Monthly Archives: May 2014

Home, sweet home …

The lapse in posting this last week can be attributed to:

  • Being down in London for the Borough Elections, and seeing Labour sweep Haringey. Nearly 7 a.m. on Friday before the last ward, Muswell Hill, was declared. Worth the wait.
  • Coming back to a major effort by the plasterer, taking down a Victorian ceiling which some clown had stippled with masonry paint (I took it to be Artex).
  • Cupboards being installed in the kitchen alcoves.
  • Keeping the workers in a constant supply of tea and coffee.
  • Foul wet weather, and general lethargy.

SpeccyAnd then!

One of those Joycean epiphanies, when a near coincidence brought illumination.

First it involved catching up with a week-old Spectator.

The joy therein is all the political excreta are well out-of-date, and one can skip straight to the real meat in the reviews and articles. Page 45 was where I found:

Maclehose

Oh, c’mon now, guys! The Spectator? Flashman? They were made for each other. Probably most Speccie readers regard Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE as a trifle pinko, but at least he saw off Horningtoft’s best.

In the midst thereof a couple of sentences:

41dPjFldwqL._SL500_AA300_I was happy to discover that the research for The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers was done with [Fraser’s wife] Kathy in libraries in Dublin. It too has a cover by Barbosa and the two revers are portraits of Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles — a homage typical of Fraser.

Sadly not on my shelf. Mine is the 1989 paperback reprint, not the 1971 original. So I’d have to hope what I’ve dug up (see right) is the original dust-cover.

In passing, the “libraries in Dublin” are acknowledged by Fraser as “the Librarians and library staff at Trinity College, Dublin“, though Glasgow, Carlisle and Douglas, IoM, also get in on the act.

As I recall posting here, the opening paragraph of The Border Reivers tells many a story:

graham-praying-nixon-5At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again; the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes — families who lived and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth’s time — were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers beyond the physical, but there the similarity is strong. 

 Next to the New York Times Sunday book reviews and an interview with Alan Furst.

I suppose my tastes are defined by tracing along the (alphabetic order, it’s an anal thing) fiction shelf beside me here. Fraser and Furst are almost cheek-by-jowl. It’s good to see, then, one nodding to the other:

Whom do you consider your literary heroes?

I was raised on John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Something about this genre — hard-boiled-private-eye-with-heart-of-gold — never failed to take me away from whatever difficulties haunted my daily world to a wonderful land where I was no more than an enthralled spectator. The hero went through hell, but by the last paragraph the bad guy got what was coming to him. Well, good. As a kid I knew it wasn’t always so, but the justice fantasy was addictive.

Skipping ahead some years, my present-day favorite is Harry Flashman, a regimental officer involved in every campaign during the days of the 19th-century British Empire. These are historical novels, and their author, George MacDonald Fraser, with all the rogerings of royal ladies and chases through snow or desert, was a serious historian. I guess the link between Travis McGee and Harry Flashman is that like many readers, I am drawn to extravagant characters who live flamboyant lives — at least in novels.

Indeed. When the house is covered in a pelt of plaster dust, infused by the scent of fresh wood, and dinned by hammering and electric saws, there are a few remaining resorts. The obvious involves several pints of Yorkshire Terrier. Even that can be improved by simultaneous vicarious indulgence in fiction.

Now, what’s this one here …

Barry, Temp Gent

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Filed under Flashman, Literature, New York Times, The Spectator

Yer mouth’s too bloody wide …

If you got to page 19 of The Times, you hit on two royal stories.

Subversion

A cunning sub-editor subscripted these with No disguising the humdrum amid the showmanship, Richard Morrison’s tart review of Così fan tutte at the Coliseum. Don’t entirely get it? Mozart title translates roughly as: “That’s the way they all do it”. Which story is set in … Naples. All coincidental? Ummm … perhaps.

