December 25, 1914 Christmas Truce

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather later wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything”.

“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.

It was different 25 years earlier, at the outbreak of “The Great War”. Had you been alive in August of 1914, you would have witnessed what might be described as the simultaneous detonation of a continent.  France alone suffered 140,000 casualties over the four day “Battle of the Frontiers”, where the River Sambre met 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.

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 Christmas carols.  They saw lanterns and small fir trees, and messages were shouted along the trenches.  In places, British soldiers and even a few French joined in the Germans’ songs.

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 and 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.

christmastruce2Captain 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 ofChristmas Truce 1914, as seen by the Illustrated London News. December 24-25, 1914, lasting in some sectors until New Year’s Day.

A 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, but they were warned off by the British opposite them.

German 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.

ronald-mckinnon
Private Ronald MacKinnon

Even 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.

December 24, 1913 Italian Hall Disaster

Today, (falsely) “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” is a commonly understood limitation on the 1st amendment right to free speech

In 1913, there were about 15,000 men working in the copper mines of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) had been actively organizing the area since 1908, by 1913 they claimed 9,000 members.

At this time, the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (“C&H”) was the largest copper mining company in the UP. In July, union members demanded that C&H recognize the WFM as their collective bargaining agent. The company refused to recognize the union, and a strike was called on July 23, 1913.

Five months later, the two sides were still at an impasse. Striking miners and their italian_hallfamilies gathered on Christmas Eve at the “Societa Mutua Beneficenza Italiana”, the Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan, for a Christmas party sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the WFM.

The party was held in the second floor of the hall, accessible only by a steep stairway, a poorly marked fire escape, and a few ladders propped up against the back of the building. There were over four hundred people in the room when someone yelled “Fire!”  There was no fire, but panicked people rushed for the door. 59 children were crushed or trampled to death in the stampede, along with 14 adults.

In the wake of the catastrophe at Italian Hall, President of the Western Federation ofitalian_hall_disaster_in_pictures_-_kitchen Miners Charles Moyer publicly accused members of the pro management “Citizens Alliance” of responsibility for the disaster. He was subsequently assaulted by members of the Alliance, who shot and kidnapped him, placing him on a train with instructions to leave Michigan and never return. Moyer would later receive medical attention in Chicago, holding a press conference where he displayed his gunshot wound before returning to Michigan and resuming his work with the WFM.

A coroner’s inquest failed to determine who shouted “Fire!” and why, though 8 people testified in a 1914 Congressional investigation, that the man who first raised the cry of “fire” was wearing a Citizens’ Alliance button on his coat, indicating that he was an ally of mine owners.

The first unionized strike in Michigan’s UP had been called in pursuit of shorter work days, higher wages, union recognition, and to maintain family mining groups. Though unsuccessful, ending after nine months with the union being effectively driven out of the Keweenaw Peninsula, it would be a turning point in the history Michigan’s copper country.

Woody Guthrie wrote and performed a song in 1941, called the “1913 Massacre”. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz7oguguIZE) In it, Guthrie repeated the claim that the doors were held shut from the outside by management hired thugs. Others have blamed inward opening front doors, which became stuck shut in the crush of bodies, though photographs seem to suggest two sets of doors which open outward.

In 1856, a false cry of “fire” created a stampede at the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall of London, killing seven.   Similar disasters followed in Harlem in 1884, and the Shiloh Baptist Church disaster of 1902, when more than 100 people died when “fight” was misunderstood as “fire” in a crowded church.

Today, (falsely) “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” is a commonly understood limitation on the italian_hall_doorway1st amendment right to free speech.  It’s a paraphrasing of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s opinion in the 1919 SCOTUS decision, Schenck v. United States, a case which turned, in part, on the Italian Hall disaster of seven years earlier.

Italian Hall was demolished in October 1984, leaving only the archway to the front steps, behind which a state historic marker describes the events that took place there on December 24, 1913. Responsibility for the stampede and the 73 deaths resulting from it, has never been determined.

