When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1910s

Rude Awakening

Sergei Diaghilev, portrayed by Valentin Serov

1917: Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau travelled to Rome in February to cooperate with Sergei Diaghilev on the ballet Parade. Diaghilev insisted on showing them the sights of the city. On the evening of 21 February they went to the circus. Diaghilev fell asleep, but woke with a start when an elephant placed its feet on his knees.

Source: Jean Cocteau, Lettres à sa Mère, I: 1898–1918 (1989), p. 297

Target Practice

1916: When the British attack lost momentum on the first day of the battle of the Somme, Lieutenant R.A. Heptonstall found himself stranded in no man’s land. “From my shell hole I could see a dead man propped up against the German wire in a sitting position.” A German rifleman whiled away the time taking pot shots at the corpse “until his head was completely shot away”.

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (1988), p. 218

Drinking To Victory

Ngiam Tong Boon’s contribution to the war effort, photographed by Paul Fenton

1915: Behind the Long Bar of Raffles Hotel, in Singapore, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon reputedly created – his personal contribution to the war effort – the Singapore Sling cocktail.

Source: Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (1981), p. 122

Cannibals And Barbarians

Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski photographed with inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands in 1917 or 1918

1914: Bronisław Malinowski made better use of the war years than he would have done slopping about in a trench in Galicia or the Carpathians. While conducting anthropological research in Papua and the nearby Trobriand Islands he met an old cannibal who had heard of the conflict raging in Europe. “What he was most curious to know was how we Europeans managed to eat such enormous quantities of human flesh, as the casualties of a battle seemed to imply. When I told him indignantly that Europeans do not eat their slain foes, he looked at me with real horror and asked me what sort of barbarians we were to kill without any real object.”

Source: Julius E. Lips, The Savage Hits Back or the White Man through Native Eyes (1937), p. vii

“At The Foot Of The Cliffs I Met An Old Man”

1913: “At the foot of the cliffs,” W.N.P. Barbellion wrote in his journal on 27 June, “[I] met an old man gathering sticks. As he ambled along dropping sticks into a long sack he called out casually, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ in the tone of voice in which one would say, ‘I think we shall have some rain before night.’ ‘Aye, aye,’ came the answer without hesitation from a boy lying on his back in the sands a few yards distant, ‘and that He died to save me.’

“Life is full of surprises like this. . . . Your own gardener will one day look over his rake and give you the correct chemical formula for carbonic acid gas. I met a postman once reading Shelley as he walked his rounds.”

Source: W.N.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man and A Last Diary (1984), pp. 91–2

Showing Promise

1912: Writing home on 3 March, 8-year-old Eric Blair regaled his mother with a breathless account of his exploits on the school football field: “I was goalkeeper all the second halh, and they only got past the half-line twise while I was in goal but both of those times it nearly a goal and I had to be jolly quick to pick them up and kick them, because most of the chaps the other side were in aufel rats and they were runing at me like angry dogs”. (Not quite Orwell, not yet, but it was a promising start.)

Source: George Orwell, The Complete Works of George Orwell, X: A Kind of Compulsion 1903–1936, ed. Peter Davison (1998), pp. 13–14

Tall Story

1911: The first escalator on the London Underground opened at Earl’s Court station on 4 October. A man with a wooden leg, William “Bumper” Harris, was employed to ride up and down the newfangled device to give timid travellers the confidence to use it. Hmm. Yes.

Source: Christian Wolmar, The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground was Built and How It Changed the City Forever (2004), p. 182; email from London Transport Museum, 12 March 2009

“My Only Happiness”

Hawley Harvey Crippen

1910: “As I face eternity, I say that Ethel LeNeve has loved me as few women love men,” declared “Dr.” Hawley Harvey Crippen in an emotional “farewell letter to the world”. Writing from Pentonville Prison in London, four days before he was hanged for the murder of his wife, Crippen professed that “the love of Ethel LeNeve has been the best thing in my life – my only happiness – and that in return for that great gift I have been inspired with a greater kindness towards my fellow-beings, and with a greater desire to do good.”