Times

Let me be clearly understood: this is what minor royalty (if we must have them) are for, especially if they, personally, may have had a bit of desert grit in their gusset.

James Bone needs a fact-checker

Let’s start at the head of his piece:

They were at the time unfairly labelled D-Day Dodgers, accused of avoiding the Normandy landings by fighting for the Allies in Italy.

Nancy Astor has always been associated with that slur, which she denied, and which — to be fair — cannot properly be attributed to her. I’m heading that way, though.

There are enough other utterances, on appeasement, on which we can damn Viscountess Astor. Even so, on this particular issue, let us refer to Hansard for 8th June 1945:

Viscountess Nancy Astor (Con, Plymouth Sutton): Could I ask a question? No one has suffered more from rumours than I have. It is German propaganda. People who have not suffered have no idea of German propaganda. I wish something could be done about it.

Mr Henry Charleton (Lab, Leeds, South): Goebbels is missing now, anyway.

Mr Gerald Palmer (Con, Winchester): I was very glad to see the denial, which was given full publicity in the “Union Jack,” that the Noble Lady had ever been responsible for inventing the “D-Day Dodger” phrase. Anyway, the denial did get very good publicity.

A source?

Which is one convenient explanation. Alternatively the Dundee-based paper, The Sunday Post16 April 2006, had a Q&A on the origin of the expression:

Question: Is there any proof that Lady Astor referred to the British troops in Italy as ‘D-Day Dodgers’, or was this purely German propaganda?” 

Answer: Yes, she did use the expression. She received a letter in 1944 from a disillusioned British soldier in Italy who was among those who felt the efforts of servicemen not involved in the Normandy campaign were being ignored. He signed it sarcastically, but she apparently failed to appreciate this. It became the subject of a song set to the tune of ‘Lili Marlene’.

The Daily Telegraph rendering of what seems to be the same pooled account as James Bone’s has this:

Lord Astor … insisted that the story was entirely apocryphal and that it was unfair to attribute the remarks to Lady Astor, his great-aunt.

“She always denied she ever made that remark. In fact she swore to her dying day that she never said it.

“She had three sons and four nephews fighting in the war, including in Italy, so it seems very odd that she would say such a thing. The story just doesn’t make sense. My father, her nephew, was out here with the Household Cavalry. He was captured and spent nearly a year in a POW camp. My great aunt would hardly have accused him of being a D-Day Dodger.

“My father always told me that a constituent of hers wrote to her, jokingly saying he was a D-Day Dodger. She then mentioned it to someone. Perhaps that is where it came from.”

James Bone’s piece sums it up:

Matthew Mackinnon-Pattison, 89, from Appleby, Cumbria, who fought at Monte Cassino with the First Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders, said: “We believe that Lady Astor is the one who called us D-Day Dodgers, because her son had got himself into a spot of trouble in Italy…”

A reet Bobbie dazzler

If I am right, that could also bring us to Robert “Bobbie” Gould Shaw III, Nancy’s son by her first husband, Robert Gould Shaw II. “Bobbie” was homosexual:

UnknownNancy remained closer – on and off – to Bobbie, the child from her first marriage, who turned out to be bisexual, something which [Adrian] Fort [in his biography of Nancy] oddly describes as having a ‘flawed character’. In 1929 Bobbie was forced to retire from the armed forces after being ‘detected with a soldier in conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman’. Two years later, he was charged with ‘importuning a guardsman’, tried at Vine Street Magistrates’ Court and sent to prison. The Astors managed to keep the story out of the papers – Waldorf owned the Observer and Beaverbrook agreed to stop the news appearing in his publications. Nancy wrote to thank him adding that ‘for the first time in years I am really fond of my son.’ For all her intolerance, she accepted Bobbie’s sexuality, remarking that Frank – his long-term boyfriend – was ‘the prettiest of all my children’s girlfriends; the rest of them are just overpainted hussies’.

