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Archive for October, 2012

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New Zealand’s curious wildlife is unique to that country

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about New Zealand wildlife originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Kiwi, picture, image, illustration

The Kiwi in its New Zealand habitat

Geologists, the scientists who study the formation and history of the earth, believe that hundreds of millions of years ago New Zealand formed the tip of a great curving mass of dry land that stretched in a vast sweep from Asia to far out into the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, some geologists think that at one time the curving mass of land may have formed a bridge connecting the continents of Asia and Antarctica.

This land bridge is now called the Australasian Arc and included Australia, New Guinea and scores of the small islands which now dot the Pacific.

During the course of millions of years, the Australasian Arc gradually broke up and most of it was covered by sea. New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand and a host of islands are the only dry land left.

Just as the animal life of Australia and New Guinea was to be cut off from that in the rest of the world, and so develop more slowly, so for the fauna or animal life of New Zealand time stood still. Indeed, New Zealand’s native animal life is much more primitive than that of Australia and New Guinea, so much so that New Zealand has been called a “land of living fossils”.

Take New Zealand’s birds for example. The first birds in the world probably could not fly, learning to down the centuries by longer and longer hops and leaps from tree to tree. Today, the birds native to New Zealand are still flightless.

New Zealand’s best-known bird is the kiwi, and except for the fact that it has a beak and only two legs it resembles almost everything except a bird. In fact when the first Europeans who settled in New Zealand heard descriptions of the kiwi they refused to believe that such a creature existed.

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Hitler failed to destroy the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen

Posted in Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about World War 2 originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Ike on D Day, piture, image, illustration

The D-Dy landings which enabled the Allies to liberate France and invade Germany, by Grahan Coton

In a railway tunnel on the bank of the Rhine, a Wehrmacht engineer officer crouched with his hand on the plunger of a detonating machine. Spanning the great river nearby could be seen the gaunt steel structure of Remagen’s Ludendorff Bridge.

It was mid-afternoon on March 7th, 1945. In a few moments the officer’s hand would descend, and an electric current would pass to the elaborate system of explosive charges designed to demolish the bridge.

The swift advances of the American forces in south-west Germany had caught the Germans off-balance. Many of their units covering the approaches to the Rhine were cut off. Hasty orders were given for the destruction of bridges in the path of the Americans.

At last the moment came. The German officer pressed the plunger – and nothing happened. Quickly he reset the detonator, and tried again. Once more without result.

Why the long-prepared charges failed to explode is still a mystery; and the events that followed are among the strangest of the Second World War.

The Ludendorff Bridge, named after a famous German general, had been built during the First World War to carry a railway across the river. It comprised a central steel arch of 513 feet (156 m), flanked by two trusses 278 feet (85 m) in length. On each bank stood a pair of stone towers, the tops of which could be used as observation posts.

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Iceland’s successful struggle for independence ended in 1944

Posted in Historical articles, History on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about Iceland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Iceland, picture, image, illustration

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland

Earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, plagues and waves of invaders from overseas made Iceland an island of terror for the hardy people who braved the enmity of man and nature to create their homes in this unfriendly land

A glowing hot river of ash and lava crept remorselessly towards the Icelandic fishing town of Heimay. Helgafell, a supposedly extinct volcano, had burst into life and, from a wide fissure, was pouring molten destruction on to the little town.

Within five days in January, 1973, a third of the town had been buried, and Iceland had been marginally enlarged by the lava which had flowed into the sea and built up on the shoreline.

Today, despite reeking lava and high ground temperatures near the surface, nearly all the inhabitants have returned to clear up and re-build their town. This is proof of the strong-mindedness of the Icelanders, who wage a continuous war against the elements of nature.

