Category Archives: Military History

Snapshots in History: The Bulletproof Vest

Bulletproof Vests

Talk about trust!

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History Undusted: The Mississippi Delta Chinese

Mississippi and Chinese are not two terms one usually expects to see in the same sentence; yet it’s a slice of history worth undusting (though, for those who grew up in this subculture of the South, it’s not history, but reality): An industrious, well-educated but small population of Chinese immigrants made a significant impact on the economy and social environment of their communities along the Mississippi Delta.

The first influx of Chinese to America came in the pioneering days, when they worked in gold mines, along railroads, and provided laundry services in the Old West.  More came to work in the cotton fields of the South when the plantation owners could no longer count on free slave labour.  Most of these Chinese came from Guangdong province in China, which has a similar climate to the Delta.  The opportunity for work in America afforded them the chance to help support their family members who remained behind in China.  They quickly established themselves in a niche market between the whites and the blacks, serving both communities with segregated grocery stores.

During the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), they were unable to own property, so the families lived behind their stores in the same building; their children all attended one-room schoolhouses, some of which were built by the Southern Baptist church (which remains a big part of their lives). [The fact that there was such a law implemented to restrict a specific ethnic group is the greatest remaining witness to the number of Chinese immigrants of the initial wave (during the California Gold Rush, 1848-1855), as records or censuses of that time period have all but vanished.]  The parents worked 365 days a year to send their children to college; many of those children went on to be pharmacists, NASA scientists, veterans (the Delta was represented by 182 Chinese men who served in World War 2), doctors, and many other professions.

For a fascinating look at an almost unknown community in the heart of America’s South, click on the photo below and the links provided below that.

Mississippi Delta Chinese

 

E. Samantha Cheng: Discovering the Mississippi Delta Chinese Legacy

Heritage Series: Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese

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History Undusted: Hnefatafl (Viking Chess)

hnefatafl

Hnefatafl (meaning King’s Table, aka “Viking Chess”) is a board game that originated in Northern Europe; the oldest board found to date was located in Denmark, dated to ~ 400 BC. Because no written history of that period for northern Europe exists, apart from runic inscriptions on stone, wood, and bone, the rules of this game had to be recreated, so there are no hard and fast rules agreed upon by those who play it.  It is far older than chess, which originated in northern India in the 6th century AD and spread to the rest of the world through Persia.

In Hnefatafl, the game is played on a square board (as pictured). There are five spaces on the board that are considered special: The space in the centre of the board is the ‘Throne’ space, and the four corner spaces are the escape points for the King.

Unlike most modern board games, Hnefatafl does not start with even-strength sides (as in chess). The two sides are divided into attackers and defenders; in the illustration, the pieces along the edges of the board are the attackers, and those in the centre are the defenders. The objective of the attacker is to capture the king (centre). The objective of the defenders is to protect the king long enough for him to escape.

The board shown above is a modern version; but online, I’ve seen a wide variety of boards, from draw-bags of leather with stone pieces to wooden blocks on a large outdoor board.  I’m certain that the travelling Norse, who loved board games, word games and competitions of any sort, would have made do with whatever was at hand and would have also had travel versions of their favourite games, just like we do today.

For further information, check out the Wikipedia article, or see the rules and how to play the game here.

Originally posted on History Undusted,

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History Undusted: A World War II Love Story

Once in a while I come across amazing stories; this one is truly one of dedication, perseverance, love, and gratitude.

Peggy and Billie Harris were married just 6 weeks before he was sent off to war as a fighter pilot over Nazi-occupied France in the Second World War.  Six decades later, Peggy finally found out what happened to him, no thanks to her own government.  Deep gratitude to, and a friendship with, a small French village is just one result of her amazing patience and quest for the truth.  Click on the picture to hear about this amazing story. (9½ minutes long, 3-part story)

 

Peggy and Billie D. Harris, 1944

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Asunder’s Here!

ASU - Kindle, Optimal Pixel

Hi everyone!  I’ve been a bit anti-social lately, cyberworld-speaking, as I’ve been polishing up the final stages of my latest novel.  I can now say, “It’s here!!”  Woohoo!  Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy, tells the story of Timothy and Anne Northing – how they meet and come together despite the opposition and dissimilarities of their backgrounds:  Anne comes from a wealthy family, never having known personal hardships, while Timothy’s life has been anything but easy; he’s worked his way up through the toils of the Royal Navy, and is a newly-minted lieutenant when he meets Anne.