December 23, 1972 Miracle in the Andes

Warm and well fed members of the media made a hysterical fuss in the days that followed, about the manner in which those last few had survived

It was Thursday, the 12th of October 1972, when the Uruguayan Air Force turboprop departed from Carrasco International Airport. On board were 5 crew, along with 40 members of the Old Christians Club rugby union team from Montevideo, on the way to a match in Santiago, Chile. It’s a relatively short flight, equivalent to a trip from Boston to Chicago, with one major difference. The Andes Mountains.

andes_mountainsPoor mountain weather forced an overnight stop. They resumed flight on Friday the 13th, making their way through a mountain pass that afternoon. The pilot notified air controllers that he was over Curicó, Chile, but it was a fatal error. With zero visibility, he was forced to rely on dead reckoning, but strong headwinds had slowed them significantly. Cleared to descend 55 miles east of where he thought he was, the plane clipped two peaks at 13,800′, first losing a wing, then the vertical stabilizer, and finally the other wing. The battered fuselage crashed down on an unnamed peak, later called “Glaciar de las Lágrimas”, “Glacier of Tears”.

12 died instantly or shortly after the crash, including the team doctor. By the next morning another five were gone. Several had their legs broken as the plane’s seats piled together. Those who could move built walls of suitcases to shut out the cold. For a week they waited for rescue, while aircraft from three countries searched in vain for a white aircraft in snow covered mountains. I can only imagine the despair they felt on the 8th day, when survivors heard on their small transistor radio that the search had been called off.

andes-cannibalism-survivorsStranded and alone in the high Andes, meager supplies soon gave out. A few chocolate bars, assorted snacks and several bottles of wine. It was gone within days, as the survivors scoured the wreckage for crumbs. They ate leather from suitcases, tore apart seats hoping to find straw, finding nothing but inedible foam. Nothing grew at this altitude. There were no animals. There was nothing in that desolate place but metal, glass, ice and rock, and the frozen bodies of the dead.

The conclusion was unavoidable, one by one the survivors agreed. They had to eat their dead friends or none of them would survive.

An avalanche swept down on October 29, killing another 8 and burying the fuselage under several feet of hard packed snow. The survivors were buried alive, compressed into a horrifyingly small space from which it took three full days to claw their way out.

The days were above freezing as what passes for summer spread over the Andean highlands, but nights were bitter cold. Several set out soon after the avalanche, but had to return to the crash site after nearly freezing to death in the open.

They spent several weeks scrounging materials and sewing them into a makeshift sleeping bag for three. Three of the strongest, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintín, began their trek out of the mountains on December 12, 1972. It was two months after the crash.

It soon became clear that the distances were vastly greater than they had believed. Three were rapidly going through their meager rations, so Vizintín left the small expedition and returned to the crash site. This hike down the mountains was their only chance, and now there were two.

survivorsThe Juan Valdez of the coffee commercials is an “arriero”, a person who transports goods using pack animals. Parrado and Canessa had hiked for almost two weeks when they were building a fire by a river, and they spotted such a man on the other side. Sergio Catalán probably didn’t believe his eyes at first, but he shouted across the river. “Tomorrow”.

The 14 survivors waiting and hoping at the crashmiracle-in-the-andes site heard the news on their transistor on December 22, that they were saved. The first helicopters arrived that afternoon, flying out with the weakest of the survivors. Altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition. They were one decrepit bunch, but they were alive. The second expedition arrived on the morning of December 23, removing the last survivors around daybreak.

Warm and well fed members of the media made a hysterical fuss in the days that followed, about the manner in which those last few had survived. There were lurid headlines and grisly images of cannibalism, while others treated the whole thing like it had been some kind of glorious adventure. It was neither. Nando Parrado later wrote that “there was no glory in those mountains. It was all ugliness and fear and desperation, and the obscenity of watching so many innocent people die”.

December 22, 1944 Battered Bastards of Bastogne

The American medic, knowing he had to convey the intent of the message, translated as “Du kannst zum Teufel gehen”. You can go to hell.

The largest German offensive of the western front burst out of the frozen Ardennes forest on December 16, 1944, aiming to drive a wedge between British and American forces, and to capture the Belgian port of Antwerp, vital to the German’s ability to re-supply. It was called “Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein”, “Operation Watch on the Rhine”.