The 1931 imprisonment was for six months. Bobbie had been an officer in the Blues and Royals (Nancy gave a John Singer Sargent drawing of him in uniform to Bobbie’s partner, Alfred Goodey).

Put together the fragments:

  • Nancy Astor, at this point, was less than coherent,  even invariably embarrassing, as Harold Nicolson’s memoir records.
  • The Cliveden Set’s flirtations with Ribbentrop, and their prevailing attitudes of appeasement, were well known, and profoundly unpopular.
  • Whether Bobbie was the basis for Mr Mackinnon-Pattison’ recollection of “a spot of trouble” may not greatly matter. Even if – and even particularly because — the Astors used influence to keep the matter out of the papers, gossip is a fine thing. What would be well-known among the officer corps would filter down, corrupted no doubt, to the other ranks.
  • Quite how Captain Gavin Astor, of the Life Guards, fell into German hands in Italy, in 1944, is unclear. Perhaps I should consult Garry O’Connor’s account of these public schoolboys playing at soldiering.

On those grounds, I’d suggest any case against, or defence of Nancy Astor as the originator of “D-Day Dodgers” is, at best, “Unproven”.

The song

James Bone skims over another small matter:

The veterans who fought in Italy have mocked the D-Day Dodger insult in a song, set to the tune of Lili Marlene. A veterans’ group later issued a fake D-Day Dodger medal.

There are two claimants to the authorship of those lyrics.

It feels proper to acknowledge Lance-Sergeant Harry Pynn of the Tank Rescue Section, 19 Army Fire Brigade, as one prime source. This feels very much a “squaddy song”. On the other hand, it was attributed and even claimed by Hamish Henderson.

I’m happy to have Henderson, who seems to have made the Lady Astor connexion, given full credit. Donald Smith, in that appreciation for the Scottish Poetry Library, traces how an artistic hand was at work:

The structure is again cumulative, with the repetition and staged progression essential to the unfolding a song in performance. Humorous irony is kept in play until the last two verses deliver their devastating charge:

Dear Lady Astor, you think you know a lot,
Standing on a platform and talking tommy-rot.
       You, England’s sweetheart and its pride,
       We think your mouth’s too bleeding wide
That’s from your D-Day dodgers – in far off Italy.

Many song-makers might have stopped there in righteous anger, but Henderson adds depth, tragic irony:

Look around the mountains in the mud and rain –
You’ll find the scattered crosses – (there’s some which have no name),
         Heartbreak and toil and suffering gone,
         The boys beneath them slumber on.
Those are the D-Day dodgers who’ll stay in Italy.

the-ian-campbell-folk-group-the-times-they-are-a-changin-transatlanticPerformance

I’ve heard it done many times, and as often as not murdered.

YouTube has several renditions:

  • the Ian Campbell Group’s was probably the first recording I encountered (and I think it’s still in the attic on an Epic 45),
  • the Clancys and Makem version is just too twee,
  • so I’ll settle for Hamish Imlach having a go, if only for the Movietone images:

 

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Filed under Daily Telegraph, folk music, History, Music, Times, World War 2

We’re Morocco Bound

The total shambles that apparently was the UKIP “carnival” in Croydon must delight all connoisseur of political disarray.

I quite liked the Daily Mail‘s first thoughts, but the cherry-on-the-sundae (which fell on a Tuesday this week) was the unsolicited window-licker comment:

We're Morocco bound

Check out Mr Dutton’s declared locality.

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Someday Soon, reprised

Many years ago I was posting on Judy Collins doing Ian Tyson’s Someday Soon. Share with me:

Gets me every time. That YouTube is captioned with all I need to know:

Classic song from 1969 written by Canadian Ian Tyson (Ian & Sylvia) and performed by Judy Collins. She is backed by Buddy Emmons/pedal steel guitar; James Burton/electric guitar; Jim Gordon/Drums; Chris Ethridge/bass; Stephen Stills/guitar and Van Dyke Parks or one of two others on piano. (Credits at end of video)

MI0000020160That’s about as stellar a late ’60s line-up as one might wish to assemble. The date (1969) is clearly wrong, except for the Collins recording. Ian Tyson first did it with his then-wife Sylvia, back in 1964.

