When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1910s

End Of The Line

1919: On a stormy night at the end of December 1879, a dozen central spans of the Tay railway bridge at Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing. The train tumbled 30 metres into the Firth of Tay, killing everyone on board – about 75 passengers and crew – and smashing the carriages. The engine, however, North British Railways No. 224, was scarcely damaged. It was salvaged, repaired and put back to work. Nicknamed “The Diver”, it remained in service until 1919.

Source: David Swinfen, The Fall of the Tay Bridge (1994), p. 56

Eccentric Tastes

1918: Maurice Bowra described his commanding officer as a man of “much fancy and charm”, though he had “certain eccentric tastes, such as pornography”. He was an avid reader, and sometimes read aloud to his men from The New Ladies’ Tickler.

Source: C.M. Bowra, Memories 1898–1939 (1966), p. 87

Unmusical Anatomy

Erik Satie, photographed by Man Ray in about 1921

1917: The music critic Jean Poueigh congratulated Parade’s composer, Erik Satie, when the ballet was first performed in Paris, but then savaged it in print. The enraged composer fired off a series of insulting postcards. “You are an ass-hole – and, if I dare say so – an unmusical ‘ass-hole’.” (“Vous êtes un cul – si j’ose dire, un «cul» sans musique.”)

Source: Satie Seen Through His Letters, ed. Ornella Volta (1994), pp. 131–3

Body Bag

1916: Inspecting the trenches of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles after a night of intense shelling, Colonel F.P. Crozier passed a soldier carrying a bulky sandbag. Crozier was suspicious. Thefts of rations and stores from the front line had been increasing, so he challenged the soldier, “What have you got in that bag?”

The soldier replied, “Rifleman Gundy.”

Source: F.P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land (1930), p. 94

“Yes. I Remember . . .”

1914: Don’t be overly nostalgic about the summer of 1914, warned Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory. And yet, in almost the same breath, he described it as “the most idyllic for many years”: a time for strolling in the countryside, a time for sipping tea at wicker tables under shady trees, a time when books could be left outdoors all night without fear of rain.

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Cop That!

1913: On Easter Monday, Labour Member of Parliament J.H. “Jimmy” Thomas’s speech at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester was interrupted by a member of the audience. Edith Rigby, a suffragette, stood up, reached into her pockets and pelted Thomas with black puddings.

Source: Phoebe Hesketh, My Aunt Edith (1966), p. 70

Standstill

1912: The Stockholm Olympics saw two epic struggles in Greco-Roman wrestling. In the light heavyweight final, officials declared a draw after Anders Ahlgren of Sweden and Ivar Böling of Finland had tussled for nine hours. In the semi-final of the middleweight division, Martin Klein of Russia triumphed over Alfred Asikainen of Finland after 11 hours, but was too weary to contest the final.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), pp. 673, 686

Polar Poet

1911: Captain Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition celebrated midwinter on 22 June with a slap-up meal and a special issue of The South Polar Times, to which photographer Herbert Ponting contributed his thoughts on the best way to use their reindeer-skin sleeping bags:

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National Flower

1910: The Japanese colonial authorities in Korea emphasized the peninsula’s links with Japan and stamped down on Korean language and culture. The Japanese cherry was promoted while the rose of Sharon, or mugunghwa, was eradicated because of its nationalist connotations.

Source: www.korea.net/NewsFocus/
Culture/view?articleId=75126

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