Source: Tom Cullen, Crippen: The Mild Murderer (1988), pp. 217–18

Viscous Killer Strikes In Boston

The aftermath of Boston’s molasses disaster

1919: The Boston molasses flood of 1919 would have been comical, were it not for the resulting deaths, injuries and destruction. Shortly after midday on 15 January, a huge molasses storage tank near the Boston waterfront burst. One might have expected the viscous liquid to have oozed from the tank and to have slowly spread out to form a gooey brown lake. In fact, the molasses surged out in a wave almost as high as a house, moving faster than a man could run. Nearby buildings were swept off their foundations. People were crushed or smothered. Twenty-one died and 150 were injured.

Source: http://edp.org/molpark.htm

“One Of The Best”

1918: The epitaph to Second Lieutenant W.L. Smart of the Lancashire Fusiliers consoles us that “to live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die”. Subaltern Smart was killed on 29 August 1918 and is buried at the Mory Street cemetery south of Arras. Personal inscriptions in the British military cemeteries of France and Belgium convey immense grief and tenderness. The inscription on the nearby grave of Private T.M. Finn of the Irish Guards, killed two days earlier, reads: “I loved him in life how I love him in death”. Serjeant S. Bates of the Manchester Regiment, who died on 29 March 1917 at the age of 20, is remembered simply and touchingly as “one of the best”.

Source: Personal diary

Patriotic Mush

1916: War correspondent William Beach Thomas churned out patriotic mush for the Daily Mail. In a dispatch on 22 November, he asserted that the way the body of a British soldier lay on the ground was evidence of an innate moral superiority: “As he lies on the field he looks more quietly faithful, more simply steadfast than others.” Thomas even detected a certain modesty, “as if he had taken care while he died that there should be no parade in his bearing, no heroics in his posture.”

Source: Daily Mail, 22 November 1916

Foreign Influence

1915: Generations of Russian tsars marrying German or Danish princesses had reduced the proportion of Russian blood in the imperial veins close to vanishing point. Maurice Paléologue, the French ambassador in Petrograd, calculated that for Nicholas II the figure was one part in 128, and for the tsarevitch, Alexis, one part in 256.

Source: Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs (1923), vol. I, pp. 324–5

Last Of The Passenger Pigeons

Male and female passenger pigeons, depicted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

1914: Passenger pigeons once accounted for two-fifths of land birds in the United States: between 3 and 5 billion birds. The wildlife artist John James Audubon, who in 1813 witnessed their autumn migration, marvelled at the “countless multitudes” that crowded the skies above Kentucky for three days in a row. “The air was literally filled with Pigeons;” he wrote, “the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse.”

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Verboten!

1913: Kaiser Wilhelm bristled at the popularity of the tango. He dismissed it as the “child of the gutter” (“das Rinnsteinkind”) and from 20 November German officers in uniform were forbidden to dance it.

Source: www.spiegel.de/einestages/
kalenderblatt-20-11-1913-a-948860.html

Deadly Shower

1911: On the morning of 28 June, a shower of stones that fell from the sky near Alexandria, in Egypt, turned out to be fragments of a meteorite from Mars. An Arabic newspaper reported that one of the stones struck and killed a dog. Hmm. Yes. I wonder.

Source: www.meteoritestudies.com/
protected_el_nakh1.htm

“Out Of The Vents Rushed Steam And Oil And Air”

Tug alongside a scuttled German destroyer at Scapa Flow

1919: For the children of Stromness, in the Orkneys, conditions on 21 June were ideal for their school outing – a warm, windless day, a clear sky, a gentle swell on the sea. Once the children had embarked on the Flying Kestrel, the Admiralty tender cast off and steamed out into Scapa Flow, past the long lines of German warships interned there since the armistice.

“We came face to face with the German Fleet, some of them huge battleships that made our own vessel look ridiculous,” recalled James Taylor, one of the schoolchildren. He was 15 years old; 20 years later he wrote a vivid account of what happened next.

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“Good English Tea”

1918: As the First World War drew to a close, the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, abdicated and fled the country. On 11 November he arrived at Amerongen, in the Netherlands. For someone who had just lost a world war and an empire, and faced a long exile, he was in buoyant mood. He rubbed his hands together and said, “Now give me a cup of real, good English tea.”

