Category Archives: History Undusted

History Undusted: A Small Treatise on the Viking Age, began at Lindisfarne

Viking ship

In researching for my novel, “The Cardinal“, I did a lot of research into the Viking Age of Scotland, Norway, and in modern-day Britain.  The following is a snippet of the notes and thoughts I percolated over while studying into this amazing time in world history.  Some of the speculations, such as the motivations behind the Lindisfarne attack, are my own, based on studies and extrapolation.

I think it’s impossible to do justice to any information about the Vikings; their existence, culture, language, mentality, and the effect of their actions have had repercussions that echo down through the ages.  They gave names to countless cities throughout the world, and even entire regions:  The Norse kingdom of Dublin (Old Norse for “Black Pool”) was a major centre of the Norse slave trade; Limerick, Wexford and Wicklow were other major ports of trade; Russia gets its name from them, and the list goes on and on. Had they not been so successful in the slave trade and conquest, entire regions of the earth would be populated differently, place names would be vastly different, and English would be a far poorer language than it is today.

“A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.” (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pg. 37)

This reference from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of the most famous history books available in English, is a reference to what would become known as the beginning of the Viking Age, the attack on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne.  Firstly, I’d like to clarify a few points:  “Viking” is a term that first came into being, in its present spelling, in 1840; it entered English through the Old Norse term “vikingr” in 1807.  The Old Norse term meant “freebooter, pirate, sea-rover, or viking”, and the term “viking” meant “piracy, freebooting voyage.”  The armies of what we would call Vikings were referred to by their contemporaries as Danes, and those who settled were known by the area they settled in, or visa-versa.  Those who settled in the northeastern regions of Europe were called Rus by their Arabian and Constantinopolitan trading partners, perhaps related to the Indo-European root for “red”, referring to their hair colour, or – more likely – related to the Old Norse word of Roþrslandi, “the land of rowing,” in turn related to Old Norse roðr “steering oar,” from which we get such words as “rudder” and “row”.

Oh, and not a single Norse battle helmet with horns has ever been found.

I’d like to focus on a key point of the Lindisfarne episode, if one could refer so glibly to the slaughter of innocent monks and the beginning of the reign of terror that held the civilized world in constant fear for over two centuries:  Yes, the Vikings were violent; their religion of violent gods and bloody sacrifices and rituals encouraged and cultivated it to a fine art.  Yes, the Vikings were tradesmen, but they were also skilled pirates and raiders, that skill honed along their own home coasts for generations prior to their debut on the rest of the unsuspecting world.  Yes, it was known that monasteries held items sacred to the Christian faith, that just happened to be exquisitely wrought works of art made of gold and jewels.

Gold was one enticement; but their primary trading good was human flesh; slaves.  It was by far the most lucrative item, and readily had along any coast they chose; if too many died in the voyage they could always just get more before they docked at Constantinople, Dublin, or any other major trading port.  So why did they slaughter the monks so mercilessly at Lindisfarne, when they would have gained more by taking them captive and either selling them as slaves or selling them for ransom?  The answer might actually be found in Rome.

Charlemagne (ruled 768-814 AD) took up his father’s reigns and papal policies in 768 AD. From about 772 AD onwards, his primary occupation became the conversion to Christianity of the pagan Saxons along his northeastern frontier.  It is very important to make a distinction between the modern expressions of the Christian faith and the institution of power mongers of past centuries; Christianity then had extremely little to do with the teachings of Christ and far more to do with political and military power, coercion, and acquisition of wealth through those powers; it was a political means to their own ends with the blessing of the most powerful politician in the history of the civilized world, the Pope.  Without his blessing and benediction, a king had not only very little power, but was exposed to attack from anyone who had “holy permission” to exterminate heathens; joining the ranks of the Christian church took on the all-important definition of survival, and protection from the others in those ranks being free to attack you at their leisure.

In the year 772 AD, Charlemagne’s forces clashed with the Saxons and destroyed Irmensul, the Saxon’s most holy shrine and likely their version of the Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World, of Scandinavian mythology.  In the Royal Frankish Annals of 775 AD, it was recorded that the king (Charlemagne) was so determined in his quest that he decided to persist until they were either defeated and forced to accept the papal authority (in the guise of “Christian faith”), or be entirely exterminated [Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, trans. Bernhard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers (Michigan 1972: 51)].  Charlemagne himself conducted a few mass “baptisms” to underscore the close identification of his military power with the Christian church.

“In 782 the Saxons rebelled again and defeated the Franks in the Süntel hills. Charlemagne’s response was the infamous massacre of Verden on the banks of the river Aller, just south of the neck of the Jutland peninsula. As many as 4,500 unarmed Saxon captives were forcibly baptised into the Church and then executed.  Even this failed to end Saxon resistance and had to be followed up by a programme of transportations in 794 in which about 7,000 of them were forcibly resettled. Two further campaigns of forcible resettlement followed, in 797 and in 798….  Heathens were defined as less than fully human so that, under contemporary Frankish canon law, no penance was payable for the killing of one” [Ferguson, Robert (2009-11-05). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings (Kindle Locations 1048-1051). Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.]

The defining of a heathen as less than human was actually not a unique idea;  Scandinavians were familiar with that notion from their own cultures, which defined slaves as less than human and therefore tradable goods; and if a freeman announced his intention of killing someone (anyone) it was not considered murder as the victim was given “fair” warning.

The more I learn about Charlemagne’s brutal policies toward what he considered sub-human pagans, the more I understand the reaction of retaliation toward the symbols of that so-called Christian faith, the monasteries and its inhabitants.  They slaughtered, trampled, polluted, dug up altars, stole treasures, killed some, enslaved some, drove out others naked while heaping insults on them, and others they drowned in the sea.  The latter was perhaps a tit-for-tat for those at Verden who were forcibly baptised and then killed.

Lindisfarne was merely the first major attack in Britain that was highly publicized (as chroniclers of history were usually monks, and those such as Alcuin knew the inhabitants of Lindisfarne personally), in what would become a 250-year reign of terror, violence, slavery, raping, pillaging, plundering and theft either by force or by Danegeld.  But as in all good histories, it’s important to remember that hurt people hurt people; the perpetrator was at one time a victim.  One might say that what goes around comes around.  It’s no excuse or downplay of what happened there, which literally changed the course of the civilised world, but it perhaps gives a wider perspective on the Vikings of the times rather than just the vicious raiders portrayed in so many documentaries.  And it is important to remember that Vikings did not equal Norsemen; the majority of Scandinavians were farmers and fishermen, living as peacefully as their times would allow, and even themselves victims to the occasional Viking raid.