Elsewhere I came across that Stills had introduced Collins to the song. Another piece of magic.

A Malcolmian aside

Why does that song work?

Well, it’s a classic ballad. A bit of nostalgia, but essentially the old “loved and lost” theme. You’ll find some things similar all the way back to Child 299:

She’s taen her gown out-ower her arms,
And followed him to Stirling,
And aye the trooper he did say,
‘O turn ye back, my darling.”
‘O when will we twa meet again?
Or when will you me marry?’
‘When rashin rinds grow gay gowd rings,
I winna langer tarry.’

In particular, there’s that seeming very contemporary set-up intro:

There’s a young man that I know,
His age is twenty-one,
Comes from down
In southern Colorado,
Just out of the service
And he’s looking for his fun …

Tyson’s composition goes back to 1964. So the young man‘s service could likely be Vietnam. To cite just one other example, Jimmy Webb’s Galveston, from as late as 1969, was always taken as a Vietnam song.

I’ve frequently wondered whether there was a Ph.D. thesis in “popular music+war”. There must be, somewhere in there, the kind of yearning that made Don’t Fence me In (Cole Porter in 1934, lest we forget) the song of 1944: a very curious amalgam of  slickerdom and pining. Despite that, I see it having certain attributes — perhaps essentially of where and when, shared with Someday Soon.

I find I have the original Ian & Sylvia version on the Big Bastard iTunes back-up. Going back to it, I can see why I wasn’t wholly unimpressed:

  • it lacks any great emotional heat or intensity;
  • it ought to be a girly song, not a close-harmony duo (with Tyson dominating), and Sylvia Tyson is not up to it:

There are various versions of Tyson doing it solo, or as a duo with whatever “star” he was a-guesting.

Still, I find it easy to forgive Tyson, if only for Four Strong Winds (though that one is just to easy to parody)

41HXNP579YLThere’s another reason to rate Tyson’s taste: the duo (though it’s Ian channelling his inner Gordon) beat PPM to Early Morning Rain, now most-easily available through the Vanguard boxed set.

That said, I know which of the many, many versions I’d want played at my wake. Or on the iPod, stuck in a motorway tail-back. It’s those suave, smooth, buttoned-down New Yorkers — and the glitzy one, from 1966:

Hey, Malc, time to bring your witterings to some sort of a conclusion!

Indeed.

And, on mature reflection, I’m almost convinced that, of me, it was Suzy Bogguss who comes close to the immortal Judy on Someday Soon (and, back in 1991, she almost looked the part)Yes, it really does need that bit of steel (a taste I still haven’t fully acquired, Mike Johnson with Bogguss there — I believe — though Buddy Emmons on the Judy Collins version is the real eye-opener and one to match):

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Filed under Cole Porter, folk music, History, Music

To the point

The best (indeed, only really memorable) item in the current New Yorker:

Quarterly

 

 

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Filed under New Yorker, sleaze.

A snippy Kipper

Vignette, [old] York, St Helen’s Square, Saturday lunch-time.

A lady is passing out flyers denouncing UKIP. As, of course, is her democratic right — provided the leaflet is clean, decent, has an imprint, and fulfils the legal requirements. You take one or leave it.

Not good enough for the convinced Kipper who was loudly denouncing here and all her works. Offensively.

It was he, not she, who was blocking the pavement, and making a scene.

___________________________________

Where have I seen  similar phenomenon before?

Well, many times. Many, many times. [Thank you, Dame Celia. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.]

It all began in the Congo Civil War of the early 1960s. The Irish government made one of its first forays into international peacekeeping and despatched a batch of troops to join ONUC.

