Archive for May, 2013

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The Saro is properly called a Giant Otter

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about the Giant otter originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Saro, picture, image, illustration

The Saro or Giant Otter by K Lilly

The Giant Otter, or Saro, is found in the slow-moving rivers of Central South America.

It is by no means uncommon, and is found in large numbers in the Amazon, Essequibo, Rio Negro, the Paran√° and their tributaries.

Of the seventeen species of freshwater otter and one sea otter, the Giant Otter is by far the largest, with an overall length of five to six feet. Some large specimens measure as much as seven feet.

The Giant Otter has a rather small nose set high on a typically broad head. Its long body is supported on very short, powerful legs, and it has round, well-webbed feet with five claws on each foot. There is a ridge, resembling a keel, along the underside of its tail. This is probably to assist it in manoeuvring its large body more efficiently in the water.

Although magnificently built for swimming, the Giant Otter is not at all well suited for spending much time on dry land. Its progress there is restricted to a series of rather awkward, shuffling humps, more reminiscent of the movements of a seal than of an otter.

Otters are usually solitary and nocturnal in habit, but the Giant Otter is neither. It prefers a more social existence, hunting and playing in groups by daylight. It feeds on fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and small birds and animals which it catches either in the water or at its edge.

Although very shy creatures, Giant Otters adapt themselves quite well to captivity.

Churchill was in great danger as a war correspondent

Posted in Historical articles, History, News, War on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about Winston Churchill originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Winston Churchill, picture, image, illustration

During the Boer War, Winston Churchill was captured when attempting to retreat from the Boer troops

Captain Aylmer Haldane of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, threw himself on to his camp bed and stared at the canvas roof of his tent, on which the South African sun beat down relentlessly, making the air oppressive.

“It’s madness!” he said. “Why do I have to take this armoured train out?”

His friend, 24-year-old Winston Churchill, who was new to South Africa, looked up from the table at which he was writing.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

Haldane sat up and glared.

“Look,” he said, “We are in Estcourt. Ladysmith, 30 miles north of here, is cut off by the Boers, but the railway line is still open.”

“I know,” said Churchill. “That is why I am here.”

A war correspondent for the Morning Post, Churchill had arrived in Estcourt a few days before, hoping to get through to Ladysmith where the fighting was said to be heavy. But the war that everyone in England had thought would be so easy, was not going so well. The Boers, mobile and dangerous in the empty veldt, seemed to be everywhere.

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The dancer Marie Camargo was forgotten in her own lifetime

Posted in Dance, Historical articles on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about Marie Camargo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

One of the tragic things of life is how quickly people who have made great names for themselves can be forgotten, even in their own lifetime: such a person was Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo. After her death on 20th April, 1770, only one admirer – a young man who remembered her from her dancing days – bothered to follow her hearse to the Paris cemetery. Yet a few years earlier her name had been a household world; she was a leader of fashion and the foremost ballet dancer in Europe. Even a certain kind of cake she liked was known as a “Camargo cake”.

Fame came early. She was born on 15th April, 1710, and by the time she was 14 she had made her name as a dancer at Brussels and Rouen in France. Two years later she appeared in Paris and took the city by storm. Everyone was raving about the 16-year-old girl who had transformed the rather stilted ballet of the day into something alive and magical.

Soon she was known for her dress design as well as her dancing. In those days the dresses of ballerinas reached the floor and made anything but the simplest steps very difficult. Marie, wishing to try more adventurous steps, introduced the shortened ballet skirt, much to the indignation of many prudish people who thought it very immodest.

Despite their protests the short ballet skirt remained and the art of dancing took a giant stride forward. Designers copied Marie’s stage costumes and soon she found herself a leader of fashion.

Immediately after the opening of one of Marie’s ballets, dressmakers would work through the night on dresses based on what she wore so their rich customers could show off their latest “Camargo creations” the next day. The years passed and Marie went from success to success. Altogether she appeared in 70 ballets and operas, and she earned herself a great deal of money. But she could not keep it. She loved to live in style and to entertain lavishly. So when she found that she was getting too old to dance she also found that nearly all her fortune had gone. Without her famous parties, her exciting first-nights and the glamour of the theatre, Marie was soon forgotten. New dancers had come along, a short ballet skirt was no longer sensational. The gay dancer became a lonely old woman, dying almost in poverty.