Originally posted on History Undusted on 14 July 2013
Image Credit: Origin Unknown, Pinterest

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History Undusted: Quote, Unquote

Line engraving of The Griffin - William Hawkins's ship during the Armada Campaign, Engraved by C. J. Visscher, 18th Century

The Griffin – Line Engraving by C.J. Visscher, 18th C.

“The art of pure line engraving is dying out.  We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated.  If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravure copy of it within a month or two of its appearance.  The days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single plate are forever gone.”

Journal of the Institute of Jamaica, Volume 1, 1892

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History Undusted: The History of the Ampersand & Other Ligatures

Emoticons 2.1The ampersand (&) may seem like a modern invention for lazy spellers, or a typesetter’s solution to limited space, or an English teacher’s pet peeve on exams; but it can actually be traced back to the 1st century Romans.  In English, “&” is pronounced “and” rather than its original Latin word “et” (meaning “and”).  Hannah Glasse’s writings show us that “etc.” was, in her time, written as “&c.” which may look strange to our modern sensibilities, but makes perfect sense when you know the origin of the ampersand.

There are many examples of ligature (characters consisting of two or more symbols combined into one) in use today; everyday symbols we use likely have quite a history.  Have you ever wondered about @, #, ©, ¶, or % ?  Or even “?” ?  And no, I’m not cussing.

Many currency symbols are a combination, abbreviation or contraction of words or letters:  The British pound symbol £ derives from the Roman word “Librae;” Libra was the basic Roman unit for weight, derived from the Latin word for “scales,” or “balance.”  “L” was the abbreviation (see, we aren’t the first generation of lazy spellers; but then again, you would be too, if you had to chisel it into stone, or cure hides for scrolls).  The Pound Sterling has quite a pedigree and is worth a read over at Wikipedia.

19-manasses-chronicle

 

Credit:  Wikipedia

 

Believe it or not, the “at” symbol, @, was first used in a religious text:  The Bulgarian translation of the Greek Manasses Chronicle (c. 1345) used it as an abbreviation for “Amen”.  There are several theories as to why it was used in this way; perhaps it was in an effort to save space and ink and hard-won writing surfaces.  In English, the symbol was originally an accounting and invoice abbreviation for “at a rate of”. In fact, it has long been used in financial or commercial contexts in several languages.  The use in email addresses began in 1971, and we all know how it’s used in web page addresses, and increasingly in use in text messages; it is probably the most common ligature of all.

Emoticons 1Our modern language has added Emoticons to the list of ligature symbols; many computers automatically convert certain combinations of symbols into a different one altogether; for example: :+-+) becomes ☺, <+3 becomes ♥; for more, take a gander at the image to the right.

Our language is full of history; those little symbols, punctuation marks that we take for granted, that necessary “@” for connecting to the world… what would we do without them?  And a hundred years from now, teenagers will be surprised how old ☺ is; they might even wonder what a physical computer keyboard with individual keys looked like.

 Originally posted 2 July 2013 on History Undusted

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History Undusted: Plumbago vs. Graphite

Pencil, Carpenter'sMy husband and I had a discussion tonight (as one does) about which came first – Plumbago, or Graphite.  Being the curious types, I had to find out before he went to bed (me, being the night owl).  Here’s the low-down:

The English term Plumbago came into the language via Latin for a type of black lead ore.  In the 1500s, a large deposit of this ore was found in Cumbria, England; this particular vein was so compact and pure that it could be sawn into sticks, and it holds the record to this day of being the only large-scale solid ore deposit.  It wasn’t long before its value was recognised, and subsequently monopolised by the English Crown.  Long live the king and all that.  When the Crown had enough to last them awhile, they would flood the mines to prevent theft.  How clever is that?  Right.  The English folk have long been resourceful blokes, and they smuggled “lead” (carbon) out for pencil production and a bit of dosh on the side.  I wonder how they drained the flooded mine shafts?

It was used as a strategic secret by the British to make smoother cannon balls:  They would take the native ore, in its powdery form, and smooth it along the insides of their cannon ball moulds, allowing them to slip the molten hot ball out of the form intact.  It gave them a great advantage over conventional (enemy) artillery as it was more aerodynamic, and could inflict more damage more accurately.  During the Battle of Trafalgar, so many French bodies were stacked on their decks that, when seen by the British officers boarding the conquered ships, it shocked even war-hardened military men.  But I digress.

In 1789 a German mineralogist, Abraham Gottlob Werner, coined the term Graphit, from the Greek word graphein, meaning “write”, because it was at length used in pencils.  The first sticks of lead were wrapped in strips of leather to support the soft lead.  England held the monopoly on that until a way was found by the Germans (as early as the mid-1660s) to reconstitute powdered lead.  The German word made it into English around 1796.

So there you have it:  Plumbago wins by a long shot over (the bow of) Graphite.

If you’re interested in seeing how pencils are made, click here for a 10-minute YouTube video.

Originally posted 31

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History Undusted: The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy

L0014984 H. Glasse's "Art of cookery": lady and her maidThe Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy was written in 1747 by Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and played a dominant role in shaping the practices of domestic cooks in England and the American colonies for over one hundred years.  It is an excellent reference for historical writers, reenactors, and living museums.  Hannah wrote mostly for the “lower sort” as she called them, domestic servants who might not have had much exposure to various cooking techniques or ingredients before entering the service of a larger household.  She wrote it in a simple language, and can come across at times quite condescending; her writing style, spelling variations (including capitalisation which was much like German, with all nouns capitalised), and punctuation are in themselves a fascinating look at the standard of printing and editing, and what was most likely “acceptable English” of the times (I dread to think what future generations might assume is the “standard” of our own times, based on the slipshod average of what is unleashed online…!).  I’ve tried to leave Hannah’s work as-is, though sometimes the auto-correct sneaks by even the most diligent.

