Monthly Archives: December, 2014

Mynde the Gappe: A Medieval Twist on the London Underground

Never let it be said that the folks at Londonist want their readers unprepared for any contingency.

For example: what if you exited the Tube at Green Park one night and found yourself standing next to the 11th Century leper hospital of St. James the Less? Rather than panic, you could just pull out their handy Medieval Tube Map, and you’d be good to go….somewhere.

Londonist's Medieval Tube Map showing area around modern- day Hyde Park.

Londonist’s Medieval Tube Map showing area around modern- day Hyde Park.

Drawing on the Domesday survey of 1086 and early histories of London, Londonist created this whimsical “alternative” map matching, as close as possible, modern stops on the Underground to their ancient place names. Paddington becomes Roman farm settlement “Padintune,” Charing Cross Road becomes the Anglo-Saxon hamlet “Cyrringe,” and dignified Mansion House becomes “Garlickhythe,” a jetty once used for unloading baskets of garlic.

During my first trip to London last year, we stayed in a quirky hotel off Bayswater Road in Westminster. How an area that seemed to have neither water nor bay came about that name probably crossed my mind at some point. And promptly crossed out.

But better late than never, I suppose. Consulting the map, I was off and running.

The Central Line of the Medieval Underground would have taken me not to the Lancaster Gate, but “Bayard’s Water,” which first appears on the maps in 1380. A “bayard” was a term for a horse, so the little hamlet was almost certainly a watering hole fed by the nearby River Westborne, used by travelers and their mounts as they headed east or west.

By 1659, “Bayard’s Water” had been squished into a single word to become “Bayswater,” and it was just one of the many small communities strung along what was then the Uxbridge Road. Sometime around 1725, the “remote and desolate” outpost had been purchased a man named Thomas Upton, and the area became known for a time as Upton Farms. When Thomas Upton died in 1730, he passed the property on to his son – but under the laws of the era, the minor-aged Upton couldn’t take possession without an Act of Parliament. The acreage was scooped up by William, the 3rd Baron Craven, who was allowed to build a house there – as long as he agreed to turn it into a Pest-House, a plague hospital and burying ground, should London ever again be struck by plague.

John Rocque’s 1746 Survey of London showing the Craven “Pest-House” north of Hyde Park.

It wasn’t. The Craven family built a comfortable house surrounded by formal gardens, and were never called upon to turn it into a hospital. It was the perfect time to move to the western suburbs. Hyde Park, the Royal hunting grounds established by Henry VIII in 1536, received their first formal landscaping in 1733, to please the monarch who had moved into nearby Kensington Palace. Over the next century, the area became an upscale suburb, favored by those who had the money to escape the bad air and crowded conditions of the City.

None of this would be particularly apparent to the modern visitor. The River Westbourne is now among London’s “lost” rivers, more a part of the City’s elaborate sewer system than a free-running waterway. Hookah bars and tourist shops have replaced farms and fields; buses and fast-moving cars have replaced horses and pedestrians along Bayswater Road. Hyde Park is an oasis of green in the urban landscape, but even there, you are never unaware you’re in a very large and bustling city.

If we go back to London – and I certainly hope we do – and end up back on Bayswater, I’ll at least go back with a better idea of its history of the assurance I’m not walking on the bodies of plague victims. And if I end up at the far end of the District Line, in someplace called Contesebregge, I can make my way back to Padintune.

Familiar with London? What jumps out at you about the Medieval Tube Map? Leave a comment!

 

 

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This work by Heather K Michon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Peg Away And Keep Smiling: The “Santa Claus” Ship Brings Christmas To War-Torn Europe

Depending on how you look at it, “The Santa Claus Ship” was either a Christmas miracle or an exercise in audacity.

When Lilian Bell and James Keeley called on the children of America to give up their money and their toys and their time to send Christmas to Europe, they made a promise that they would get the donations on a ship, send it into the heart of the war zone, and get each precious gift into the hand of a refugee or war orphan. But on September 5, they didn’t have a ship. They didn’t have access to a ship. They didn’t have a warehouse. They didn’t have a staff or operating budget. They didn’t have the approval of the Wilson Administration – much less that of foreign governments.

Postcard bearing Lilian Bell's "Inasmuch" Flag of Peace.