On 8th November 1960 a platoon of the 33rd Battalion were set upon by a Baluba party. Nine Irish soldiers died. Only eight bodies were recovered immediately.

I remember the parade and the crowds in Dublin’s O’Connell Street — nothing would be seen like it until JFK came to town.

There is nothing queasy about Irish humour at its broadest. It hasn’t really recovered from the excesses of Swift’s satire.

So, “Baluba” went into the Irish political vocabulary — specifically it meant the “culchies” (itself a Dubliner’s derisory term for “agricultural” country folk) who annually turned up at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis to the despair of the polished urban hierarchs.

I hereby declare many Kippers are also “culchies”, and — as seen at their worst last Saturday in York, akin to “Balubas”

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Filed under Fianna Fail, History, Irish politics, politics, UKIP, York

Bad taste alert 2

Now to The Guardian, and a small item, which could be an recommendation for brown corduroy trousers.

It was the use of the word “normally” at the end of this piece that made it for me.

Untitled

 

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Filed under air travel., Guardian, London

Bad taste alert 1

I say: get stuck in!

David Cameron, Prime Minister, House of Commons, 14 May 2014.

And then, on page 35 of The Times, for a moment (before I recognised this was foreign news, and Turkey) I thought we had Ed Miliband taking that advice:

Turkey PM gets stuck in

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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, politics, Times

A phantasma, or a hideous dream

Into every life, it must fall once or twice:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing 
And the first motion, all the interim is 
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: 
The Genius and the mortal instruments 
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then 
The nature of an insurrection.

My moment, balanced on the spiked chains in Front Square of TCD, was the morning of Thursday 25 October, 1962.

An Original Patrick Donald Image

We were all very much aware that US Navy destroyers and the Soviet-chartered Marcula were steaming towards each other, near Cuba. The likelihood of a nuclear strike hung in the air.

Auden on Yeats, and on war

You don’t go through the High School, do Honours English in Irish Leaving Certificate, and enter TCD without Yeats, and — in particular, Easter 1916. Nor, in an Irish dimension, do you escape the politics of that poem.

Wystan Hugh Auden marked the death of Yeats with a homage to Easter 1916:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

A Malcolmian contribution to Lit Crit

A “low dive” on 52nd Street? Must that be the 21 Club? It was where Bogey and Bacall had their first date. It’s  where Hem was in the kitchen, playing hide the sausage with Legs Diamond’s gal. It’s where you’d have found Dorothy Parker, Benchley, Lilian Hellman. To name a few.

And then I came across an E. B. White Comment piece for The New Yorker, precisely date-lined:

SEPTEMBER 2, 1939

This will be one of those mute paragraphs written despite the impossible interim of magazine publication, handed over to a linotyper who has already heard later news. Today is Sunday, August 27th. Perhaps you don’t remember that far back, you who presumably now dwell in a world which is either at peace or at war. It is three o’clock in the morning. The temperature in New York is 70 degrees, sky overcast. The long vigil at the radio is beginning to tell on us. We have been tuned in, off and on, for forty-eight hours, trying to snare intimations of our destiny, as in a butterfly net. Destiny, between musical transcriptions. We still twitch nervously from the likelihood of war at 86 on the dial to the possibility of peace at 100 on the dial. The hours have induced a stupor; we glide from Paris to London to Berlin to Washington—from supposition to supposition, lightly. (But that wasn’t a supposition, that was the Hotel Astor.) The war of nerves, they call it. It is one of those phrases that catch on. Through it all the radio is immense. It is the box we live in. The world seems very close at hand. (“Countless human lives can yet be saved.”) We sit with diners at the darkened tables in the French cafés, we pedal with the cyclists weekending in the beautiful English countryside, we march alongside the German troops approaching the Polish border, we are a schoolboy slipping on his gas mask to take shelter underground from the raid that hasn’t come, we sit at the elbow of Sir Nevile as he presents the message to the British Cabinet (but what does it say?). Hour after hour we experience the debilitating sensation of knowing everything in the world except what we want to know — as a child who listens endlessly to an adult conversation but cannot get the gist, the one word or phrase that would make all clear. The world, on this Sunday morning, seems pleasingly unreal. We’ve been reading (between bulletins) that short story of Tomlinson’s called “Illusion: 1915,” which begins on a summer day in France when the bees were in the limes. But this is Illusion 1939, this radio sandwich on which we chew, two bars of music with an ominous voice in between. And the advertiser, still breaking through: “Have you acquired the safety habit?” Moscow is calling New York. Hello, New York. Let me whisper I love you. They are removing the pictures from the museums. There was a time when the mere nonexistence of war was enough. Not any more. The world is in the odd position of being intellectually opposed to war, spiritually committed to it. That is the leaden note. If war comes, it will be war, and no one wants that. If peace is restored, it will be another arrangement enlarging not simply the German boundary but the Hitler dream. The world knows it can’t win. Let me whisper I love you while we are dancing and the lights are low.

