February 13, 1542 Six Wives of Henry VIII

The science to prove or disprove the theory didn’t exist in the Tudor era, but it may not matter. Anyone attempting to bring that particularly bit of news to Henry VIII, very likely would have paid for it, with his head.

Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, came to England to marry Arthur, the eldest son and heir to the throne of Henry VII, in 1501. Arthur died the following year and his younger brother took the throne, asking Catherine to marry him in 1509.

The Spanish princess-turned Queen Consort of England was by all accounts a devoted wife, but the marriage bore no sons. Henry came to believe, or said he believed, that it was punishment from God for marrying his brother’s wife. By this time the King had fallen hard for the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, Anne. Henry was in a pickle. His wife wouldn’t agree to a divorce, and Anne Boleyn was not about to give it up as a mere mistress. She was going to be the King’s wife, or nothing.

HenryVIII_wivesThe problem was, the Pope refused to grant the divorce. Henry launched the Reformation so that he could divorce his wife and marry this young girl from Kent, getting his divorce the following year and going on to become Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Catherine of Aragon died alone in a convent some three years later, the only Class Act in this whole, sorry story.

Catherine had been popular with the people, but this second wife was not. To many, she was ”the King’s whore”. Many believed Boleyn to be a witch who had cast a spell on the King. The marriage produced a daughter, Elizabeth, but again no sons.

On the day that Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Abbey, Anne miscarried a male child. The Savoyard ambassador Eustace Chapuys commented “She has miscarried of her saviour”.  There would be no divorce this time.  The King of England concocted a plot based on a rumor, and Anne was convicted of incest, adultery and treason. Anne Boleyn was executed by decapitation in 1536. She would not be the last.

Henry married Jane Seymour, 11 days later. Though she bore him a son, she died two weeks after the birth. Years later, Henry would request on his deathbed that he be buried next to her.

Henry+VIIIAnne of Cleaves would be wife #4, an arranged marriage with a German Princess intended to secure an alliance with the other major Protestant power on the continent, especially after England’s break with Rome over that first divorce. Henry was put off by her appearance however, apparently believing himself to be quite the prize. The marriage went unconsummated. They were amicably divorced after 6 months.

Catherine Howard was 19 and Henry 49 when she became wife #5. He was hugely fat by this time, with festering ulcers on his leg that never healed. Henry’s suits of armor reveal a waistline grown from 32″ to 54″. The man weighed 400lbs on his passing, five years later. Catherine was young and flirtatious, preferring the company of young courtiers to that of the fat old guy she was married to. She would be tried and convicted of adultery two years later. As with her predecessor, execution was by the headsman’s axe. Catherine Howard lost her head on, February 13, 1542.

Katherine Parr was the 6th and last wife of Henry VIII. Henry died in January 1547, Parr going on to marry Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron of Sudeley, six months later. Katherine died in September 1548, as the result of complications of childbirth.

Ironically, Henry himself may have been the problem, when it came to the inability to produce a male heir. Researchers revealed in 2011 that Henry’s blood group may have been “Kell positive”, a rare condition which would have initiated an auto-immune response in the mother’s body, targeting the body of the baby inside of her. It’s unlikely that first pregnancies would have been effected, but the mother’s antibodies would have attacked second and subsequent Kell-positive babies as foreign objects.

The science to prove or disprove the theory didn’t exist in the Tudor era, but it may not matter. Anyone attempting to bring that particularly bit of news to Henry VIII, very likely would have paid for it, with his head.

January 29, 1944 Operation Pied Piper

In the summer of 1938, the horrors of the Great War were a mere twenty years in the past.  Hitler had swallowed up Austria, only six months earlier.   Authorities divided the British Isles into “risk zones”, identified as “evacuation,” “neutral,” and “reception.”  In some of the most gut wrenching decisions of the age, these people were planning “Operation Pied Piper”, the evacuation of millions of their own children, in the event of war.

For the people of the modern Czech Republic, the Munich agreement of 1938 was a betrayal. “O nás bez nás!” “About us, without us!”

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Nazi propaganda depicting German Anschluss with Austria

Intent on avoiding war with Nazi Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain had convened in Munich that September, to resolve German claims on western Czechoslovakia.  The “Sudetenland”.  Representatives of the Czech and Slovak peoples, were not invited.

On September 30, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London, declaring “Peace in Our Time”.  The piece of paper Chamberlain held in his hand bore the signatures of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier as well as his own, annexing the Sudetenland, to Nazi Germany.

To Winston Churchill, it was an act of appeasement.  Feeding the crocodile (Hitler), in hopes that he will eat you last.  For much of Great Britain, the sense of relief was palpable.

