Tag Archives: History

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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Basque Musings

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I just returned from a long weekend away with my husband in Bilbao, Spain.  I say that with trepidation, as, according to many Basque people, it is not Spain, but Basque Country.  There are some who are content to remain part of Spain and France, and others who want independence, so when in Basque Country, say it the Basque way.

As a lover of history, linguistics and just about everything else except strenuous exercise, I can say that it was a great weekend (even though a lot of exercise snuck in)!  Great weather, great food, great architecture, confusing languages, and interesting sites all round.  Here are some highlights:

Guggenheim Museum:  The building itself is well worth the visit!  The architect, Frank Gehry, literally designed the building on one of his free-form doodles. With only one straight wall that I could see, I can imagine that he was doodling when the phone rang and made his hand jerk, causing the straight line…  it’s an engineering feat, to say the least.  Just outside the Guggenheim are several sculptures, notably a giant dog made of flowering plants; it was intended to be a temporary display, but the people of Bilbao fell in love with it, and it’s now a permanent landmark.  There’s also one for us odd arachnophiles out there, a giant spider.  Two sculptures look like they’d float away, even though they weigh tons:  “Tulips”, and a tower of balls.

The weather was perfect, so we took a “Bilboat” tour down the waterway; it gave us the chance to see areas of the city which are usually far from the tourist route; areas that are in the throes of rejuvenation and restoration.

Pintxos:  You can’t go to Basque Country and eat in a usual restaurant!  You need to go (what my husband and I dubbed) “Pintxopping” – like pub crawling but for a Pintxos (“Pinchos”) dinner.  They are similar to Spanish tapas but far more elaborate; 5-6 will make a meal.  12 Euro will get you 6 Pintxos and a pint of beer.  Any Pintxos bar worth their salt will spread out a wide variety of the treats along the length of their bar, and diners choose a selection of hot and cold delicacies.  Bars pride themselves on signature creations; one bar we ate at had a mound of crab meat baked under a layer of squid-ink-tinted cheese, in the shape of a regional mountain.  Most are served atop toasted slices of Baguettes, though there are also many on skewers, or served as spring rolls.  If you’re now hungry, sorry about that – but you can find recipes all over Pinterest.

Language:  The Basque language (Euskara) is a language isolate – in other words, it is unrelated to any other known language. Within language families, one could interpret this or that word based on a known relative language, e.g. between English street and German strasse.  But looking at a road sign in Bilbao, you would have NO clue as to which word is the street name, and which is the word for street, road or path.  Unless you know Basque, you would have no chance of interpreting anything – even if the context is known. An example sentence from the article on Wikipedia illustrates that point:  “Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit” means “Martin buys the newspapers for me”.  It is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe,  with every other language that might have existed in relation to it having gone extinct, so there’s no way to decipher it based on a comparative method, linguistically.  It may have been related to the Aquitanian language, which was spoken in the region before the Roman Republic’s conquest in the Pyrenees region, but the exact origins are unknown.  It’s a fascinating study, if you’re interested!

One of the images above was taken on my flight home; the Alps were in fine form, and the weather great for flying; Matterhorn can be seen in the centre. I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour, and I would recommend that you get yourself a pintxo or two to tide you over until your next meal…

 

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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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POV

POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process.  Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.

Mark Twain - History's Ink is Fluid PrejudiceRecently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley.  The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity.  PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.

When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene.  For example:  I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome.  The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship.  The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead.  The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently.  The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome:  The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself.  This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong.  By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.

POV - Screenshot Marvel's Avenger'sIn this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.

If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”).  Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc.  Keep writing!

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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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Musings about Advent

For those of you in highly commercialized countries (I won’t name names, but the initials are USA, for one…), before Thanksgiving is past, Christmas decorations have hit the shop shelves.  Before Christmas is really digested, Valentine’s ads appear.  I hope that you’ll bear with me, as I contemplate a holiday between your Thanksgiving, and Christmas:  Advent.