The tactical surprise was complete, allied forces driven back through the densely forested regions of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Wartime news maps showed a great inward “bulge” in the lines, and the name stuck. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the US in WWII, fought in the harshest winter conditions in recorded history and involving 610,000+ Americans.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/WAR IN THE WEST/THE LOW COUNTRIES

The seven roads leading to Antwerp converged in Bastogne, in what the Germans called “Straße Oktopus”, “Road Octopus”. The town was strategically indispensable to the German drive on Antwerp, and all or parts of 7 German armored divisions converged on the place. Over 54,000 men. The Allies understood the importance of the place as well as the Germans, and General Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to hold the town at all costs.

bastogne_resupply1944_smFor two days, a desperate defense of the nearby villages of Noville and Foy held back the 2nd Panzerdivision, as 11,000 men and 800 officers of the 101st joined a combined force of 11,000 converging on Bastogne. By the 21st, Bastogne’s field hospital was overrun, they were surrounded by forces outnumbering them 2½ to one. Poorly supplied for the cold winter conditions with air supply made all but impossible by weather conditions, the citizens of Bastogne gave their blankets to the American soldiers, along with white linens which they used for camouflage.

On the morning of December 22, 1944, two German officers appeared at the American perimeter along with two enlisted men, carrying a white flag. They were a Major Wagner of the 47th Panzer Corps, and Lt. Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Operations Section. They carried a note from German General Luttwitz, 165 words in all, and reading in part: “To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne. There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note”.

The note worked its way up the chain of command to the acting Division Commander, General Tony McAuliffe. Told that there was a surrender ultimatum, McAuliffe first thought that it was the Germans who wanted to surrender. Soon disabused of that notion, he laughed and said: “Us surrender? Aw, nuts!”

Knowing that he had to reply, McAuliffe said “Well I don’t know what to tell them.” Lt. General Harry Kinnard spoke up, saying, “That first remark of yours would be hard to beat”. McAuliffe said, “What do you mean?” and Kinnard replied “Sir, you said ‘Nuts’.” They all agreed, and McAuliffe wrote his reply. “To the German Commander, “Nuts!” The American Commander.”

Joseph H. “Bud” Harper was the American army officer who delivered the reply, with medic Ernie Premetz acting as translator.

Confused by the American slang, Henke asked “What does that mean?” Harper said to Premetz “You can tell them to take a flying shit.” The medic, knowing he had to convey the intent of the message, translated as “Du kannst zum Teufel gehen”. You can go to hell. Harper then said, “If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city.” Henke replied, “We will kill many Americans. This is war.” Harper then said, “On your way Bud, and good luck to you.”

Years later, Harper would say that he always regretted wishing them luck.

Elements of George Patton’s 3rd Army would break through from the southwest four days bastognelater, ending the German encirclement.

By the end of January, the last great effort of German armed forces had been spent and driven back beyond their original lines. An official report by the US Army on the Battle of the Bulge lists 108,347 casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded and 26,612 captured and missing. Those numbers could have been far worse, if not for what newspapers would soon call the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne”.

Afterward

Augusta Marie Chiwy (“Shee-wee”) was the bi-racial daughter of a Belgian veterinarian and a Congolese mother she never knew.  Thinking it safe to visit her father in Bastogne that Christmas, Chiwy found herself, like everyone else in that place, surrounded.  A trained nurse, Chiwy spent the augusta-chiwy-at-workentire siege tending to the wounded, along with Dr. Jack Prior.  Once, she even ran through enemy fire to collect the wounded from the field.  On Christmas eve, she was blown off her feet and through a wall. She got up and went back to it, despite the direct hit that killed 30 American wounded, along with the only other nurse at the Rue Neufchatel aid station, Renée Lemaire. 

A Black nurse called “Anna” briefly appeared in Historian Stephen Ambrose’ ‘A Band of Brothers’, and on the HBO series based on the book.  But who was Anna?  Was she a myth?  British military historian Martin King discovered her in a nursing home, 61 years after the encirclement ataugusta-chiwy-in-old-age Bastogne.  Chiwy married after the war, and rarely talked about her experience in Bastogne.  It took King a full 18 months to coax the story out of her.  The result was the 2015 Emmy award winning historical documentary, “Searching for Augusta, The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne”.

In 2011, she was awarded a Knighthood in the Order of the Crown in the name of King Albert II of Belgium.  The United States Army awarded her the Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service, presented by the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium.  Augusta Chiwy died on August 23, 2015, near Brussels.

December 21, 2007 MWD Lex

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois. Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois.  Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”. To these dogs, a tennis ball is the beginning and end of all joy. From that starting place, the dog is trained to associate finding a bomb with getting the tennis ball as a reward. The results can be astonishing.

The first official American bomb dogs were used in North Africa in the 1940s, where they were used to detect German mines. Today’s TEDD is a highly specialized and well trained soldier, working with his handler and able to detect 64 or more explosive compounds.