In the summer of 1938, the horrors of the Great War were a mere twenty years in the past.  Hitler had swallowed up Austria, only six months earlier.   British authorities divided the home islands into “risk zones”, identified as “Evacuation,” “Neutral,” and “Reception.”  In some of the most gut wrenching decisions of the age, these people were planning “Operation Pied Piper”, the evacuation of millions of their own children, in the event of war.

94330When Nazi Germany invaded Poland the following September, London mayor Herbert Morrison was at 10 Downing Street, meeting with Chamberlain’s aide, Sir Horace Wilson.  Morrison believed that the time had come for Operation Pied Piper.  A year to the day from the Prime Minister’s “Peace in our Time” declaration, Wilson protested.  “But we’re not at war yet, and we wouldn’t want to do anything to upset delicate negotiations, would we?”

Morrison was done with the Prime Minister’s dilatory response to Hitler’s aggression, practically snarling in his thick, East London accent “Look, ’Orace, go in there and tell Neville this from me: If I don’t get the order to evacuate the children from London this morning, I’m going to give it myself – and tell the papers why I’m doing it. ’Ow will ’is nibs like that?”

Thirty minutes later, Morrison had the document. The evacuation, had begun.

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Next weekend, Superbowl 52 will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium, in front of a crowd of 66,655. In 1938, forty-five times that number were mobilized in the first four days of the evacuation, primarily children, relocated from cities and towns across Great Britain to the relative safety of the countryside. What must that have sounded like?

Operation_Pied_Piper-PosterBBC History reported that, “within a week, a quarter of the population of Britain would have a new address”.

Zeppelin raids had killed 1,500 civilians in London alone, during the ‘Great War’.  Since then, governments had gotten so much better at killing each other’s citizens.  As early as 1922, Prime Minister Lord Arthur Balfour had spoken of ‘unremitting bombardment of a kind that no other city has ever had to endure.’  As many as 4,000,000 civilian casualties were predicted, in London alone.

BBC History describes the man in charge of the evacuation, Sir John Anderson, as a “cold, inhuman character with little understanding of the emotional upheaval that might be created by evacuation”.

Children were labeled ‘like luggage’, and sent off with gas masks, toothbrushes and fresh socks & underwear. None of them knew to where, or for how long.

thumbnail_ww2evacueesThe evacuation of all that humanity ran relatively smoothly, considering.  James Roffey, founder of the Evacuees Reunion Association, recalls ‘We marched to Waterloo Station behind our head teacher carrying a banner with our school’s name on it. We all thought it was a holiday, but the only thing we couldn’t work out was why the women and girls were crying.’

Arrivals at the billeting areas, were another matter.  Many kids were shipped off to the wrong places, and rations were insufficient.  Geoffrey Barfoot, billeting officer in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, said ‘The trains were coming in thick and fast. It was soon obvious that we just didn’t have the bed space.’

Kids were lined up against walls and on stages, and potential hosts were invited to “take their pick”.

For many, the terrors and confusion of those first few days grew into love and friendships, that lasted a lifetime.  Others entered a hell of physical or sexual abuse, or worse.

For the first time, “city kids” and country folks were finding out how the “other half” lived, with sometimes amusing results.  One boy wrinkled his nose on seeing carrots pulled out of muddy fields, saying “Ours come in tins”.  Richard Singleton recalled the first time he asked his Welsh ‘foster mother’ for directions to the toilet.  “She took me into a shed and pointed to the ground. Surprised, I asked her for some paper to wipe our bums.  She walked away and came back with a bunch of leaves.”

John Abbot, evacuated from Bristol, had his rations stolen by his host family. He was horsewhipped for speaking out while they enjoyed his food, and he was given nothing more than mashed potatoes. Terri McNeil was locked in a birdcage and left with a piece of bread and a bowl of water.

an-evac-killed-by-bus-near-blackpoolIn the 2003 BBC Radio documentary “Evacuation: The True Story,” clinical psychologist Steve Davis described the worst cases, as “little more than a pedophile’s charter.”

Eighty years later, the words “I’ll take that one”, are seared into the memories of more than a few.

Hundreds of evacuees were killed because of relocation, while en route or during their stays at “safe havens”.  Two boys were killed on a Cornish beach, mined to defend against German amphibious assault. Apparently, no one had thought to put up a sign.

Irene Wells, age 8, was standing in a church doorway, when she was crushed by an army truck.  One MP from the house of Commons said “There have been cases of evacuees dying in the evacuation areas. Fancy that type of news coming to the father of children who have been evacuated”.

When German air raids failed to materialize, many parents decided to bring the kids back home.  By January 1940, almost half of evacuees had returned.

980xAuthorities produced posters urging parents to leave the kids where they were, and a good thing, too. The Blitz against London itself began on September 7. The city experienced the most devastating attack to-date on December 29, in a blanket fire-bombing that killed almost 3,600 civilians.

