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Posted in Africa, Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Marcus Regulus first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Shading his eyes from the hot sun, Marcus Regulus took one last look at the little farm upon which he sustained his family on the outskirts of Rome. Then he kissed his wife Marcia and his two sons goodbye and mounted his horse. The brief act in the life of Regulus that was to give him an amazing place in history had begun.
Regulus was mindful of it. As he rode towards the Senate House in Rome, his mind dwelt on the circumstances that were projecting him, a poor farmer, into a limelight he had never sought.
In this year of 256 BC Rome was at war with Carthage, her bitter enemy on the north coast of Africa. In time of war, the Senate decreed that the command of the army should go to the two consuls elected for that year – one from the rich patrician class and one from the plebian, or working class.
The patrician consul was Lucius Manlius. And his plebian counterpart was Marcus Atilius Regulus, the farmer.
Regulus had no fear of war, not even with the barbarian Africans of Carthage, who were known to feed their prisoners to the flames of the furnace in the belly of their giant, grotesque idol Moloch. But he was justified in being apprehensive of this particular war, for Carthage was famed for her fleet which ruled the Mediterranean, and to defeat the Africans Rome had first to win the war at sea.
To that end, the shipyards of Rome had been at full strength for months, building a fleet to match that of Carthage. Nearly 150,000 sailors were planned to man the new ships – helmsmen, oarsmen, and perhaps most important of all, handlers of the corvus, the secret weapon with which Rome’s architects of war hoped to win the sea battle – the victory they had to have before the land battle on Carthagian territory.
The corvus was simply a grappling iron. With it the Romans planned to pull the Carthaginian ships to their side so that their soldiers, who had little or no experience of fighting at sea, could turn the fight into a land battle, the land being the decks of the two ships linked by the corvus.
Regulus dwelt on all these things as, with his orders from the Senate, he embarked with his co-consul Manlius at the head of Rome’s 330 glittering new fighting ships. It wasn’t long before, off the coast of Sicily, they sighted the Carthaginian fleet, larger still, and commanded by Hanno and Hamilcar, two of ancient history’s shrewdest, battle-hardened admirals.
The Romans used ships as they used men – always in tight formation. To break that formation was the enemy’s first priority. Hanno and Hamilcar sailed their great quinqueremes straight at the Roman wedge formation, splitting it in two. Then they split the two into three, isolating each section before bringing it under fire.
Regulus had one strategy, and only one. That was the corvus. If it failed, if he could not bring his ships close in to the enemy, he would be at the mercy of their superior seamanship. Through the Carthaginian broadsides of deadly arrows and huge, burning darts, he sailed remorselessly closer – and closer.
The iron chains of the grappling irons rattled ominously as they swung out through the air, fell, and anchored themselves on the Carthaginian decks. Wooden prows struck and splintered as the Romans, glistening with sweat, pulled on the chains, dragging the enemy ships full against their sides, crunching the outstretched oars as the gap between them closed. Up went the drawbridge and over them went the Roman soldiers, shield to shield, spears poised to strike a thousand lethal blows.
They had turned the sea battle into a ‘land’ battle. And on land they were the masters. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Engineering, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sport, Transport on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about motor cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
T E Lawrence on his Brough Superior motor cycle by John Keay
The lean figure settled into the saddle of his motor cycle as he left the R.A.F. camp. Fingers moved the throttle lever and the throaty burble of the twin exhausts rose to a harsher note as the needle of the speedometer swept round to 60 – 70 – 80 mph. Overhead, the pilot of a Bristol fighter plane noticed the swiftly moving dot below and, swooping down to the tree tops, he pointed along the road in challenge. The rider of the motor cycle grinned and urged his mount past the 90 mark. Motor cycle and plane gobbled up the miles as they fought out their odd duel, till, as they neared Lincoln, the rider slowed his machine to a sedate pace and the pilot wheeled away waving a salute.
The rider was Aircraftsman T. E. Shaw – better known as T. E. Lawrence – the famous Lawrence of Arabia. The motor cycle he was driving was a Brough Superior SS100 – a machine which was so far ahead of its time that even now, 40 years later, its looks would command attention and its guaranteed speed of over 100 mph would outpace many modern machines.
As early as 1922, the journal “The Motor Cycle” had called the Brough Superior, the Rolls-Royce of motor cycles and the firm had adopted this as its slogan. Rolls-Royce took great pride in its name and there is a story that an official was sent down to inspect the Brough works at Nottingham to see whether this slogan should be permitted.