Since the first settlements, the population has struggled for survival – to maintain a toehold of life on the edge of the habitable world. At the end of the eighth century, Irish monks had set up scattered dwellings in Iceland to continue their lives in voluntary isolation. However their seclusion was to remain short-lived, for no sooner had they arrived than the notorious Vikings also chanced upon the island. Unwilling to share their lonely island with heathens from the north, the Irish were thus obliged to seek their solitude elsewhere.

The reports brought back to Scandinavia by the Norse seamen were conflicting, to say the least. Naddod, a pirate of ill-repute, having been accidentally blown towards the island, found it apparently deserted, and told his fellows at home of the desolation of Snaeland (Snowland), which he had named it after sighting heavy snow showers over the mountains. The Swede, Gardar Svavarson, however, who shortly afterwards circumnavigated the island, was far more enthusiastic about its possibilities.

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Madame Curie received the Nobel Prize for Physics and Chemistry

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Science on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Madame Curie, picture, image, illustration

Madame Curie by Angus McBride

Marie Curie, the first woman scientist to win a Nobel Prize, was born on 7th November 1867. Marie and her husband are most famous as the joint discoverers of the element, radium.

The daughter of a schoolmaster, Marie was born in Warsaw. She was pretty and clever, but Poland at that time was under the harsh rule of the Russian Tsars and there was little opportunity of higher education for Polish girls, however talented.

Marie was fascinated by science and longed to study it. Eventually, by taking posts as a governess with wealthy families, she was able to help her elder sister, Bronya, to go to Paris to study medicine. She herself followed as soon as she had saved sufficient money.

While studying mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris), Marie met a French scientist, Pierre Curie, whom she married.

The story of their partnership is well known – how, working together, they probed the secrets of the radio-activity of metals, and discovered radium, which could be used to cure, for the first time in history, certain malignant types of the disease called cancer.

For their discoveries, the Curies were awarded, in 1903, the Nobel Prize for Physics, sharing it with another French scientist, Henri Bacquerel. Unhappily, Pierre Curie was killed in a street accident in Paris in 1906, but Marie Curie continued her work as a scientist, and, in 1911, became the first person to receive a second of these great Swedish honours when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The Unknown Soldier was interred on Armistice Day, 1920

Posted in Anniversary, Historical articles, History, Religion, War, World War 1 on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about the Unknown Soldier originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, picture, image, illustration

The tomb of the Unkown Soldier in Westminster Abbey

After the First World War (1914-18), many countries wanted to express their gratitude to the ordinary men who fought so gallantly in such horrifying conditions.

A British chaplain who had served in Flanders suggested that an unknown soldier be chosen from the many who lay in unmarked graves and buried in Westminster Abbey, as a representative of the multitude who had lost their lives. It was further suggested that the ceremonial burial should take place on the same day as the Cenotaph at Whitehall was formally consecrated – Armistice Day, 11 November, 1920.

Strict precautions were taken to ensure that the chosen soldier should remain anonymous. A number of bodies were brought from different areas, and from these one was secretly chosen. A coffin bearing the body was brought to Boulogne where it was put on board ship for England.

After the ceremony at the Cenotaph, the coffin was borne in procession to the Abbey. King George V headed those who solemnly walked behind it. It was buried in soil brought from France amidst the famous men and women buried in the Abbey.

A Dalmatian boy chose to live like Robinson Crusoe

Posted in Anthropology, Historical articles, History, Oddities on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about Bozo Kucic originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 774 published on 13th November 1975.

Island of Busi, picture, image, illustration

Busi, a rocky island off the Dalmatian coast similar to that on which Bozo Kucic was left by his poor father. This photograph was taken around the time Bozo began his new life.

Bozo Kucic climbed out of the small boat, which rocked gently on the lapping waves, and looked at the sandy and rocky island on which he had landed.

While the fisherman who had brought them sat in his boat, watching incredulously, Bozo turned to his father.

He opened his mouth, but before he could utter a word, his father had grasped him firmly. Bozo broke away from his father’s embrace.

“I don’t want to leave you here,” said his father. “But . . . ” He shrugged helplessly.

