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Archive for September, 2013

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General Gordon’s death was blamed on that grand old man, William Gladstone

Posted in Africa, Disasters, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Religion, War on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about General Gordon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Death of Gordon, picture, image, illustration

The death of General Gordon of Khartoum by Graham Coton

2nd December, 1884

The Arabs fired four shells at the Palace at daybreak with no effect. Nine a.m. They have fired four more; one burst close to my room – a little high. I have put two guns near the Palace to reply to them. . . . Noon. – We have silenced our friends opposite, having concentrated a heavy fire on them. I nearly lost my eyes this morning firing on Arabs, the base of the brass cartridge blew out and sent the fire into my face; this is a fault of the Remington; the metal case of this cartridge must not be used too often. . . .

= = =

5th December

. . . really things are looking very black.

= = =

6th December

. . . Tomorrow it will be 270 days (9 months) that we have endured one continuous misery and anxiety.

* * * * *

General Charles Gordon (1833-85) was one of the great heroes of the Victorians, who particularly admired him for his bravery and firm religious beliefs. His career was so extraordinary and his character so fascinating that people are still arguing about his life and tragic death.

He joined the Royal Engineers and became world famous in the 1860s when he led a force of Chinese guerrillas, known as the Ever Victorious Army, which crushed a rebellion in China, winning battle after battle against fantastic odds. Gordon was armed with a light cane, which became known as Gordon’s Wand of Victory, and he himself became known as “Chinese” Gordon.

He next amazed the world by incredible feats of government and engineering in the Sudan; then, after serving in South Africa, Ireland, Mauritius and India, he was sent back to the Sudan in 1884 by the British Government. A religious leader known as the Mahdi had declared a Holy War. Gordon’s rather vague orders were to evacuate the garrisons in rebel territory and report on the situation. He reached Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, in February. A month later the city was under siege.

Gordon had a few thousand Egyptians to ward off many more thousands of fanatical Arab tribesmen, known as Dervishes. Without his inspiring leadership they could never have held out for ten grim months. The British Government delayed sending a relief expedition, not believing that Gordon was in any real danger. Finally, an army started up the Nile in September. It proceeded too slowly and, meanwhile, Gordon’s situation was growing desperate.

Gordon kept an enthralling diary of the siege until 14th December, noting down everything from military matters to finding a scorpion in his sponge. He could not believe that a relief force would fail to reach him, but it did. On 15th January, his most important outpost, Fort Omdurman, surrendered. His garrison’s diet was rats and dogs. And the Nile, which had been a last link with the outside world, was receding – there was now a stretch of shallow water and a gap in the defences.

On 26th January, the Mahdi’s men crossed the gap. A horde of Dervishes broke into the Palace courtyard. Gordon appeared at the top of the steps. A spear flashed in the dawn light and Gordon fell dead. The relief force arrived 60 hours too late. Much of the public’s anger over the disaster fell on Gladstone, the Prime Minister. Having been known as the G.O.M. (Grand Old Man), he was re-christened the M.O.G. (Murderer of Gordon)!

Tazio Nuvolari was the first superstar of the racing circuit – on cars and bikes

Posted in Cars, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about motor racing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Tazio Nuvolari, picture, image, illustration

Tazio Nuvolari driving his Alfa Romeo by Graham Coton

During the 1920s, private cars had been pouring on to the highways of the world in ever increasing numbers. By the 1930s, this powerful trickle threatened to become a flood. This was a time, also, when motoring sports flourished as never before. One of the sad things of this period was the loss of the Bentley as a great sporting car.

Bentleys had upheld the reputation of British engineering on the Continent ever since Sunbeam had dropped out in 1924. In addition to their massive successes at le Mans, where they defeated all comers for years, they won the T.T. in Ireland and the Double Twelve at Brooklands. Eventually, they succumbed to lack of finance and were taken over by Rolls-Royce and turned into unimaginative and dreary saloons – a sad end to a great sporting car.