Sometimes, refugees from relatively safe locations were shipped into high-risk target areas. Hundreds of refugees from Gibraltar were sent into London, in the early days of the Blitz. None of them could have been happy to leave London Station, to see hundreds of locals pushing past them, hurrying to get out.

This story doesn’t only involve the British home islands, either.  American Companies like Hoover and Eastman Kodak took thousands of children in, from employees of British subsidiaries.  Thousands of English women and children were evacuated to Australia, following the Japanese attack on Singapore.

62d70d4914a701b66b42480e66c82105By October 1940, the “Battle of Britain” had devolved into a mutually devastating battle of attrition, in which neither side was capable of striking the death blow. Hitler cast his gaze eastward the following June, with a surprise attack on his “ally”, Josef Stalin.

“Operation Steinbock”, the Luftwaffe’s last large-scale strategic bombing campaign of the war against southern England, was carried out three years later.  285 German bombers attacked London on this day in 1944, in what the Brits called the “Baby Blitz”. You’ve got to be some tough cookie, to call 245 bombers a Baby Blitz.

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Late in the war, the subsonic “Doodle Bug” or V1 “flying bomb” was replaced by the terrifying supersonic V2.  1,000 or more of these, the world’s first rocket, were unleashed against southern England, primarily London, killing or wounding 115,000. With a terminal velocity of 2,386mph, you never saw or heard this thing coming, until the weapon had done its work.

15092_0In the end, many family ‘reunions’ were as emotionally bruising as the original breakup.   Years had come and gone and new relationships had formed.  The war had turned biological family members, into all but strangers.

Richard Singleton remembers the day his mother came, to take him home to Liverpool.  “I had been happily living with ‘Aunty Liz and Uncle Moses’ for four years,” he recalled. “I told Mam that I didn’t want to go home. I was so upset because I was leaving and might never again see aunty and uncle and everything that I loved on the farm.”

Douglas Wood tells a similar story.  “During my evacuation I had only seen my mother twice and my father once,” he recalls. “On the day that they visited me together, they had walked past me in the street as they did not recognise me. I no longer had a Birmingham accent and this was the subject of much ridicule. I had lost all affinity with my family so there was no love or affection.”

The Austrian-British psychoanalyst Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, commissioned an examination of the psychological effects of the separation. After a 12-month study, she concluded that “separation from their parents is a worse shock for children than a bombing.”

January 4, 1642  The Three Kingdoms

In the American colonies, the Petition of Right would pop up 129 years later, reflected in the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th amendments of the United States’ Constitution.  Four parts in ten, of what we now know as the Bill of Rights.

Agree or disagree with US government policy, what we do in this country we do as a nation.  It would seem absurd to us to see the President and Congress raise separate armies to go to war with one another, yet that’s just what happened in 17th century England.

Queen Elizabeth I passed away without issue in 1603, succeeded by her first cousin twice removed, King James VI of Scotland.  For the first time, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united under single rule.

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Royalist attack on the Parliamentary train at the Battle of Edgehill, October 23, 1642

The English Parliament of the age didn’t have a permanent role in government, instead being a temporary advisory body, summoned and dismissed at the will of the King.  Practically speaking, the King had no means to enforce his will on matters of taxation, without the consent of the “gentry”, the untitled land-owning classes who were the primary means of national tax collection.  This gave rise to an elected “House of Commons”, joining the House of Lords to form a Parliament.

James thought of Kings as “little Gods on Earth”, and had long gotten whatever he wanted from a supine Scottish Parliament.  The English Parliament was another matter.  James’ entire reign and that of his son Charles I, was one long contest of wills with the English governing body.

Charles’ 1625 marriage to a Roman Catholic, the French princess Henrietta Maria, did little to win him support in Protestant England.  His interventionist policies in the 30 years’ war made things worse, ending with Parliament bringing impeachment proceedings against his minister, the Duke of Buckingham.

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Battle of Marston Moor, July 2, 1644

Parliament drew up the “Petition of Right”, invoking the Magna Carta and severely limiting the King’s right of non-Parliamentary taxation, along with other restrictions on the Royal Prerogative.  Charles looked to the House of Lords to check the power of the Commons, but both houses ratified the measure by the end of May.

The King dissolved this first Parliament in 1629, putting nine of its leaders in prison and unwittingly making them martyrs for their cause.  The following 11 years are sometimes called “the personal rule” or the “eleven years’ tyranny”.  By 1640 Charles had severe money problems, forcing him to call another Parliament.