Bozo looked at the few things he had brought with him in the boat . . . an entrenching tool, a billy can, a tin plate, a knife, a little food.

Turning away from his father and the boat and staring fixedly at the island with its stubbly undergrowth, he exclaimed, “Go. Leave me.”

With a resigned shrug of his shoulders, the father walked slowly to the boat, climbed into it and sat, dejected and heavy-hearted as the boat sailed away.

Bozo watched it until it had disappeared, and then he walked up the shore with his few possessions and was lost from sight among the trees and bushes.

And that is the last that was seen of Bozo Kucic for 84 years. The story of his arrival at the island is almost as strange as the tale of his incredible survival for decade after decade.

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Jacques Louis David mastered the art of self-preservation

Posted in Art, Artist, Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about Jacques Louis David originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Oath of the Horatii, picture, image, illustration

The Oath of the Horatii, engraved from a painting by Jacques Louis David

Maximilien Robespierre was dead, destroyed on the guillotine by his former supporters, who had become surfeited with the orgy of bloodshed that had marked his virtual dictatorship of the country in the final months of the French Revolution. With his fall from power, it was inevitable that his closest friends should be arrested. Among those who were finally brought to trial was the famous painter, Citizen Jacques Louis David.

Pale with terror, Citizen David faced his judges and made his stammering defence. It was not a very good defence, mainly because he had a speech defect caused by a deformity of the jaw which made him somewhat less than eloquent. But he was fortunate. His judges, perhaps bearing in mind his contribution to revolutionary art, sentenced him to a mere five months’ imprisonment.

It was not just David’s enemies who were disappointed with the verdict. Even the moderates considered that he deserved to die. Not so much for his so called crimes, which had been trumped up anyway by his enemies, but because he had proved himself a fanatical monster, cast in the same mould as his former master.

Before the revolution, the king had been his patron, and David had rewarded him by voting for his death. He had signed death warrants without a qualm, and he had used his political power to bring about the disgrace of two of his artistic rivals.

There was also the matter of the way he had behaved over Emilie Chalgrin, the wife of an aristocrat who had fled to Brussels, leaving her to be arrested by Robespierre’s minions. Her brother, who was a friend of Louis David, had immediately run to him and implored that he should intervene on her behalf.

“I cannot beg of Robespierre,” David told him coldly. “The tribunal tries fairly; your sister is an aristocrat for whom I will not stir!”

After his friend had been reduced to a state of grovelling abjection, he had finally relented and had obtained an order of release – which he had then absent-mindedly kept in his pocket until it was too late to be of use to Emilie Chalgrin.

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The variety of India’s unique wildlife

Posted in Animals, Geography, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about Indian wildlife originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Indian animals, picture, image, illustration

Some animals of India by A Oxenham

Millions of years ago our world was much warmer than it is today. Most of the land was covered with great forests and steaming jungle and inhabited by the ancestors of the animals which are now native only to tropical countries.

Even throughout Britain, which was then literally part of Europe, lions and tigers, jackals and hyenas, roamed the woodlands hunting their prey. In the rivers and swamps of the low-lying ground, crocodiles lurked, while elsewhere the ground thundered and shook under the feet of a charging rhinoceros.

Then, as countless centuries rolled away, the world’s climate slowly got colder and there began the series of Arctic weather periods called the Ice Ages. Vast sheets of thick ice crept over Europe, freezing most forms of life in their path.

Europe did not suddenly become ice-bound; it occurred slowly and in several stages. The whole process lasted for tens of thousands of years. But the Ice Ages brought about a complete change in the European climate. The tropical jungles, forests and swamps shrivelled and disappeared for ever beneath the masses of ice.

Unable to withstand the cold and deprived of their food resources, most animals were forced to retreat before the advancing ice. A few bigger animals of the elephant and rhinoceros species survived for a time by adapting themselves to the changing conditions and growing woolly coats to keep out the cold. But they, too, were to disappear in time.