Ballet owes a lot to Marie Camargo. She invented many new steps and revolutionised the public attitude to this graceful art. She was forgotten by her public in her own time, but since then lovers of ballet have revered her name and will always continue to do so.

Baron Manfred von Richthofen was Germany’s greatest WW1 ‘Ace’

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about Manfred von Richthofen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Red Baron, picture, image, illustration

Baron Manfred von Richthofen by Wilf Hardy

In the First World War, the bravest and most spectacular pilot to fly against the Allies was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was known on both sides of the Western Front as the “Red Knight of Germany”. When Richthofen wrote a book on his experiences in 1917, he revealed that one of the men for whom he had the greatest admiration was an English airman named Captain Albert Ball, V.C. Captain Ball had shot down 40 German planes before he was killed in action.

This admiration for an enemy was typical of Richthofen. To him, aerial warfare was some sort of game which had very little to do with the appalling misery suffered by millions of men in the muddy trenches far below.

Born 2nd May, 1892, at Schweidnitz in Germany, Richthofen’s short life was devoted to flying. When he enlisted in the German Air Force after the outbreak of war in 1914, he soon showed his uncanny skill as a pilot. His instructors said he had been born to fly: as soon as he began his operational duties it was clear that he had been born to fight as well. By the time he was 25 years of age he had claimed 20 victims. Then, in February, 1917, he took command of the 11th Chasing Squadron which earned the nickname of “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”. It contained Germany’s top pilots, including a man called Hermann Goering who was in later years to become the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

During the next 14 months the “Red Knight of Germany” shot down Allied planes at the rate of one a week. Then, on 21st April, 1918, Richthofen met the same fate as his English hero Captain Ball. Somewhere near the Somme battlefield, his aircraft was hit, and he died in the blazing, twisted wreckage. During his career as a fighter pilot, it was estimated that he had destroyed 80 Allied planes.

Napoleon’s officers were drawn from the French working class

Posted in Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about Napoleon Bonaparte originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Napoleon, picture, image, illustration

Napoleon Bonaparte reviewing his troops by Paul Rainer

Who said “Every French soldier carries the baton of a marshal of France in his knapsack”?

The answer is Napoleon Bonaparte.


When the French Revolution was at its height in 1793, France found herself faced on every side by enemies – England, Spain, Prussia, Austria and other nations, and Frenchmen who had fled to escape the guillotine. Her army was a mere rabble: most of the officers, who had been drawn from the nobility, had gone into exile.

But a saviour was at hand, the War Minister, Carnot, who inspired France to meet the threat of invasion. “Young men shall fight; married men shall forge weapons and transport supplies; women will make tents and serve in hospitals; children will make bandages; old men will have themselves carried into the public square to rouse the courage of the fighting men.” A nation was in arms.

There was only one place officers could be drawn from – the ranks. Carnot and his inexperienced army saved France. It was this army that Napoleon inherited, disciplined and turned into his Grand Army. The marshals who helped him conquer Europe were very different from their opponents. Marshal Ney, “Bravest of the Brave”, was the son of a barrel-cooper, Murat’s father was an inn-keeper, and most of the other marshals were of humble birth and would hardly have got beyond Sergeant in the old Royal army. The quotation was Napoleon’s way of saying that anyone could reach the top in his army if he was good enough.

In the British army, commissions could be obtained by anyone with money and influence: a talented man might wait years for promotion. Fortunately, a great reformer, Sir John Moore, improved the training of officers, and Wellington and the British soldier finally proved too much for the French. Yet at one time Napoleon had seemed invincible. If he had not antagonised the European peoples, who had originally welcomed him as a liberator, he could hardly have been defeated.

Mayflower II sets sail across the Atlantic

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 31 May 2013

This edited article about the Mayflower originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.

Mayflower II, picture, image, illustration

Mayflower II sets sail across the Atlantic

I have never sailed in anything really like an old ship-of-the-line, but we have only to go to Portsmouth and board HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, to see what they were like.

I have sailed a few frigates, but these were over-built copies on the hulls of Italian brigantines down in the Mediterranean, strictly for motion picture purposes. Nonetheless, they were interesting. Their rig was authentic, though their ‘guns’ were electrically controlled to fire better broadsides than any real ship ever did! The authentic blood-red paint covered the gun surroundings, but any ‘blood’ that splashed there was strictly from the art department. But we made boardings in the open sea, sailed into one another in the real old manner, belched smoke and flames – and if there were no cannon-balls, at any rate the clash of cutlasses was real.