The King wanted a more docile body this time, so he appointed many of his adversaries as Sheriffs, knowing that this would require them to stay within their counties, making them ineligible for election.  On others he bestowed aristocratic titles, making them ineligible for the House of Commons.  Of course, that only moved them to the House of Lords.

Measures the King saw as reasonable, the legislative body saw as opportunity to negotiate, and this “Short Parliament” was dissolved within a month.  That was May 1640, and Charles once again called a Parliament that November.  This “Long Parliament”, proved as uncooperative as any before it.

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A significant Parliamentary victory was won at the Battle of Cheriton, fought on March 29, 1644

In January, Charles directed the legislature to surrender five members of the Commons and one Peer on grounds of high treason.  On the following day, January 4, 1642, the King himself entered the House of Commons with an armed guard of 400, demanding that the offenders be handed over.  The Speaker, William Lenthall, replied, “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”

Lenthall might as well have told the King “I work for these people.  I don’t work for you”.

It was a grave breach of protocol.  No King had ever entered the House of Commons.  Making things worse, the botched arrest had cut the feet out from under Charles’ supporters.  The two sides began to arm themselves that summer.  Full-scale civil war broke out that October.

Civil war ensued between Royalist and Parliamentary forces, as Ireland and Scotland broke with England’s primacy among the Three Kingdoms.

The period 1639-’51 saw a series of intertwined conflicts within and between the three kingdoms, including the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 and ’40, the Scottish Civil War of 1644–’45; the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Confederate Ireland, 1642–’49 and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649, collectively known as the Eleven Years War or Irish Confederate Wars and finally, the first, second and third English Civil Wars of 1642–’46, 1648–’49 and 1650–’51.

A “Rump” House of Commons indicted the King on treason charges, in a trial which was never recognized by the upper house.  Charles maintained that he was above the law, while the court argued that “the King of England was not a person, but an office whose every occupant was entrusted with a limited power to govern by and according to the laws of the land and not otherwise”.

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Charles I in Three Positions by van Dyck, 1635–36

Charles I was found guilty of treason and sentenced to die by decapitation.   Clothed in two shirts by his own request lest any shiver of cold be misinterpreted as a sign of fear, he put his head on the block on January 30, 1649.  “A subject and a sovereign are clean different things,” he said. “I shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be”.  With that, the King of England extended his hands to signal that he was ready, and his head was parted with a stroke.

Some 300,000 citizens of what is now known as the ‘United Kingdom’ lost their lives in the series of conflicts.  Roughly 6% of the population, almost twice that lost in the American Civil War.  Nationally, the burial rate increased by 29%, between 1643-’64.

The Protestant Reformation begun some 100 years earlier was itself ‘reformed during this period, as Charles’ stranglehold on church-state policy was replaced by more individualized religious experience.  Ritual was set aside in favor of The Sermon, as individual congregations coalesced around charismatic speakers.  Gone were the days of strong opposition and religious persecution, as previously ‘lunatic fringe’ sects from Muggletonians to Puritans and Quakers expanded across the British Isles and on to Great Britain’s overseas dominions.

The Rump House of Commons disbanded the House of Lords and England briefly became a Commonwealth.  The Scottish Parliament proclaimed Charles eldest son King Charles II of Scotland a week after the execution of his father, but Royalist hopes were dashed two years later when Charles was deposed and exiled to France.

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Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar, painted by Andrew Carrick Gow, 1886

“1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland” Oliver Cromwell became virtual dictator for much of the 1650s. Succeeded by his son Richard upon his death on 1658, the son was not the equal to his father. When the Royalists returned to power, they had Cromwell’s corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.  Parliament was reinstated, and the monarchy of the Three Kingdoms restored to Charles II, in 1660.

After that, all legal documents were dated as if Charles had succeeded his father, back in 1649.

In the American colonies, the Petition of Right would pop up 129 years later, reflected in the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th amendments of the United States’ Constitution.  Four parts in ten, of what we now know as the Bill of Rights.

December 30, 1863 The Confederate States of…Bermuda

“The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless… The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.”

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, it was the first of 11 states to do so. War broke out in April, and the Confederacy desperately needed ships for its fledgling Navy. It needed manufactured goods as well, goods which were no longer available from the industrialized North. The answer, in both cases, was Great Britain. While remaining officially neutral, England soon became primary ship builders and trade partners for the Confederacy.

For the British military, Bermuda had already demonstrated its value. Bermuda based privateers captured 298 American ships during the war of 1812. The place served as a base for amphibious operations as well, such as the 1815 sack of Washington, DC. British Commander Sir Alexander Milne said “If Bermuda were in the hands of any other nation, the base of our operations would be removed to the two extremes, Halifax and Jamaica, and the loss of this island as a Naval Establishment would be a National misfortune”.

slide_18President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation soon after taking office, threatening to blockade southern coastlines. It wasn’t long before the “Anaconda Plan” went into effect, a naval blockade extending 3,500 miles along the Atlantic coastline and Gulf of Mexico, up into the lower Mississippi River.

