Monthly Archives: December 2012

WWI Belfast Soldiers’ Letters Found

Article by Jennifer O’Leary for BBC, December 27, 2012:

The men all came from St Mark’s Parish in Dundela in east Belfast.

They were writing to their rector, Reverend Arthur Barton, in response to Christmas parcels sent to them from their home parish.

“The women and people left behind were involved in making comfort parcels,” explained Dr Susan Hood, an archivist at the Dublin-based Representative Church Body (RCB) Library.

“There was a lot of knitting going on, a lot of different activities and fundraising and they put together these comfort parcels which would have been sent out with the good wishes of the parish.”

The soldiers from St Mark’s Parish took time out from the horror of the trenches to thank Rev Arthur Barton.

Richard Vincent Palmer was aged 24 and the son of a grocer.

“I thank you all for your kind thoughts of me and also for the very useful box of comforts you sent. The box contained just the things that are needed I think most by the men in the trenches,” he wrote.

“Socks are in great demand when the weather is bad and mud is everywhere, and the mitts and woollen headgear are desirable if not essential, when the weather is cold.

“We had both kinds of weather on our last trip in the line so you can imagine how thankful I was that your parcel had arrived the day before the battalion went into the trenches.

“I am now out on rest enjoying good health and am expecting to get leave soon.

Continue reading the main story
St Mark’s Parish soldiers’ names

John/James McKernon

Robert Algernon Brewis

Gerald Cleary

Daniel Commerford

Ernest P Palmer

William John Sterrett

Richard Vincent Palmer

Rob W Hanna

William Millikin

WJ McKay

“Again thanking you all for the parcel of comforts and trusting that before long we may see the end of the awful conflict.

I remain An Old St Mark’s Boy, R.V. Palmer”

William Millikin was also grateful for the parcel he received.

“I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to thank you also your church committee for the useful and beautiful parcel which I have received quite safe,” he wrote.

“Also for your own kindness to my wife and children as [in] the letters I get from home my wife says that you are very attentive to the children.

“Wishing yourself and Church every success.

“Yours sincerely, W. Millikin.”

In all, 10 men from St Mark’s parish sent letters from the Western Front to their rector.

“From consultation with the Somme heritage museum in Belfast we were able to ascertain that none of them were killed,” Dr Susan Hood said.

“Happily we know that they all came back safely.”

The letters were recently uncovered from the basement of Kilmore See House in Cavan, where Arthur Barton had later resided between 1930 and 1939.

Rev Arthur Barton kept the letters from the soldiers
“They were kept safe by Rev Arthur Barton as he had put them into an envelope that he marked in his own handwriting ‘soldiers presents’.

“The letters obviously had great poignant significance for him, perhaps in the aftermath of the war and realising just how awful it was.”

The RCB Library is hopeful that the letter writer descendants will get in touch.

“We’d be delighted to finish the story and complete the circle,” Dr Hood said

“And if the families of any of these men are aware of the connection with Dundela in east Belfast would like to get in touch with us and tell us what the story was after 1918 we’d be grateful if they would contact us.”

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Cause Found for Death of Egyptian King Ramses III

Story from Reuters, December 18, 2012:

The Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III, whose death has puzzled historians for centuries, had his throat slit in a succession plot concocted by his wife and son, a new analysis suggests.

New CT scans have revealed a deep and wide cut that was hidden by the bandages covering the throat of the mummified king, which could not be removed in the interests of preservation, researchers said on Tuesday.
“Finally, with this study, we have solved an important mystery in the history of ancient Egypt,” said Albert Zink, a paleopathologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy, which led the investigations.

During the study at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo researchers also discovered a small amulet that was inserted into the king’s wound – which Zink said was probably placed there by embalmers hoping it would heal the cut in the afterlife.

Ramses III, often referred to as the last great pharaoh, reigned over Egypt from roughly 1186 to 1155 BC. The exact cause of his death has been fiercely debated by historians.

Papyrus documents at the Egyptian Museum in Turin describe a conspiracy by Tiye, one of his wives, to kill the pharaoh so that her son Pentawere could succeed to the throne. They suggest the conspiracy failed and all the people involved were punished.