He was taken into a room where two men in spotless white coats and white gloves were fitting a petrol tank to a machine that was gleaming in its perfection. This so impressed him that he went back satisfied. It was just as well, the story goes on, that no one told him that the men were building a special machine to be displayed at the next motor cycle show.
In fact, the slogan was fully justified, for throughout their history Brough Superiors were built with the utmost care and without regard to price. George Brough had worked in his father’s firm which produced the Brough motor cycle before World War I. In 1919, George decided that the time had come to market a superb and powerful luxury machine for the connoisseur. His father disagreed, so George left and set up on his own to make the Brough Superior. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Literature, Medicine, World War 1 on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Francis Brett Young first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Francis Brett Young leading his wounded patients to safety
They cut back the thorn bushes and unloaded the panniers from the mules. It was not the best place for a dressing-station but it would have to serve.
The Maxims were crackling ahead of them and other machine guns stammered suddenly. The first wounded were stumbling in and Francis Brett Young, the medical officer, was soon busy, stripping off field-dressings and checking the classification of wounds. He caught a brief glimpse of men filing up to the line; their helmets bore the striped brown flash of the Rhodesians. Then his orderlies warned him that supplies of water were low. He sent them to fill cans at the river. They scampered back empty-handed. German askaris, they babbled, had crossed to this bank and were approaching. At that moment rifles barked nearby. A wounded soldier coming out of his morphine doze, began to scream: ‘They’re coming! They’re coming.’
Ask most people about the First World War and they will tell you at once of the horrors of the Western Front, of Gallipoli and of Lawrence in Arabia. But the war reached the farthest limits of the British empire and men from the British colonies in Africa soon found themselves embroiled. British, Rhodesian, Indian and South African troops fought the Germans in the Cameroons, in Togoland and in German South West Africa.
The longest African campaign was in German East Africa (later Tanganyika, now Tanzania), where, under the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the imperial forces were held at bay by the brilliant German commander, Von Lettow-Vorbeck. The campaign had begun badly with a seaborne assault on the port of Tanga, at the head of a valuable railway. It failed disastrously. For the next year the campaign was bogged down until the South African leader Jan Smuts took command and, with a series of lighting moves, took the initiative once more.
In May 1916 Smuts ordered a second attack on Tanga, this time by land. The allies had to cut their way through the worst sorts of terrain – stretches of impenetrable bush, dense forests and stinking swamps. They had to drive the Germans and their native troops (askaris) from strongly-held positions. And they had to survive countless forms of disease. This last enemy was the worst. So much depended on the extent to which medical officers like the 32-year-old Brett Young could keep the assault force up to fighting strength. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Sea, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Captain Webb first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel in August 1875 by John Keay
The vicious seas slammed into the flank of the little sailing boat, and spray covered the men peering anxiously to starboard in search of a tiny black dot in the water.
It was an important dot – a human being, struggling to be the first man ever to swim across the English Channel.
Nowadays the Channel is swum every year, with a fleet of escort boats with strong engines which can bring them alongside in a matter of seconds if a swimmer gets into trouble. But the only escort for Captain Matthew Webb on 24th August, 1875, was one cockle-shell of a boat, which was in almost as much danger from the rough seas as Webb himself! Even the men aboard the boat thought Webb was a madman. They were there because they had been paid by a London newspaper, but they fully expected to return to Dover carrying the body of a drowned man.
Webb had begun with a spectacular dive from Dover Pier. He was a short, strongly built man, already the holder of a Royal Humane Society Medal for trying to rescue a sailor who had fallen from a ship in the Atlantic. Later, as a test before swimming the Channel, he had outswum a boat full of oarsmen on the Thames.
Now, with his body smeared with grease as a protection against the cold, he was fighting his way across against weather which grew steadily worse with every hour that passed.
He swam breast-stroke, as most swimmers did in those days. It took him more than three hours to cover the first four and a half miles, but even so he was in good spirits. A cup of beer was handed down to him, also beef tea, and a spoonful of cod liver oil.
He grinned up at the men in the boat, handed his cup back to them, and kept on. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Nature, Plants on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about the primrose first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Christmas card with exquisitely painted primroses
The primrose is perhaps the best known of all our spring wild flowers, but have you noticed that there are two distinct types of this flower? These are known as the pin-eyed, and the thrum-eyed. In the pin-eyed primrose the style, or little stem on top of which is the stigma, is long and clearly visible, with the five stamens attached halfway down the tube. In the thrum-eyed kind the style is short and the stamens are at the top of the tube. This arrangement is an aid in pollination, because a bee picks up pollen from the stamens of one and deposits it on the stigma of the other type of primrose.
Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about the Brown hare first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
If you were to come across a group of brown hares this spring you would probably see a very enjoyable show. For spring has an extraordinary effect on the behaviour of hares. In March, and often in April, they gather in groups and stage mock boxing matches standing on their hind legs. They will leap, bound, buck and run around in circles in a crazy manner. These antics are associated with courtship and mating, and this is where the phrase ‘mad as a March hare’ comes from.
Unlike the rabbit, the brown hare is a true native of Britain. It is larger than the rabbit and has longer ears and hind legs. It can run very fast, sometimes reaching a speed of 40 miles an hour.
Hares rest during the day in long grass pressed down to make a kind of nest called a ‘form.’ This is where the litter of 4 to 5 young, or leverets, are born, usually in April. Unlike many young animals, they are born with their eyes open and have a soft furry coat. In less than three weeks they are able to fend for themselves.
Posted in Adventure, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery, Myth, Superstition on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Yeti first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
The Abominable Snowman
Only desperate men would have been wandering among the high passes of the Himalayas in winter, but Slavomir Rawicz and his handful of gaunt companions comforted themselves with the thought that the Indian frontier and freedom could not be far away. The year was 1942, and the little group of Polish officers was nearing the end of one of the epic marches of World War II. One-time prisoners of the Russians, the Poles had broken out of their prison camp and had made their way across the pitiless wastes of Mongolia until they had reached the “Roof of the World” that lay between them and their goal. Suddenly Rawicz gave a warning signal. It was unbelievable in those desolate wastes, but there were two men ahead.
Men? The escapers started wide eyed. What kind of men stood more than seven feet tall? Or tramped naked through the snow and biting wind, their huge bodies covered with coarse hair? The watchers kept silent until the weird figures moved away. Later, when they reached their destination, they recounted what they had seen.
“Those were not men,” they were told. “Those were Yeti.”
“Yeti?” Strangers to the East, the Poles had never heard the name before. Nor could they know that they may well have seen the fabled creature that some of the finest mountaineers in the world would soon be tracking in vain.
Some called the creature the Yeti. Others, the Abominable Snowman. Or Kangmi, or Bhanjakris or Rakshi. The monster had many names. But, legend apart, did it really exist?
The long quest for the Yeti has much in common with the search for Flying Saucers. A terrifying, hairy giant, whose favourite haunts are the slopes of Mount Everest, the Yeti is reputed to have been seen by scores of men, ranging from the inhabitants of remote Buddhist monasteries to British army officers. But just like the elusive Flying Saucer, it manages to avoid direct scientific observation. Yet most descriptions of the Yeti follow roughly the same pattern, even in legends that go back hundreds of years. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Aviation, Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about the S S Chelyuskin disaster first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Slowly, painfully, its screws whirring frantically, the S.S. Chelyuskin fought its way through the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean. On her deck, her captain, Julius Schmidt, worriedly watched the ice pack inexorably closing in on his vessel. He had good cause for concern. In this area, more sturdy ships than his had disappeared without a trace, crushed to death by the terrible ice-floes. Of course, these were the chances that sailors took when they travelled in this area. But the S.S. Chelyuskin was no ordinary ship, inasmuch as she carried no less than 103 people aboard, including ten women and two children. It was a grave responsibility for a captain to carry on his shoulders.
The S.S. Chelyuskin was a Soviet ship which had set off from Russia in the August of 1933, with the express purpose of proving that an ordinary cargo vessel could voyage through the north-east passage and back within a single season. In the previous year, a Soviet ice-breaker under the command of Julius Schmidt had managed to make the journey. But unlike the Chelyuskin, she had been specially built to withstand the enormous pressure of the ice-floes.
Even so, the Chelyuskin had so far come through magnificently. After collecting a party of Russian scientists and their families from Wrangel Island, she had weathered blizzards and storms and had so far sailed through hundreds of miles of pack-ice without misadventure.
But now was the true testing time. Some way ahead of the vessel lay the open Pacific. But to reach it there were still some miles of water to be navigated, water that was filled with drifting gigantic ice-floes which could smash in the sides of the vessel like matchwood.
Desperately, the vessel twisted and turned, its bows throwing up a steady shower of ice splinters. Every now and then the vessel would halt abruptly, trapped between two walls of ice. Whenever this happened, the crew would jump overboard with cans of explosive which they planted on the ice. Numbed with the cold and breathless from their exertions, they scrambled back on the ship each time, only seconds before the explosives went up.