The writing process of this novel has been an adventure!  I’ve read dozens of history books, keeping in mind as I wrote that I wasn’t writing a history book – the information I gleaned had to serve the plot and character development or it would land on the cutting room floor, so to speak.    I had certain things that needed to take place in this book, as they were already “history” as far as the other two books in the trilogy were concerned (though this is clearly the third book, chronologically it is the first, which means that the trilogy can be read circularly):  Someone has to go insane; another has to become a captain before he loses half of his leg; another loses wife and child in childbirth; Adriana and Mary have to be born, and the characters have to end up in the place where The Price of Freedom begins.  These milestones take place within the complexities of the relationship between Anne and Timothy as it unfolds, and within the daily duties and dynamics of Timothy’s life at sea aboard the HMS Lulworth.

I can’t describe the feelings yet of holding this book in my hot little hands!  It’s been a long labour of love, and I’ve sometimes been a spectator of my own characters as they’ve developed and ripened over the years that I’ve lived with them in my head.  Even though they’re fictional, I know them well – better than I know some real people!

If you or someone you know loves to read, just click on the image above or in the side panel to the right!  The books are all available in both Kindle and paperback formats.  Please pass the word to your friends and family!  And once you’ve read one of my books and enjoyed it, please put a positive review on Amazon; Indie publishers rely on good reviews to pass the word.  Let your (Facebook) friends know, too!  Thank you!

I’ll be taking a breather at Christmas; in the meantime, I’ve got a lot of bits to do, including adding x-ray to my Kindle versions, updating blurbs and information around cyberspace, and letting folks know.

Have a great weekend, and keep writing!

 

PS:  Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

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History Undusted: The 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book

Sea Captians Logfixed(web)

As part of my research for my upcoming novel, Asunder, I came across the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  It’s a massive document, but below is a small gleaning; if you want more, check out my original posts on History Undusted here.  It’s a fascinating insight into life and demands at sea in the 18th & 19th centuries, and gives a glimpse of just how many of our common idioms originated at sea; how dull our language might have been otherwise!  I’ve also included a few odd ones that I think deserve revival!

ACCOMPANY, to. To sail together; to sail in convoy.

AVAST. The order to stop, hold, cease, or stay, in any operation: its derivation from the Italian basta is more plausible than have fast.

BADGER, to. To tease or confound by frivolous orders.

BALLARAG, to. To abuse or bully. Thus Warton of the French king— “You surely thought to ballarag us with your fine squadron off Cape Lagos.”

BAMBOOZLE, to. To decoy the enemy by hoisting false colours.

BEAT TO QUARTERS. The order for the drummer to summon everyone to his respective station.

BLOAT, to. To dry by smoke; a method latterly applied almost exclusively to cure herrings or bloaters.—Bloated is also applied to any half-dried fish.

BONE, to. To seize, take, or apprehend. A ship is said to carry a bone in her mouth and cut a feather, when she makes the water foam before her.

BOTCH, to. To make bungling work.

BULLYRAG, to. To reproach contemptuously, and in a hectoring manner; to bluster, to abuse, and to insult noisily. Shakspeare makes mine host of the Garter dub Falstaff a bully-rook.

BUNGLE, to. To perform a duty in a slovenly manner.

CLINCH A BUSINESS, to. To finish it; to settle it beyond further dispute, as the recruit taking the shilling (those who were impressed into the Royal Navy, if they took the pre-payment of one shilling, were forthwith considered volunteers).

COBBLE, to. To mend or repair hastily. Also, the coggle or cog.—Cobble or coggle stones, pebbly shingle, ballast-stones rounded by attrition, boulders, &c.

CORN, to. A remainder of the Anglo-Saxon ge-cyrned, salted. To preserve meat for a time by salting it slightly.

CUT AND RUN, to. To cut the cable for an escape. Also, to move off quickly; to quit occupation; to be gone.

EGG, to. To instigate, incite, provoke, to urge on: from the Anglo-Saxon eggion.

FLEATE, to. To skim fresh water off the sea, as practised at the mouths of the Rhone, the Nile, &c. The word is derived from the Dutch vlieten, to skim milk; it also means to float.

GEE, to. To suit or fit; as, “that will just gee.”

GUDDLE, to. To catch fish with the hands by groping along a stream’s bank.