On the Continent during this period, two young women were giving the crack Grand Prix drivers of the world a very worrying time. In the Targa Florio, a classic race held annually in the blazing heat of the mountains of Sicily, Madame Elizabeth Junek and the Countess Einsiedel, both driving Bugattis, were up with the leaders most of the way. Indeed, only yards separated Madame Junek from the eventual winner, Divo, for the whole 335 miles. She finished fifth and the countess eleventh – a wonderful performance, for the Sicilian circuit had often defeated the toughest men.

Alfa Romeo were beginning to come back into sports car events. Ivanowski won both races comprising the Irish Grand Prix and Robert Benoist won the Belgian Grand Prix, at this time a sports car race.

This beginning developed into the most astounding series of Grand Prix and sports car victories ever recorded for, between 1931 and 1933 alone, Alfa Romeo gained 60 victories. In 40 of these they took second place and in 20 they were first, second and third. In two instances, they occupied the first five places. Alfa Romeo also dominated the great Italian event, the Mille Miglia, up to the Second World War.

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Michigan saw the last great Indian struggle for ancestral lands and survival

Posted in America, Geography, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about the United States of America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Pontiac, picture, image, illustration

Pontiac – the great Indian chief – marshalled his people in Michigan in a massive stand against the British by Angus McBride

In 1763, America was almost turned upside down. Inspired by a brilliant leader, Pontiac, Indians from all over the country agreed that they were tired of needless oppression and joined forces in one massive attempt to expel the British. Plans were laid carefully, and in May the explosion occurred. For over three years the war was waged, and for a while the British tottered on the brink of defeat. The whole future of America looked very uncertain.

From 1613, the territory which is now Michigan was part of New France. It was not a particularly well-developed area, and the French there were mainly missionaries and traders who, for the most part, got on well with the Indians. But, then, in 1760, Britain completed her conquest of Canada, and the Michigan settlements passed into the hands of the British.

At that point, the fortunes of the Indians changed. Britain’s American colonists wanted land, not trade, and they mostly looked down on Indians. The few Britons who did understand them and sympathised with them were overruled by Sir Jeffrey Amherst, the conqueror of Canada. He despised Indians and ordered that they should be treated harshly and under no circumstances be befriended.

Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa Indians, was one of the first to realise the difference between French and British rule – that Indians were no longer welcome at the forts and that they were eventually going to lose their hunting grounds. Vague promises of help from France helped him decide to strike back, and in 1762 he solicited the support of most of the Indian tribes from Lake Superior to the lower Mississippi. His plan was simple, and, as time proved, dramatically effective. He asked each tribe to attack the fort nearest to it in May, 1763.

Of eleven forts west of Niagara, eight fell to the Indians. Most of the garrisons were massacred, many relief expeditions were almost annihilated, and the frontiers were laid waste.

Amherst was staggered – so much so that he even suggested infecting the Indians with smallpox! Luckily he returned to Britain before anybody gave serious thought to his suggestion.

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A climber repaired his broken leg and descended a mountain on his backside

Posted in Adventure, Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about mountaineering originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Emil Habl, picture, image, illustration

Emil Habl lost his balance and went crashing down the rock

Ever since he was a boy, nineteen-year-old Emil Habl had been “passionately fond” of mountaineering. He spent each summer holiday climbing the Austrian Alps near his home in Vienna, when he also collected specimens for his treasured botanical collection. Emil always made these climbs in the company of experienced Alpinists, but he secretly longed to scale the mountains on his own.

He finally decided to do this in June, 1899, when he took the train from Vienna to a village at the foot of the majestic Mount Rax. By then, Emil was working as a compositor on the Vienna newspaper, the New Free Press. He had been given a week’s holiday, and had told his parents he intended to make “the most interesting, that is to say, the most difficult” climbs.

Despite being warned about the hazards of such an undertaking, he refused to hire a guide or join one of the climbing parties. And, after booking in at his hotel, he set out at dawn on the 13th of June to try and conquer Rax single-handed. At first he found the going relatively easy as he followed the well-marked track. But before long he ran into serious trouble.

