When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Second World War

Dangerous Bedding

1945: “All of a sudden,” in the early hours of 25 April, “there was a fierce air raid; the flak started raging.” Too weary to go down to the basement, the author of A Woman in Berlin snuggled beneath the bedclothes. The sheets and blankets provided “an idiotic sense of security”, as if they were made of iron. “They say bedding is extremely dangerous.” A doctor who treated a woman who had been hit in bed found that “bits of feather had lodged so deeply in her wounds he could barely remove them”.

Source: Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin (2009), p. 49

Unequal Sacrifice

1943: Hugh Dalton, president of the Board of Trade, deplored the amount of fabric used in turn-ups on men’s trousers. Turn-ups were an extravagance, Dalton said, and in wartime, civilians should make do without them.

“There can be no equality of sacrifice in this war. Some must lose lives and limbs; others only the turn-ups on their trousers.”

Source: Hugh Dalton, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931–1945 (1957), p. 410

Exit From Crete

1941: In less than a fortnight, a German airborne assault on Crete overcame the numerically superior British, Commonwealth and Greek defenders. Allied losses were heavy; thousands were killed, more than 10,000 captured and nine warships sunk. The only thing the Allies didn’t lose was their sense of humour. A story went round that a special medal would be awarded to those who had been bundled off the island, inscribed “EX CRETA”.

Source: Antony Beevor, Crete: The Battle and the Resistance (2005), p. 227

Noted For His Hats

1938: Winston Churchill smoked from an early age, but the image of him chomping on a long cigar, two fingers raised in a V-sign, dated from the Second World War. These Tremendous Years 1919–1938, published by the Daily Express in 1938, associated cigars instead with F.E. Smith, the Earl of Birkenhead. Churchill, according to the Daily Express book, was noted not for his cigars but for his hats.

Source: These Tremendous Years 1919–1938 (1938), p. 140

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

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

Wholesale Slaughter

1939: “They are saying, ‘The generals learned their lesson in the last war. There are going to be no wholesale slaughters,’ ” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary on 1 November. “I ask, how is victory possible except by wholesale slaughters?”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), pp. 448–9

Temporary Setback

Chester Nimitz, photographed in about 1945

1908: Eighteen months after he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, Chester Nimitz was in command of the destroyer Decatur when it ran aground on a mudbank in Batangas Bay, in the Philippines. Nimitz was court-martialled and found guilty of “neglect of duty”. He was relieved of his command, but his mistake had no lasting effect on his career; he moved up the ranks and in December 1941 was put in command of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific.

Source: Brayton Harris, Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), pp. 15–19

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

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

War By Numbers

1969: In 1968 and 1969, the United States dropped on South Vietnam one and a half times the tonnage of bombs dropped on Germany by all the Allies during the Second World War.

By 1969, the explosive force of the bombs dropped on North Vietnam each month was equivalent to two atomic bombs.

Up to the end of 1971, the United States had dropped 6.3 million tons of bombs on Indochina – more than three times the amount it dropped in all theatres during the Second World War.

In South Vietnam alone, there were 21 million bomb craters.

Source: Marvin E. Gettleman, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young and H. Bruce Franklin, Vietnam and America: A Documented History (1985), p. 461

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

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

Population Boom

1990: Between the end of the Second World War and 1990 the world’s population soared by almost 3 billion. The medical journal The Lancet illustrated the scale of this increase with an analogy: if an atomic bomb with the killing capacity of the one that obliterated Hiroshima had been dropped every day since 6 August 1945, it would have failed to keep pace with the runaway growth in human numbers.

Source: The Lancet, 15 September 1990

Beetles Over Britain

Colorado beetle, photographed by Scott Bauer

1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)

Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/
spru/hsp/documents/CWCB33-Garrett.
pdf

Farewell Flight

1943: The Royal Air Force lost 55,000 men during the bomber offensive against Europe, and the Americans, 26,000. Aircrews were gloomily aware of the odds against them. “If you live on the brink of death yourself,” the pilot Denis Hornsey pointed out, “it is as if those who have gone have merely caught an earlier train to the same destination. And . . . you will almost certainly be catching the next one.”

Source: Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979), pp. 220–2

“A Perfect Day”

1939: “A perfect day,” wrote Harold Nicolson from his home in Kent, “and I bathe in the peace of the lake.” The date was 4 September; Britain had declared war on Germany the previous day. It was all very confusing: the tranquillity of the English countryside; the way things seemed to carry on as they had before. “Even as when someone dies, one is amazed that the poplars should still be standing quite unaware of one’s own disaster, so when I walked down to the lake to bathe, I could scarcely believe that the swans were being sincere in their indifference to the Second German War.”

Source: Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters 1939–1945, ed. Nigel Nicolson (1967), p. 30

Dangerous Driver

Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris photographed at his desk

1943: The area bombing of German cities and the people in them was inextricably linked to Arthur Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command. Harris was very energetic, very forceful, very blunt. When stopped late one night for driving his Bentley at high speed, the policeman rebuked him: “You might have killed somebody, sir.” To which Harris replied: “Young man, I kill thousands of people every night!”

Source: Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979), p. 135

Giveaway Vegetable

1942: The poet Robert Graves, living in south Devon, had his application to join the special constabulary blocked by the village policeman. Three reasons: first, because of Graves’s suspicious German middle name, von Ranke: second, because Graves had been heard “talking a foreign language to two disreputable foreigners” – refugees from Franco’s Spain, as it happened; and third, because someone had scratched the words HEIL HITLER! on a marrow in his garden.

Source: Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1982), p. 281

Peace In Wartime

1941: “You hear people say that fishing is a waste of time,” wrote the novelist and keen angler H.E. Bates. “Can time be wasted?” he pondered. “In a hundred years it will not matter much whether on a June day in 1941 I fished for perch or devoted the same time to acquiring greater learning by studying the works of Aristotle, of which, anyway, I have no copy. The day is very hot, and there are thousands of golden-cream roses blooming on the house wall in the sun. Perhaps someone will be glad that I described them, sitting as I am forty miles from the German lines at Calais. Perhaps someone will wonder then at the stoicism, the indifference, the laziness or the sheer lack of conscience of someone who thought roses and fish of at least as much importance as tanks and bombs.”

Source: H.E. Bates, The Country Heart (1949), p. 30

When Writers Meet

1945: War correspondent George Orwell was delighted to find that Ernest Hemingway was staying at the same hotel in Paris. The two men had never met. Orwell went up to Hemingway’s room and knocked. A voice bellowed at him to come in. He opened the door and said sheepishly, “I’m Eric Blair.” The American was standing on the other side of the bed, packing suitcases. “Well, what the –ing hell do you want?” he shouted. Orwell spoke again. “I’m George Orwell.” Hemingway pushed the suitcases to the end of the bed. “Why the –ing hell didn’t you say so? Have a drink. Have a double.”

Source: Paul Potts, Dante Called You Beatrice (1960), p. 82