In my current manuscript, the third book in The Northing Trilogy, Asunder, my heroine goes from being of the upper class to marrying a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, disobliging her family and being cut off by the father.  Her mother sends her Hannah Glasse’s book, and she writes a journal entry regarding her use of it and trying to decipher just what is meant by instructions that, even with the attempt at instructing servants new to the kitchen, assumes a great deal of pre-knowledge (e.g. “first skin the meat and take off all the fat” or “chicken, which must be very nicely picked and clean“).

She had a very clear opinion as to what was right and wrong, how a thing was to be prepared and “there is no other way to do it right.”  Many of the “receipts” (recipes) are still known, such as Hasty Pudding or Yorkshire pudding, while others would be unthinkable – whole Woodcocks, Ortolans and snipes (with nothing removed), or how to prepare meat when it’s begun to stink.  They served every part of the animal, from entrails neatly presented to split skulls (with specific directions for how to lay the tongue most becomingly…).  There were a surprising variety of spices, herbs and ingredients used, and which she assumed every household would have on hand, such as China root, balsam of Tolu, and liquorice; she even included a few Indian curry recipes, reflecting the East Indian connections.   She minced no words on what she thought of extravagant (read wasteful) French cooking habits, and her disdain was evident in numerous passages.  Her recipes were by no means all original; many were common sense, but many were also shamelessly plagiarised from other published works (perhaps we should be grateful for that now, as otherwise they might have been lost to the mists of time!).  There are recipes of how to certainly avoid the plague, how a ship’s captain could have food prepared for long voyages, and recipes for medicinal purposes.

Not all homes had ovens, and in one recipe it is worded “send it to the oven… when it comes home” – this would imply that it was sent to the village bakery, and brought home to finish off once it had been sent away to be baked.  Because of that limitation, many recipes are for boiling; they seemed to boil the living daylights out of meat, vegetables, or anything else that they could put in a pot.

It is a fascinating historical document, reference work and recipe source (many, purely for the pleasure of grossing out your kids or guests) for those interested; but for those not interested, it would be a torture for me to post hideously long blogs on the topic.  The book can be found nowadays on Amazon in paperback, or online in PDF format. Below, I’ll share the original “pre-index” image, and her own personal note “To The Reader”, which in and of itself is entertaining, informative and historical.  She minces no words on her disdain for the French, so to my French readers, I ask that they please take it on the chin with a pinch of salt and a wink!

Hannah Glasse Book

Hannah Glasse’s “To the Reader.”

“I Believe I have attempted a branch of Cookery, which nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon:  but as I have both seen, and found, by experienced, that the generality of servants are greatly wanting in that point, therefore I have taken upon me to instruct them in the best manner I am capable; and, I dare say, that every servant who can but read will be capable of making a tolerable good cook, and those who have the least notion of Cookery cannot miss of being very good ones.

“If I have not wrote in the high polite style, I hope I shall be forgiven; for my intention is to instruct the lower sort, and therefore must treat them in their own way.  For example:  when I bid them lard a fowl, if I should bid them lard with large lardoons, they would not know what I meant; but when I say they must lard with little pieces of bacon, they know what I mean.  So, in many other things in Cookery, the great cooks have such a high way of expressing themselves, that the poor girls are at a loss to know what they mean:  and in all Receipt Books yet printed, there are such an odd jumble of things as would quite spoil a good dish; and indeed some things so extravagant, that it would be almost a shame to make use of them, when a dish can be made full as good, or better, without them.  For example:  when you entertain ten or twelve people, you shall use for a cullis, a leg of veal and a ham, which, with the other ingredients, makes it very expensive, and all this only to mix with other sauce.  And again, the essence of ham for sauce to on dish; when I will prove it, for about three shillings I will make as rich and high a sauce as all that will be, when done.  For example:

“Take a large deep stew-pan, half a pound of bacon, fat and lean together, cut the fat and lay it over the bottom of the pan; then take a pound of veal, cut it into thin slices, beat it well with the back of a knife, lay it all over the bacon; then have six-penny worth of the coarse lean part of the beef cut thin and well beat, lay a layer of it all over, with some carrot, then the lean of the bacon cut thin and laid over that:  then cut two onions and strew over, a bundle of sweet-herbs, four or five blades of mace, six or seven cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, black and white together, half a nutmeg beat, a pigeon beat all to pieces, lay that all over, half an ounce of truffles and morels, then the rest of your beef, a good crust of bread toasted very brown and dry on both sides:  you may add an old cock beat to pieces; cover it close, and let it stand over a slow fire two or three minutes, then pour on boiling water enough to fill the pan, cover it close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it, and then strain off all that sauce.  Put all your ingredients together again, fill the pan with boiling water, put in a fresh onions, a blade of mace, and a piece of carrot; cover it close, and let it stew till it is as strong as you want it.  This will be full as good as the essence of ham for all sorts of fowls, or indeed most made-dishes, mixed with a glass of wine, and two or three spoonfuls of catchup.  When your first gravy is cool, skim off all the fat, and keep it for use. – This falls far short of the expense of a leg of veal and ham, and answers every purpose you want.

“If you go to market, the ingredients will not come to above half a crown, or for about eighteen-pence you may make as much good gravy as will serve twenty people.

“Take twelve-penny worth of coarse lean beef, which will be six or seven pounds, cut it all to pieces, flour it well, take a quarter of a pound of good butter, put it into a little pot or large deep stew-pan, and put in your beef:  keep stirring it, and when it begins to look a little brown, pour in a pint of boiling water; stir it all together, put in a large onion, a bundle of sweet herbs, two or three blades of made, five or six cloves, a spoonful of whole pepper, a crust of bread toasted, and a piece of carrot; then pour in four or five quarts of water, stir all together, cover close, and let it stew till it is as rich as you would have it; when enough, strain it off, mix it with two or three spoonfuls of catchup, and half a pint of white wine; then put all the ingredients together again, and put in two quarts of boiling water, cover it close, and let it boil till there is about a pint; strain it off well, add it to the first, and give it a boil together.  This will make a great deal of rich good gravy.

“You may leave out the wine, according to what use you want it for; so that really one might have a genteel entertainment, for the price the sauce of one dish comes to:  but if gentlemen will have French cooks, they must pay for French tricks.

“A Frenchman in his own country will dress a fine dinner of twenty dishes, and all genteel and pretty, for the expense he will put an English lord to for dressing one dish.  But then there is the little petty profit.  I have heard of a cook that used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs; when everybody knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough, or more than need be used; but then it would not be French.  So much is the blind folly of this age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby, than give encouragement to a good English cook!