Military Working Dog (MWD) Lex was one such dog, deployed to Iraq with the Unitedlex-lee States Marine Corps in 2006. The dog’s second deployment began in November, when he was paired with Marine Corporal Dustin J. Lee, stationed in the military police department at Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB), “Albany”.

Detached as an explosive detection and patrol team for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, then part of Regimental Combat Team 6, the pair was patrolling a Forward Operating Base on March 21, 2007, when they were hit by a 73 mm SPG-9 rocket attack. Lee was mortally wounded, Lex severely injured with multiple shrapnel wounds. Despite his own injuries, Lex refused to leave his Marine and had to be dragged away before corpsmen could attempt treatment. There is little in this world to compare with the magnificent loyalty of a dog.

lexThe most dreadful moment in the life of any parent, is when they receive word of the death of a child. It wasn’t long after Jerome and Rachel Lee were so notified, that they began efforts to adopt Lex. Dustin was gone, but they wanted to make his partner a permanent part of their family.

An online petition was created by the Lee family, soon gaining national media attention as well as that of Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Camp Lejeune. US armed forces don’t commonly release MWDs prior to retirement age, but there can be exceptions.

Meanwhile, Lex had gone through a 12-week recuperation at Camp Lejeune, later re-deployed to MCLB Albany on July 6. He was once again at full working capacity, despite the more than 50 pieces of shrapnel veterinary surgeons had left in his back, fearing that removal would cause permanent damage to his spine.

Lex was at this time under the jurisdiction of the Air Force working dog program managers at Lackland Air Force Base.  Marine Corps Headquarters made a formal request for the dog’s release in November. Lex was released on December 6, and turned over to the Lee family in a ceremony on December 21, 2007.

Lex was 8 years old at the time.  He soon began to visit VA hospitals, comforting wounded veterans and assisting in their recovery. He received an honorary purple heart in February, 2008, and the 7th Law Enforcement AKC Award for Canine Excellence in September.  On March 19, 2010, the base dog kennel at MCLB Albany was named in honor of Corporal Dustin J. Lee, with Lex in attendance.

Lex’ injuries troubled him for the rest of his life, despite stem cell regenerative therapy at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital, assisted by the Humane Society of the United States and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield. Lex succumbed to cancer on March 25, 2012.

nate-zinoIn telling this story, I wish in some small way to honor my son in law Nate and daughter Carolyn, who together experienced Nate’s deployment as a Tactical Explosives Detection Dog handler with the US Army 3rd Infantry Division in Soltan Kheyl, Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Months after departing “The Ghan” in 2013, the couple was reunited with Nate’s “Battle Buddy”, MWD Zino, who is now retired and lives with them in Savannah.  “Here & Now”, broadcast out of ‘Boston’s NPR News Station’ WBUR, did a great story on the reunion.  You can hear the radio broadcast HERE.  Thanks for the great job, Alex.

To those TEDD teams deployed today and those of the 2013 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division: Spec.Nate Korpusik & K9 Zino, Sgt. Austin Swaney & K9 Rudy, Sgt. Logan Synatzske & K9 Bako, Spec. Chase Couturiaux & K9 Nina, Spec. Jake Carlberg & K9 Abby, Spec. Ethan Mordue & K9 Moto, Spec. Matthew Shaw & K9 Senna, Spec. Luke Andrukitis & K9 Robby, Sgt. Jeremy Shelton & K9 Rexy, Spec. Sean Bunyard & K9 Kryno, and Spec. Luke Parker & K9 Max:  I say with great respect and profound appreciation to these men, their dogs and their families, Thank you.

December 20, 1943 Fishing Buddies

“You follow the rules of war for you – not for your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity”

franz-stiglerAt the age of 26, Franz Stigler was an Ace. The Luftwaffe pilot of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter, some of his kills had been revenge, payback for the death of his brother August earlier in the war. But this man was no Nazi. He was a German Patriot with 22 confirmed kills. On December 20, 1943, he needed one more for a Knight’s Cross. He tossed his cigarette aside and climbed into his fighter as the crippled American B17 bomber lumbered overhead. This was going to be an easy kill.

21-year-old Charles Brown was at the throttle of that B17, a planeb17pilotcharlesbrown named “Ye Olde Pub”. The earlier attack on the munitions factory in Bremen had been a success, but the pilot and crew paid a heavy price for it. Their aircraft had been savaged by no fewer than 15 German fighters. Great parts of the air frame were torn away, one wing severely damaged and part of the tail torn away. The aircraft’s Plexiglas nose was shattered and the #2 engine seized. Six of the ten-man crew were wounded and the tail gunner dead, his blood frozen in icicles over silent machine guns. Brown himself had been knocked out at one point, coming around just in time to avert a fatal dive.