Between pictures, these ‘frigates’ were to be seen alongside the harbour wall in Alicante, Valencia, or maybe Denia. As far as I know, they are still in one of these places.

I learned something from them, though mainly of the ways of the film-makers – an amazingly able, courageous and versatile group.

Once I had a chance really to step back a few centuries in the sea history of Europe. This was by sailing a replica of the famous Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower from Plymouth in Devon, to the other Plymouth, in Massachusetts, in 1957.

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Wolfe’s taking of Quebec from Montcalm won Canada for the British

Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about the Capture of Quebec originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Death of Wolfe, picture, image, illustration

The Death of General Wolfe by Severino Baraldi

During the 18th century, the long drawn-out rivalry between France and England overflowed from the Old World into the New. Colonists from both countries had been establishing themselves along the North American coasts for the past 200 years. Gradually they drew apart, the English remaining to the south while the French developed their main strength in Canada.

The key to the French position in Canada was the city of Quebec, on the great St. Lawrence River. Founded by the French in 1608, Quebec stood at the junction of two rivers (the St. Lawrence and the St. Charles), its rear protected by the steep cliffs called the Heights of Abraham.

Generations of military engineers had steadily improved the already formidable natural defences of the city until Quebec was considered to be impregnable. The French commander at the time of the British attack was the Marquis de Montcalm. Montcalm was an experienced general, and there were some 16,000 troops in the city.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Pitt, chose James Wolfe to command the attack. Wolfe was something of a prodigy. He was only 32, but he had been in the army since he was 14, and had already seen action in the greatest battles of the day.

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The Pilgrim Fathers were not economic migrants but persecuted Nonconformists

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Missionaries, Religion on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Christian missionaries originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Pilgrim Fathers, picture, image, illustration

It is sometimes said that the first act of the 'Pilgrim Fathers', as they were later named, was to fall upon their knees, and the second to fall upon the natives. Picture by Peter Jackson

Most people know that a company of devout Christians set out from Plymouth in 1620, but very few have any idea of what they did when they reached America.

It is sometimes said that the first act of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ was to fall upon their knees, and the second to fall upon the natives. This sarcastic comment has little truth in it so far as the second part is concerned.

The emigrants were men and women of the Puritan sects. Great readers of the Bible, they sought a freedom to live according to their own understanding of its teachings, far from the restrictions and penalties which they had to endure in Europe.

Their first settlements were around Massachusetts Bay, where they founded the town of Plymouth, in memory of the English port from which they sailed in the Mayflower.

The lives of these settlers were governed by the rules laid down by their own strict form of the Christian religion. Although they spoke of freedom, when they had gained it they were quick to impose their own forms of religious discipline upon others. As a result, some of the succeeding groups of colonists were not accepted by the ‘founding fathers’, and had to seek new settlements of their own.

This brought them into conflict with the tribes of Red Indians who were the only inhabitants of the area at that time. Sometimes there was violence, and even bloodshed, but, in the vast majority of encounters between settlers and natives, treaties of friendship were made and land was bought by the newcomers only after proper negotiations had taken place. The settlers also tried to share their Christian faith with their new neighbours, with some success.

The most notable of these missionaries to the Red Indians was John Eliot. He was not one of the original ‘Pilgrim Fathers’, but reached America in 1631 and settled in the neighbourhood of Boston. He spent the rest of his life preaching to the Indians and eventually translated the whole of the Bible into their language. This was the first Bible to be printed in a native North American language. It was also the first Bible to be printed on the American continent, and copies of it are greatly prized today.

Several interesting features of modern life in the U.S.A. have their origin in the doings of the early settlers. The city of ‘Philadelphia’, for instance, takes its name from the Greek words for ‘brotherly love’. Philadelphia was founded by early Quaker settlers.

The early history of the U.S.A. is as much the story of religious pioneering as of exploration and conquest.

