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Archive for January, 2012

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Religious massacres marked the birth of modern India and Pakistan

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, War on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about India originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Indian riots in 1947, picture, image, illustration

Riots during the era of Indian independence

The British corporal stood grimly in the hot Punjab sun, while a hundred Indians shouted triumphantly around the little post office. Flames licked upwards from the windows and, helped by a liberal dosing of petrol, the tinder dry building exploded into an almost instantaneous holocaust.

A wild eyed young man waved a stick at the watcher. “Just try to stop us, British soldier!” he cried. “Just try!”

Corporal Hobbs tucked his sub-machine gun comfortably under his arm. His job was to guard the refugees in the train that was standing in the nearby station. And in August, 1947, that was a good deal more important than getting involved in what the authorities called a “civil disturbance.” Besides, he knew well enough that the rabble before him consisted mainly of goondas – good for nothings who would wreck anything for loot. The Indian police would deal with them.

“It’s nothing to do with me, mate,” the corporal said grimly. “It’s your post office. If you want to wreck it, go ahead.”

Strictly speaking, it was not going to be the Indian’s post office for another few days, when India was finally to be granted her independence. But the idea was there all right. And it was one that had been growing for a long time. For perhaps a hundred years.

Up until the mutiny of 1857, British influence in India had steadily increased, but with the end of the old East India Company, more and more Indians had begun to dream of managing their own affairs. Oddly enough, it was the British who had made the dream possible, for it had been the white men from beyond the seas who had welded their country into a whole. Soon it became an accepted fact that one day power would be handed over. Only not right away, people told themselves comfortingly. Indian independence was something that did not have to worry them.

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Protecting Fenland birds fom the ancient sport of punt-gunning

Posted in Birds, Historical articles, History, Nature, Sport, Wildlife on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about nature reserves originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Dunlin, picture, image, illustration

Dunlin, a common wading bird on Breydon Water

In the damp darkness of a winter’s morning a warmly clad figure steals across the bleak, marshy shores of the River Stour on the Essex-Suffolk border. He slips into a narrow sided flat-bottomed punt fitted with an enormous nine-foot gun and paddles quietly off across the shallow waters. Carefully avoiding every mound and grass tufted islet, in case they should overturn his shallow craft, the man drifts with the current until his target comes in sight.

A flock of ducks, wreathed in the morning mist, some 60 to 70 yards away, eyes the punt nervously. The man lying prone on his stomach, steers the bow of the punt and the muzzle of the huge gun into line with the flock. Suddenly with a clatter of wings and squawks of alarm the ducks take to the air; the gun roars, the punt shoots backwards, and a dull boom echoes across the water.

This is punt-gunning, a hardy sport followed by the dedicated wild-fowlers who roam the sometimes treacherous saltings, the tidal marshes of the East Anglian fenland. Today there are few punt-gunners left for the pastime is largely outlawed by bird protection acts and local bye-laws, but 100 years ago the sport was in its heyday.

It was in the 1850s that rough characters in leaky, straight-sided punts, as often as not built by themselves, fired their unsafe guns at anything flying (or sitting!) all the year round. The punts were narrow and unstable and if the gun should be fired while pointing to one side, instead of straight ahead, the tremendous recoil would usually roll the boat right over.

The men who went punt-gunning, the fowlers, were a tough race of individuals. They scratched a meagre living by shooting and fishing, and used punt guns that were often antiques handed down from father to son. These fearsome weapons, some 7 to 9 feet long were loaded with a charge of black powder and a pound of lead shot. They had a kick like a mule, and if not handled properly, could inflict a serious injury on the user. Such a weapon fired at a flock of geese, ducks, wading birds or even gulls produced devastation in large numbers. A shoulder gun for picking off any birds injured in the blast, completed the fowler’s equipment.

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A very Roman tragedy – Cornelia’s sons, the Gracchi brothers

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Politics on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about Ancient Rome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Tiberius Gracchus, picture, image, illustration

Tiberius Gracchus, champion of the peasants, was murdered by the mob which had been skilfully manipulated by the Senate, by Angus McBride

Although the Punic Wars, in which Rome defeated her Mediterranean rival Carthage, spanned more than a century, the Romans had many other enemies to cope with in that same period. Indeed, a Roman farmer sharpening his military weapons in readiness for the Spring campaigns in which he fought as a part-time soldier might well have said to his inquiring wife, “I don’t know whether I shall be going east or west this year – for Rome is beset by enemies on all sides.”