The aircraft was completely alone and struggling to maintain altitude, the American pilot well inside German air space when he looked to his left and saw his worst nightmare. Three feet from his wing tip was the sleek gray shape of a German fighter, the pilot so close that the two men were looking into one another’s eyes.

Brown’s co-pilot, Spencer “Pinky” Luke said “My God, this is a nightmare.” “He’s going to destroy us,” came the reply. This had been Brown’s first mission, he was sure it was about to be his last.

Before his first mission, Stigler’s commanding officer, Lt. Gustav Roedel, had said “Honor is everything here.  If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself”. Stigler must have remembered those words as he watched the wounded, terrified US airmen inside the B17, some still helping one another with their injuries. “You follow the rules of war for you – not for your enemy, Roedel had said. “You fight by rules to keep your humanity”.

ye-olde-pub-christmas-b-17
Tail Gunner, Ye Olde Pub

The German had to do something. The Nazis would surely shoot him for treason if he was seen this close without completing the kill. One of the American crew was making his way to a gun turret as the German made his decision. Stigler saluted his adversary, motioned with his hand for the stricken B17 to continue, and then peeled away. Ye Olde Pub made it, crossing 250 miles of the frozen North Sea before finally landing in Norfolk.

More than 40 years later, the German pilot was living in Vancouver, Canada, when Brownbrown-and-stigler took out an ad in a fighter pilots’ newsletter. It said that he was searching for the man ‘who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943.’ Stigler saw the ad, and the two met for the first time in 1987. “It was like meeting a family member”, Brown said at their first meeting, “like a brother you haven’t seen for 40 years”.

fishing-buddiesThe two became close friends and occasional fishing buddies until their passing in 2008, six months apart. Stigler was age 92 and Brown 87. Their story is told in a book called “A Higher Call”, if you want to know more about it. In their obituaries, both were mentioned as the other man’s “special brother”.

December 19, 1843 A Christmas Carol

The 29-year-old Charles Dickens was already a well-known and popular author when he stepped onto the shores of Boston Harbor on January 22, 1842

It’s hard not to love the traditions of the Christmas season.  Getting together with loved ones, good food, the exchange of gifts, and our favorite Christmas specials on TV.  I always liked a Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and of course there’s the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”, set against the vast brick factory buildings of Lowell, Massachusetts, along the Merrimack River.

Wait … What?

The 29-year-old Charles Dickens was already a well-known and popular author when he stepped onto the shores of Boston Harbor on January 22, 1842.

“The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby”; all were behind the young author when he came to America, perhaps to write a travelogue, or maybe looking for material for a new novel.

Dickens traveled to Watertown, to the Perkins School for the Blind, where Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan underwent their mutual education, a half-century later.  He also visited a school for neglected boys in Boylston.  He must have thought the charitable institutions in his native England suffered by comparison, he later wrote that “I sincerely believe that the public institutions and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly perfect as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and humanity, can make them.”

In February, Dickens took a train north to the factory town of Lowell, visiting the textile mills and speaking with the “mill girls”, the women who worked in those mills.  Once again, he seemed to believe that his native England suffered in the comparison.  Dickens spoke of the new buildings and the well dressed, healthy young women who worked in them, no doubt comparing them with the teeming slums and degraded conditions in London.

lowell-offering-coverHe left with a copy of “The Lowell Offering”, a literary magazine written by those same mill girls, which he later described as “four hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginning to end.”

Over a century and a half later, Natalie McKnight, professor of English and dean at Boston University, read the same 400 pages that Dickens read.  She couldn’t help but notice similarities between the work of the mill girls, and “A Christmas Carol,” published about a year and a half after Dickens’ visit.  Chelsea Bray was a senior English major at the time.  Professor McKnight asked her to read those same pages.

The research that followed was published in the form of a thesis, later fleshed out to a full-length book:

“Dickens and Massachusetts

The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visits

How Massachusetts shaped Dickens’s view of America”

Edited by Diana C. Archibald and Joel J. Brattin

Published May 1, 2015.

The book describes a number of similarities between the two works, making the argument that Dickens familiar story draws much from his experience in Lowell.

Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, was published for the first time 173 years ago on this day, December 19, 1843.