Running the blockade was no small or occasional enterprise. The number of attempts to run the Federal stranglehold have been estimated at 2,500 to 2,800, of which about 2/3rds succeeded. Over the course of the war, the Union Navy captured over 1,100 blockade runners. Another 355 vessels were destroyed or run aground.

runnerbritanniawilmCotton would ship out of Mobile, Charleston, Wilmington and other ports, while weapons and other manufactured goods would come back in. Sometimes, these goods would make the whole trans-Atlantic voyage.  Often, they would stop at neutral ports in Cuba or the Bahamas.

North Carolina and Virginia had long-established trade relations with Bermuda, 600 nautical miles to the east.

The most successful blockade runners were the fast, paddle wheeled steamers, though surprisingly little is known of the ships themselves. They were usually built in secrecy, and operated at night. One notable exception is the “Nola”, a 236-foot paddle steamer which ran aground on December 30, 1863, en route from London to North Carolina. Nola ran aground, attempting to escape threatening weather. She was wrecked near Western Blue Cut on Bermuda’s reefs, and remains a popular dive destination to this day.

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The blockade runner “Nola” was known at various times as Montana, Gloria, and Paramount.

President Lincoln appointed Massachusetts native Charles Maxwell Allen Consul to Bermuda in 1861, where he remained until his death in 1888. There were times when it was a great job, I’m sure, but not in the early days. “There are a great many Southern people here”, Allen wrote in 1862, “14 came in the steamer ‘Bermuda’. They & their friends are down on me & have threatened to whip me”. People were getting rich running the blockade.  Allen estimated that one blockade runner alone, which sank after three voyages, generated a profit of more than £173,000.

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Bermuda National Trust Museum

Today, the capital of Bermuda is Hamilton, moved across the island in 1815 from the old port of St. George, leaving the former capital in a kind of time warp, where you can walk down streets that look like they did 150 years ago. Portraits of Robert E. Lee and Confederate battle flags can still be found on the walls of the old port, beside paintings showing the harbor filled with blockade runners, lying quietly at anchor.

Once the office of Confederate Commercial Agent John Tory Bourne and Confederate Shipping Agent Major Norman Walker, today the Bermuda National Trust Museum tells the story of the island’s history, including Bermuda’s role in the American Civil War. The museum’s guide book explains: “The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless. Ships needed coal and provisions. Crews required lodging, food and entertainment between runs. Cargoes had to be unloaded, stored and reloaded, while crews and cargoes had to be ferried to ships lying at anchor. Bermudian pilots guided the ships through the reefs; those with skills as mates, carpenters, firemen and ordinary seamen signed on as crew. The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.

Sheryl and I traveled to Bermuda a while back, and visited the old port at St. George. At some point we learned about the maritime history of the island, as well. Making a living at sea in the 19th century was a dangerous business, so much so that one in ten of the married women living in Bermuda at that time, were widows.

It occurred to me that all those Confederate officers and enlisted men were spending a lot of time in Bermuda.  The possibility that followed soon morphed into a probability and then a certainty. At this point I can only wonder how many English citizens there are, residents of Bermuda and loyal subjects of the Queen, who can trace their paternity back to the Confederate States of America.

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‘The ‘Bonnie Blue’ flies over bonnie St George’s’ H/T Royal Gazette

 

December 29, 1895 If

The younger Kipling would not survive his father. He entered the First World War, and disappeared in the Battle of Loos, in 1915. His body was never found. The elder Kipling’s gift would live on, the words of fatherly advice to an only son, in a poem he called “If”.

It was the 9th of February, 1853, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Robert William Jameson went for a walk, while his wife and mother of his 11 children, a woman with the unlikely name of Christian Pringle, labored to deliver their 12th child. Jameson slipped on a grassy embankment and into a frigid canal, where he would have drowned if not for the kindly stranger who fished him out. The man said he was an American, named Leander Starr.  Before the day was over, Starr was godfather to a newborn Scottish baby boy.  Leander Starr Jameson.

ec213-afrForty years later and half a world away, what would one day become South Africa was divided into four entities: the two British possessions of Cape Colony and Natal, and the two Boer (Dutch) Republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, better known as Transvaal. Of the four states, Natal and the two Boer Republics were mainly agricultural, populated by subsistence farmers. The Cape Colony was by far the largest, dominating the other three economically, culturally, and socially.

There was considerable friction between Dutch and English settlers, stemming largely from differing attitudes toward slavery. British authorities passed legislation back in 1828, promising equal treatment for all under the law, regardless of race. Boer farmers argued that they needed forced labor to make their farms work, and that slaveholders were too little compensated upon emancipation.