“I doubt I shall not gain the esteem of those gentlemen; however, let that be as it will, it little concerns me; but should I be so happy as to gain the good opinion of my own sex, I desire no more; that will be a full recompence for all my trouble; and I only beg the favour of every lade to read my Book throughout before they censure me, and then I flatter myself I shall have their approbation.

“I shall not take upon me to meddle in the physical way farther than two receipts, which will be of use to the public in general: one is for the bit of a mad dog: and the other, if a man would be near where the plague is, he shall be in no danger; which, if made use of, would be found of very great service to those who go abroad.

“Nor shall I take upon me to direct a lady in the economy of her family, for every mistress does, or at least ought to know, what is most proper to be done there; therefore I shall not fill my Book with a deal of nonsense of that kind, which I am very well assured none will have regard to.

“I have indeed given some of my dishes French names to distinguish them, because they are known by those names:  and where there is a great variety of dishes and a large table to cover, so there must be a variety of names for them; and it matters not whether they be called by a French, Dutch or English name, so they are good, and done with as little expence as the dish will allow of.

“I shall say no more, only hope my Book will answer the ends I intend it for; which is to improve the servants, and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.”

Originally posted on History Undusted, 28 May 2013

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History Undusted: WW2 Shipboard Journals

The following post was originally 3 separate posts on my History Undusted blog; it is a lengthier post than I usually offer, but well worth the read for those interested in history, World War Two, and life in the US Navy.  Enjoy!

My grandfather, Raymond Dale Kuhns, was a clerk aboard the cruiser USS Metevier for 6-9 months during World War 2, based out of San Diego, California.  His typewriter was bolted to the desk, the desk to the floor, but his chair was on rollers; so he’d type a few letters before rolling away, and wait to roll back; ever after he typed with the hunt and peck method, as it apparently didn’t do much good to learn touch typing.

The document below is the onboard journal that he kept during that time, beginning in November 1944, through June 1945.  There are a few notes for clarity interspersed, written by myself, or by my mother, Connie, of stories he told her; she was three at the time.  While the journal entries are very matter-of-fact, without many personal “memoir” elements, it is still a fascinating historical insight into life aboard a ship during the Second World War.  My grandfather was the biggest practical joker I will ever care or dare to come into contact with; any practical jokes that happened aboard, such as the monkey and chicken, were most likely instigated by him…

November 1944 – February 1945

3 Nov. 1944 – Underway in heavy fog.

4 Nov 1944 – Loaded ammunition.  Dropped some down hatch!  Whew!

9 Nov. 1944 (mail sent)  Passed through gate to Limon Bay, Canal Zone, Panama.   Moored Coaling Pier, Cristobal.  Left (Nov) 10th, went through Miraflores Lock.

13 Nov. 1944 (mail sent)  Crossed equator at 0756.  Now a “Shellback”.  (Connie’s note- Dad told stories about the hazing men endured first time to cross the equator. – had to run a gauntlet of fire hoses in action,  a “swat-line” between the “old timers” hitting them with paddles,  all kinds of practical jokes, etc.).  Entered Deolian Cave, Baltna Island, Galapagos.  Saw 2 seals, fishing.  Left 14th.

25 Nov. 1944. (mail sent) Entered Bora Bora, Society Island.  Beautiful.  Purchased 2 grass skirts, bracelet, 2 sets beads.  Were they made in U.S.???  Left 26th  (Connie – “We probably still have the grass skirts – and I know there is a picture of AJ and I with them.  Also, the “beads” were small conch shells – probably also a pic somewhere, I’ll try to find it”).

Summary:  Month was uneventful.  Seasick first night out.  Never set my foot on land.  Received no mail.

3 Dec. 1944.    No such date for us.  Crossed the International Date Line.

6 Dec. 1944.  Missed wife on her birthday.  Great gal.  Made landfall on Solomon.  Skirted NW tip of Guadalcanal.  First liberty.  4 Cokes!!  Left 8 Dec.

11 Dec. 1944.  Entered Humbolt Bay, Dutch New Guinea (“Hollandia”)  Left 19th

14 Dec. 1944.  Connie’s birthday.  Miss the rascal.

25 Dec. 1944.  Miss my wife and kiddies especially.  First enemy contact. Dropped bomb.  One plane.  Undamaged or undamaging.

26 Dec. 1944.  Entered Leyte Gulf.  Left 27th.

Summary:  Looks like business is picking up.  I forgot to mention that Dec. 24th, we made our first depth charge attack.  No luck!  Amazed at mass of ships in Leyte.  No attacks while there.

15 Jan. 1945.  Leaving Lingayen Gulf for  Leyte??

16 Jan 1945. Friendly plane came out of clouds. G.Q. called (“general quarters”).  Came near firing.  From angle it approached, we couldn’t hardly of missed.  A real scare.

17 Jan. 1945.  0300 D.Disn. Convoy destroyed Jap barge.  Search light revealed several Japs in it.  Used 5″ and 40 mm.  Did not try to rescue any.

20 Jan. 1945. (mail sent/  mail received)  Entered San Pedro Bay, Leyte, Philippines.  Hope wife receives letter I wrote today.

26 Jan. 1945. Left Leyte for invasion of Luzon, just north of Subic Bay.

29 Jan. 1945.  14 hours minus 1 or 7:30 naval bombardment of beaches to begin.  However, 10 minutes before, Philippine guerillas came out and informed us territory taken.  So this invasion force of 60,000 landed without a shot being fired.  We are sitting 60 miles from Manila.  It is now mid-afternoon, and Japs have not contested invasion at all.  Things look good for us here.  Left 2000 for Leyte without once contacting enemy.

30 Jan 1945.  Ship in convoy was struck by torpedo.  No casualties.  Ship towed in and repaired.

This month really went fast!

1 Feb. 1945.  Arrived back in Leyte.  No action or alerts on return trip from Luzon.  Too late to go after mail!!!  SHUCKS!