After the Carthaginians, the chief of these enemies in this second century before the birth of Jesus were the Syrians, the Spanish and, particularly, the Macedonians.

Macedonia, the country of Alexander the Great, is today part of Greece, but in that warring century both Macedonia and Greece were separate states. When some Greek cities rebelled against their Macedonian masters, Philip the Fifth, King of Macedonia, tried to suppress them. Rome, long wanting a war with Macedonia for fear that Macedonia would soon become strong enough to crush her, chose this moment to attack.

The choice was fortunate, for the Romans overwhelmed the Macedonians. Later, during the Third Punic War, the Greeks, once allies of the Romans, attacked their old friends. For this, the Romans gave them a sound beating and spitefully destroyed their beautiful city of Corinth, after looting it of all its fabulous treasures.

Next, it was the turn of the Macedonians again. Their King Philip having died, he was succeeded by his son Perseus, who was a sly intriguer and violently anti-Roman.

Perseus, however, was no match for a Roman army led by Aemilius Paullus. The Macedonian soldiers were defeated in a battle that lasted only one hour.

Paullus was a great traditionalist and decided, as was his right, to celebrate the victory with a Triumph – a time honoured Roman custom in which the victorious legions marched home to the city with their banners waving and their people cheering.

As the Roman citizens, lining the Via Sacra, watched the procession, they become quite heady with self-satisfaction. Rarely had an army brought home such a treasure trove of plunder. Two hundred and fifty chariots were filled with statues and tableaux; 3,000 infantrymen carried gold and jewels and bags of money taken from the vanquished.

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Fairytale coaches and Rolls Royces housed in the Royal Mews

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Transport on Saturday, 28 January 2012

This edited article about the Royal Mews originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

Edward Oxford shoots at Queen Victoria, picture, image, illustration

Riding in an open carriage, Queen Victoria was an easy target for Edward Oxford in his assassination attempt of 1840, by Clive Uptton

In the Middle Ages, a mews was the place where the king kept his falcons while their plumage was changing.

But now, hunting with falcons is no longer an everyday sport of royalty, and the Royal Mews in London has come to be a fascinating centre of royal transport. Everything from coaches and horses to sledges and Rolls-Royce cars is now kept in the Royal Mews.

The entrance to the Royal Mews is off Buckingham Palace Road, through a Doric archway with a clock tower. The mews is in the shape of a quadrangle, with coaches kept on the east side of the quadrangle and some of the world’s finest stables on the west and north sides. More coach houses are behind the quadrangle, and here are also kept the state and private cars.

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The advantages of having a versatile backbone

Posted in Animals, Biology, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 28 January 2012

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

Giraffes' tea-time, picture, image, illustration

The giraffes are able to eat high tea because of their extraordinarily long backbones

If you stop and think about all the different movements you make with your body every day, you will begin to realise just how important your backbone is.

Think of all the actions you perform by bending your back. You would find it very difficult, for example, to sit up in bed without bending your back slightly, and you certainly would not be able to bend down and touch your toes without the help of your backbone.

All animals which have backbones or vertebral columns, are called vertebrates. The word “backbone” is, in fact, rather misleading, because it is not one long bone that runs down our backs, but a series of independent bones, irregular in shape and firmly connected to one another. Each bone is capable of a limited amount of movement which enables the backbone to be bent in various ways.

Movement is a very important function of the backbone, but there is another vital job which it has to carry out.

Every bone of the vertebral column has a hole running through it and through these holes runs the spinal cord which is a vitally important part of our body, because it is by means of the spinal cord that our nervous system works. Messages from all parts of the body are sent through the spinal cord to the brain. So, without a spinal cord we could not speak, move or perform any actions at all, and it is the function of the backbone to protect this spinal cord. In humans, the backbone must also support the weight of the trunk.