As he climbed higher the stripes of green paint which indicated the track grew fainter and fainter. It appeared they had been washed away by the recent rain, but Emil was too busy admiring the scenery to pay much attention to this fact.

“The shapes of the rocks were extremely bizarre,” he said, “among them being many curiously-formed towers and wild battlements. . . . Suddenly I found myself confronted by two gigantic and almost perpendicular rocks, which so completely barred the way that the only thing was to ascend one or other of them.”

Spotting some iron clamps set in the larger rock, he determined to make his way up the steep, smooth face. After two attempts he had climbed some thirty to forty feet, but, to his “dismay and disgust,” he discovered that he could not get any higher. Forced to descend, he put his foot on a loose stone and then stumbled heavily.

“My heart leaped with instinctive terror,” he said. “I lost my balance, and despite my efforts to steady myself with my alpenstock, I went crashing right down the rock, and remained there in a state of unconsciousness.”

Emil’s accident occurred at about 7.30 a.m. He did not regain consciousness until several hours later, when he found he was wounded in several places, and was bleeding profusely from a number of deep cuts.

“On trying to get up,” he stated, “I saw to my horror that I had broken my right shin-bone. It was quite impossible to rise. The break was about six inches below the knee, and at first glance I knew it to be a very bad open fracture – in which the bone stuck out through the skin.”

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Hollywood’s comedians delivered droll one-liners in their cruel repartee

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Laurel and Hardy, picture, image, illustration

Laurel and Hardy

In the days of the silent cinema, the comedian was invariably an innocent abroad. He was destined to suffer from the moment he made his first appearance on the screen. A perpetual victim, forever at the mercy of a malignant fate which guaranteed him a series of unpleasant misadventures, he was pursued remorselessly by runaway cars, or chased by lions, inexplicably strolling down Sunset Boulevard. Machinery was calculated to go berserk at his slightest touch, and if he had the misfortune to be driving a car, it was certain to run out of petrol on a level crossing, just as an express train was approaching. If he did arrive home relatively intact, his house was liable to collapse around his ears.

The comedians who arrived on the scene during the early days of the talkies were of quite a different breed. There was less slapstick in their films and more sophisticated humour. Significantly, they generally played characters who were antisocial, aggressive, and rather unpleasant; W. C. Fields was a typical example of this kind of comedian. Fields, who came from American vaudeville, acted people who were mean, ‘misanthropic, and generally unlikeable. He was sly and a braggart, and he was continually venting his ill temper on children and animals. Even his looks were against him. He had a large, red nose, a thin, mean mouth, and a whining voice. But the audiences loved him. This may seem difficult to understand. But the truth of the matter is that Fields realised that times had changed.

The charming innocents of the silent films had become an object of good-natured contempt with the advent of cynical and more ruthless audiences. They were, of course, only reflecting the new age of materialism which applauded the lack of ethics implicit in the title, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, one of W. C. Field’s most popular films. Fields was undoubtedly an eccentric, almost as unpleasant off-screen as on it, but he was so immensely popular with audiences that he was allowed to write his own screen plays. He penned these under fantastic pseudonyms like Otis T. Criblecoblis and Mahatma Kane Jeeves.

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Early Tudor England began to favour the southern accent over the northern

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Language on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about Tudor England originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

C15 homeless farmworkers, picture, image, illustration

Displaced farm workers were a common sight in the late fifteenth century by Ron Embleton

A Londoner travelling northwards or a Yorkshireman travelling southwards on a trading errand 600 years ago faced one problem that seems unbelieveable to us today. It was a problem of language. For neither would have been able to understand the other without listening with considerable care.

“Therefore,” says a writer of that day, “it is that the Mercians, who are men of Middle England, being as it were partners of both extremes, understand the side languages of Northern and Southern better than North and South understand each other.”

The reason for this state of affairs is not hard to understand. When the Battle of Hastings was fought, most Englishmen spoke and understood the language of the West Saxons. After the Conquest the Saxon tongue was forced to fight for its life against an inrush of Norman French, and it survived by splitting itself up into dozens of regional dialects.