Then suddenly, miraculously, the Chelyuskin was only six miles from the open seas of the Pacific Ocean. Surely now, after going through so much, they would reach their goal without misadventure? The sunshine that came out at this point, softening the bleak outlines of the ice, certainly seemed to indicate that the worst was over.
Then, without warning, and as if from nowhere, a raging blizzard descended on the Chelyuskin, driving the ice floes forward until they formed a solid barrier in front of the vessel. Now it began to move forward, grinding remorselessly against the ship’s sides, until it had broken her ribs at the bows, torn a hole in her forward, and snapped off her rudder.
It was at this point that Julius Schmidt went to the radio to inform the world of their desperate plight. But even after that the ship still continued to survive for another three and a half weeks before the ice forced the occupants of the beleaguered ship to abandon her. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty, World War 2 on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Leopold III, King of the Belgians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Leopold III, King of the Belgians
In the bitter spring of 1940, as the grim grey-uniformed German Army pushed through Northern Europe, one man made a decision that was for years afterwards, to divide a nation.
At 4 a.m. on May 28, half a million Belgian soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to the advancing Germans. This they did not on the orders of their generals, nor on instructions from their political leaders, but at the bidding of their handsome king, Leopold the Third.
Leopold’s instructions to his countrymen – who had fought bravely and acquitted themselves well – were given after a last desperate attempt by his Ministers to make him change is mind.
The king was adamant. He saw no further use in resistance. He told M. Spaak (then Foreign Minister): “I shall stay here whatever happens. I shall ask them (the Germans) to let me live in a castle in Belgium.”
The news that the Belgian Army had stopped fighting stunned and angered the allies. Tempers, already inflamed by the passions of war, were now inflamed in turn by hatred directed at Leopold. At 8 a.m. on the morning of May 28 M. Reynaud, the Prime Minister of France, broadcast to the French people and spoke in terms of contempt of the Belgian king.
The Belgian Prime Minister, M. Piertot, denied the right of Leopold to give a surrender order without the consent of the government.
The Germans were jubilant. “Under the impression of the devastating effect of the German arms the King of the Belgians has decided to put an end to further useless resistance,” screamed the Goebbels propaganda machine.
In London Winston Churchill sucked gravely upon the inevitable cigar and exhorted the allies to greater efforts. Meanwhile the German armies swept on into France, only the Channel separating them from Britain, and Belgium was occupied and out of the war.
Why had Leopold surrendered? Was he a hero or a traitor? Had the Germans made him promises? Since that day in 1940 the arguments have raged and some, but not all, of the questions have been answered. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Edward VII first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
King Edward in his Coronation Robes
“I am fully determined to be a constitutional sovereign in the strictest sense of the word.”
Thus spoke King Edward the Seventh to the Privy Council on the day after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. What is more, he meant it, and he meant something else as well; he was determined thoroughly to enjoy being a king, and to bring an entirely new image to that kingship and the age over which it was to reign. The occasional dreary “drawing rooms” which Victoria held when, briefly, she was at Buckingham Palace were out. The old place was given a face-lift with a new facade, and in the state rooms the champagne corks popped in an atmosphere of gaiety and glitter.
Edward was gregarious, tolerant, cosmopolitan and a seasoned citizen of the world.
“Good old Teddy,” roared the man in the street, who appreciated the unstuffiness of his new king in the new age.
When we write of this “Edwardian Scene,” we therefore have to take very good note of the man who set his seal upon it, or, at least, on part of it, because life was far from being all sunshine, parasols and roses in those first years of the new century. The poor were still very much there, and so were a number of other disagreeable things.
As the young Prince of Wales, poor Edward, had had an unhappy childhood. Both Victoria and Albert, his parents, had strong views on how a future king was to be brought up. A touch of university life? Certainly, but only under the strictest supervision of a glum old disciplinarian named Colonel Bruce, who was appointed as the prince’s “governor.” Wherever he went at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, it was under the eye of Bruce. Protocol forbade the prince to mix freely with other undergraduates. His companions were limited to whiskery old Bruce and selected professors.
Even at the age of twenty, when the Prince of Wales paid an official visit to Canada, there was Bruce tagging along to see that his charge behaved himself.
Was it, then, to be wondered at that, when at last both Victoria and Albert were no more, King Edward “The Peace-maker” was called by some wit, “Edward the Pace-Maker”? Read the rest of this article »