When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Cordite And Conkers

1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

“In present circumstances it is felt that school children could give most valuable assistance in collecting the [horse] chestnuts . . .”

What could possibly link the Balfour Declaration with a Board of Education circular urging British youngsters to gather conkers? The answer: cordite, acetone, the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum and the chemist (and ardent Zionist) Chaim Weizmann.

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Lament For Peace

Mary Butts, photographed by Bertram Park

1916: “Not till the end of the war will there be any time for art or love or magic again,” lamented aspiring writer Mary Butts. “Perhaps never.”

Source: Mary Butts, The Journals of Mary Butts, ed. Nathalie Blondel (2002), p. 58

Graves Gets Cold Feet

1915: “I only once refrained from shooting a German,” Robert Graves recalled. “While sniping from a knoll in the support line, where we had a concealed loop-hole, I saw a German, perhaps seven hundred yards away, through my telescopic sights. He was taking a bath in the German third line. I disliked the idea of shooting a naked man, so I handed the rifle to the sergeant with me. ‘Here, take this. You’re a better shot that I am.’ He got him; but I had not stayed to watch.”

Source: Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1982), p. 112

Day In The Country

1913: Motor cars were unwelcome arrivals in the countryside. They hurtled noisily along narrow roads, stirred up clouds of dust, frightened horses, flattened chickens. Angry peasants sometimes scattered nails and broken glass on the roads, or pelted cars with stones, or blocked their way with ropes or barricades.

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Making Mischief

1912: Eight-year-old Cecil Day-Lewis entered Wilkinson’s prep school in central London. The future poet laureate got to know Nicholas Llewelyn Davies, one of J.M. Barrie’s adopted boys. When Llewelyn Davies took his friend to the playwright’s house in Campden Hill Square, the two youngsters went up to the attic and fired an air gun at pedestrians in the square.

Source: C. Day Lewis, The Buried Day (1960), pp. 72–4

Murder Incorporated

1911: On 11 January, Takács Rozália succeeded in murdering her husband, Takács Lajos. It wasn’t from want of trying; she had already made several attempts. According to his wife, Lajos was a good-for-nothing “alcoholic beast” who regularly mistreated her. His death was the first of a string of murders in the Hungarian village of Nagyrév. The killings were the work not of individuals acting in isolation, but of groups of villagers sharing their murderous expertise. Almost all of the murderers and their accomplices were women. Their victims – four-fifths of them – were men: abusive husbands, unfaithful lovers, elderly and frail fathers-in-law. The preferred means of murder was poisoning with arsenic, which was easily dissolved out of flypapers. Between 1911 and 1929, when the authorities eventually cottoned on that something was amiss, forty or more villagers were poisoned.

Source: Béla Bodó, Tiszazug: A Social History of a Murder Epidemic (2002), chap. 5

God’s Too Busy

1910: Among those taken to see the funeral of Edward VII was Lord Kinnoull’s young daughter. That evening, at bedtime, the girl’s mother asked her whether she had said her prayers. She hadn’t.

“Why not?”

“I don’t mean to say them to-night.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because it won’t be any use, as God will be too busy unpacking King Edward.”

Source: Lord Riddell, More Pages from My Diary 1908–1914 (1934), p. 149

On Guard Against 9/11

1909: Ninety years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Russia’s political police were sufficiently perceptive to realize that aircraft might be used as terrorist weapons, and began to monitor the activities of aviators, would-be aviators and flying clubs.

Source: Charles A. Ruud, Fontanka 16: The Tsar’s Secret Police (1999), p. 70

“A Fairy Tale!”

1908: In German South-West Africa, a coloured worker named Zacharias Lewala, shovelling sand against an embankment in a railway siding, came across a diamond. Lewala’s supervisor, August Stauch, straight away quit his railway job to search for diamonds full-time.

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Not Just For Eating

1907: In 1870, there were 30,000 orange trees in California; 20 years later, there were 1.1 million. At the start of the 20th century, Californian citrus growers ran the risk of producing more oranges than they could sell, and with recently planted trees set to begin bearing fruit, the problem was likely to worsen.

Growers faced a stark choice – reduce supply or increase demand. So, in 1907, the California Fruit Growers Exchange teamed up with Lord & Thomas advertising agency. The growers adopted the name Sunkist for their produce; the advertisers launched energetic sales campaigns and devised snappy slogans.

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Green Girls

André Derain, photographed in about 1903

1906: The young girls of London, André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse, have faces “made to stand out in the misty streets or in the cold calm of English interiors”: “very blond hair, untidily wound up, with plaits tight around a matt-ivory coloured face, with their lips and cheeks lightly tinted pink, which makes the skin green”.

Source: Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen et al., André Derain: The London Paintings (2005), p. 133