When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1940s

Refreshingly Frank

Igor Stravinsky conducting an orchestra in Warsaw in 1965

1949: The composer Igor Stravinsky and the novelist Christopher Isherwood hit if off right from the start. Stravinsky found Isherwood’s casual manner refreshing. While many reverentially addressed Stravinsky as “Maestro”, Isherwood simply called him “Igor”. Isherwood didn’t know much about music, didn’t particularly like it and didn’t pretend to. On his first visit to Stravinsky’s Los Angeles home, Isherwood fell asleep while listening to a recording of the composer’s music. Stravinsky later observed: “My affection for him began with that incident.”

Source: Peter Parker, Isherwood: A Life (2004), p.588

Sibling Rivalry

Sand shark, photographed by Richard Ling

1948: When Stewart Springer, who worked for a Florida shark fishing company, reached inside the oviduct of a heavily pregnant sand shark, he was bitten on the hand. (Serves him right, you might say, for putting his hand there in the first place.) He had been nibbled by “an exceedingly active embryo which dashed about open mouthed inside the oviduct”. Springer had discovered one of the less endearing qualities of the sand shark – intrauterine cannibalism – in which the dominant embryo devours the other embryos until it is the only one left in the womb.

Source: Copeia, 1948

Enthusiastic Party

Henry “Chips” Channon, photographed in 1930

1947: Henry “Chips” Channon was delighted with the dinner he hosted at his London home on 25 November. The house in Belgrave Square “looked very grand and glittering, lit up and full of yellow chrysanthemums”; the queens of Spain and Romania attended; and William Somerset Maugham complimented him, “This is the apogee of your career.” The drinks contributed to the success of the evening. “I ‘laced’ the cocktails with Benzedrine,” Channon revealed in his diary, “which I find always makes a party go.”

Source: Sir Henry Channon, Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon, ed. Robert Rhodes James (1967), p. 419

“Gryte Blytheness”

1946: William Lorimer embarked on a translation of the New Testament into Scots. The stories are familiar and the language mostly recognizable. In the Nativity, for example, Mary “wis fund tae be wi bairn bi the Halie Spirit”. Jesus was born in a stable, “sin there wis nae room for them intil the inn”. Angels brought “guid news o gryte blytheness” to nearby shepherds, who “hied owre tae Bethlehem” to see the newborn child. “Spaemen frae the Aist” followed a “stairn gaein on afore them, on an on,” and when it “stappit abuin the houss”, they went inside and fell on their knees and “wurshippit” him.

Source: The New Testament in Scots, tr. William Laughton Lorimer (2012), pp. 3, 4, 101–2

Casualty Of War

1945: One of the many victims of the Second World War was the Wake Island rail, a flightless land bird that scuttled about the remote Pacific atoll, but was found nowhere else. Japanese forces occupied Wake at the beginning of hostilities. When the garrison’s supply route was cut, starving soldiers hunted the rail to extinction.

Source: Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (2000), pp. 127–8

Genuine Applause

Anna Akhmatova, from a 1922 portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

1944: Stalin loved applause, as long as it was directed at him. Applause for others made him jealous and suspicious. After the entire audience at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow had spontaneously stood up to acclaim the poet Anna Akhmatova, Stalin reputedly asked, “Who organized this standing ovation?”

Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned: A Memoir (1974), pp. 375–6

Mark Of Identity

1941: Like all adult German Jews, Victor Klemperer was forced, from the middle of September, to identify himself in public by wearing the distinctive Judenstern, or Jewish star, for which he was obliged to pay 10 pfennigs.

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 414

Castro Offers Deal

1940: “I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much.”

Writing to his “good friend Roosvelt”, the young Cuban student offered a deal: “If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land”; in return, he requested that the American president enclose “a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one”.

At the end of his short letter the boy who thought very much signed off with an elaborate signature: Fidel Castro.