Postcard bearing Lilian Bell’s “Inasmuch” Flag of Peace.

Then, suddenly, they did. Everything fell into place, and not just on the U.S. side. By the time the Jason dropped anchor in Plymouth, England on November 25, there was a robust distribution system already in place. The same was true in Marseilles, France on December 5 and in Genoa, Italy on December 7. Thousands of civilian volunteers sorted and resorted goods, while he Red Cross took the lead in making sure Christmas Ship boxes traveled along safe routes to the places they were most needed. Not one of the more than 10,000 boxes was recorded as lost.

Even the calendar seemed to align itself in the ship’s favor. The Jason wasn’t going to be able to stop at a port within reach of Russia. So the British government agreed to take the Russian allocation on one of their own ships to Bergen, Norway, where it could be transported via Finland for distribution. This was a much longer trip. But everything still got there in time for Christmas….because the Russian Orthodox Church observed Christmas two weeks later than the West.

Another miracle was the acceptance of Allied governments of the Jason as a “peace ship.” Distributions of gifts and supplies went to German and Austria just as they did England and France. This ecumenical approach reflected not just Lilian Bell’s personal philosophy, but the political reality of the moment: the United States had formally declared neutrality at the start of the war, and had she or James Keeley gone to the President and presented a plan that favored one side, Woodrow Wilson would have almost certainly turned them down.

By mid-February, U.S. newspapers were regularly carrying stories of grateful recipients writing to thank those who had sent them gifts (and who had thought to include a note with a name and address).

A teacher in Belgium wrote a donor in California what had happened the day she walked into her classroom with an armload of presents. “The children were clasping their hands and cried together in our mother tongue, ‘Lang leve onze kleine Amerikaansche vriends – long live our little American friends – and the boys and girls were dancing and singing around me, of them kissing my hands. Their merriment was undescribable.” Madame Valentine Ratel, a schoolteacher in Nolay, France, wrote a class in San Francisco thanking them for their kindness to her students. “Kisses and shake hands!” she signed off in wobbly English.

A high school student in Leavenworth, Kansas received a letter Bletchworth, England, thanking her for a red sweater she had donated. Frances Rushton wrote on behalf an appreciative 14-year old Belgian refugee. “She knows very little English and I doubt if she will have the courage to try to write you.” The girl and her parents had been turned out of their home in a village between Ypres and Lille with a half-hour’s notice “leaving with nothing but the clothes on their backs” and with a fifty-mile walk to safety. Times were difficult for the Belgians and their supporters, but in the meantime, “we shall peg away and keep smiling.”

A girl in Minonk, Illinois got a letter from the mother of a young refugee in Scheveningen, Holland. “”The family of De Mal, a Belgian family, refugees in Holland, thank Miss Elizabeth Roberts very sincerely for the beautiful doll which she sent on the occasion of the trouble of the little Belgian refugee. This doll pleases Lily…Her mamma would like very much for Miss. Roberts to answer and tell what she does every day. This war is very painful to the Belgians and you may know that we well appreciate the generosity and the good cheer of the Americans. Lily sends good wishes and thanks with me and signs this with her own hand. Lily.”

Refugee Josef Verhist created a thank you postcard out of a photo and parts of different postage stamps.

Refugee Josef Verhist created a thank you postcard out of a photo and parts of different postage stamps.

Sometimes, people sent tokens. Irene Chappelle, a 12-year old refugee from Reims, sent Mrs. Katherine Roberts of Chicago a bunch of dried violets bound in red, white and blue ribbon as thanks for a doll and coin she had received. “When papa returns from the war and we can return to our home, I shall take your doll with me, and I shall never forget the one who gave it to me. I shall preserve the coin as a souvenir of you and your country.” Josef Verhist, a refugee father of three, sent Minnie Franklin of Vancouver a homemade postcard: a landscape of Holland painstakingly created out of parts of different stamps.

In the fall of 1915, Lilian Bell published The Story of the Christmas Ship, a “charming” account of the project, “full of laughter, of tears, of good fellowship,” in the words of one prominent reviewer.