New YorkerI like that for so many reasons:

  • It is nicely constructed prose.
  • It relates to the moment when reality strikes.
  • It is the perfect meditation of a writer trying to anticipate, and bridge the hideous dream between deadline and publication.

Above all, it memorialises the time when The New Yorker grew up. Look at the cover that fronted that issue (right).

I assume it marks the 1939 New York World’s Fair of 1939-40. That had opened on the 150th anniversary of George Washington being inaugurated as first President (and inaugurated in New York, which is an answer to a tricky pub-quiz question). Labor Day is over. It’s back to the daily grind … and where do we take the kids for a day out?

Harold Ross

The problem of The New Yorker of that vintage was its founder, Harold Ross.

who-was-Harold-Ross_277Ross set out — and did so with terrific panache and success — to produce what his 1925 prospectus called a marker of metropolitan life. That meant, as it said on the cover, something East Coast, specifically of and for the Manhattan set, detached, mildly ironic (though not in the harder British sense) in a manner not too serious, and above all well-written. Ross  and his creation, were something (liberal — though we would have needed that qualification in 1930s New York) Republican — which amounted to minimally politically, and far from socially conscious, except in a mild de haut en bas mannerism.

If nothing else, Ross was the exponent of the exiguous comma. Oh, and the creator of the Private Eye staple, “Who he?”

Elwyn Brooks White

220px-Elements_of_Style_coverWe speak here of the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, not to mention half of that Cornellian style-bible The Elements of Style.

White earned his weekly crust being the anonymous writer of The New Yorker‘s Comment.

You have to look hard to see White’s politics showing through Ross’s manner not too serious. It is there. White noticed the arrival of Der Führer:

Thus in a single day’s developments in Germany we go back a thousand years into the dark.

The White Comment, published on 2nd September 1939, but written — as we saw — a week earlier, marks when The New Yorker became fully aware of the darker, nastier, bigger world.

So, what prompted this, Malcolm?

Apart from the distant, but imminent noises off remembered from Cuba Week? Apart from history repeating itself with the antique practices of female slave-taking in Nigeria? Apart from a hideous parallel of pre-war Sudentenland and the eastern Ukraine?

Well, … nobody takes Eurovision and its song-contest seriously, I trust.

Still, for a few days it held its undeserved place in the newspaper columns, including the likes that cross the threshold of Redfellow Cott.

So there was this name: Molly Smitten-Downes (and, as far as I can decode the “voting”, she definitely was).

Why did that name ring some kind of bell?

Ah! Yes! What I was hearing, but not reading, was “Mollie Panter-Downes”, the novelist and short-story writer. Also, for many decades, The New Yorker‘s voice of English sanity. From 1939, the outbreak of war, until the 1980s, Mollie Panter-Downes had a regular column Letter from London. From her Surrey pig-farm she gave a view of Dunkirk and the Blitz. Her grasp of the wry, spiky-almost-acid New Yorker tone was remarkable:

london-war-notesIncidentally, the announcements of the first air-raid deaths are beginning to appear in the obituary columns of the morning papers. No mention is made of the cause of death, but the conventional phrase ‘very suddenly’ is always used. Thousands of men, women, and children are scheduled to die very suddenly, without any particular notice being taken of them in the obituary columns.