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Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus (d.1884), by Carl Rudolph Sohn

The situation was exacerbated in 1867, with the discovery of vast diamond deposits near modern day Kimberly, in Orange Free State territory. The Cape soon annexed the territory as its own, which I think is a fancy term for “stole”.  The Boers found themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place, pressed by the British from the south and west, and by the Zulu “Impi” (army) of King Cetshwayo kaMpande to the north. War broke out between the two sides in 1880-81, called the “First Anglo-Boer War” by one side; the “First Freedom War” by the other.

Gold was discovered near Johannesburg in 1886, massive amounts of it, drawing tens of thousands of “Uitlanders”:  English, American and Australian foreigners, in search of employment and fortune.

Governor of the Cape Colony Cecil Rhodes wanted to incorporate the Transvaal and the Orange Free State into a single federation under British control, while the Transvaal government of Paul Kruger feared just that. Soon outnumbered by Uitlanders two to one, Transvaal limited the right to vote to those having many years’ residency, and imposing heavy taxes on gold mining profits.

By mid-1895, Rhodes had concocted a plan. In a scheme which could only be described as hare-brained, he would send an armed raid into Johannesburg, inciting an uprising of Uitlanders, with the aim of stepping in to take control. Back in London, the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, thought that was a swell idea, and did everything he could to encourage it.

On December 29, 1895, 400 Matabeleland Mounted Police and 200 assorted volunteers crossed from Rhodesia into Transvaal, with Leander Starr Jameson at their head.

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The raid was a humiliating failure.  They cut a wire fence, thinking it was a telegraph wire.  Transvaal authorities were tracking them from the moment they crossed the border. Meanwhile, Chamberlain got cold feet, saying that “if this succeeds it will ruin me. I’m going up to London to crush it”. Chamberlain ordered Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor-General of the Cape Colony, to repudiate the raid, threatening Rhodes and calling on British settlers in the Transvaal not to lend any aid to the raiders.

After several sharp encounters with dug in and well-prepared defenders, what remained of the raiders entered Pretoria on January 2, in chains. The Transvaal government received almost £1 million compensation from the British South Africa Company, turning their prisoners over to be tried by the British government. Jameson was convicted of leading the raid and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

During the whole ordeal, he never revealed the degree to which British politicians supported the raid, or the way they had betrayed him in the end.

Chamberlain Tries to Avert the Jameson Raid
Boer cartoon: Chamberlain Tries to Avert the Jameson Raid

So impressed was the poet, Rudyard Kipling, with Jameson’s display of stoicism under adversity, that he wrote a poem about it in 1895, later giving it to his son, Lieutenant John Kipling.

The younger Kipling would not survive his father. He entered the First World War, and disappeared in the Battle of Loos, in 1915. His body was never found.

The elder Kipling’s gift would live on, the words of fatherly advice to an only son, in a poem he called “If”.

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December 25, 1914 Christmas Truce

Allied soldiers first thought it was a trick, but these Germans were unarmed, standing out in the open where they could be shot on a whim.

“Sitzkrieg”. “Phony War”. Those were the terms used to describe the September ‘39 to May 1940 period, when neither side of what was to become the second world war, was yet prepared to launch a major ground war against the other.

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“The Blow on the Yser”, depicting the ‘Race to the Sea’. 6th in a series of postcards on the German invasion of France.

25 years earlier things had been different, at the outbreak of “The Great War”.  Had you been alive in August of 1914, you’d have witnessed what might be described as the simultaneous detonation of a continent.

When governments make war on one another, it’s the Harry and the Fritz down the street, the every day Pierre and the Ivan, who must do the fighting.  And the bleeding.  And the dying.

France alone suffered 140,000 casualties over the four day “Battle of the Frontiers”, where the River Sambre meets the Meuse.  27,000 Frenchmen died in a single day, August 22, in the forests of the Ardennes and Charleroi.

The British Expeditionary Force escaped annihilation on August 22-23, only by the intervention of mythic angels, at a place called Mons.

In the East, a Russian army under General Alexander Samsonov was encircled and so thoroughly shattered at Tannenberg, that German machine gunners were driven to insanity at the damage inflicted by their own guns, on the milling and helpless masses of Russian soldiers.  Only 10,000 of the original 150,000 escaped death, destruction or capture.  Samsonov himself walked into the woods, and shot himself.

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Angels of Mons

The “Race to the Sea” of mid-September to late October was more a series of leapfrog movements and running combat, in which the adversaries tried to outflank one another.  It would be some of the last major movement of the Great War, ending in the apocalypse of Ypres, in which 75,000 from all sides lost their lives.  All along a 450-mile front, millions of soldiers dug into the ground to shelter themselves from what Private Ernst Jünger later called the “Storm of Steel”.