In today’s global village, people around the world are aware of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, though it might not be a part of their indigenous culture or religion; they may even celebrate them, though that be more of a marketing incentive rather than a religious one.  I grew up in Kansas, and though we were aware of Advent as an event leading up to Christmas, we never celebrated it – we rarely, if ever, had an advent calendar, or advent wreath of candles.  Here in Switzerland, Advent is like an extended Christmas; our personal advent calendar contains small gifts, and of course chocolate; this year, with a teenager in the house, I also included gag gifts. Our particular form is the Tischibo bags, hung from a rustic red metal heart frame with hooks.

What is the history behind Advent?  What is its true meaning?  Advent, which comes from the Latin Adventus (which is actually a translation from the Greek word parousia), had two meanings:   In relation to Christmas, it is the inner preparation for remembering the first coming of Jesus as a babe into the world as a human, so that he could fulfil God’s plan for salvation for all.  For Christians, the second meaning is a time to reflect on, and prepare for, the Second Coming of Christ, which will be the end of time for Earth (no one knows the day or hour, and so the Bible tells us to be prepared – like someone on call needs to be ready to go when the call comes).  As an event, it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas; this year that would be the 27th of November, as Christmas itself falls on a Sunday.

There are several expressions of celebrating Advent:  The calendar, the wreath, and  devotions.

The calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century, and usually begins on the 1st of December.  They can take on any form imaginable, from a simple paper calendar, to gift boxes, or gift bags labelled 1 – 24.  Consecutive numbers are opened one per day from the 1st to Christmas Eve.  Sometimes the calendar includes a Bible verse and a prayer or Christian devotion for that day of the Advent.  There are even some towns that become living Advent calendars; this tradition began in Stockholm, Sweden.

The wreath, usually a horizontal decoration placed on a table, is made of evergreen boughs (real or synthetic) with four or five candles, representing the four Sundays prior, and Christmas day.  The four are usually red, with the white Christmas candle centred.  One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, with an additional candle lit each week.  The concept originated with German Lutherans in the 16th century, though the modern form didn’t catch on until the 19th century, likely in conjunction with the calendar.  For a detailed history of the wreath, click here.

The devotions are readings from the Bible accompanied by a prayer, to prepare the heart and mind for the Reason for the Season – the coming of Jesus as a man to Earth.

If you’ve never made an Advent calendar or wreath before (there is still time to prepare one!), or you want to try something new, below are a few examples I’ve collected from Pinterest.  Please share in the comments below what kind you use, or what your traditions around this time of the year are!

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The Thorny Issue of Horns

As an author and writer, I do a LOT of research.  I love history particularly, but then I could say the same thing about the topics of geology, astronomy, archaeology, science and technology, crafting, drawing, botany, and a dozen others.  As I apply my studies to my work, I am sometimes faced with the issue of horns – Viking helmet horns.

Real Viking Helmet

 

Accurate Viking helmet, reproduction.  Photo credit, Pinterest, unknown

 

While everyone seems to accept as a historically proven fact that Viking helmets had horns, the actual fact of the matter is that they didn’t.  While there were many horned helmets dating to before the rise of the Norse powers of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, most, if not all, were for religious or ceremonial purposes.  However, if I write a description of a Norse helmet and leave off the horns, someone will inevitably point it out.

Recently I spent a couple hours on Skype with one of my Beta readers for my current project, the third book in the Northing Trilogy (set in 18th century England).  Several of her comments were based on her knowledge of the 19th century as portrayed by Georgette Heyer, while others were based on her lack of historical knowledge that I, as the author, have amassed over time.  While some of that knowledge needs to seep into my writing to help the reader along, I have to continually remind myself (especially with this particular book in the trilogy, as it is centred around the Royal Navy) that I am not writing a history book but a novel, and anything I include needs to support the plot – the plot should never be forced to support a history lesson.  So it is that questions arose as to the behaviour and manners of the children of the time.