Because communications between these regions were rare, the regional dialects soon became languages of their own, with French intermingled and changed according to the wishes of each region. The result was that in the 14th century Englishmen spoke at least several languages, and because thinking men were aware that a common language was necessary for the advancement of trade and learning, they turned to the Midlanders and Anglians to act, so to speak, as interpreters, and to supply a common language for the nation.

As the centre of trade and politics, London took the lead in this transformation. Londoners who had once spoken a distinctly South Saxon dialect, began to adopt the accents of the Midlanders and East Anglians, the only dialect which most people could understand.

Just as a common language was essential to literature, so a great writer was necessary to cement the dialects together in an important book, to promote a style that others would accept and follow. The great writer responsible for setting the standard for literary English was Geoffrey Chaucer. Although he was a Londoner, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales contains both Midland and Kentish dialect, arising from the fact that his family were East Midlanders from Ipswich, and he had personal connections with Kent.

For 100 years Chaucer’s English laid the foundations of our literature and was similar to the spoken language of educated people all over the country, as well as most of the people living within a 60-mile radius of London. You might, if you had heard men speaking it in the 15th century, have just about understood their meaning, without understanding many of their words and phrases.

The growth of a common language was also essential to the success of printing which, in the 15th century, propelled civilisation into an exciting new era. In England this great step forward was begun by William Caxton, who set up his press at Westminster and printed, corrected and edited more than 30 titles in his first three years there – an indication of how successful business must have been.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams championed folk song and England’s Tudor composers

Posted in Historical articles, History, Music on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about music originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, picture. image, illustration

Ralph Vaughan Williams by Ralph Bruce

Every day before breakfast young Ralph Vaughan Williams went down to the spacious hall in his home in the Surrey countryside. There, while the servants were starting their daily duties, he would sit and play the organ which his widowed mother had specially installed for him. The son of a Gloucestershire vicar, Ralph was given music lessons by one of his aunts, and by the time he was eight he was proficient on both piano and the violin. At school he also learnt to play the viola and in 1890, when he was aged 18, he went to study at the Royal College of Music in London.

At first, his own compositions were based mainly on the work of established composers. Realising this, he criticised himself for writing stale, second-hand music, and in 1902 he declared that: “What we want in England is real music, even if it be only a music-hall song.”

Already Vaughan Williams was becoming noted as an expert in English folksongs. He collected the songs peculiar to each district, and, in 1906, he published his three Norfolk Rhapsodies, which were orchestral pieces based upon tunes he had learnt from the east coast fishermen. After spending some months in Paris, where he was helped and advised by the famous French composer, Maurice Ravel, the young Englishman wrote the first of his eight symphonies, the powerful and boisterous Sea Symphony.

In 1914, the composer was 41 years old, but this did not stop him volunteering for military duty in the First World War. He was posted to Greece, where he was able to study other kinds of folk music, and on his return to civilian life he was made an Honorary Doctor of Music at Oxford University. Although his overture to Aristophanes’s stage comedy, The Wasps, is one of his best-known works, Vaughan Williams gradually became more interested in writing for the cinema. He composed the music for such prestige films as Scott of the Antarctic.

He died in 1958 at the age of 85, leaving a treasury of melody.

Jules Verne wrote French farces and was the Father of Science Fiction

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Science on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about Jules Verne originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, picture, image, illustration

Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

In 1801 a young American inventor named Robert Fulton sailed in French waters in a strange vessel of his own design which he called a submarine. After demonstrating that his craft actually could travel under water, he offered the submarine, the Nautilus, to the Emperor Napoleon. His offer, however, was scornfully declined, and Fulton returned to America where he used his engineering genius to perfect the steamboat. At the time, the author Jules Verne had not even been born. But nearly 70 years later he used Fulton’s invention to great effect in his famous adventure novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

He kept the submarine’s original name, Nautilus, and gave her an enigmatic and ill-tempered captain called Nemo – the Latin word for “nobody.” Nemo has an abiding hatred of civilised society, and, together with three castaways, he decides to explore the unknown world of the deep. Free to sail among whales and icebergs, Nemo spends his leisure time playing the organ which is aboard the Nautilus. So he enjoys the three things that were paramount in Verne’s life – freedom, music, and the sea.