During the latest investigations, a genetic study of a previously unidentified mummy that was found in the same burial chamber as Ramses III revealed it to be a relative, possibly Pentawere. The study showed that he was probably hanged.

“Furthermore, he was not embalmed in a normal way. They had not removed his organs and he was wrapped in a goat skin, something considered impure in ancient Egypt,” Zink said.

Pentawere may have been forced to kill himself as a punishment for the conspiracy, Zink said.

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Unbreakable WWII Code Finally Cracked

Rachel Elbaum for NBC News, December 17, 2012:

A note written in code that was found on the skeleton of a carrier pigeon dating from World War II has been cracked, according to a Canadian history enthusiast.

Originally discovered in November, the message was enclosed in a red canister attached to the leg bone of the carrier pigeon. David Martin found the pigeon in the chimney of his home in Surrey, England.
The U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GHCQ), one of Britain’s three national intelligence agencies, said at the time that the handwritten message “cannot be decoded without access to the original cryptographic material.”

But Gordon Young, from Peterborough, Ontario, set his mind to deciphering the message using his great-uncle’s World War I code book.
“It follows same sort of code they used in the first war,” Young told NBC News. “I’m not saying my note is perfect, but I am saying the code is crackable and this one is pretty close.”

It took Young, the editor of a local volunteer history group, 17 minutes to understand the message, which consists of 25 five-letter code groups.
He believes that the message was sent one afternoon in 1944, not long after the Allied landing at Normandy. It was written by an officer who was dropped behind enemy lines, confirming an earlier lunch-time note he sent giving the map coordinates of the Germans’ guns and tanks. It also confirmed that several units of American and British troops had finally met up.

In addition to using his uncle’s code book, Young double checked with infantry maps online to confirm his hypotheses.

“To really understand the exact circumstances of the note, we would need access to British and American war diaries from the time,” he said.
‘Impossible to verify’

Despite Young’s translation, the GCHQ still maintains that without the original codebooks the note is indecipherable.

“We stand by our press notice of 22 November 2012 in that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt,” a spokesman for the GCHQ told NBC News in an emailed statement. “Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct.”

The pigeon is thought to have been part of a flock of 250,000 that were used to carry messages between the European front and Britain during World War II.

“I am hoping that this will stir up some interest in the bravery of the men who were dropped on the battlefield,” said Young.

“Imagine a guy dropping down behind enemy lines with crates of pigeons and a couple of bags of feed. How they didn’t get caught is amazing. It wasn’t like today where there are unmanned drones. These guys were risking their lives,” he added.

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Remembering Pearl Harbor

Betty McIntosh,a reporter for the Honolulu Star Bulletin in 1941, wrote a story about the days following the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7. Her editors refused to publish it then, fearing its content was too graphic for readers. Today, however, for the first time, her first-hand account appears in The Washington Post, as printed below: (a video of Betty, age ninety-seven, can be found on the Washington Post’s website)

For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.

The seven days may stretch to seven years, and the women of Hawaii will have to accept a new routine of living. It is time, now, after the initial confusion and terror have subsided, to sum up the events of the past week, to make plans for the future.

It would be well, perhaps, to review the events of the past seven days and not minimize the horror, to better prepare for what may come again.

I have a story to tell, as a reporter, that I think the women of Hawaii should hear. I tell it because I think it may help other women in the struggle, so they will not take the past events lightly.

I reported for work immediately on Sunday morning when the first news — Oahu is being attacked — crackled over the radio, sandwiched in a church program.

Like the rest of Hawaii, I refused to believe it. All along the sunny road to town were people just coming out of church, dogs lazy in the driveways, mynas in noisy convention.

Then, from the neighborhood called Punchbowl, I saw a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbor. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs. Suddenly, there was a sharp whistling sound, almost over my shoulder, and below, down on School Street. I saw a rooftop fly into the air like a pasteboard movie set.

For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you. It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.

The vision of death became reality when I was assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital.

The first victims of the Japanese-American war were brought there on that bright Sunday morning.

