When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1910s

“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

Village Revelry Comes To Unhappy End

1919: That summer, Patrick Leigh Fermor was staying in the Northamptonshire countryside. On 18 June, he joined celebrations to mark the end of hostilities. He was only four, but the day stuck in his memory.

In late afternoon, the villagers lay on the grass in a meadow and sang “Keep the home-fires burning” and “The only girl in the world”. After dark, they lit an enormous bonfire, surmounted by a straw dummy of the kaiser. Everyone joined hands and danced by the light of the fire and cheered when the flames reached the dummy; boys scampered in and out of the crowd, waving sparklers and lobbing bangers.

The celebrations came to an unhappy end, however. One of the boys capered about with his head thrown back and a Roman candle in his mouth. The firework slipped between his teeth and down his throat. The grown-ups rushed him to a nearby brook, but it was too late, and he died in agony, “spitting stars”.

Source: Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977), pp. 35–7

Jeanie’s In Trouble

Marie Stopes commemorated on a British postage stamp in 2008

Marie Stopes commemorated on a British postage stamp in 2008

1918: Married Love was a runaway success. The book sold 2,000 copies within a fortnight and by the end of 1918 had been reprinted five times. Together with later works, it made the name of Marie Stopes synonymous with birth control, so much so that in backstreets and school playgrounds, children skipped to the chant of:
Jeanie, Jeanie, full of hopes,
Read a book by Marie Stopes.
Now, to judge by her condition,
She must have read the wrong edition.

Source: Ruth Hall, Marie Stopes: A Biography (1977), p. 5

Longer Lashes

Poster for D.W. Griffith's film Intolerance

Poster for D.W. Griffith’s film Intolerance

1916: False eyelashes were created for the role of Princess Beloved in the film Intolerance. Seena Owen played the princess, and the film’s director, D.W. Griffith, wanted her lashes to be long enough to brush her cheeks.

Source: www.gildasattic.com/intol.html

“Such Were The Joys”

1915: The future golfing journalist and broadcaster Henry Longhurst was six years old in 1915, and in the autumn he was sent to prep school in Sussex. In his memoirs, he gave St. Cyprian’s high marks, though he winced at “the cold pewter bowls of porridge with the thick slimy lumps, into which I was actually sick one day and made to stand at a side table and eat it up”.

Source: Henry Longhurst, My Life and Soft Times (1971), p. 27

Dastardly Dachshund

1914: Some Britons marked the outbreak of war with loutish displays of anti-German feeling. Graham Greene reported that a dachshund was stoned in the high street of his hometown. (Would the attackers have been quite so brave if, instead, the dog had been a Dobermann pinscher?)

Source: Graham Greene, A Sort of Life (1971), p. 64

Labouring In London

1913: Before he adopted the name Ho Chi Minh, and several decades before he became the leader of North Vietnam, Nguyen Tat Thanh spent time in London. His first job was in a school, sweeping snow. “I sweated all over and yet my hands and my feet were freezing.”

Source: William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2000), p. 51

“Getting Weaker . . . And The End Cannot Be Far”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, photographed by Herbert Ponting in 1911

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, photographed by Herbert Ponting in 1911

1912: Trapped in their tent by an Antarctic blizzard, Captain Robert Scott and his two surviving companions, Edward “Uncle Bill” Wilson and Henry “Birdie” Bowers, huddled in their sleeping bags. Although they were only 18 kilometres from a depot of food and fuel, they couldn’t set out until the snow eased, but the snow was unrelenting.

As the men’s strength ebbed, their chances of survival dimmed, and then vanished. On 29 March, Scott managed a few lines in his journal: “We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.”

Eight months later, a search party found their tent. Inside were the frozen bodies of the three men. Scott’s journals lay beneath his arm. When the searchers tried to raise the arm, it snapped with a noise “like a pistol shot”.

Source: Robert Falcon Scott, Scott’s Last Journey, ed. Peter King (1999), pp. 7, 176

Dodgy Arithmetic

Portrait of Archbishop Ussher by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen, 1641

Portrait of James Ussher by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen, 1641

1910: By totting up the ages at which the Old Testament patriarchs begat their children, the 17th-century biblical scholar James Ussher arrived at a date for the Creation: 4004 B.C. Archbishop Ussher’s precise calculation was widely accepted and for two centuries his date appeared in the margins of bibles alongside the opening verse of Genesis. Despite the scientific advances of the 19th century, it didn’t disappear from Oxford University Press bibles until 1910.

Source: J.F. Kirkaldy, Geological Time (1971), p. 5