In any time period up until the mid-20th century, children in western societies matured far sooner than their modern counterparts, both out of necessity and out of cultural understanding of their roles in society.  Many families were dependent on the contribution made by the children in their household, whether it was housework, factory work, or working on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners, chimney sweeps, street sweepers, selling newspapers, or any other job they could earn money with (this is still true in many poorer countries of the world today).

If they came from a wealthy family, children were educated, but as to what extent and to which form it took very much depended on their particular circumstances:  They were educated either at home by tutors, or sent away to a boarding school.  Leaving school might be anywhere between ten and twenty; Jane Austen finished her formal education at the age of 10 or 11, whereas Charlotte Brontë’s character Jane Eyre left school at 18.  Boys who were second sons were often educated (after their basic education in either a college or at home) toward the military or toward a life as a minister (if their families held a high status in society, they might be trained toward politics; first-born sons, heirs, were rarely sent to the military due to the inherent dangers).

Midshipman Henry William Baynton, aged 13 -1780 - Wikipedia.jpg

Henry William Baynton, aged 13 years, 6 months, midshipman on the Cleopatra.  Photo Credit, Wikipedia.

If their fathers could afford to do so, these younger sons were often bought commissions in the military so that they would start off their career with some smidgen of position, such as a midshipman in the Royal Navy; the younger they entered, the sooner they could rise through the ranks, and thus it was not uncommon for lads of 7 or 8 to enter the navy.  Aboard ship they were trained in various skills, which included not only practical skills to do with the day-to-day running of the ship, but how to read navigational charts and how to use instruments such as sextants. How fast or slow they rose to higher ranks thereafter depended on their skills, intelligence, connections, and luck.

If poor children were either abandoned or given to workhouse orphanages because their families could not afford to keep them alive, they were also trained:  The girls were trained toward becoming servants (paying back society for the privilege of being alive), and the boys were trained for a life in the military (ditto).  They were taught to read using the Bible, and were expected to live by its principles.  Unfortunately, religion was often used as a guise for abuse and heavy-handed tyranny, but as the characters in Jane Eyre portrayed, some were true Christians in their behaviour toward her, such as her friend Helen, or the kind apothecary.  If the girls were going to become governesses, they would also be trained in more refined accomplishments such as French, drawing, needlework, history, etc.

All of this is to say that, were I to include all of this kind of information in a novel (and believe me, there’s a lot more where that came from!), it would get boring rather quickly.  And so I need to pick and choose what is used in the organic flow of the plot and character development that both serves those elements and also helps inform the reader; sometimes it’s a tricky balance.  So when the 11-year-old boy acts far more mature than a modern boy, unless the reader is aware of the historical context, I will inevitably get feedback to that effect.  Sometimes I can help their understanding by including e.g. the subjects he might be learning with his tutor, such as French, sciences, or elocution, but more than that might drag the story into the realm of a history lesson.

There are many modern myths, like the Viking horns, that people have accepted as historically accurate, when in fact they’re not.  One of my pet peeves is Christmas films that inevitably portray three kings showing up at the manger along with the shepherds in Bethlehem.  I won’t go into that here – if you’re interested in the historical details, read my article on History Undusted, here.  Other urban legends include:  We only use 10% of our brains; the full moon affects our behaviour; lightning never strikes the same place twice; cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis, and antibiotics kill viruses.  If I rankled any feathers there, or you said to yourself, “But that one is actually true,” then I would suggest you do your own research on the issue… I’ve got my plate full at the moment with the 18th century.