Bombs were still dropping over the city as ambulances screamed off into the heart of the destruction. The drivers were blood-sodden when they returned, with stories of streets ripped up, houses burned, twisted shrapnel and charred bodies of children.

In the morgue, the bodies were laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces. Their clothes were blue-black from incendiary bombs. One little girl in a red sweater, barefoot, still clutched a piece of jump-rope in her hand.

Firefighters from the Hickam Air Force Base carried the victims in. The men had a red T marked on their foreheads, mute testimony of the efficiency of first-aiders in giving tetanus shots to ward off lockjaw. The body of a man with a monogrammed shirt, H.A.D., was marked DOA (dead on arrival), trundled off to make room for victims who were still breathing.

There was blood and the fear of death — and death itself — in the emergency room as doctors calmly continued to treat the victims of this new war. Interns were taping up windows to prevent them from crashing into the emergency area as bombs fell and the dead and wounded continued to arrive. I had never known that blood could be so bright red.

Returning to the city, I felt a mounting sense of fear as Honolulu began to realize that more was in the air than an Army alert.

I went to a bombed store on King Street, where I often, in times past, stopped for a Coke at the cool drug counter.

Seven little stores, including my drugstore, had nearly completely burned down. Charred, ripply walls, as high as the first story, alone remained to give any hint of where the store had been. At the smashed soda fountain was a half-eaten chocolate sundae. Scorched bonbons were scattered on the sidewalk. There were odd pieces lying in the wreckage, half-burned Christmas cards, on one, the words “Hark the Herald” still visible. There were twisted bedsprings, half-burned mattresses, cans of food, a child’s blackened bicycle, a lunch box, a green raveled sweater, a Bang-Up comic book, ripped awnings.

I ran out of notepaper and reached down and picked up a charred batch of writing paper, still wet from a fire hose. There was, too, the irony of Christmas tinsel, cellophane, decorations. A burned doll, with moving eyes, singed curls and straw bonnet, like a miniature corpse, lay in the wreckage.

That Sunday after dusk there was the all-night horror of attack in the dark. Sirens shrieking, sharp, crackling police reports and the tension of a city wrapped in fear.

Then, in the nightmare of Monday and Tuesday, there was the struggle to keep normal when planes zoomed overhead and guns cracked out at an unseen enemy. There was blackout and suspicion riding the back of wild rumors:Parachutists in the hills! Poison in your food! Starvation and death were all that was left in a tourist bureau paradise.

I talked with evacuees. From Hickam, a nurse who had dropped to the floor in the hospital kitchen as machine gun bullets dotted a neat row of holes directly above her; from Schofield, a woman who wanted me to send word to her sweetheart “somewhere in Honolulu” that she was still alive; from Pearl Harbor, a nurse who wanted scraps of paper and pencil stubs to give to the boys in the hospital who had last messages they wanted sent home; a little girl named Theda who had a big doll named Nancy and who told me in a quiet voice that “Daddy was killed at Hickam.”

At the office there were frantic calls from all sorts of women — housewives, stenographers, debutantes — wanting to know what they could do during the day, when husbands and brothers were away and there was nothing left but to listen to the radio and imagine that all hell had broken out on another part of the island.

It was then that I realized how important women can be in a war-torn world.

There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do.

I discovered that when I visited the Red Cross centers, canteens, evacuee districts, the motor corps headquarters.

There is great organization in Honolulu, mapped out thoughtfully and competently by women who have had experience in World War I, who have looked ahead and foreseen the carnage of the past seven days and planned.

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Is Lincoln a Historically Accurate Movie? Some Thoughts by James McPherson

By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times
November 28, 2012

Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is a historical biopic more concerned with depicting the 16th president’s log-rolling politics than his log-splitting childhood.

“Lincoln,” one of many high-profile films this season based on real events, has been warmly embraced by critics and audiences. But there’s another group whose opinion matters — historians.

“There have been other movies about Lincoln,” said James McPherson, a Civil War historian, Lincoln biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Battle Cry of Freedom,” in a recent interview after seeing the film. “They tended to reflect a romanticized Lincoln, almost a mythologized Lincoln. This comes closer to reality. This shows Lincoln’s exhaustion, his gauntness — and his storytelling.”