2 Feb. 1945.  Liberty in Leyte.  6 Cokes!!  Learned foot soldiers’ view of our enemy.

3 Feb. 1945 (mail received/ mail sent)  Brought 2 monkeys and 2 roosters aboard.  Had to get rid of them.

6 Feb. 1945.  Left Leyte without getting any more mail.

11 Feb. 1945.  Arrived Woendi.  This is a group of coral islands near New Guinea.  Beautiful.  Like a vacation here.

12 Feb. 1945.  Liberty.  Played basketball, then went swimming.

13 Feb. 1945.  Received special liberty to play on baseball (softball) team.  Defeated tug 4 – 3 in 10 innings.  Won 4 cases beer and got 5 cases from ship.  The boys all came back stewed.  I had to drink one for thirst.  No fresh water available.

14 Feb, 1945,  Left this “rest camp” with memories of best time since leaving dear wife and kiddies.  Going back to front in all probability.  Feeling ready now.  Hope to get mail SOON!!

20 Feb. 1945.  (Mail received/ mail sent)  Arrived back on Leyte.  Trip back uneventful.  Received 24 letters. Boy oh Boy!

21 Feb, 1945.  Liberty.  Sold beer for $1,  gave other 3 away.

24 Feb, 1945, (mail sent/mail received).  Received 16 more letters.

25 Feb. 1945.  Attended church USS Wasatch.  Refused liberty. Stayed aboard and wrote letters.

27 Feb. 1945.  Left Leyte for Mindoro.  Glad to get away.  Poor liberty.

Summary:  This month very uneventful.  Enjoyed liberty at Woendi more than anything else.  Got fairly well caught up on mail.

Here are a few extra bits of trivia from my mother:

  • “4 Nov. ’44 –  the “Whew” was probably a prayer of thankfulness that the whole load had not exploded when some got dropped!
  • I only heard your grandpa talk once about the horrors he must have seen. – ships blown out of the water, etc.  He and my uncle Victor talked one Christmas when I was a teen about picking surviving mates off an adjacent ship in the fleet that had been torpedoed – and picking survivors out of the ocean.
  • 13 Feb ’45.  Your grandpa didn’t drink beer – of course, his father (Reverend H.A. Kuhns) wouldn’t have liked it – although before H.A. was saved, he had “owned a dance hall” – your grandpa told me after we were grown women.  So I’m sure beer at least was part of my grandpa’s experience B.C.
  • 25 Feb. ’45 –  Of course “liberty” for most meant finding liquor and women, which were not for your grandpa.  I am so thankful for the Christian heritage we have!!!!!”
  • Note of interest:  Aboard they slept in hammocks; once the guy above him jumped up at the call for general quarters, and knocked himself out on the overhead beam; needless to say he didn’t make it to his station on time…

March – April 1945

raymond-kuhns-age-45-taken-in-1965

Raymond Kuhns, Age 45, taken in 1965

[NOTE:  Back in the mid-1980s I was in the Philippines for two months, living near the Subic Bay Naval Base just across a bridge from Olongapo.  I saw up close and personal the temptations men in the military face, and for a Christian man such as my grandfather, he had to try and find alternatives to “going out with the boys” on liberty, though often the Red Light District was (and is) where the restaurants were, so it was a Catch 22.  When I was living there I was working with a Christian missions organisation among the prostitutes, drug dealers and pimps, as well as those who worked in street shop/booths (I’m still in touch with one or two!), and our home was a place for the Christian military men to come and hang out when they were off-duty; nearly every day I’d come down to the living room to find strangers there, reading or talking.  I don’t know if he had such a place back then, but fisherman’s missions and military missions are far more common now, because the temptations (the sex industry, drugs, alcohol, etc.) are more rampant than ever.  When I returned to the States he enjoyed talking to me about Subic and the PI as he knew it, and I think it was special for him to talk to his granddaughter who had seen some of the places and things he’d seen so many years before.]

1 March 1945.  This month started off with a bang.  Dropped D.C. (depth charges)- 5 of them in the middle of the night.  I was on helm.  Boys sleeping really thought we got it. Entered Mindoro.

2-5 March 1945.  (mail sent/mail received) A/S duty Mangatin Bay.  Got mail, which means they transferred us here for duty.

6 March 1945. Off Manila Bay A/S duty, then returned to Mangatin Bay.

7 March 1945.  Entered Bay for fueling.

8,9,10 March, 1945. Another A/S* sweep to Luzon. (*anti-mine sweep)

11 March 1945.  Back to A/S Mindoro.

12 March 1945.  (mail sent/mail received).  Got mail via ship that had been in Port.  Proceeded into Bay and got more mail.

14 March 1945. Availability cancelled.  A ship on A/S sweep run aground we had to relieve it.  Just our luck.

15-18 March 1945.  A/S sweep and on 18 entered Mangarin for 2 days availablity.

19 March 1945.  Liberty in Mindoro.  Quite a place.  Rode in a jeep with army captain to San Jose.  Saw sugar mill that was hit by P-47 in morning.  Saw unit of paratroopers who made landings on Corrigedor.  Helped sort mail at P.O.  FINALLY got Christmas presents. Included billfold, leather toilet kit, shower shoes, pictures, and wedding band.  Every gift perfect.  One box of candy had to be thrown away.  Really enjoyed it even though it was late.

20-23 March 1945.  A/S sweep off Mindoro.

24-25 March 1945. (mail sent/mail received)  A/S sweep to Luzon and returned.  Fueled and got underway for Leyte.  These two days were roughest I have seen.  Had to strap myself in sack.  Did not get sick.  36 bags Christmas mail.

26-28 March 1945.  Escorting Army tug with barge at 3-1/2 knots.  No wonder it took us 4 days to get here.  Entered San Pedro Bay.

29-31 March 1945. (sent mail/received mail).  Available for maintenance.  We got 11 bags of mail, but most of it was rest of Christmas packages.

Summary:  Most of this month was spent on ping line of A/S duty.  The first was most amusing.  Christmas packages really helped our moral.  Nothing exciting or dangerous.

1-4 April 1945.  (mail sent/mail received)  In San Pedro Bay.  Received one liberty – had interesting conversation with Philippine guerrila.  Scabby sores on natives pathetic sight.  Still getting good mail service.  Red Light District.

(Note: the “scabby sores” were probably secondary syphillis – sailors often given penicillin IM before they let them off the boat!)