There was no call to the American children in 1915 to send toys and aid to their European cousins. The U.S. did send a “Christmas Ship,” but this was packed with humanitarian supplies for the starving people of Serbia. Another full year of combat had created more orphans, more refugees, more starving people. A “Santa Claus Ship” seemed, at best, quaint.

“Millions in Europe are dying in the agonies of starvation, cold and disease,” wrote one commentator in widely reprinted editorial. “What a ghastly joke it would be in these circumstances for the richest and luckiest nation to offer those millions of pitiful children a little candy and fruit when they need milk and broth, mittens when they need blankets and clothing, dolls and toy trains when they need doctors and nurses and sanitary supplies. No, this is no time for polite momentoes. Let us concentrate on giving the only real help that would suffice and that would be welcome – peace as soon as possible.”

Lilian Bell’s Vision Splendid was just that – the heartfelt outpouring of millions of Americans to millions of Europeans, and one that did bring a little light to countless lives suddenly and irrevocably changed by war. It was a last burst of innocence at the start of a more cynical era.

Visit Remembering the 1914 “Santa Claus” Ship  on Pinterest for more images. 

 

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This work by Heather K Michon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Vision Splendid: How One Woman Sent 7 Million Christmas Presents To WWI Europe

Sitting in front of a fan in the heat of late August, novelist Lilian Bell was thinking about Christmas. War had broken out in Europe a month earlier. Casualties were mounting. She found herself obsessing on how desolate it would be when the poor and orphaned children faced their first wartime holiday.

Lilian Bell, 1890s

Lilian Bell, 1890s

Suddenly, she was struck by “The Vision Splendid.” Why couldn’t the children of America be moved to give the children of Europe a proper Christmas? The words of Matthew 25:40 echoed in her head: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The Vision came into view – “the Christmas Ship come sailing, and flying from her staff was the beautiful flag of the Christmas Ship – with its white ground from Peace, its golden star of Hope, and it’s motto the single word-“Inasmuch!””

Her imagination, she admitted, sometimes got her into trouble.

Most “visions splendid” die not long after they form, but Lilian Bell wasn’t about to let that happen.

Her first stop was Chicago, where she enlisted the support of James Keeley, editor of the Chicago Herald. Keeley had served for years as editor of the Tribune, but in the spring of 1914 had purchased four failing city papers and merged them into a single entity. Bell – the wife of a promoter – knew exactly what she was doing in pitching her project to him. A splashy, patriotic drive like the one Bell proposed was exactly the sort of visibility-raising campaign he was looking for.

The strategy was simple: Bell would write a front-page call-to-action under Keeley’s byline to the children of America while he traveled east and used his political connections to win approval from authorities in Washington. He would help set up a steering committee and she would work on outreach and publicity.

To the Children of America” was splashed across the front page of the Herald on Saturday, September 5, 1914. In the type of part morbid, part saccharine prose of her era, Bell managed to combine the image of “Santa Claus fell dead on the battlefield,” “the physical agony of the hungry and the underfed,” and countless little Gretchens, Ivans, and Maries waking up to a Christmas without presents into a downright inspiring call to clever, industrious, generous American children to “stretch out your hands across the sea bearing messages of love and hope and sympathy to the children of a war-ridden continent.” They could become Santa Claus by donating their pennies and their toys and sending them on The Christmas Ship. Within days, this open letter was reprinted in newspapers across the nation.

As Bell anticipated, The Christmas Ship fired the public’s imagination. It played into a basic desire to do good and into the slightly less attractive sense of American exceptionalism, of “fortunate America” heaping their goodness on “unfortunate Europe.” It was the perfect project for classrooms, for institutions, for women’s clubs and fraternal organizations and unions and church groups. Newspapers adopted it as a worthy public cause – one that just happened to help boost circulation. The Wilson Administration signed on, offering the services of the military and the State Department.

Most importantly, on October 15, the Navy assigned the USS Jason, a sturdy 19,250-ton fuel ship, to make the treacherous journey across the Atlantic. She would depart Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal on November 14.

Over a period of two months, Americans collected and shipped over fifty full railcars full of goods to Brooklyn. It was the collective work of hundreds of groups and thousands of volunteers, but what struck Lilian Bell was that “[t]he cargo of the Christmas Ship was personal.”