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Not Just A Pretty Face

History is full of fascinating stories; some of them are so strange that they would be tossed onto the sludge pile of any self-respecting publisher if it came across their desk in the form of a novel’s premise.  As Mark Twain so elegantly put it, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  The proof is in the pudding, as they say, in the following story:

What do the following three things have in common:  A young Jewish woman by the name of Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, born in 1914 in Vienna, Austria; the spread-spectrum technology that enables Wi-Fi, CDMA & Bluetooth; and a Hollywood starlet discovered in Paris by Louis B. Mayer in 1937?  Quite a lot, in fact; because the woman born in Austria was otherwise known as Hedy Lamarr, inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 for developing technology useful for a radio guidance system for torpedoes, the concept behind Bluetooth, Wi-Fi & CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and now used for entertainment and communication around the globe.

Lamarr, who became known as “the most beautiful woman in Europe”, was the only child of a prominent upper-class Jewish family, and her birth name was Hedwig (Hedy is the diminutive form).  At 18, she married Friedrich Mandl, reputed to be the third wealthiest man in Austria and an arms dealer who made a killing during the wars (in both senses of the word), in the proverbial bed with both Mussolini and the Nazis.  Lamarr would attend lavish dinner parties and business meetings with her husband as he networked with scientists and those involved in military technology, and her intelligent mind soaked up the information, nurturing her scientific talents.

Lamarr escaped her controlling and jealous husband by disguising herself as a maid and fleeing to Paris, where she obtained a divorce.  There she met Louis B. Mayer, who was scouting for European film talent; he had her change her surname to Lamarr, in homage to the silent film actress Barbara La Marr.  In 1938 she made her American film debut in “Algiers”, but because of her beauty, she was often typecast as a seductress; to alleviate the boredom, she set up an engineering room in her home and turned to applied sciences and inventing.  With the outbreak of World War II, she wanted to help in the war against the Germans, particularly in improving torpedo technology.  She met a composer, George Antheil, who had been tinkering with automating musical instruments; together they came upon the concept of “frequency hopping”:  Until then, torpedoes guided by radio signals could be jammed and sent off course just by tuning into their broadcasting frequency and causing interference; hopping frequencies would enable torpedoes to reach their target before their signal could be locked down.

Hedy Lamarr - Austrian-Actress-Invents-Control-Device

In classic Hollywood-portrayal style, the US Navy wasn’t interested in a technology developed by a beautiful actress and a musician in some suburban home.  I find the Stars and Stripes article above very telling as to their views of a pretty face actually being smart too; its tone is quite condescending from beginning to end.  The US military didn’t apply the groundbreaking technology for another 20 years, until the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  That same technology serves as the basis for our modern communication technology, enabling many people to use broadband simultaneously without interfering with each other; such situations as portrayed between Doris Day and Rock Hudson in “Pillow Talk” are unthinkable today, and all because of Hedy Lamarr.

So the next time you’re sitting in a café using Wi-Fi next to someone else on their own cell phone, give a wink to the memory of Hedy Lamarr.  May you be inspired to reach beyond the possibilities, and create fiction worth reading even in the distant future!

Hedy Lamarr Quote

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A Page in History

As a writer I’m constantly absorbing information; I never know when something might come in handy!  It may inform my scene with more realism, or infuse a character with a quirk or a background that gives them depth.  History is full of oddities and amazing events that can spark our imaginations; the event below is one such event:  If you ever need to write a scene about an explosion, or the effects of wrong decisions gone awry, look to history to teach you how it’s done (or in this case, how it should not be done).  This story shows the importance of decisions, and begs the question, “What if?”  What if one of those factors had changed?  What if the captain of the SS Imo had given way to the captain of the SS Mont-Blanc?  We’ll never know, but as writers we can use our greatest tool:  Imagination.

This day in history:  The Halifax Explosion

6 December 1917 will live on in infamy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in Canada, as one of the worst disasters in history.  On that day, the largest man-made explosion prior to the Nuclear Age occurred, wiping out several communities and reshaping Halifax forever.