That Virago book (see thumbnail, right, seems to have gone out-of-print remarkably quickly. In stead one may have to relay on her collection, Good Evening, Mrs Craven.

How to cope with a phantasma, or a hideous dream

I once asked my mother what it was like to live, and (as she did, as a midwife in Greenwich) work through the London Blitz.

All I got was, “You just got on with it”.

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Filed under History, London, New Yorker, reading, World War 2

More armchair generalling

That politics.ie First World war thread is still unwinding, and provoked this as my latest response:

@ APettigrew92, 02:45 PM

I read somewhere that Austro-Hungarian/German troops were affected more due to malnutrition caused by the food shortage.

That sped up the surrender apparently. That and the fear of the Americans using their huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities along the border.

Two issues there:

  • Was the Allied blockade successful?
  • Can anyone back up that Americans using their huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities along the border?

First, the blockade.

It only became effective after the US entered the War, with American warships involved in patrol, and the US forcing the imposition of quotas on neutrals. So the Swiss entered an agreement with the Allies towards the end of 1917. When the Dutch and the Scandinavians stood out against imposed quotas, they were totally embargoed, and were dependent on goodwill aid. Norway came into line in April 1918; Sweden in May 1918; Denmark in Setember 1918. The Netherlands remained under blockade until later in 1919.

I’d not like to be prescriptive as to how the blockade worked beyond the northern zone (I haven’t the data). The German 1914 economy depended on about 20% imports, and about 18% exports. A cut-back in exports facilitated increased production of military materials. Imports were compensated by the development of ersatz substitutes, and by increased imports through neutral neighbours.

Second, gas.

Where did those huge gas reserves to start gassing German cities come form?

Despite the hysteria, after initial deployments in 1915, gas and chemical agents were never a major weapon (their use was fatal in only about 3% of casualties). They became a kind of “terrorist” weapon: both sides were moving towards gas-filling about a third of their artillery shells by the Armistice. The German Army was the most prolific gasser (about 68,000 tons), with the French (about 36,000 tons) and the British (about 25,000 tons) somewhere behind. I have no figures for American gas-deployments, but — see below— believe they were inconsiderable; perhaps APettigrew92 can help.

The best I can come up with is:

Lewisite

When the US declared war (2 April 1917), the Bureau of Mines recruited laboratories to investigate gas and chemical weapons, These were brought under full military control in June 1918 as the Chemical Warfare Service, soon employing a tenth of all US chemists.

Winford Lee Lewis became director of the Offensive Branch of the Chemical Warfare Service, and began weaponising arsenic trichloride. Officially this work was terminated. Unofficially, production of Lewisite (a.k.a. ‘Methyl’ and “G-34′) continued. The US commander of the Expeditionary Force’s Chemical Weapons Branch was Gen. Amos Fries. He it was who conceived delivering Lewisite from aircraft, hence the post-war moniker “The Dew of Death”.

By the Armistice perhaps 150 tons of Lewisite had been produced. That may have been despatched to Europe. And thatmay have been scuttled at sea with the Armistice. The whole anecdote is unconvincing, not least because …

I’m trying to imagine how any gas or chemical agent could have been deployed against German cities along the border. Consider the Western Front, in mid-1918:

Where are those German cities along the border? I’m trying to imagine Foch (whose relations with Pershing were not of the best) giving the OK to attacks on “German” cities in Alsace-Lorraine. Beyond that, any major target would be in the Rhineland.

[Yes: I’m open to criticism, commentary and contradiction on all of that.]

 

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