Alice Evelyn Wilson – one of the first women geologists and palaeontologists

Posted in Geography, Geology, Historical articles, Science on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Alice Evelyn Wilson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

University of Toronto, picture, image, illustration

Alice Evelyn Wilson graduated from Toronto University

The burly prospector halted in his tracks and stood looking at the slim girl who was kneeling at the base of a cliff. It was surprising enough to see a girl in this wild part of the Canadian back country, but what surprised the prospector even more was what she was doing. She was tapping at the rock with a small hammer.

“Pardon me, Miss,” he said, “but if you’re looking for gold, it’s going to take you a mighty long time to dig a mine with that little hammer.”

Startled, the girl looked up. “But I’m not looking for gold,” she smiled. “I just want samples of this rock.”

“But that old rock ain’t worth nothin’,” said the prospector, shaking his head.

“It is to me,” laughed Alice Evelyn Wilson.

The old prospector was not the only one who could not understand Alice’s interest in geology. But right from her school days it was a science that fascinated her. People thought it a rather dull subject for a lively young girl, but Alice was never happier than when she was collecting mineral samples or trying to estimate the age of rocks.

In 1900 she joined the Geological Survey of Canada, and later transferred to a museum of geology in 1909. In 1911 she gained her BA degree at the University of Toronto. Eight years later, she became an Assistant Palaeontologist, until 1936 when, having been awarded an MBE for her distinguished work the year before, she resumed her work as a geologist. She became well known for various surveys she conducted for the Canadian Government, but she became more widely known for the fact that she proved a woman could succeed in what had always been considered a man’s world.

Perhaps her greatest honour came in 1938 when she became the first woman ever to be elected to the Royal Society of Canada. She retired from her post of Government Geologist in 1946, but continued working as a consultant to oil companies. She died on 5th April, 1964.

Henry Hudson was cast adrift and vanished into history

Posted in Boats, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Mystery, Ships on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Henry Hudson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Henry Hudson, picture, image, illustration

Henry Hudson being set adrift by Peter Jackson

The small rowing boat dwindled gradually among the ice floes. The mutineers aboard the Discovery watched as it drew farther and farther away.

In the stern of the boat sat Henry Hudson, his arm round the shoulders of his son. The seven men who had remained loyal to him pulled silently at the oars.

At last a cold mist hid the rowing boat from the Discovery, and the fate of Henry Hudson, his son John, and his companions, has remained a mystery to this day.

It was in 1607 that Henry Hudson set out on his first voyage of exploration. In a small boat, with a crew of only 10, he sailed from London in an attempt to reach the North Pole, and also to discover a north-east passage to China. He touched Greenland and Spitsbergen before barriers of ice compelled him to return.

In 1609, the Dutch East India Company commissioned Hudson to find a way to China. This time Hudson took a westerly direction, touching the American coast and sailing up the great river that now bears his name.

Winter forced him to return to England, but now he was sure that there was a north-west passage, and he set out again, on what was to be his last voyage, in April, 1610.

Again he sailed up the east coast of America and, sailing through the Hudson Straits, entered what came to be called Hudson’s Bay. At first, the English navigator thought he had found the passage he sought, but after three months’ sailing in the bay he realised with great disappointment that he was in a great, land-locked sea.

The ship became caught in the ice, and during the winter the crew grew increasingly resentful of Hudson, the man who had brought them to this terrible region of ice and fog. When the ice began to thaw and the crew realised that Hudson was determined to press on with the voyage, they mutinied. Hudson and his companions were cast adrift on 23rd June, 1611.

Retribution caught up quickly with the mutineers. Five of the ringleaders were killed by Eskimos while hunting, and several others died of sickness on the difficult voyage back to England. When the Discovery finally returned to London, there were only three men left alive.

Hudson vanished, but his discoveries lived on. On 2nd May, 1670, King Charles II granted a charter to a group of British businessmen to form the Hudson’s Bay Company. Its objective was to obtain furs from the Hudson Bay area for the English market. This in effect gave the Company rights to all the lands reached through Hudson’s Strait. Thus, a private company ruled all the land from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Red River headwater to Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay.

These boundaries were soon disputed by France and the then British Province of Canada, and a commission was appointed under the Treaty of Utrecht to decide the Company’s boundaries. But the Commission of 1713 reached no conclusion, and the Hudson’s Bay Company continued its vast fur trading enterprises until it surrendered its territorial rights to Canada in 1870 for £300,000 compensation.