The events that led up to the explosion that killed thousands and maimed thousands more reads like a thriller:  The delay of a shipment of coal; the climate of war that complicated the comings and goings from the harbour; an experienced captain now behind schedule who “bent the rules” for once; the captain whose impatience at previous delays pressed him to disregard the harbour speed limits and refuse to give way a third time; the third ship in his path who, because of their cargo (tons of explosives), could not make sudden manoeuvres and was relying on him to give way; a right decision made too late.  Curious onlookers who gathered at their windows to watch the blazing ship in the harbour had little idea that it would be the last thing most of them would ever see; if they were not obliterated in the initial blast, the light from the flash or the window glass shattering [in virtually every window within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mile) radius] blinded them; some 5,900 eye injuries were treated, leaving over 40 survivors permanently blind.

Confusion after the initial blast was compounded when people began evacuating thinking that it was a German bomb attack; fires throughout the city (caused by tipped oil lamps and ovens in collapsed homes) added to the confusion and hindrance to rescue efforts,  but within a few hours the true cause had become widely-enough known to calm initial fears.  Rescue teams started arriving from as far away as 200 km (120 miles), their help hampered by damaged roads and fears of secondary explosions from a munitions magazine at the Wellington Barracks.  To make matters worse, the next day blew in a blizzard which dumped 41 cm (16 inches) of heavy snow on the area; this blocked train transport with snowdrifts, and tore down hastily-erected telegraph lines.  Halifax was isolated, though the snow did help to extinguish the fires throughout the city.

Here in Switzerland, the NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) reported on the 7th of December:

“Zerstörung der Stadt Halifax? New York, 6. Dez. (Havas.)  Aus Halifax wird gemeldet: Die Hälfte der Stadt Halifax sei ein Trummerhaufen infolge einer Explosion.  Die Verluste werden auf mehrere Millionen geschätzt.  Der Nordteil der Stadt steht in Flammen.  Es gibt hunderte von Toten und an die tausend Verwundete.

[“Destruction of the city of Halifax?  New York, 6 December (Havas – a French media group based in Paris.)  From Halifax was reported:  Half of the city of Halifax lies in ruins as a result of an explosion.  The loss has been estimated at several million (unclear whether it means Canadian dollars or Swiss Francs).  The northern part of the city is in flames.  There are hundreds of dead and thousands injured.”]

On the 8th of December, a similar footnote was reported, adding, “Kein Haus der Stadt ist unbeschädigt geblieben…” (“No house in the city has remained undamaged”)

That it even made it into a footnote of the international news section is actually remarkable, considering that Switzerland was surrounded by war at the time and had far more pressing matters on the home front and in neighbouring countries with which to keep abreast.

In the end, it is estimated that over 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 injured (of those injured, it is unclear how many died of the injuries, and how many were permanently disabled in some way).  The blast was so hot that it evaporated water in the harbour, exposing the harbour’s floor momentarily; as water rushed back in to fill the void, the resulting tsunami erased a settlement of  Mi’kmaq First Nations along the shores of Bedford Basin, on the Dartmouth side of the harbour; how many were killed is not known, though around 20 families lived there at the time.

Halifax Explosion, 6 December 1917To read the fascinating history of this event, please click here.

Sources:  Wikipedia; NZZ digital archives

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I got Staffa’d

If you’ve wondered why my last post was over a month ago, it’s because when I go on holiday I do just that – I take leave of life, of schedules, of obligations and responsibilities.  Now that I’m back, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

They say you should write what you know; after our recent holidays to Scotland, I can now add to my arsenal that of being badly injured on a remote, uninhabited island!

