When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1910s

Bone Dry

1918: With average yearly precipitation of less than a millimetre, Arica, on the edge of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, is one of the driest places on Earth. In January 1918, rainfall was recorded there for the first time since October 1903 – 14 consecutive years without rain.

Source: Nick Middleton, Going to Extremes: Mud, Sweat and Frozen Tears (2001), p. 93

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

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