Source: www.lettersofnote.com/2009/
09/my-good-friend-roosvelt.html

Sumthing Liek Dhis

1949: In March, Mont Follick introduced a bill into the British parliament to rationalise the spelling of English. George Bernard Shaw, the Simplified Spelling Society and others had long advocated a simple, logical and consistent spelling system. Follick proposed the adoption of reformed spelling first in schools and then in government publications and later in general use. Despite considerable parliamentary support, Follick’s measure was opposed by the government and at the end of the debate it was rejected by a slender margin – 87 votes to 84.

Which iz hou dhe tekst ov dhis blog kaem widhin a whisker ov being spelt sumthing liek dhis.

Source: M. Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform (1965), chap. XXII

“A Slogan Is Forever”

1948: A diamond engagement ring is an emblem of the enduring emotional bond between a man and a woman, an expression of their love, a shining symbol of their commitment to each other. If you believe all that claptrap, blame Frances Gerety: she was the Philadelphia advertising copywriter who dreamt up the slogan, “A diamond is forever.”

Source: Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding (2003), pp. 63–7

Reign Of Terror

1947: For 15 years, man-eating lions terrorized the Njombe district of southern Tanganyika. They dragged villagers from their huts and ambushed travellers on roads; on one occasion they snatched a herd boy off the back of a cow without harming the cow.

Not until 1946 was a determined effort made to end the menace. It took Game Ranger George Rushby and his African game scouts more than a year to track down and shoot the beasts. Only after 15 had been killed was Rushby satisfied that the reign of terror was over. “There is no doubt that the Njombe lions were the worst man-eating lions ever recorded in African history,” Rushby wrote. He estimated that between 1932 and 1947 they had killed and eaten over 1,500 people.

Source: G.G. Rushby, No More the Tusker (1965), chaps. 20–2

Slap Down

1946: During the first half of the 20th century, travelling from Britain to India entailed a lengthy, rather monotonous journey by sea. Radclyffe Sidebottom, who served in the Bengal Pilot Service from 1929 until 1946, remembered one voyage where a female passenger – a governor’s daughter, in fact – grew tired of the stuffed shirts in first class and took a liking to a handsome young steward in second class. At the fancy-dress ball, the high point of the voyage out, they danced together all night. Next morning, though, when he approached her with a little too much familiarity, she informed him: “In the circle in which I move, sleeping with a woman does not constitute an introduction.”

Source: Charles Allen, Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (1977), p. 49

Slip Of The Tongue

1945: Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, George VI’s private secretary, lunched on 18 April with Quintin Hogg, the newly appointed undersecretary of air. “Hogg said that [Baron] Faringdon, a notorious pansy, had recently thrown the House of Lords into consternation by addressing their Lordships as ‘My Dears’.”

Source: Sir Alan Lascelles, King’s Counsellor: Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, ed. Duff Hart-Davis (2007), p. 316

Intoxicated Octopus

1943: “Just then the air-raid siren went off,” Joan Wyndham recorded in her diary on 5 July. “We hailed a taxi . . . . As soon as I’d sunk into my seat Dylan [Thomas] smothered me in wet beery kisses, his blubbery tongue forcing my lips apart. It was rather like being embraced by an intoxicated octopus. I tried to tell myself that I was being kissed by a great poet but it was a relief when the taxi finally stopped.”

Source: Joan Wyndham, Love Is Blue: A Wartime Diary (1986), p. 120

Ban On Smoking

1941: For Victor Klemperer, a Jewish resident of Dresden, life grew steadily more difficult. “A new calamity:” he wrote in his diary on 10 August, “Ban on smoking for Jews.”

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 407

Dunkirk Spirit

1940: In Britain’s hour of need, “heroes in jerseys and sweaters and old rubber boots” stepped forward to man an armada of “fishing boats, steamships, barges and pleasure steamers” that crossed the Channel, braving shellfire and Stuka attacks, to pluck the British Expeditionary Force off the beaches of Dunkirk. That’s the way British propaganda portrayed it, but it wasn’t all like that. The Royal Navy had to requisition small craft in Devon whose owners declined to volunteer and the fishing fleet of Rye in Sussex collectively refused to go.

