and then being killed in 1918 while serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment. The other, a younger man, earned his Aviation Certificate as a Lieutenant in 1918 and flew as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. After the War he became an aviation engineer designing and developing aircraft through World War Two and well beyond.

The last I will mention in this article concerns a gentleman whose failing marriage found him living in a hotel when he enlisted. Some of the first photos of him, in the collection, show him at work as a mason. Later on we see him just as he arrives in England. In later photos one can see the effect the war is having on him. He is no longer the healthy-looking young man but a gaunt worn out old chap who will die shortly after the last photo that was taken in 1917. Letters to his son and beloved daughter bear no mention of their mother, his estranged wife, a harbinger of the resentment and hatred that was festering in her that would later be spread to the children resulting in their rejection of his very memory. She may have held a great deal of animosity toward her husband however it is evident by the government documentation that this did not extend to her acceptance of the war widows pension. As the years past and the children aged the amount of the pension decreased as did any feelings of good will toward our poor soldier even from his children and eventually his grand children. I purchased his Memorial Cross and BWM from his grand-daughter and then received boxes and boxes of photos and documents dating back well into the mid 1800’s, at no extra cost. The choice I had was to either accept the material or it was going to the land fill (garbage).

In some cases my study has become the repository of the only memories left of these lost souls with me being its curator. Stories cut short by war, others prevented from the opportunity to correct their mistakes in life and other paths changed forever. Stories once investigated, beyond the veneer of the serving soldier, into the deeper aspect of these real people and their personal trials and tribulations begins to forge a bond between researcher and subject. They become a true part of your life and to write their stories brings up a conflict somewhere between the desires to honour their memory and betrayal of a confidence shared.

Looking back at the German eagle stand-in for Poe’s Raven I can’t help but hope its famous statement is a prophecy regarding war - “Nevermore”.

Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

Collecting More but Enjoying It Less?

Up before dawn and after a stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shop back on the road for an hour’s drive. Arriving at the “Tim’s” located in the town or city of your destination, after all, Canadian’s plan their trips in accordance to the location of a handy Tim’s. Fresh coffee in hand you pull into the show’s parking lot and at this early hour there is almost an unlimited choice of parking spaces. Dawn has broke and you find yourself in line, hot coffee in hand to help fight off the cold chill of the morning, awaiting the minutes before the doors will be flung open allowing the flood of eager collectors and hunters to stream in.

Yes, it’s Gun Show Day down Canada way!

An auditorium filled to capacity with dealers and enthusiasts alike. There are guns, swords, knives, medals and sundry equipment in abundance. People talking to people of like interest and you are able to actually pick up an item, unlike the on-line auction houses wares you may have “won”. With a bit of luck and a fair bit of haggling you may be heading home in a few hours with a new treasure to add to your, collection room, war room, Rambo room or study, whatever you call your Sanctum sanctorum.

Gun, militaria and medal shows are tactile and social events filled with sights (no pun intended) and sounds ranging from laughter to argument. Deals made, information and goods exchanged. They are the market places of old where customer met wares, the trading centres so important to the development of our countries and our way of life.

For the past decade I have more or less turned my back on shows opting instead for the ease and convenience of the internet based auction houses such as the famous or infamous eBay. There are others though this is the one I have carried out business with. It hit me a few days ago that while I was collecting a lot more I may, in fact, be enjoying it a lot less.

My mind got to wandering, which it is prone to do now that I am older, of the days when I would go fishing with my childhood buddies. On the lake in our canoes before dawn, listening to the loon song wavering over the still water. A chill in the air and the water feeling like warm tea to the touch; the joking about one of the crew having once stepped in a soft spot in the muskeg and plunging through to the putrid water below, up to his waste, while on portage. Some days the fish would bite and some days it was the mosquitoes, such is the angler’s world and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Then the years passed by, we all got busy with families and careers, some with wives and girl friends, etc. Some got side tracked with divorces when wives met girlfriends. It’s all in the timing you know. Now almost all of my boyhood friends are no longer with us, residing in a much hotter place down below us. In Florida! What were you thinking? Now I go to the supermarket and if I want fish to I pick from a vast array of different fish, both fresh and frozen. I never fail to reach my “quota” and I never provide a snack for those vampires of the insect world. I also don’t talk about the experience as it has become mundane. There is no bragging rights or accusations of exaggerating the length of a fish taken two years hence; and no defending that exaggeration - as we all know it was indeed much shorter than now claimed.

Eventually my mind did return to the topic at hand and I wondered if what has happened to my pursuit of that monster bass, pickerel (walleye), pike or lake trout has happened to my collecting. You don’t have to believe this but about four months ago I swore off eBay and any other on-line auction and started once again to attend miltaria and gun shows. To my amazement the thrill of the “hunt” has returned. The crowd has changed somewhat. The majority are a lot younger and the “old boys” with their gruff exteriors and ample girths have been replaced by...(now this is depressing)...me. The last show turned up a nice little flintlock pistol and I have reacquainted with some of the dealers who are still attending. There is a trade pending involving a Brown Bess and my surplus collectables which would never have happened on eBay.

This may not be the way to go for all collectors, especially the younger collector, trying to build a collection and especially if on a shoestring budget. I’m not bragging but I’ve built a good base collection and I no longer feel the need to add great qualities to the collection. So I am content to pay a bit more and collect fewer items of a bit higher quality. Many of these items are not available on the internet auctions and it is always best if you can handle collectables that are more expensive and rarer.

So for me, I am now collecting less and enjoying it more, a lot more.

Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

The Great and Unavoidable War



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.

Regards
Brian



Brian Wolfe

Remembrance Day, a PPOV

As November 11 and Remembrance Day approaches many people start to think, for the first time in a year, of the sacrifices so many have and are making for their nations. For those of us in the collecting field there is no need to be reminded of this as I believe we are more than a little aware of what has been given up so that we may enjoy our freedom. For the sake of this blog I am not talking about those who have or are serving and may be members here, as they are in the moment while most of us have never experienced service, either during a conflict or in times of peace. Before continuing I do want to thank the GMIC members both former and current servicemen and women for your service. I wont mention names as that might embarrass some but you know who you are.

I often wonder just how many people would remember this day, November 11, and what it really means to our way of life if it were not for media coverage and the sale of the poppy. Would we remember such current events as the conflicts in the Middle East if it were not for the nightly news? How many can even begin to name the conflicts since the Korean War? I say this because I wonder how many would jump from the Korean conflict straight to Afghanistan or Iraq missing Viet Nam completely. I speak now of those outside of America, but even that being the case I have to wonder how many Americans go through their day to day routines unaware of the cost of their way of life, and ours for that matter.

I suppose there is a good case to be made for those on the battle field every night and on weekends at their local paint ball field or video game Tour of Duty not being able to remember real conflicts. After all the trauma of seeing your fellow combatants splattered with paint or a video character shot down and having to wait until a new game is started must be hell. Of course I joke, albeit in a vein of sarcastic reality.

Perhaps one of the benefits of there being collectors and students of military history, such as we are, is that we are helping to keep the memory of those who served alive. Even though we may be avoided at parties as that fellow who bores everyone with history it prompts people to at least realize there is a history to be remembered.
Not that the hockey game or baseball scores are not important, (they really arent, I just said that to make the sports jocks feel good), it is history and in this case military history that has shaped our lives today and will for a long time to come.

On November 11, remember.

Regards
Brian

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