On the Western Front, it rained for much of November and December that first year.  The no man’s land between British and German trenches was a wasteland of mud and barbed wire. Christmas Eve, 1914 dawned cold and clear.  The frozen ground allowed men to move about for the first time in weeks.

That evening, English soldiers heard Germans singing a Christmas carol.  “Silent night.  The Tommies were the first to respond, singing ‘The First Noel”.  Then both sides joined together, in a rendition of ‘O Come, all ye Faithful’.

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The following day was Christmas, 1914. A few German soldiers emerged from their trenches at the first light of dawn, approaching the Allies across no man’s land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in the native tongue of their adversaries.

Allied soldiers first thought it was a trick, but these Germans were unarmed, standing out in the open where they could be shot on a whim. Tommies soon climbed out of their own trenches, shaking hands with the Germans and exchanging gifts of cigarettes, food and souvenirs. In at least one sector, enemy soldiers played a friendly game of soccer.

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Captain Bruce Bairnsfather later wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. … I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. … I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. … The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”

Captain Sir Edward Hulse Bart reported a sing-song which “ended up with ‘Auld lang syne’ which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Wurttenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!”

Nearly 100,000 Allied and German troops were involved in the unofficial ceasefire of December 24-25, 1914, which lasted in some sectors until New Year’s Day.

christmas-truce-1914-400x186A few tried to replicate the event the following year, but there were explicit orders preventing it. Captain Llewelyn Wyn Griffith recorded that after a night of exchanging carols, dawn on Christmas Day 1915 saw a “rush of men from both sides … [and] a feverish exchange of souvenirs” before the men were quickly called back by their officers.

One German unit tried to leave their trenches under a flag of truce on Easter Sunday 1915.  They were warned off by the British opposite them.

christmas-military1-e1482512805772German soldier Richard Schirrmann wrote in December 1915, “When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines …. something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over”.

Some will tell you, that the bitterness engendered by continuous fighting made such fraternization all but impossible.  Yet there are those who believe that soldiers never stopped fraternizing with their opponents, at least during the Christmas season.  Heavy artillery, machine gun, and sniper fire were all intensified in anticipation of Christmas truces, minimizing such events in a way that kept them out of the history books.

1914-christmas-eve-truceEven so, there is evidence of a small Christmas truce occurring in 1916, previously unknown to historians. 23-year-old Private Ronald MacKinnon of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, wrote home about German and Canadian soldiers reaching across battle lines near Arras, sharing Christmas greetings and trading gifts. “I had quite a good Christmas considering I was in the front line”, he wrote. “Christmas Eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. … We had a truce on Christmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars”. The letter ends with Private MacKinnon noting that “Christmas was ‘tray bon’, which means very good.”

Private Ronald MacKinnon of Toronto Ontario, Regimental number 157629, was killed barely three months later on April 9, 1917, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The Man He Killed
BY THOMAS HARDY

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

December 24, 1814 Shanghai’d

In the 1860s and 70s, one “ferocious old harridan” called “Miss Piggott” operated a saloon and boarding house, in San Francisco. She’d maneuver unsuspecting guests over a trap door before serving them her “Miss Piggott Special” a potion consisting of equal parts brandy, whiskey and gin laced with laudanum or opium. One knock on the head with her “bung starter”, a wooden mallet used to open whiskey kegs, and she’d pull the lever and down they would fall, to the mattress waiting below.

In modern times, governments have employed various strategies to meet the personnel needs of national armed services. Recruiting methods range from voluntary to compulsory service, and even a lottery or other form of draft, in times of national emergency.

During the age of sail, vast numbers of skilled and unskilled seamen alike, were required to meet the needs of naval vessels at sea. Governments resorted to more straightforward methods of meeting manpower requirements, namely, kidnapping.

Such involuntary service or “impressment”, was first made legal during Elizabethan times, but the practice dates back to the 13th century.

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“Press gangs” would patrol waterfronts looking for vagrants, raiding taverns and even pouncing on unsuspecting victims in their beds. Prints from the time show armed gangs barging into weddings and hauling the groom away, much to the dismay of the bride.
Such “pressing” more often took place at sea, where armed gangs would board merchant ships and take what they needed, sometimes leaving victims without sufficient hands to take them safely back to port.

Such methods were essential to the strength of the British Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic wars. American merchant vessels were often targets. The British Navy impressed over 15,000 American sailors alone, between 1793 and 1812.

impressThe American public was outraged and there were calls for war in 1807, when HMS Leopard overtook the USS Chesapeake, kidnapping three American-born sailors and one British deserter, leaving another three dead and 18 wounded.