HARASS, to. To torment and fatigue men with needless work.

HOLD-FAST. A rope; also the order to the people aloft, when shaking out reefs, &c., to suspend the operation. In ship-building, it means a bolt going down through the rough tree rail, and the fore or after part of each stanchion.

JIRK, to. To cut or score the flesh of the wild hog on the inner surface, as practised by the Maroons. It is then smoked and otherwise prepared in a manner that gives the meat a fine flavour.

KEEP YOUR LUFF. An order to the helmsman to keep the ship close to the wind, i.e. sailing with a course as near as possible to the direction from which the wind is coming.  LUFF, or Loofe. The order to the helmsman, so as to bring the ship’s head up more to windward. Sometimes called springing a luff. Also, the air or wind. Also, an old familiar term for lieutenant. Also, the fullest or roundest part of a ship’s bows. Also, the weather-leech of a sail.

MAKE IT SO. The order of a commander to confirm the time, sunrise, noon, or sunset, reported to him by the officer of the watch.

PIPE DOWN! The order to dismiss the men from the deck when a duty has been performed on board ship.

STAND FROM UNDER! A notice given to those below to keep out of the way of anything being lowered down, or let fall from above.

TOE A LINE! The order to stand in a row.

KICK THE BUCKET, to. To expire; an inconsiderate phrase for dying.

KICK UP A DUST, to. To create a row or disturbance.

LET FLY, to. To let go a rope at once, suddenly.

MAN-HANDLE, to. To move by force of men, without levers or tackles.

MARINATE, to. To salt fish, and afterwards preserve it in oil or vinegar.

NAIL, to. Is colloquially used for binding a person to a bargain. In weighing articles of food, a nail is 8 lbs.

OVERSHOOT, to. To give a ship too much way.

PITCH IN, to. To set to work earnestly; to beat a person violently. (A colloquialism.)

RANSACK, to. To pillage; but to ransack the hold is merely to overhaul its contents.

SKEDADDLE, to. To stray wilfully from a watering or a working party. An archaism retained by the Americans.

SPIN A TWIST OR A YARN, to. To tell a long story; much prized in a dreary watch, if not tedious.

SUCK THE MONKEY, to. To rob the grog-can.

TOP THE GLIM, to. To snuff the candle.

TROUNCE, to. To beat or punish. Used as far back as the 1550s.

TURN A TURTLE, to. To take the animal by seizing a flipper, and throwing him on his back, which renders him quite helpless. Also applied to a vessel capsizing; or throwing a person suddenly out of his hammock.

TWIG, to. To pull upon a bowline. Also, in familiar phrase, to understand or observe.

WADE, to. An Anglo-Saxon word, meaning to pass through water without swimming. In the north, the sun was said to wade when covered by a dense atmosphere.

WALK SPANISH, to. To quit duty without leave; to desert.

WEATHER ONE’S DIFFICULTIES, to. A colloquial phrase meaning to contend with and surmount troubles.

WHISTLE FOR THE WIND, to. A superstitious practice among old seamen, who are equally scrupulous to avoid whistling during a heavy gale.—To wet one’s whistle. To take a drink. Thus Chaucer tells us that the miller of Trumpington’s lady had “Hir joly whistle wel ywette.”

WORK DOUBLE-TIDES, to. Implying that the work of three days is done in two, or at least two tides’ work in twenty-four hours.

 

Image Source: Unknown.  Please let me know if it’s yours – I’ll gladly credit the artist!

 

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History Undusted: Avaldsnes, Norway: A Hidden Gem

In the summer of 2013, I went to Norway on a holiday/research trip for “The Cardinal,” a 2-part fantasy-science fiction novel set in ancient Scotland, ancient Norway, and modern Scotland.  Norway, however, seems to carry its dislike of small-talk into the area of promotion and marketing, and as a result, its museums and attractions are not as well advertised, marketed or signposted as they could be; we only found out about this little gem of a site because we happened to run into a Swiss friend in Haugesund, and he knew of the place!  I promised the curators to get the word out, so here’ goes, and with pleasure:

On the island of Karmøy, along the western coast of Norway, sits Avaldsnes.  With over 50,000 islands in Norway, it wouldn’t seem to our modern minds (as dominated by cars and roads as we are) to be a significant location, but Avaldsnes is rewriting Norse history.  It has long been a place from which to control shipping passages through the narrow neck of the Karmunsundet, also called the Seaway to the North, or in Norwegian Nordvegen, and it is the maritime route that eventually gave its name to the country.