Source: Norah Bentinck, The Ex-Kaiser in Exile (1921), p. 23

Royal Chuckle

1917: George V’s decision to change the royal family’s name from the distinctly un-British Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor raised a chuckle in Germany, where Kaiser Wilhelm II announced he was going to the theatre to watch The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Source: Elizabeth Longford, The Royal House of Windsor (1984), pp. 20–3

Saving San Diego

1916: Threatened by a severe water shortage, San Diego resorted to a rainmaker to fill its reservoirs. Charles Hatfield promised that for $10,000 he would fill the city’s Morena dam; if no rain fell, he wouldn’t get a cent.

Hatfield began work on New Year’s Day. Four days later, it began to rain – gently at first, and then heavier, and then in torrents. Too little rain became too much. Rivers broke their banks, bridges collapsed, roads and railway lines were cut, houses floated away.

When Hatfield demanded his $10,000, the city council refused to pay up and blamed him for the widespread damage. Hatfield filed a suit against the city, but never got his money.

Source: www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/
1970/january/hatfield/

Rasputin’s Comb

Portrait of Rasputin by Yuriy Annenkov

1915: The marriage of Nicholas II and Alexandra was affectionate, though “Sunny” clearly dominated weak-willed “Nicky”. To stiffen the tsar’s resolve before meeting ministers, she nagged him to part his hair with Grigori Rasputin’s comb.

Source: Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra: April 1914–March 1917, ed. Joseph T. Fuhrmann (1999), pp. 237, 239

Dead Giveaway

1914: Lieutenant Erwin Rommel, in action for the first time, noticed the August sun glinting on the metal cooking pots on top of the tall packs of the French infantry as they tramped through fields of not-yet-harvested grain to where he waited in ambush.

Source: Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks (2006), p. 11

Nuisance Birds

1913: Gamekeepers on shooting estates in England and Scotland destroyed all birds and animals that in any way posed a threat to pheasants and their chicks.

In Adventures Among Birds, W.H. Hudson recalled a head keeper who slaughtered woodpeckers, blackbirds and thrushes because “he was not going to have the place swarming with birds that were no good for anything, and were always eating the pheasants’ food”; another keeper “shot all the nightingales because their singing kept the pheasants awake at night”.

Source: W.H. Hudson, Adventures Among Birds (1913), pp. 88, 89

Common pheasant, photographed by Dick Daniels

Boating Mishap

1912: George Lyttelton was dining with the headmaster of Eton when the provost’s wife came in with news that the Titanic had sunk. “Quivering slightly with age and dottiness”, she announced: “I am sorry to hear there has been a bad boating accident.”

Source: George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis, 1955–57, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (1985), vols. 1 and 2, pp. 38–9

“Tha’s Niver Done A Day’s Hard Work In Thy Life”

1911: D.H. Lawrence’s first novel, The White Peacock, was published at the beginning of the year. Lawrence showed it to his parents, hoping they would approve.

His father, a coalminer, “struggled through half a page, and it might as well have been Hottentot.

“ ‘And what dun they gi’e thee for that, lad?’

“ ‘Fifty pounds, father.’

“ ‘Fifty pounds!’ He was dumbfounded, and looked at me with shrewd eyes, as if I were a swindler. ‘Fifty pounds! An’ tha’s niver done a day’s hard work in thy life.’ ”

Source: D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, ed. Edward D. McDonald (1936), p. 232

Bottom Of The Class

Prince Albert, the future George VI (centre front), photographed in 1908 with his elder brother, Prince Edward, the future Edward VIII (centre rear), their father, Prince George, the future George V (left), and their grandfather, the reigning British monarch, Edward VII (right)

1910: “You don’t seem to take your work seriously, nor do you appear to be very keen about it. My dear boy this will not do.” The exasperated parent was George V; the underperforming son was Prince Albert, the future George VI, a cadet at Osborne naval college. The royal hand-wringing had no effect, and in final exams in December, Bertie came 68th out of 68.

Source: Sarah Bradford, King George VI (1989), p. 45