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Archive for June, 2011

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Rogers’ Rangers on the eve of war

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about Rogers’ Rangers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 979 published on 13 December 1980.

Rogers' Rangers, picture, image, illustration

The eve of war, when the French had Indian allies and the British used the rangers. Pictures by Ron Embleton

They were like white Indians, at home in the forests and on the lakes. And they fought not only in the fiercest summer heat, but in the depths of winter, when other troops – and even the Indians – took refuge from the ice and the snows.

Dressed in buckskins, and later in green uniforms and Highland bonnets which blended with the trees, they fought the French and their Indian allies in the wilderness that is now New York State and the eastern states of New England. They carried guns loaded with buckshot or bullets, or both, and wore tomahawks at their sides. They travelled on foot in the woods and on lakes in whaleboats or birch-bark canoes.

Mainly American-born Britons – for this was the 1750s, when Britain and France were striving for the mastery of a continent – the Rangers were led by a strongly-built frontiersman named Robert Rogers. He and his men were the forerunners of Britain’s Commandos and the United States Rangers of the Second World War. They were known simply as Rogers’ Rangers.

The rivalry between France and Britain in the New World had been growing in intensity for many years. The French had started colonising Canada early in the 16th century, and the English the coastal areas of what is now the United States early in the 17th.

Tension gradually mounted year after year between the rivals. The first half of the 18th century saw two wars between Britain and France, which affected the New World as well, but there was never really any peace in America between the wars. The second had ended in 1748, when, in return for Madras in India, the British returned the great fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island to the French, to the fury of the many New Englanders who had helped capture it in 1745.

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The Savoia-Marchetti Sparviero SM 79

Posted in Aviation, World War 2 on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about fighter planes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

Italian aircraft, picture, image, illustration

Italian aircraft of World War Two with the Sparviero (bottom), by Wilf Hardy

When Lt. Raffaele Durante and Sub. Lt. Dorando Cionni of the Italian Air Force took off from the rough airfield on the Greek island of Rhodes on the morning of 22nd July, 1942, in the Second World War, they and their crews hoped for an easy target. They did not find one. Instead, they spotted about 35 kilometres north-east of Port Said in Egypt, ten ships, no less than eight of which were heavily armed escort vessels. But what really caught their attention was an oil-tanker – a prime target.

The two SM 79 II Sparvieros hurtled down through a barrage of smoke and flying steel to drop their torpedoes. Although both planes were riddled with bullets, and two crew members were wounded, the two SM 79 IIs got safely back to Rhodes. Next day a reconnaissance aircraft confirmed that their target, a ship of 10,000 tons, had been sunk.

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Cinema’s special effects directors

Posted in Cinema, Historical articles on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

Hells Angels, picture, image, illustration

Howard Hughes filming Hell’s Angels

In the early days of film-making, some special effects men concentrated on miniature sets, working models and make-up. Others saw the endless possibilities of creating illusions with the camera and the projector as their basic tools.

Legend has it that a Frenchman, Georges Méliès, a painter and “magician”, who grew interested in cinè filming, was one of the earliest film-makers to discover trick photography.

Whilst he was filming in a Paris street in the early 20th century, his camera jammed and it took him a few moments to fix. When running the film he saw a bus in the scene he had been shooting seem to change into a hearse.

Méliès was quick to realise that many tricks could be played with the camera. Before long he was experimenting with slow motion, double exposure, fades and dissolves to give his films impact.

Combining elaborate props and fantasy sets, he produced a series of highly popular films; but these were little more than magic shows with no proper story lines.

Méliès went bankrupt and ended up selling toys in the street for a living. But others had learned from him and many were pioneering new techniques, including an American, Norman Dawn, a former artist and photographer.

Dawn introduced glass shots into cinè photography, a trick which had been used successfully with still cameras. A painting on a sheet of glass would be positioned between the scene being filmed and the camera in such a way that the painting looked a natural part of the sequence.

If a building or a country scene were being shot, elaborate sections could be added on the glass by the artist to blend in perfectly with the background. Glass shots were expensive and they had their limitations, for the camera could not be moved during filming. And if actors were positioned between the real backdrop and the glass, their movements were limited, otherwise they might walk behind the painted areas.