5 April 1945. Underway to Manila.  3 escorts with one troop ship.  15 knots – exceptionally fast convoy.

7 April 1945.  Arrived Manila. Passed very close to Corregidor and got a good look at it.  Liberty in Manila.  What a place.  Harbor full of sunken Jap ships.  Every building in business district damaged.  Most of them blown to bits.  Saw Jap mass-burial place.  Cars that looked like strainers.  Eats very high – 75 cents for one scoop ice cream.  Rode in cart affair (horse-drawn) through town cost us $2.50.  Men came back to ship drunk and not virgins.  People dress very American.  Had to wear whites on this liberty.  Really got my first glimpse of war devastation.  Got stamps and money souvenirs.

8-9 April 1945. Anchored in Manila harbor.  No mail service here at all.

10 April 1945.  Left Manila for Leyte

11 April 1945.  All hell broke loose at 1130.  We rammed native sailboat that was carrying 42 persons.  Called to G.Q.  As I was asleep, I really bounced out of my sack when alarm sounded.   Arrived at G.Q. station and heard hysterical screams of survivors and saw them as we illuminated them.  Picked up 37 survivors.  Continued search.  Picked up 2 small babies floating face down.  Dead when rescued, but boys worked feverishly for 3 hours with artificial respiration, but no luck.

12 April 1945.  (sent mail/received mail)  0330 another G.Q. with fire amidships.  I couldn’t imagine us having another G.Q. and just stood and listened to alarm, but when fire was announced, I tore up to station.  I was not in my sack at the time, as survivors had our compartment.  Two small girls had my bunk.  Fire not serious and confined to drying room.  Had 4-8 watch, so was up till 10:30 next night without sleep.  One small baby died from effects of night before.  Transferred the survivors around noon, as we arrived back in Leyte.  There were 36 alive (one expected to die), 3 dead, and 3 we could not find in the wreckage.  The miracle to me was the number that lived through the ordeal.  Saw anguish in mothers’ faces as they looked at dead children.  Saw and sympathized with those who missed their children.  The native craft was supposed to have been 50 feet in length and cost 10,000 pesos.  A very large native boat.  It was taking natives away from Japs on Mindanao.  We were first Americans they had seen since 1941. Doubt very much if they were happy to see us.  Made Y2C (Yeoman 2nd class).  Received authorization from ComSerfor.  Ship was very nice and did not make me wait for first of month.  That means treats for the boys.

13 April 1945.  (mail received)  Learned of President’s death (FDR).  Also got news of being 50 miles from Berlin.  Liberty at Pambujuan, Samar.  Pulled joke on chief regarding censorship regulations – very effective.

14 April 1945. LOST MY WEDDING BAND!  Don’t know how or where.  Did not eat morning chow, I felt so bad.  Hope my darling wife isn’t too mad at me for it.

15 April 1945.  (Mail sent/mail received)  Church on USS Medusa.  Memorial service for Roosevelt.  Very good.  Got our first fresh provisions in approx 3 months.  Received  letters from Wanda. Put 3 coats of paint on bottom of ship in 48 hours.  Not bad while in dry dock. Got us up at 5:30 for special sea details, then didn’t get away before 1100.  Purchased treats on ratings*. (Note:  *Rations?)

May – June 1945

25 April 1945 (sent mail/received mail)  Received Easter pictures.  Just love the ones of my wife.

26 April 1945 Saw 10 carriers of British Fleet which was a  big encouragement.  Firing practice.

27 April 1945 (mail sent/mail received)  Underway to Okinawa.  More firng practice.  New war cruising watch.  Now at G-2.

30 April 1945.  G.Q. at 0200.  3 planes.  Did not close.  Started dusk and dawn alerts.

Summary:  What a Month!!  Interesting at Manila.  Sailboat incident.  Lost wedding band. Made Rate (grade of official standing of enlisted men). Dry Dock (Whooie).  Headed for Okinawa.  196 days since I have seen my family.  Sure miss them.

1 May 1945 –  Rolled D.C. (damage control?) at good contact. At 1305, called to G-2.  Exploded a mine.  We were headed right for it when lookout sighted it.  Explosion sent water 150 feet in the air.

2 May 1945. Arrived Okinawa.  No suicide raids.  Shelling beaches.

3 May 1945.  1000 left Okinawa in company with BB Tennesee.  Heard of suicide raids 6 hours after we left.  One DD who was stationed 3000 yards from us was hit with 5 suicides.

4 May 1945.  Big suicide raids on Okinawa and Jap reinforcements landed.  Believe God definitely answered prayers of protection on this mission.  It was too rainy all the time we were in Okinawa for raids.  Numerous ones feel we were fortunate and lucky, but as far as I am concerned, God gets the credit.

6 May 1945. (mail sent/mail received)  Arrived back in Leyte after sinking floating nets earlier in the morning. Received 11 letters – more than I deserved for the ones I wrote this trip.

7 May 1945.  Liberty.  tramped through hills of  Samar.  Rest of day uneventful.  May 8 or 9- V.E. Day!!

9 May 1945  Into Dry Dock again.  Sound dome came loose.  Oh Me!!  Manicani Island.

10 May 1945.  Water hours.

11 May 1945.  Left dry dock.  Reported on ping line between Homonhon Island and Dinagat Island in Surigao Straits.  This is point of big Philippine naval battles.

12 May 1945.  Firing practice.  Shore bombard on Dinagat Island.

13 May 1945.  Firing Practice.  Held Vesper service in accordance with President’s request for prayers. Remembered and offered thanks for V.E. Day.  Mothers’ Day.  Sure miss you, Wanda.   Picked up loose sono buoy.

14 May 1945.  AA (anti-aircraft) Practice.  Knocked down sleeves, which indicates we could hit airplanes. Returned to Leyte.  Movies.  I played checkers.

15 May 1945. (mail sent/mail received).   Received 5 letters.  On liberty in Samar.  Boys couldn’t get over seeing WAC Camp – white women.  First group we have seen.  Played checkers again.

16 May 1945.  Starting on mail run.  Best and safest duty we could have gotten.

17 May 1945.  Arrived Zamboanga, Mindanao.  First stop on mail run.  Natives came out to ship in droves.  Bought large seashell.  Left at 1300.

18 May 1945.  Arrived Panay, second stop mail run.  PT boat came out so we didn’t go into port.  Left 0700.  Arrived Mindoro at 1900.  Showed movie.  Left 1000.

