When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

“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

Elementary Education

1909: Beginning at the age of 15, Nikita Khrushchev attended the local school for two winters. The education was rudimentary: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. “After a year or two I had learnt to count up to thirty and my father decided that was enough of schooling. He said all I needed was to be able to count money and I could never have more than thirty roubles to count.”

Source: George Paloczi-Horvath, Khrushchev: The Road to Power (1960), pp. 12–13

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 – a politician rather than a mathematician

Halibut Or War?

Prime minister and culinary expert Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman

1908: On one occasion during his premiership, an illustrated newspaper carried a sketch of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in conversation with Edward VII. The king was depicted speaking earnestly, the prime minister listening gravely. “Is it Peace or War?” the paper shrilled. In fact, as Campbell-Bannerman later revealed, “He wanted to have my opinion whether halibut was better baked or boiled!”

Source: John Wilson, CB: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1973), p. 145

Vociferous Critic

1907: Arnold Schönberg’s String Quartet No. 1 was first performed at the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna on 5 February. The concert was marred by a member of the audience hissing at the composer. Schönberg’s friend Gustav Mahler remonstrated with the man and they almost came to blows. As the man was hustled away, he shouted, “I hiss at Mahler too!”

Source: Henry-Louis de la Grange, Gustav Mahler, 3 : Vienna : Triumph and Disillusion (1904–1907) (1999),
pp. 607–9

Portrait of Arnold Schönberg, by Egon Schiele

Overwhelming Vote

1905: In a plebiscite held on 13 August, Norwegians voted to dissolve the country’s union with neighbouring Sweden. A total of 368,208 men – women were excluded – voted in favour of the dissolution; 184 voted against.

Source: www.nb.no/baser/1905/tema_
folk_e.html

Expendable Animals

1902: At the end of the Boer War, a British Royal Commission calculated that 400,346 horses, mules and donkeys had died during the 2½ years of fighting. Or as the War Office put it, had been “expended”.

Source: Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), p. 607

A Death Foretold

1901: The murder of U.S. President William McKinley was a death foretold. The inhabitants of Leslie County, in Kentucky, believed that spiders had prophesied the president’s death by writing his name in their webs.

Source: Daniel Lindsey Thomas and Lucy Blayney Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions (1920), p. 277

U.S. President William McKinley

“Exterminate All The Brutes!”

1900: “To yield to the parent state the rightly expected profits” from its colonies, wrote Henry Morris, the native population “should be amenable to discipline, to regular forms of government, to reformed methods of life”. And if not? “The natives must then be exterminated or reduced to such numbers as to be readily controlled.”

Source: Henry C. Morris, The History of Colonization from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1900), vol. I, pp. 20–1

“Amenable to discipline”: in the Congo Free State in 1904 a father contemplates his 5-year-old daughter’s hand and foot, severed by soldiers as a punishment

Millennium Candles

1999: As the year 2000 approached, computer experts warned of the havoc that could be expected from the millennium bug. Inordinate sums were spent to make computers, in the current jargon, “Y2K compliant”. In retrospect, it appears ridiculous and slightly embarrassing, but at the time, fears of widespread dislocation of the world’s computer systems seemed plausible enough.

At the end of December, rumours spread in the Philippines that not only would electronic devices be affected, but even candles and matches. Exactly how this would happen wasn’t clear. Fortunately, getting them blessed by a priest would make them Y2K compliant.

Source: Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 January 2000

Nuclear Test Ban

1998: Britain’s Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998 made it illegal to cause a nuclear explosion:

“Any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.”

Source: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/
1998/7/pdfs/ukpga_19980007_en.pdf

KGB Loses Luggage

1997: President Boris Yeltsin’s security adviser, General Alexander Lebed, admitted that Russia was unable to account for 84 out of 132 KGB nuclear “suitcase bombs”.

Source: Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (2004), pp. 9–10

Local Hero

Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney, photographed by Sean O’Connor

1995: The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the poet Seamus Heaney. The Irish Farmers Journal ran the story under a proud “Local Boy Makes Good” headline:
Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s
son wins top literary award

Source: Irish Farmers Journal, 14 October 1995

Rules Of The Game

1994: The rules of the Shell Caribbean Cup football competition produced the ludicrous situation, towards the end of the match between Barbados and Grenada, of the Barbadians deliberately scoring an own goal to tie the game, followed by the Grenadians trying to score at both ends of the pitch, and the Barbadians defending their opponents’ goal as well as their own.

Source: Simon Gardiner et al., Sports Law (2006), pp. 73–4

Perpetual Motion Cat

1993: Cats always fall on their feet.

Toast always lands buttered side down.

So if a slice of buttered toast were strapped to a cat’s back and the cat dropped from height, would the cat land on its feet or on its buttered back?

John Frazee, who submitted this conundrum to the magazine Omni, suggested that the unfortunate feline would hover, spinning, just above the ground. The buttered cat would, in fact, be a perpetual motion device.

Source: Omni, July 1993

Explanatory figures by Greg Williams

Help From On High

U.S. President George H.W. Bush

1992: “Communism died this year,” proclaimed George Bush in his State of the Union address. One month earlier, the Soviet Union had formally ceased to exist. “By the grace of God,” the president told Congress, “America won the Cold War.”

Source: http://millercenter.org/president/
speeches/speech-5531

“The Wrong Kind of Snow”

1991: British Rail regretted to announce, on 11 February, that very cold weather would continue to cause delays and cancellations of commuter services around London for several more days. It wasn’t the amount of snow, explained a BR spokesman, so much as its nature – very dry and fine enough to penetrate the air intakes of trains and to short-circuit their motors.

The spokesman didn’t actually say “the wrong kind of snow,” but newspaper headline writers knew a good paraphrase when they coined one, so the expression stuck.

Source: Terry Gourvish, British Rail 1974–97: From Integration to Privatisation (2002), pp. 274, 613

Snow on the tracks, photographed by Likelife

Common Enemy

1990: Following the murder of Liberian President Samuel Doe in September, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia tightened its grip around the capital, Monrovia. The NPFL set up checkpoints in the countryside, some adorned with human skulls, some with sinister nicknames, such as No Return.

Doe’s Krahn tribe were renowned monkey hunters. At the God Bless You gate, NPFL fighters enlisted a monkey that could supposedly recognize their common enemy – Krahn tribesmen. Anyone fingered by the monkey was killed on the spot.

Source: Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (1999), pp. 89, 116