McPherson, a professor emeritus at Princeton University, was one of many Civil War historians who met with Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner early on in the writing process to help provide background for the film. Initially, Spielberg had optioned Doris Kearns Goodwin’s three-man biography, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Ultimately Kushner used that book as a jumping-off point for the “Lincoln” screenplay, which depicts the last weeks of Lincoln’s life in 1865, when the president pushed for passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

In focusing on a short span of time, the movie delves deeply into Lincoln’s personality, his political tactics and relationship with his cabinet and family. As a result, McPherson said he considers “Lincoln,” which stars Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, the most accurate screen portrayal of the great leader that he’s ever seen.

AWARDS: Oscars 2013

We asked the historian to help answer some of our questions after seeing the film (Warning: If you haven’t seen “Lincoln” yet, this interview contains some spoilers):

Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice is quite high in the movie. Did Lincoln really sound like that?

Lincoln’s voice was described as being fairly high-pitched, rather than the deep baritone used by earlier actors. I think Lincoln may have had a little bit more of an Indiana-Kentucky twang than Mr. Day-Lewis has. Lincoln rarely if ever used profanity, and some of the dialogue calls for him to do that. I thought that was a bit jarring.

In the opening scene, Lincoln is shown on the street, chatting casually with some soldiers. Was he that accessible to ordinary people?

He was accessible, but usually in his office in the White House. He would in effect hold office hours and people could come to see him. The opening scene where he’s basically out on the street talking to soldiers is probably pretty fictional.

James Spader supplies a lot of the movie’s comic relief as W.N. Bilbo, a lobbyist the White House enlisted to help pass the 13th Amendment. How realistic is the portrayal of his backroom deal-making?

It’s overdone, but the effort to sway lame-duck Democrats through promises of patronage either for themselves or political supporters was basically accurate. Bilbo was a real person, but a certain amount of dramatic liberty is taken with the character. [Secretary of State William] Seward did use some New York politicians to carry out this effort, and in that respect there’s a certain amount of accuracy.

Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln as slightly unhinged, but smart and a bit of a political player herself. Is that a fair representation of the first lady?

This movie reflects a fairly sympathetic reading of Mary Todd’s character, although there are allusions to her going off the rails in 1862. The one somewhat unpersuasive scene was when she was greeting Thaddeus Stevens and some of the other congressmen at the White House reception and started bandying with them. It was an effort to give Sally Field some opportunity to portray Mary’s wittiness and feistiness, which she certainly possessed, but I don’t think it really happened.

In the movie, Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad [Gulliver McGrath], drives his pony through the White House, gets into the president’s war maps and gets away with a lot of mischief. Did it really happen that way?

That was pretty much true. When [Lincoln’s third son] Willie was alive, the two of them together had free rein in the White House, much to the consternation of [Lincoln’s private secretaries] John Hay and John Nicolay and much to the consternation of some members of the Cabinet. Lincoln was a very indulgent father toward those two boys, but not toward his older son, Robert.

Robert Todd Lincoln is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s a heartthrob to many 2012 moviegoers. Was the president’s eldest son actually cute?

He was pretty good looking. He did look a fair amount like the young actor who portrayed him. He had the reputation of being a little bit of a stuffed shirt. He did desperately want to get into the Army and I think for the reasons that are portrayed in the movie — he felt his reputation would be forever smirched if he didn’t. He spent most of the war at Harvard as a student. Although I’ll tell you one thing that bothered me — I thought it was out of character when Lincoln slapped Robert.

Some have criticized the small, relatively passive roles of the black characters in the movie — did Lincoln know many black people personally? He didn’t have a lot of personal black friends, but he had grown to admire a lot of black people he knew abstractly. One thing the movie leaves out is his relationship with Frederick Douglass. Lincoln came to know Douglass and admire him greatly, and Douglass did come to the White House.

Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) is revealed as having a romantic relationship that could have driven his avid abolitionism. Did that relationship really exist?

It was widely rumored at the time. There’s no proof one way or the other. Stephens kept that pretty private. He was not married and had no children, but the truth is we really don’t know.

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