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Early dentistry

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about dentistry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

quack dentist, picture, image, illustration

A quack dentist with worm, by Angus McBride

As characters in romantic fiction, dentists have always ranked near the bottom of the league. Yet in real life they contribute more to human attractiveness in the shape of smiles and laughter than probably any other group of men or women – not to mention improving health and relieve pain.

Sadly, for far too many young people in this country this is a truth which they have chosen to ignore, for the horrendous fact is that no fewer than 29% of the British population over the age of 16 have lost all their natural teeth and by the age of 60 the proportion has risen to half the population. No other nation, primitive or advanced, has such a shameful record – despite the fact that British dentists over the years have made an immense contribution to the knowledge and skills of the profession.

Today, luckily, there are signs that our young people are becoming far more conscious of the need to keep their teeth strong, healthy and attractive, while the means of so doing grow more and more effective and sophisticated all the time. We will be looking at some of these developments later on in this series, but let us first trace the story of dentistry from its earliest beginnings. As with any other branch of medicine, it is a fascinating story of human achievement, combining all manner of qualities from superstition to sheer inspiration.

Papyri from Ancient Egypt, taking us back some 5,000 years, supply our first records of treatment by physicians of the teeth and gums. Substances such as water, olive oil, honey, dates, onions, beans and a number of others, including green lead, were quoted as salves against “blisters in the teeth”. This apart, an Egyptian lower jaw has been discovered, dating from around 2800 BC, containing two holes drilled through the bone – “to drain an abscess eroded under a first molar,” in the opinion of Dr Sydney Garfield, an American dentist and author.

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Hydroponic horticulture

Posted in Farming, Plants, Science on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about horticulture originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

desert, picture, image, illustration

The desert

One way of growing food and plants in a hostile climate, such as the desert, is a method known as hydroponics. This name comes from the Greek words hydro (water) and ponos (labour). It is a form of horticulture without soil.

This method, pioneered in 1927 at the East Malling agricultural research station in Kent, involves the growing of plants in trays, into which is fed a solution which contains the nutrients needed by the plants.

Oxygen, light and water are provided under cover. The plants are not attacked by insects and do not have to compete with weeds.

However, this is an expensive method of growing food, and it is not thought likely to replace soil culture on Earth, although it could be used in the distant future in the colonisation of faraway planets.

The hydrofoil

Posted in Famous Inventors, Inventions, Ships, Transport on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about inventions originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

hydrofoil, picture, image, illustration

Hydrofoils, by Wilf Hardy

One of the fastest ways of making a trip by sea, or on other waterways, is to travel as a passenger on a ship that “flies”. This is the hydrofoil, a vessel that is supported clear of the water by underwater wings.

Although hydrofoil boats are a relatively new mode of water transport, their history goes back to 1906, when an Italian inventor, Enrico Forlanini, built a fairly successful craft that could travel at 70 km/h, propelled by front and rear screws.

In 1907, two American pioneers of flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright, attempted development of the idea, along with their successful work on the aeroplane. They had built and flown the world’s first aircraft in 1903.

Another famous inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, built a hydrofoil boat in 1918. Driven by an aircraft engine, this set a record of 115 km/h.

In the 1930s, the commercial applications of the hydrofoil were realised, particularly its speed. Because of its low resistance while travelling over the water, the craft will reach a speed twice that of a conventional boat for an equal amount of power.

The Second World War slowed development of the hydrofoil, and afterwards commercial versions – 20 to 50 ton ferries – were built in Europe.

Subsequently, the USA built a hydrofoil of 310 tons, with a speed of 50 knots (92 km/h). And in Norway, three hydrofoils, each carrying 250 passengers, were put into service.

The May Day riot of the apprentices

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Revolution on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about  protest originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

Apprentice boys, picture, image, illustration

The apprentice boys riot in 1517; inset, Catherine of Aragaon asks Henry VIII to show mercy to the apprentices. Pictures by Clive Uptton

“The English are vastly fond of great noises, and when they have had a glass or two of beer they will fire off cannons or ring bells for the pleasure of it.” So Paul Hentzner noted in his diary in Tudor times.