The different types of bones which make up the vertebral column are grouped under different names, according to the region of the body in which they lie. The thoracic bones, for example, lie in the chest region, the cervical in the neck, and so on. But all these vertebrae, or bones, conform to a general plan. Although at first sight, there may be little resemblance between the neck of a man and those of a giraffe or a shark, all the essential characteristics of the backbones of these animals will be found to be identical.

When McCarthyism was considered patriotic Americanism

Posted in America, Cinema, Communism, Espionage, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Saturday, 28 January 2012

This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

The White House, picture, image, illustration

Icons of America: the White House with Stars and Stripes and Abraham Lincoln by Angus McBride

You have seen the place many times in news-pictures and on television in recent months. A big room, the walls hung with drapes and the national flag at one end. A row of tables littered with microphones, blotters, ash-trays, pens and files, and opposite it, another row of tables bearing the same debris. The rest of the space filled with rows of chairs, television cameras and cables and a throng of men and women moving purposefully around the sides. It is the Caucus Room in the Senate buildings in Washington, where the Watergate hearings have taken place. Twenty years ago it was the scene of confrontations which were equally dramatic and equally damaging to America. For 1953 and 1954 were the years of the investigations of “subversion,” when a loud-mouthed bully could ruin anyone he chose with the words: “I suspect you of being or having been a Communist.”

His name was Joe McCarthy and he was a rough and ready senator from Wisconsin. He bullied you one minute and slapped you on the back the next. He made you relax with a joke and then accused you of being a traitor. He was the master of the political smear, the innuendo, and the unsupported accusation. What is more he knew how to get them into print or on to a television screen. Yet for those two years many people in America believed that “McCarthyism was Americanism.”

Anti-Communism in America had grown since the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. In intellectual and artistic circles Communism had had a mild vogue in the ‘thirties but the size of the party in America was still very small. Nevertheless labour disputes helped to bring fear of it to the surface. Then between 1948 and 1950 several spies were arrested. Amongst those caught were Alger Hiss and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were the first spies to be shot in peace time. Suddenly, fear of Communist infiltration turned into panic.

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The deadly aerial threat from England’s longbow and crossbow

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Friday, 27 January 2012

This edited article about armour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

British bowmen, picture, image, illustration

The Bowmen of England by Peter Jackson

Morale was high in the Scottish camp. Already the Scots spearmen, gathered in four great circles “impenetrable as a wood,” had turned back the thundering charge of England’s mounted chivalry. The year was 1298. Edward I of England was far from his supply base and deep in enemy territory. Surely the stout hearted Scots led by that redoubtable patriot, William Wallace, needed only to stand their ground until the proud English battered themselves fruitlessly to pieces against that forest of spearpoints.

But in Edward of England they faced a thoughtful foe, a tactician who had fought in Flanders, Palestine and Wales. The English king learned much, even from the scorned Welsh. In fact there were many Welsh warriors in Edward’s army drawn up against Wallace and the Scots – and these Welshmen held the key to victory.

A silence fell across the battlefield of Falkirk as the two sides drew back for breath. Then the shaggy Welsh mountaineers stepped forward, drew back their longbows and sent a hail of arrows crashing into one section of the Scottish defences.

Again and again they poured a rain of death on to the confused Scots until a gap appeared in the circle of spear-points. It was what Edward had been waiting for. Before the Scotsmen could stumble across their fallen comrades to fill that gap, Edward’s English knights crashed through, shattered the enemy infantry and slaughtered them where they stood.

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Thanksgiving Day – a festival all Americans hold dear

Posted in America, Anniversary, Customs, Historical articles, History, Religion on Friday, 27 January 2012

This edited article about American customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

Thanksgiving in the West, picture, image, illustration

Thanksgiving Day way out West in the 1840s by Angus McBride

In New York the crisp bright day has faded into a crisp, starlit evening. In Alaska it is snowing, and has been for days. Los Angeles is smothered in smog. In the deep South summer still lingers.

In New York it is five o’clock. Offices and shops are closing and the rush is on to the railroad stations, airports and freeways. In Alaska and Los Angeles it is still early afternoon, but already there is a steady trickle of traffic from the cities. Railroad stations are thronged. Harassed mothers clutch bulging suitcases, carrier-bags and small, excited children. Breathless dads join them with minutes to spare.