The kings of sagas and lays have become real at Avaldsnes, the rich archaeological finds there making it one of the most important locations in Europe for the study of Viking and Norse history.  Avaldsnes was a royal seat, so it’s not surprising that some of the most important burials in Norway have been found here:  One of its ship burials was dated to the 8th century (making it much older than any other such burials known of thus far).  It was clearly a king’s burial, and the findings there have proven its political importance several hundred years before King Harald Fairhair unified Norway.

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Today there are three main points of interest at Avaldsnes, all within walking distance from each other:  St. Olav’s church, built on the site of the oldest church in Norway, was commissioned by King Håkon Håkonson around 1250 AD as part of the royal manor complex.  On the north side of the church stands the Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle, one of Norway’s tallest standing stones, measuring in at 7.2 metres today (though it was originally much taller; it can be seen in the picture above):  Local legend says that when the obelisk touches the wall of the church, Doomsday will come; over the years, priests have climbed the stone in the dead of night to chip away any threatening pieces from the top, thus saving the world from annihilation.  This church was an important site for pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (the medieval name for Trondheim, the capital of the land’s first Christian kings and the centre of Norwegian spiritual life up until the Protestant Reformation); on the north side of the church is a sealed door which was originally the entrance for those pilgrims, as it is said that they had to enter any church with their backs to the north.

The next site is the Nordvegen Historic Centre; at first glance, it’s merely a circular stone monument, but it is actually a stairway leading down into the underground museum, built so as to not interfere with the landscape.  The exhibitions guide you (with a bit of modern technology) through 3,500 years of history through Avaldsnes, focusing on daily life, international contacts and cultural influences from those contacts.  Foreign trade and communication were major factors at Avaldsnes, and archaeological evidence shows it to be a barometer to the prosperity and decline of European commerce as a whole.  The museum has a hands-on section, as well as a gift shop that’s well-stocked with books covering various aspects of Viking history.

The third site is a hidden gem, located about 20 minutes’ walk from St. Olav’s:  The Viking farm.  The gravel path takes you along the shore, over two bridges and through a forest to a small island.  It’s well worth the hike, as you come through the forest to find a Viking village tucked behind a typical Telemark-style fence (pictured above).  A 25-metre longhouse is the centrepiece, a reconstruction of a 950 AD house, and built of pine and oak, with windows of mica sheets.  The aroma of tar wafts from the house as you approach, as it is painted with pitch to weatherproof it; the smell reminds me of a dark peat-whiskey, and also of Stave churches, which are also painted with the tar.  [The photo of the longhouse has one element missing to the trained eye:  The low stone wall which should surround the house, as insulation, is missing at the moment while boards are being repaired.]  Other buildings on the farm include pit houses (both woven twig walls as well as wattle and daub) used for activities such as weaving, cooking or food preparation, and other crafts necessary to daily life; a round house, a reconstruction of archaeological finds in Stavanger (which may be a missing link between temples and stave churches in their construction); various buildings of a smaller size; and at the shore is a 32-metre leidang boat house, representing a part of the naval defence system developed in the Viking Age:  A settlement with a leidang was expected to man the ship with warriors and weapons when the king called upon them for aid.  When the boat house was vacant of its ship it was used as a feasting hall, and the modern replica follows that example as it is often hired out for celebrations or festivals.

Both the museum and the Viking farm have friendly and knowledgeable staff; the farm staff are all in hand-made period clothing and shoes; as a matter of fact, one of the women was working on her dress while we were there, and she said it was linen; the total hours to make such a dress from start to finish would be around 600 hours (including shearing, spinning, weaving, then cutting and sewing).  Had it been made of or included leather, it would have taken much, much longer.  That is why clothing was very valuable, and most people only had the clothes on their back; you were considered fortunate, and even wealthy, if you had a change of clothing – even into the mid-eighteenth century in countries such as England.

If you are interested in Viking history, Avaldsnes is well worth the journey.  Take your time; we stayed overnight in the area to spread the visit out over two days, and we could have spent much more time there.  If you’re a natural introvert like me, you’ll need time to process the multitude of impressions, but that’s what we like – quality time, and quality input.  And then get the word out about these points of interest!

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, 14 September 2013

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History Undusted: A Small Treatise on the Viking Age, begun 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: 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.

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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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