The writer was born in Nantes on the River Loire in 1828, and as he grew up he was fascinated by the ocean-going vessels which passed by his home. When he was eleven he changed places with a cabin-boy on a sailing ship bound for the West Indies. He did not, however, get very far. His lawyer father followed the ship and brought Jules back before he had reached the open sea.

Nine years later, Verne left Nantes for Paris, where he got a job as a poorly-paid theatre secretary, and wrote a number of farces and musical comedies. But it was not until 1863 when he published a novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, that he first tasted success. During the next few years he produced a number of best-selling books, including Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, Clipper of the Clouds, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nearly all his romances were based on inventions that were being discussed or worked upon at the time. Verne helped to popularise and anticipate the machines of the future and so justified his title as the Father of Science Fiction. Once his reputation was secure, Verne and his wife went to live in Amiens, where he bought and sailed his own yacht. And when he died in 1905 his funeral was attended by scores of children who had thrilled to his fantastic but credible books.

The Emperor Napoleon III ended his days in exile in Chislehurst, Kent

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Friday, 27 September 2013

This edited article about France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Napoleon III, picture, image, illustration

Napoleon III

Everyone shouted, “Liberty, equality, fraternity” – but none could agree. Though a foreign enemy was outside the city, 17,000 died within – because nobody could agree who was in charge of the French capital.

All Europe is familiar with the name of Napoleon. He conjures up visions of the conquest of Europe, the Battle of Waterloo, and the years of lonely exile after his fall.

But there was another Napoleon, named Louis, who played a part in the story of France. He was the nephew of the great Napoleon and when King Louis Philippe abdicated from the French throne in 1848, Louis Napoleon was chosen President of the new French Republic.

Three years later Louis decided that he could be at least as successful as his once powerful uncle. As Napoleon’s little son had sometimes been called Napoleon II, Louis began to style himself the Emperor Napoleon III. Those who objected, including an influential minister named Adolphe Thiers, were imprisoned.

Napoleon III had some of his uncle’s love of war and he soon showed that he had some of Napoleon I’s military skill too, by winning several battles against the Austrians. But another great power was beginning to flex its muscles in Europe – Prussia ruled by Bismarck. Throughout the eighteen-sixties, Bismarck’s Prussia and Napoleon III’s France glared at each other across Europe. Bismarck wanted war and Napoleon III wanted something to divert his people from their growing unrest with his corrupt rule. So it was he who declared war on Prussia in 1870.

All the German states at once sent troops to Prussia’s aid and very soon the French were totally overwhelmed. Their final humiliating hour occurred when the two armies met at Sedan.

The Germans had surprised the French at camp in a valley, and under cover of night a quarter of a million German troops sealed every exit to the valley. What followed was a massacre culminating in Napoleon III surrendering himself and 83,000 of his soldiers.

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The Field of the Forty Footsteps, Bloomsbury, London

Posted in Historical articles, History, Legend, London, Mystery on Friday, 27 September 2013

Field of forty footsteps, picture, image, illustration

The field of the forty footsteps, Bloomsbury, from an original sketch made in 1830

At the back of Montague House – later the British Museum – lay gardens giving onto open countryside, an area known as Southampton Fields. This part of Bloomsbury was the location of ‘The Field of the Forty Footsteps’, and the legend which gave the land that name is as romantic as the mysterious name itself. During the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion, two brothers found themselves on the opposing sides in that famous argument, and fought each other in these very fields, where both of them died. The impressions of forty footsteps made by them during the fight are said to have remained thereafter, and no grass would grow over them even with the passing years. This tragic tale became the subject of a novel and a melodrama, and remains one of London’s secret historical stories, many of which are now largely forgotten.

Many more pictures relating to Bloomsbury can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.