Hentzner was a keen-eyed German traveller, and he found the Londoners strange, but very well satisfied with themselves. “If they see a foreigner well made or exceptionally handsome they will say ‘what a pity he is not an Englishman!’ “

By the reign of Henry VIII the power of the great City guilds to control all aspects of trade was in decline. But they still kept a firm hold on any youngster wanting to learn how to become a goldsmith, a vintner, an armourer or a furrier or to master any of the other skills or trades.

At about the age of 14 a boy would be bound apprentice to a master of his chosen craft for seven years, and his own father would pay a sum of money to the master, rather like a school fee. From that day on the apprentice would live in his master’s house, and it was a lucky boy who found himself a kindly master.

One lad taken into a Skinner’s household to learn how to become a dealer in furs might, for example, find himself treated like a son, with the master’s wife fussing over his health, and eventually marry the master’s daughter and take over the business. Another might find himself bound apprentice to a Merchant Taylor and spend seven years as little better than a slave.

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The National Railway Museum in York

Posted in Education, Engineering, Leisure, Railways on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

train montage, picture, image, illustration

A montage of trains from different eras, by Wilf Hardy

From the days of Stephenson to the present day, the story of the railways comes vividly to life at York’s unique museum.

Of Britain’s century and a half of railway history many relics remain, from the earliest days to more recent times. Enthusiasts are lucky to be able to see a collection of these preserved in magnificent order – at the National Railway Museum, York.

The museum constitutes part of the Science Museum, London, and was opened in 1975 by the Duke of Edinburgh. Many of the exhibits were formerly on show in the British Transport Museum at Clapham, in South London, or the railway museum which had existed in York since 1928.

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The madness of the March hare

Posted in Animals, British Countryside, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about Britain’s wildlife originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

March hares, picture, image, illustration

March hares boxing, by R B Davis

Everybody knows what a rabbit looks like, but the hare is much less frequently seen – so much so, that it is easy to forget that the rabbit is a comparatively recent intruder upon the British scene. Hares and rabbits are closely related, yet until less than a thousand years ago hares had the countryside all to themselves.

It is thought that rabbits came over with William the Conqueror. For the Norman lords they were a source of fine meat, and they began warrenries where the rabbits could breed in peace. Then, inevitably, some escaped and set up home for themselves. It did not take long for rabbits to find their way all over England, although they avoided Scotland until the 19th century.

Unless you are familiar with all the species, it can be difficult to tell rabbits and hares apart. In fact scientists have not helped by accepting names such as jack rabbit for creatures that are hares. Although hares, especially in Britain, tend to have longer legs and bigger ears, the only reliable method of identification is the way in which their young are born.

All hares are born complete with fur and able to see. Rabbits, on the other hand, are born “naked” – without fur – blind, and quite helpless. Hares do not makes burrows, or even nests. Instead, the female treads down a circle of grass, generally in the middle of a field, and in this, called a “form”, she bears her young.

Without their fur the leverets would freeze to death, since their mother spreads her new family around in several forms, which she visits during the day. This way, the chances of the whole brood being killed by foxes or stoats are diminished. Many leverets are taken by human beings in the mistaken belief that they have been abandoned, though this is most unlikely. If you see a leveret alone in a form, leave it alone, since its mother is almost certainly waiting nearby for you to leave.

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The earliest bridges

Posted in History, Prehistory on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

This edited article about bridges originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 978 published on 6 December 1980.

bridge, picture, image, illustration

Early man learns how to cross water, by Peter Jackson

It is thought that the clapper bridges which are to be found on Exmoor and Dartmoor, consisting of large stones placed on boulders, are of prehistoric origin. Unfortunately, none of them can be dated with any certainty. The oldest surviving bridge to which a date can be given with any accuracy is the stone arch bridge spanning the River Meles at Izmir, in western Turkey. This bridge is known to have been built over 2,800 years ago.