19 May 1945.  Arrived Manila 0600, left 1130.  Arrived Subic Bay 1500, left 0630.

21 May 1945.  Arrived Leyte 0600. Trip very uneventful.  No mail.  I was sort of disappointed.  Attended U.S.O. show on beach.  Oklahoma – very good under conditions.

22 May 1945.  Left 0930 for Guivan Roadstead.  Arrived 11:00.  Got stores, had movie in PM (I played checkers).

23 May 1945.  Left 0600.  Arrived Leyte 0800.  Left Leyte at 1000 for San Bernadine Straits.

24 May 1945.  Arrived on patrol station in straits. Boiler trouble, so we head back to Leyte.

25 May 1945.  (mail sent/mail received).  Saw 2 water spouts.  Arrived back home.  Received 3 letters.

26 May 1945 (mail sent/mail received)   Received 2 more letters today.  Got 2 Cokes off Medusa, Oh Boy!  2 for a nickel.

26 May to 9 June 1945.  Tied up alongside Medusa.  Enjoyed being able to get Cokes, Ice Cream, liberty every third day, and movies every night.  One  fellow went nuts and run off in the woods.  Not such a bad idea.  It got him back to the states.  Good church services on Medusa.

10 June 1945. Underway 1800 for Calicoan to get supplies.

11 June 1945.  Helped get stores on beach.  Missed good turkey dinner.  Left for Leyte about 1800.  Just got outside nets when we discovered 3 men left behind, so we turned around.

12 June 1945.  Headed for Leyte with full crew. Then headed out for patrol halfway between Leyte and  Yap. Firing practice.

15 June 1945. Dropped hedge hogs [A type of depth charge employed against U-Boats which were thrown ahead of the ASW ship. These devices were designed to explode on contact.].  Probably scared fish.  Sub reported sighted in our area, but we didn’t get any good contacts.

17 June 1945.  FATHERS’ DAY.  Oh me!  Here I am way out here. Headed for tropical storm area to investigate storm.  This navy is NUTS at times!!

He signed off “This is all I have”  – apparently he had written more, but the rest was lost – either while he was still in the military or in the subsequent years.

My grandfather passed away 8 February 2004.  I saw him for the last time in October of 2003 when I went back to America for a visit; I told him at the time that I knew it would be the last time I’d see him this side of heaven, and that I would not be able to be there for his funeral (I live in Switzerland).  His response was typical:  He said, “Well that’s alright, I won’t be there either!”  I loved him dearly, and I miss him; but I did give him one final warning:  God had strict instructions not to allow him anywhere NEAR my mansion until I get there… no booby trapping allowed!

Originally posted on History Undusted, 28 May 2013

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Imagination vs Knowledge

Some say that imagination is more important than knowledge; to a certain extent, that may be true because imagination leads to new discoveries, inventions, and revelations.  But knowledge is often the basis for such discoveries; that which has been passed down by others who’ve researched, discovered, identified and recorded are the foundational stones upon which things are often built, whether in science, technology, or life in general.

beware-of-the-half-truth-wrong-halfIn this day and age, however, sometimes imagination overtakes knowledge (or simply ignores it).  An informed mind is a powerful tool; an uninformed mind can be a dangerous weapon.  This is true whether writing non-fiction, fiction, or passing on something on social media.  We should beware of the half truths – we may have gotten hold of the wrong half.

It’s now more important than ever to test the veracity of reports and even images; anyone can make an ass out of an angel, so to speak, with photoshop, et al.  How much misinformation is spread by simple carelessness or wilful misdirection (that includes, unfortunately, mainstream news media)?  Or by assuming that since something is from a trusted friend it must be true?  How often have you gotten upset by an article you’ve seen and commented on it, or passed it on, allowing it to form an opinion in your subconscious at the very least, and in your active thoughts at worst, only to find out later that it was a false report, a hoax, or sloppy journalism?

abraham-lincoln-internet-quote

As you probably know, I love to learn; I have a steel trap of a mind for little bits of trivia, like the fact that certain microbes concentrate and disperse (read “poop”) gold, or that all living creatures, including you and I, emit visible light (probably a byproduct of biochemical reactions).  As a writer of fiction that comes in handy; I can extrapolate knowledge and use it as a plot detail or a character quirk; but when I’m writing a blog, e.g. about a historical detail, I want to make sure I get it right.  A case in point was an article I wrote in 2014 about post-mortem photography in the Victorian period; it was by far the most popular post to date on that blog and continues to generate interest.  In particular, two points from the article were addressed, researched, and edited/corrected either in the article itself or in the comments and discussion that ensued.  Mistakes happen, but when I catch them, I will do my best to correct them!

For writers, it is important to cross-reference anything you find online, especially if you’re basing something significant on it such as character development, location, or plot.  Assumptions can also get you into trouble; I know that Geneva is part of Switzerland, but in writing 18th-century fiction, I need to be aware of the fact that it was merely an ally of the Swiss Confederacy from the 16th century, but only became part of Switzerland in 1814.  Any reference I have to it in my trilogy needs to reflect that fact.

I recently read a collection of short stories on Kindle, and on nearly every single Kindle page there were mistakes (that adds up to a lot of mistakes per manuscript page!):  Missing words that the authors assumed were there, typos, commas 2 or 3 words off-position, stray quotation marks, and countless words they assumed were the correct ones but obviously were not (e.g. catwalk instead of rampart for a castle).  This is where imagination overtook the writer, and knowledge gave way to ignorance…  I have understanding for one or two such errors in a manuscript of that length, but none whatsoever for several per page; that simply smacks of laziness and poor-to-no editing, and it boils down to an unintentional slap in the face to any reader who’s taken the time to read their story.

Knowledge without imagination is like a rusted hinge; imagination is the oil that makes the knowledge come to life, and the writer is the door handle that opens the door to new worlds, new ideas, new discoveries, and inventions. It sounds noble, doesn’t it?  But did you realize that many of the electronic gadgets we take for granted today were at one time birthed in the imaginations of men like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek?  It inspired countless children who went on to become astronauts, scientists, and engineers, who made those science-fiction inventions become reality and discovered distant worlds (now known as exoplanets).  I’m waiting with bated breath for the transporter to replace airline security queues…

Those hinges are necessary, as is the oil, so that the door handle can do its job and get out of the way, allowing the world beyond to unfold.