It is the fourth Wednesday in November and all America, it seems, is on the move. But not quite all. At the end of all those journeys is a house where people are “staying put;” where the loads that have been carried throughout the day have been not suitcases, but shopping baskets, loaded with autumn fruit and vegetables. Here the kitchens are humming with activity and warm with delicious smells, for the meal that is being prepared, and will be eaten tomorrow, is the great traditional American feast: Thanksgiving.

This is the day when every American who can, goes home, maybe to the next street to visit parents or grandparents he, or she, meets every day; but perhaps to a family half-a-continent away, unseen for a year. To most Americans it is more important to make this journey for the fourth Thursday in November than it is to be home for Christmas.

It all began more than three centuries ago, when the Pilgrim Fathers, surprised and deeply grateful to find themselves still alive after a hard and perilous year in the New World, gave thanks to God for their survival.

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The Crimean War – Britain’s last old-fashioned conflict

Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Medicine, War on Friday, 27 January 2012

This edited article about the Crimean War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

Florence Nightingale at Scutari, picture, image, illustration

Florence Nightingale visiting wounded soldiers at the hospital in Scutari by C L Doughty

You might not think much of an army in which officers bought their promotion and took their families with them on active service. You would probably have your doubts about generals who had never heard a shot fired in anger, had soldiers flogged for being untidy and dressed regiments in uniforms of their own design. But up until the Crimean War, that was the way the British army was run.

It wasn’t that the British managed things worse than anyone else, because if you were an ordinary soldier in the ranks it didn’t make a lot of difference where you served. Army life in the middle of the 19th century was universally grim. So grim that something was bound to change things sooner or later. It just so happened that the turning point came about during the war in the Crimea.

It was the last of the old fashioned wars, with red jacketed soldiers, the roar of cannon and the thundering cavalry charge. A war that looked good in paintings but was horrible to be involved in. Looking back at it, the astonishing thing is that it was all taking place just over a hundred years ago. Veterans of Balaclava, Alma and Inkerman were fairly common up to the outbreak of World War I. A couple of those hardened warriors very nearly lived to see the Battle of Britain. By that time they weren’t just old soldiers, they were men who had lived the history books. People who really could remember a completely different kind of world.

If things happened in the Crimea that made men say, “It shall never be like this again” it was probably because in 1854 Britain had not actually fought anyone for almost fifty years. Which meant that when the nation stumbled half-heartedly into war with Russia its military thinking was based firmly on what the Duke of Wellington did at Waterloo. And as the Duke stayed alive until 1852 he was at hand to make sure nothing changed.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs – creator of Tarzan and WW2 correspondent

Posted in Africa, America, Cinema, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, World War 2 on Friday, 27 January 2012

This edited article about Edgar Rice Burroughs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 618 published on 17 November 1973.

Tarzan, picture, imge, illustration

Tarzan of the Apes, the immortal creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs

As Japanese planes roared over Pearl Harbour to blast the unprepared U.S. fleet into ruin, among the horrified spectators was a tall, tanned American. His country was suddenly at war. Real life had finally caught up with his vivid and violent imagination. He was 66 years old, but soon he would be volunteering his services as an official war correspondent, the oldest to cover the Pacific campaign.

It would not be his first spell in uniform. In 1896 he had served in Arizona with the famous 7th Cavalry, until they discovered that he was under age. Between that time and Pearl Harbour, he had been a ranch-hand, a gold prospector, a railroad cop in Salt Lake City, a storekeeper in Idaho – and the author of more than sixty books, including ‘Tarzan Of The Apes.’ He was Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Few writers make a good living solely from writing. Even those who eventually become famous have usually worked at a number of jobs while selling their first stories. Burroughs did not quite fit this pattern. He had tried a variety of ways of making money, but they did not include writing. Only after he, his wife Emma and their two children were reduced to selling their possessions and moving to his parents’ home in Chicago, did he think of the fiction market. Magazines filled with adventure stories were being published by the dozen, every month. Burroughs decided he could write the sort of colourful material they needed. At the age of 35, his real career was just beginning.

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