She was particularly touched by the stories of parents who donated the toys of their children who had died young. In Springfield, South Dakota, students collected ‘a mile of pennies’ which they used to buy clothing for children in Belgium, while one young girl donated the five cents she won from her mother every time she got 100 on her spelling, even though “[t]his is a hard way for me to earn money for spelling is against my nature.” A group of little girls in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, wrote letters to unknown little girls in Europe, enclosed not only fresh paper but international postage coupons. Women in San Francisco sewed 2,500 items of clothing and collected hundreds more. One person even donated an organ. “Just what good this instrument will do the little sufferers who have neither clothes nor roofs to shelter them has not yet been fathomed[.]” But it was packed nonetheless.

People from all walks of life joined in the effort. Practically the first cash donation she received was postmarked from the Penitentiary at Joliet. “Inclosed please find one dollar and an abundance of Good Will toward the Christmas Ship fund. Thomas J. Bent, Convict 195.” The prisoners at Joliet, along with other institutions, turned out an abundance of handmade toys from their workshops. At the other end of the spectrum and the other end of the supply chain, the upper class ladies of New York spent days in the overflowing warehouse at Bush Terminal working alongside soldiers, sailors and Red Cross volunteers to bring some order to the chaos of goods.

Volunteers packed 10,000 crates of goods for Europe in the fall of 1914.

Volunteers packed 10,000 crates of goods for Europe in the fall of 1914.

Although the press focused more on the vast array of toys and games, a large part of the material packed into the Jason was humanitarian aid. Much of this was earmarked for Belgium, which was already on the brink of famine. A bewildering array of foodstuffs made its way to New York. Famine staples like flour, sugar, beans and corn were stacked to the warehouse rafters. California farmers donated dried fruit; growers in Texas sent pecans and peanuts; northeastern orchards provided barrels of apples. There were treats as well, barrels of candy and other sweets tucked in with the more wholesome goods. One merchant in New York even contributed a case of grape juice.

After weeks of nonstop work by hundreds of volunteers, the Jason was ready to depart. Lilian Bell, still working with the coordinating committee in Chicago, looked at the final reports as “the only interesting statistics I ever read.” Donations had come from every state, plus shipments from Canada and even Panama. It was impossible to get a full count, but the estimate was that in nine weeks, 7 million separate items had been collected. The ship was also carrying $42,000 in cash donations – equivalent to about $1 million today. The Jason’s captain, Lieutenant Commander C.E. Courteney, put the final count at 10,000 cases of items packed into the holds.

Thousands gathered around the Brooklyn docksides to watch the Jason set sail. Shortly after noon on November 14, the “Santa Claus Ship” cast off her lines, slid “into midstream  and headed for the sea on her voyage of mercy and happiness, flying the flag of the greatest admiral — Santa Claus.”

Part Two: Peg Away and Keep Smiling: The Santa Claus Ship Brings Christmas to War-Torn Europe
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This work by Heather K Michon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Magnificent, But Not War: What A British Grocery Chain’s World War I-Themed Commercial Says About Historical Memory

Last month, the British grocery giant, Sainsbury’s, debuted its official holiday commercial: Christmas Is For Sharing.


Based on an episode that has come to be called The Christmas Truce, Christmas Is For Sharing is an exercise in synergy. Capitalizing on a wave of nostalgia accompanying the start of the centennial of the First World War, Sainsbury’s partnered with the Royal British Legion, a support organization for former servicemen, for technical expertise in the making of the commercial. In return, Sainsbury’s is giving them the profits from commemorative chocolate bars based on those seen in the commercial itself.

On the most basic levels, the advert (to use the Britishism) has been a success. In the days following the premier, Sainsbury’s was reporting sales of 5,000 chocolate bars per hour. The official YouTube video has been viewed over 15.4 million times in the past month. Even its detractors admit that it’s an effective little film.

But those detractors rightly point out that Sainsbury’s ultimate goal is to increase their bottom line. “They’ve taken an incredibly emotive episode in history and have effectively used the deaths, mutilation or loss of 40 million young men to sell mince pies,” as Charlotte Spence, culture editor at Redbrick, sums up the counter-argument. Over 700 complaints have been lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds of sheer tastelessness.

There’s also the question of accuracy. The advert is a moving meditation on the futility of sending young men of to war, of fellowship and humanity in the face of horror. But is it history?