This time, American retaliation took the form of an embargo. Five years later, continued impressment of American seamen would be a major cause of the war of 1812, the conflict formally ending this day in 1814.

Crimping 1Outside of the British Royal Navy, the practice of kidnapping people to serve as shipboard labor was known as “crimping”. Low wages combined with the gold rushes of the 19th century left the waterfront painfully short of manpower, skilled and unskilled, alike. “Boarding Masters” had the job of putting together ship’s crews, and were paid for each recruit. There was strong incentive to produce as many able bodies, as possible. Unwilling men were “shanghaied” by means of trickery, intimidation or violence, most often rendered unconscious and delivered to waiting ships, for a fee.

Crimps made $9,500 or more per year in the 1890s, equivalent to over a quarter-million, today. The practice flourished in British port cities like London and Liverpool, and in the west coast cities of San Francisco, Portland, Astoria and Seattle. You certainly didn’t want to be caught out alone and drunk, in east coast port cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or Baltimore.

James Kelly kept several bars and a boarding house, in San Francisco. Better-known as “Shanghai” Kelly, the man provided a steady stream of the unwilling to labor aboard the undermanned ships of the San Francisco waterfront.

He once shanghai’d 100 guys, in a single evening.

In the early 1870s, Kelly rented the paddleboat Goliath, and widely publicized a free booze cruise to celebrate his birthday. Bartenders drugged unwitting revelers with opium-laced whiskey, and then offloaded them to waiting ships. Shanghai Kelly’s biggest concern was returning after such a public event, with an empty boat. His luck held, when another paddle wheel steamer, the Yankee Blade, struck a rock and began to sink. Goliath rescued everyone on board, and continued the party. Nobody back at the waterfront, noticed a thing.

Crimping 3, Bunko Kelley
James “Bunko” Kelley

Joseph “Bunko” Kelley was another infamous crimp, also working out of the San Francisco waterfront. The “King of Crimps”, Kelley once set a record, rounding up 50 guys in three hours. The Bunko name stuck, when Kelley delivered one crewman for $50, who turned out to be a cigar store Indian. In 1893, Kelley delivered 22 guys who’d mistakenly consumed embalming fluid, from a local mortuary. He sold all of them for $52 apiece though most of them were dead, a fact to which the ship’s captain only became wise, after returning to sea.

The “Shanghai tunnels” of Portland run through the Old Town/Chinatown section to the main business district, connecting the basements of hotels and taverns to the waterfront at the Willamette River. The tunnels themselves are real enough, though their history is shrouded in mystery. Originally constructed to move goods from the Willamette waterfront to basement storage areas, the number of unconscious bodies hustled down the dark chambers of the Portland Underground”, remains unknown. There are those who will tell you, the practice continued into the WW2 period.

State and federal legislatures passed measures to curb the practice after the Civil War, but crimping didn’t go away, easily. In their heyday, the owners of sailor’s boarding houses had endless supplies of manpower, fanning out across polling places to “vote early and often”.

crimping 2San Francisco political bosses William T. Higgins, (R) and Chris “Blind Boss” Buckley (D) were both notable crimps, and well positioned to look after their political interests. Notorious crimps such as Joseph “Frenchy” Franklin and George Lewis were elected to the California state legislature. There was no better spot, from which to ensure that no legislation would interfere with such a lucrative trade.

A brief list of infamous crimps includes Andy “Shanghai Canuck” Maloney of Vancouver, Anna Gomes of San Francisco, and New Bedford’s own “Shanghai Joe” and Tom Codd the “Shanghai Prince”. William “Billy” Gohl, the “Ghoul of Grays Harbor” of Aberdeen Washington, was also a serial killer.

In the 1860s and 70s, one “ferocious old harridan” called “Miss Piggott” operated a saloon and boarding house, in San Francisco. She’d maneuver unsuspecting guests over a trap door before serving them her “Miss Piggott Special” a potion consisting of equal parts brandy, whiskey and gin laced with laudanum or opium. One knock on the head with her “bung starter”, a wooden mallet used to open whiskey kegs, and she’d pull the lever and down they would fall, to the mattress waiting below.

Crimping 5Imagine the hangover the next morning, to wake up and find you’re now at sea, bound for somewhere in the far east. Regulars knew about the trap door and avoided it at all costs, knowing that anyone going over there, was “fair game”.

Widespread adoption of steam power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did as much to curb shanghaiing as did any legislative effort. Without acres of canvas to furl and unfurl, the need for unskilled labor was greatly diminished. The “Seaman’s Act of 1915”, sometimes called the “magna carta of sailor’s rights,” ended the practice for good.

You might want to do yourself a favor, though, and look out for that trap door.