Source: Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991), pp. 96–8

Christie Lends A Hand

1949: Agatha Christie joined her husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, at Nimrud, in Iraq. Christie lent a hand, cleaning ivories recovered from the excavations. She discovered that a very fine knitting needle and her face cream were “more useful than anything else for gently coaxing the dirt out of the crevices”. She used so much cream that within a couple of weeks “there was nothing left for my poor old face”.

Source: Agatha Christie, An Autobiography (1977), pp. 456–7

The Right Feel

1946: The Swedish aircraft manufacturer Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, SAAB, branched out into cars. The bodywork of the first prototype was produced by hand, hammered into shape with the steel panels resting on horse manure, which supposedly gave the panel beaters the right feel.

Source: Björn-Eric Lindh, Saab: The First 40 Years of Saab Cars (1987), pp. 17, 20

Stylish In Stripes

1945: Bessie, comtesse de Mauduit, returned to Paris from Ravensbrück concentration camp still dressed in her striped uniform, but looking elegant all the same (“encore vêtu de l’uniforme rayé des déportés et très élégante tout de meme”). Another inmate, a head seamstress from the Schiaparelli fashion house, had restyled her uniform.

Source: Jean Galtier-Boissière, Journal 1940–1950 (1992), pp. 410, 413

Right Priorities

1944: Major-General Charles Gerhardt, commander of the American 29th Division, was a stickler for discipline. Amid the carnage and destruction of Omaha beach on D-Day – mangled corpses, smashed landing craft, burned-out vehicles and discarded weapons – he yelled at a soldier for dropping orange peel.

Source: Antony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (2009), p. 153

“Smoke Began To Rise With A Hiss Or Whistle”

Parícutin erupting by night, photographed by R.E. Wilcox of the U.S. Geological Survey

1943: For weeks, the Mexican village of Parícutin had been jolted by earthquakes. On the afternoon of 20 February, as farm labourer Demetrio Toral and his oxen ploughed a cornfield, wisps of smoke appeared from a furrow they had just completed.

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Unsinkable Ship

1942: Habbakuk was the code name for a secret British project to build a huge, unsinkable aircraft carrier. The project never got beyond research and the early stages of development, but if the vessel had been constructed, it would have been twice as long as the Queen Mary. Even more remarkable was the intended construction material – a frozen mixture of water and wood pulp. In essence, Habbakuk would have been a gigantic iceberg with a flat top to serve as a flight deck. The ice, of course, would have made it unsinkable; the wood pulp was for reinforcement.

Source: Georgina Ferry, Max Perutz and the Secret of Life (2007), pp. 98–110

Suspicious Activity

1941: The attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted Donald Keene’s Japanese studies at Columbia University. Japanese in the United States were classified as enemy aliens, and the day after the attack, New York police detained Keene’s teacher, Tsunoda Ryūsaku. Japanese residents were suspected of gathering information about American defence facilities, although the most serious evidence against Tsunoda seems to have been that “he had been observed taking long walks without a dog”.

Source: Donald Keene, The Blue-Eyed Tarōkaja: A Donald Keene Anthology, ed. J. Thomas Rimer (1996), pp. 8–9

Deadly Device

1940: In Warthegau, Polish territory annexed by Germany in 1939, Herbert Lange’s Sonderkommando used a large van fitted with a sealed chamber to eliminate mental patients. To allay suspicion, the side of the vehicle carried the logo of a well-known German coffee company – “Kaiser’s Kaffee-Geschäft”. Once the patients were loaded, carbon monoxide was piped into the chamber.

Source: Patrick Montague, Chełmno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler’s First Death Camp (2012), pp. 21–30, 64, 199–211