DSCN5357 - The Isle of Staffa, from Ship

The Isle of Staffa

If you’ve never heard of the small Isle of Staffa, you don’t know what you’ve been missing:  Made of basalt columns, the island and its outcrops rise out of the Atlantic in an otherworldly fashion.  For hundreds of years tourists have been going to see this phenomenon of nature, and in  1829 it even inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave).  Fingal is the figure in the legend connecting Staffa with the same geology in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway:  The legend is that Fingal was a Gaelic giant who had a feud with an Ulster giant; in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland.  Irish tales differ to Scottish as to how the causeway was destroyed, but only the two ends remained – one at Staffa and the other in Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Other famous visitors to the island include Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Now to my own experience:  My husband Stefan and I were on the Isle of Mull off of the west coast of Scotland; we left our motor home there for the day and took a small boat, along with about thirty other hearty souls, on a 50-minute ride across open ocean to Staffa.  It is never guaranteed that the boats can actually land on the island, but on the day we took the excursion the weather was perfect, and the sea was as calm as open sea can be without the doldrums.

A larger ship than ours, boarding passengers at Staffa Pier.

A larger ship than ours, boarding passengers at Staffa Pier.

To get to the stone pier on Staffa, here’s how it’s done:  The captain of the boat waits outside of the jagged basalt outcrops jutting out from the island until a wave swells large enough to heave the boat in; then he revs the engine and speeds up to the pier on the lift of the wave.  From there, passengers are gradually handed off one at a time whenever the boat and the pier are relatively even between the swell of waves.  This same process is repeated to reload passengers, and the same at the pier of Mull (without the jagged rocks).

We landed safely and were walking, carefully watching each step on the uneven hexagonal basalt columns, toward Fingal’s Cave; I was literally thirty steps from the cave when my left ankle turned on a column that was apparently split, though the two surfaces were not visible on the black stones due to the angle of the sun.  Turned, as in dislocated… as in the foot was completely sideways at an angle one should never have to see one’s own foot!  I grabbed for the railing to keep from falling and swung myself to sit on a taller column; Stefan was right there, and I told him to “grab my ankle and wrench it back into place!”  Fortunately he didn’t stop to think about it – he just did it!  I could feel that it wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t going to be happy with me either.

Just passing us on their way back from the cave were a Canadian fire fighter’s wife and her adult son; she knew first aid and went into immediate action, having us pour cold water on my sock to keep it soaked and cold since we had no ice pack; she also gave me strong Tylenol and some extra to keep the pain and swelling in check.  I think my husband was in a bit of shock at what had just happened; I asked him to go on to the cave and take photos since I wouldn’t make it… it was also a way of giving him time to adjust, and to let him know that I wasn’t seriously injured, though I only thought of those reasons later.  The woman and her son helped me back to the stone pier; what had taken me five minutes to walk took twenty minutes back.  Now, remember how they landed the boat and disembarked passengers?  Do that with one foot.  Twice.

DSCN5386 - The Isle of Staffa

A bit of surf

The boat crew called the doctor on Mull, and he met us at his practice (once we manoeuvred the motor home up the single-track roads there).  Without an x-ray machine he couldn’t tell if it was broken; perhaps hairline fractured.  If that were the case, either way I’d just need to keep my foot elevated; a compression tube sock was my only new wardrobe accessory.  When we got out to have lunch in a pub at Fionnphort (the port for excursions), the waitress asked what happened and then said, “Let me guess:  Staffa?”  Thus, apparently, I can be added to a long list of injured tourists who got Staffa’d.

The blessing in disguise of it happening only a few days into our holidays was that I had two weeks of forced inaction to elevate my foot; thanks to the “brilliant” NHS system of Britain, it was impossible to get a pair of crutches that might have enabled me to leave the motor home (in Switzerland, one stop at the pharmacy got me rented crutches), so I got to see Scotland from the inside of the ‘home!  It wasn’t our first trip there, and certainly won’t be our last, so I didn’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime trip; and my attitude is that complaining about lost opportunities is simply a waste of time and energy – the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it.  My husband became my eyes and ears outside of the ‘home, and when he was out on hikes and excursions I got a lot of reading and writing toward my next novel done!  I still have a month to go of behaving myself – no dancing, hiking, or even driving a car – so I guess I’ll have a lot more time to read and write! (PS – That month turned into four months… and then six months.)

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