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History Undusted: The History of Valentine’s Day

vintage-valentine-cardWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d just say a bit about the actual history of the celebration of love.  Throughout history, there have been variations of celebrations of love, but they didn’t always take on the innocuous form that modern-day marketing departments have dreamed up.  Here in Switzerland, 14 February is still fairly similar to 14 March – in other words, just another day in the calendar.  But celebrating love, in whatever form it takes, from loving your spouse or partner to loving your parents, your friends, pets or kids, is never a bad idea.  So let’s take a look at how bygone ages viewed it:

The innocently playful Valentine card started off more like a lottery ticket:  In ancient Rome, during the celebration of Lupercalia, the names of willing young ladies were put into a box and mixed up; young, available men could draw out a card at random, and that young woman or girl was thus won to remain his companion for the length of the celebration which lasted the modern date equivalent of 13-15 February, and was accompanied by animal sacrifices (a goat and dog).  Nothing said romance to the Romans like blood and guts and the smell of burning fur, apparently.

After a few centuries, the established Church realized that though you can lead a horse to water you can’t make it drink; so instead of forbidding the celebrations, they adapted them to be less offensive:  Their version was also a bit less entertaining; they drew names from the lottery as before but this time instead of young women, the name of a saint was drawn to whom prayers would be offered.  It was at this stage that Saint Valentine came to be associated with the day, as he had a reputation for being warm-hearted.  So the lottery for girls continued, perhaps more or less under the table, while ostensibly under the patronage of a saint.  By 1725 it had evolved into a game of drawing lots from two vessels, one each for men and women; their lot drawn was then their “Valentine”.  Not so sure how that worked – there must have been a prodigious amount of love triangles as the woman drew one name, the man drew another, and so on…

Another evolution in the celebration was as follows:  The first man seen by a woman that morning (outside her own household) became her willy-nilly Valentine, and neither could look for an alternative.  The famous Pepys left his home early on the morning of 14 February 1661 to be assured of getting the “right” Valentine, swapping a friend’s wife for his own for the day in a good-natured jest with the four of them.  It was customary at that time to give a handsome present to the Valentine’s woman, so it was worth getting a good one.  Mrs. Pepys got half a dozen pairs of gloves and a pair of silk stockings and garters out of that swap, so I can imagine that her husband did no less for his friend’s wife!

Letters to Valentines began as early as 1479, with references found in the Paston Letters, and continued for over 300 years.  The oldest Valentine’s cards were, naturally, all hand-made; the oldest one in possession, dated 1750, was in the Hull Museum as of the late 1940s.  Many such Valentine’s cards and letters were not kept as they were not worth the keeping to those who received them.  As the custom progressed, however, a clever marketing scheme was bound to spring up.  In the 19th century the commercial Valentine began life in the form of stationery (envelopes were unknown until after the 1840s), the stationery itself folded and serving as the envelope.  Still, such a ready-made Valentine was seen as a proof of failure, as people prided themselves in poems and compositions… they were labours of love, not a quickly-posted printed monstrosity.  So, new strategy:  Some Valentines were produced half-finished to allow the personal touch to be added in, and they were provided with a small parcel of add-ons (lace, hearts, trimmings, etc.) to that end.  In the end, it was hard for the individual to compete with a designer employing skilful artists, and the homemade Valentine vanished.

By 1880 the British post had to employ an additional 300-400 workers on 13 February to deal with the 1.5 million Valentines. (This statistic comes from the Post Office Magazine from February 1937.)  The manufactured cards continued to become more elaborate, embossed, lithographed, laced with studs, birds, baskets, ribbons and Cupids with colourful petals, trellis-work, and even perfume.  But as with all mass-produced items, art decays when it becomes profitable; mass-production caused a huge drop in popularity.  In the mid-1930s a new medium was explored, the Valentine telegram, which continued up until WW2.

My earliest memory of Valentine’s Day was in grade school; we each constructed and decorated a “letter box” and taped it to our school lockers; every day was like Christmas for that week, wondering who we’d gotten anonymous cards from!  Another Valentine memory is from college when I dated someone who was studying Chinese to become a missionary; on that February morning I went to my car to go to work and found a long-stemmed rose on the windshield with a card… in Chinese.  I still have the card somewhere, as a bookmark, and it still makes me smile.  We both went on with our lives in different directions, but I still consider him a friend.

So the next time you choose a Valentine’s card, ponder a moment.  Perhaps the sentiment would be better represented by a good, old-fashioned handmade card instead… that personal touch that will still speak volumes in years to come.

What are some of your own Valentine’s memories?

(For more fascinating histories of holidays and celebrations, check out The English Festivals, by Laurence Whistler.)

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History Undusted: Naval Slang

In our everyday language, we often use sayings without really knowing how they originated.  Sayings such as “to swing a cat” or “down the hatch” or “break the ice”.  These three have something in common:  They all began life as naval slang.

cat-o_-nine-tails__psf_The first, “to swing a cat,” has a rather gruesome beginning:  It refers to the cat-o’-nine-tails, a whip made up of nine knotted cords roughly 75 cm long that was designed by the British Royal Navy to inflict severe pain and lacerate the skin.  It was used in flogging for anything from drunkenness to mutinous talk to stealing.  It was known as a “cat,” and obviously they needed room to swing it, to get the full effect.  Today it merely refers to the size of a room or space as being “too small to swing a cat”.  Another nautical idiom with cat was “to cat the anchor”:  The cat referred to here was a large wooden beam on either side of the bow of a sailing ship which was used to support the weight of the anchor as it was raised or lowered; since there was usually the head of a lion or large cat carved at the head of the beam, it was called a cathead.

“Down the hatch” is more straightforward:  The hatch was the covering of the hatchway on a ship, an opening in the deck which allowed vertical access into the hold for loading cargo.  It means the act of drinking in particular, the mouth being the “hatch”.

“To break the ice” means to remove the invisible social barriers between strangers to ease conversation and social contact.  It comes from the specialized ships called “ice breakers,” which were designed to plough through icy waters, making the passage of other vessels possible.  Without such a ship, arctic expeditions could find themselves frozen in, land-locked by shifting ice sheets.

For many more sayings relating to naval history, check out “Not Enough Room to Swing a Cat” – Naval Slang and its Everyday Usage by Martin Robson.

Originally posted 28 on History Undusted.

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