 

To even call what happened in December 1914 “The Christmas Truce” is misleading. There was no single truce observed by the troops along the Western Front on Christmas Day. Instead, there were countless individual truces and ceasefires between different units at different points along the trench lines running across France. Depending on the units involved, the fighting stopped from anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. In some places, it was a mutual agreement not to shoot at each other for an agreed period of time. In other spots, the shooting went on, punctuated by the joint singing of Christmas carols. More often, it was a temporary truce to allow each side to safely collect and bury their dead. And, as depicted in the advert, in a few places, German and British soldiers did indeed leave their trenches to fraternize in No Man’s Land. The only commonality was that these actions were led by rank-and-file soldiers and lower-ranking officers, and higher-ranking officers did not step in to stop it.

Many soldiers mentioned their Christmas experiences in their diaries and letters home. The word “unbelievable” cropped up more than once. “We exchanged souvenirs and they gave us some very fine cigars,” wrote Lance Corporal Kenneth Macfarlane Gaunt in a letter home. “A party of theirs met one of ours halfway between the trenches, they all linked arms, and had their photos taken by a German officer! It seems most weird, talking and laughing with them one moment and killing each other in the next!”

But it was just a moment of weirdness that dropped from mention within a couple of weeks. Subsequent Decembers brought no ceasefires. Goodwill evaporated with the rising casualties. Kenneth Gaunt was among them. He died at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, not long after his nineteenth birthday.

 

The mythos of the Christmas Truce began in the late 1920s and the 1930s as veterans began writing memoirs of their wartime experiences. In 1914, the brief interlude had been a curiosity. The passing of time and the shifting perceptions of the Great War caused many veterans to give that day a much deeper symbolic meaning.

In this new interpretation, a generation of bright young men had been marched off to slaughter by incompetent leaders bent on destruction. The Christmas Truce was re-cast as an act of defiance against those leaders: common soldiers streaming into No Man’s Land to make peace, where the politicians and generals could offer only bloodshed. It was an appealing narrative to the postwar generation of the 1930s, and it gained new currency in the 1960s, especially after an extended portrayal in the play (and later film) Oh! What A Lovely War. “With its message of peace and overturning of orders,” writes Stephen Moss in the Guardian, “it appealed to a counter-cultural generation remoulding notions of the war.”

Sainsbury’s has released a “story behind the story” video that puts the events of the advert in a wider historical context, with consulting military historians Taff Gillingham and Alan Cleaver pointing out that the truce was confined to a relatively small area, that the War was still very much on, and that men still died in combat on 25 December 1914 – including a few when they left the safety of the trenches thinking there was a truce in effect. The company touts the attention their consultants paid to re-creating the atmospherics of the events, trying to get the details of trench life as close as possible to perfect.

Staute in Liverpool depicting iconic Christmas Truce football match.

Statue in Liverpool depicting iconic Christmas Truce football match.

Yet, in the end, it remains a triumph of truthiness over truth. The portrait is bloodless. No unappealing dead bodies or unsightly bomb craters litter No Man’s Land to impede a quick football match. The image of young men putting down their guns for a peaceful game has become a key component of Christmas Truce mythology – but historians aren’t completely sure such a match took place. It appears in a few British accounts, but no German account has yet been found. Its inclusion is symbolic. “What matters is the message that the whole event carries,” says Cleaver, “which is, even at the toughest of times, in the heat of war, in the most dreadful occasions, there can be great humanity.”

 

Christmas Is For Sharing can’t be easily categorized as fact, fiction, or mythology. It’s the distilled product of nearly 80 years of definition and re-definition, with each generation adapting the story to fit the spirit of the age. It began as a tabula rasa. The soldiers who witnessed the truces that Christmas literally didn’t know how to categorize it. “It was not war,” wrote one observer, “but it was certainly magnificent.” It was the sort of thing that can only happen at the start of a bitter war, and only be assigned meaning long after.

 
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This work by Heather K Michon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Ada Lovelace Is 199 Years Young Today

“I am more than ever now the bride of science…”

 

In honor of #AdaLovelaceDay, a brief round-up of some of the great recent commentary on her life and legacy:

Ada_Lovelace_portrait

 

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