For most animals, however, it meant a slow retreat towards the equator. There the climate was still warm and the jungles flourished.

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Cosmic debris bombards the Earth by day and night

Posted in Astronomy, Science, Space on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about space originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

Meteor in 1868, picture, image, illustration

The Great Meteor of October 7, 1868

Hurtling through the heavens, a huge mass of rock weighing a thousand tons or more streaked Earthwards. From somewhere in the vastness of space it had been torn away by cosmic forces from its parent body – perhaps an asteroid that had shattered during a collision with another body – and found itself grasped by the Earth’s gravity.

Astronomers in their observations anxiously plotted its course. Its destination appeared to be the western United States where, if it landed, it could tear a huge crater in the Earth’s surface. Buildings would crumble, people would be killed. It would be a disaster.

Fortunately, the date of its appearance, 10th August, 1972, passed without the expected catastrophe. For the monster from outer space skimmed past the Earth just missing it by a mere 58 kilometres, or about 33 miles.

It was lucky for us that it did so, although the Earth is no stranger to visitors – not living ones it should be emphasised – from outer space. Scientists calculate that about twenty average-sized comets have hit the Earth since it was created. These can be imagined as large, dirty snowballs of particles of rock and dust held together by frozen gases.

We are also in the firing line for asteroids, which are made of rock and metal and are the rocky remnants of comets which broke up when the frozen gas, which was holding them together, escaped. Really big ones crash on to the Earth about once every 50,000 years and make a crater about 1 km (over half a mile) in diameter. There is one of this size in Arizona, U.S.A., estimated to be about 50,000 years old.

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The Royal Scot took the Royal Mail to Scotland

Posted in Historical articles, History, Railways, Scotland, Transport on Monday, 29 October 2012

This edited article about the Royal Scots originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 773 published on 6th November 1975.

The Royal Scot, picture, image, illustration

The Royal Scot

The order that arrived at the Glasgow headquarters of the North British Locomotive Company towards the end of 1926 might well have daunted a similar firm half a century later, but there could be no mistaking the requirements. The Directors of the new London Midland and Scottish Railway needed a powerful locomotive capable of hauling non-stop express trains from London to Glasgow not only at high speed but with economy and reliability as well. And they wanted it in service within a year.

Today, to the sorrow of all steam enthusiasts the design and manufacture of these 85-ton monsters is something of a lost art, but in the 1920s such a challenge could be met with enthusiasm. Not only did the North British engineers design and build a prototype within the time allowed, but they made the first fifty of a final total of seventy-one engines as well.

The L.M.S. had come into being through the amalgamation of a number of smaller companies, and the locomotives it had inherited from them were simply not capable of meeting the competition from rival lines. A borrowed Castle class engine had shown the kind of power that was going to be required, and when the new type was put through a brief trial it was clear that it could produce all the performance that was necessary and more.

The North British monster had three 457 x 660 mm cylinders, each with its own independent valve gear, driving coupled wheels 2 metres in diameter. The huge boiler was pitched some 2.8 metres above the track and the size of the smokebox resulted in an exceptionally short chimney that was only around 180 mm high, even though the overall height of the locomotive was more than 4 metres. This, and the fact that it was coupled to the standard Midland form of coal tender, which was much narrower than the cab, gave the new engine an appearance that most people agreed was more striking than handsome, but which was certainly easily recognised and gave an immediate impression of tremendous, brute power.

The train that this locomotive was to draw was the famous 10 a.m. from Euston to Glasgow, retimed to make no passenger stops anywhere. It was a distance of almost 500 kilometres, the longest non-stop passenger run in the world, and it included a haul of 420 tons over such well known climbs as Shap Fell. It was a task that up till then had been accomplished by using two engines coupled together, and to launch a brand new design on such a task with a minimum of trial was asking for trouble, but that was what the L.M.S. did.

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