Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Medieval Theory of Flight

A Rambling Discourse re Veracity and Historical Oddities

I hate bloopers. Especially at the start of a promising book or other piece of writing that one hopes to enjoy reading and possibly learning from. One glaring error in the first paragraph, or on an early page, ruins my faith in anything that may follow.

This diatribe comes after reading an excerpt, Day of The Longbow, presenting: Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, and the Battle, a book written by historian Juliet Barker.

For right in the first paragraph she, or perhaps her reviewer, places the scene of battle in ‘north-eastern’ France. In fact Azincourt (as it now appears in atlases) is just 25 miles from the English Channel.

Ok, so we’re all used to errors in newspapers, and not just common typos but obvious errors concerning what should be well-known facts, partly because we know that common or garden journalists are usually in a rush, and also some, o.k. many, as in all professions, are often wanting in basic knowledge.

But anyone who produces a book or scholarly article usually has plenty of time to check all their factual details.

Newspapers can just blatantly fluff away their errors by stating them to be “...due to an editing error”. This is an obvious giggle. It’s like a doctor who cuts off the wrong leg of a patient later saying it was "...caused by a surgical error". Or the captain of a ship run aground on a rock excusing it all as " error in navigation".

But author Juliet (may peace be upon her) prods awake my scepticism again when she states that 5,000 or more English and Welsh archers at the battle of Agincourt, sent a hail of arrows up every six seconds so that the sky was "...literally darkened over, as though a cloud had passed before the face of the sun".

Wow! Or, “incroyable”, as the Gallic recipients of that barrage must have cried. “All them blinkin’ flèches”, they’d have shouted out loudly in their coarse countryside French. “Cor! Lummy! Lookit 'em all! They’re literally blotting out the sun. Wow!”. Not, sort of, or, as though, would they have cried, but ‘literally’ —actually blotting the sun out.

Think about it. You’ve got a shower of five thousand ratings with bows-and arrows. Were all these guys stuck together in a great big lummocky ungainly lump? Or were they spread out in a regimented line abreast and say twenty ranks deep? If so they’d have stretched for about 1,500 feet lengthways by 200 feet deep.

Look, a guy with a longbow and a big quiver full of very sharp pointy sticks and also hefting his reserve weapon of sword or axe, needs at least five feet of elbow-room-clearance from his mates on each side. He also needs about five feet clearance fore and aft so as to be able to shoot his arrows above the head of the guy in front without doing his comrade’s noddle or ear lobes any collateral damage.

So if their arrows were say half-an-inch in diameter and, together with their metal points and goose feather flights, three feet-and a couple of inches long and, if they were all arranged tightly together like a single layer of sardines packed in a tin ...(Jeez! How I miss those lovely Portuguese sardines in olive oil that the British Marx and Sparx chain of stores sold before they closed up all their outlets over here. They were so delectable and...) Oh! I’m sorry. I got sidelined a bit. Where was I? Yeah! In such a case (we’re back to our bows and arrers investigation again) the potential total shadow-casting-area of all those arrows stuck so tightly together would have been about 729 square feet, or a square measuring 27’ x 27’ — around the size of a rather largish Persian carpet. That’s if the archers were all exactly side by side and tightly together.

Ok. I’m no toxopholist or toxophilite, so maybe their arrows were three-quarters-of-an-inch in diameter. But I think not. Let’s say a more likely, but still hefty, five-eighths, making the carpet somewhat larger at about 30’ x 30’. All right? But only if all their shafts were let loose strictly simultaneously while all hands, I mean bowmen, were stuck cheek-to-cheek very, very closely together — in fact too closely to operate or even breathe. An impossible event which anyway, would, could, only happen with the first such a bunched up fictitious salvo.

Subsequent salvos of any kind would have been shot very intermittently with just 1,000 arrows being released simultaneously in any one single second of elapsed time at intervals of anywhere from one to six seconds, depending on how soon and how much out of synch the 5,000 bowmen had by then become. Thus providing a fairly open pattern even if all hands aimed for the same very small part of the opposing force. (Switching back to sardines again for a moment, I bought some tins of my second favourites, those classic Norwegian 'Millionaires—Fish they are very Small’—brand, in olive oil, which I can remember liking ever since I was a small boy in the 1930s. So I checked the wrapping to see if it now said ‘Product of China’ in tiny letters somewhere. But no, it did not. Instead it said: ‘Product of Scotland’. Imagine! Norwegian sardines from Scotland? And their 'Billionaire' sister tins of sardines state they are ‘Product of Poland’. What the heck is going on? And they don't seem to have that wonderful taste they had fifty years ago).

Those deadly English and Welsh arrows (we’re back to the main story again) packed enough kinetic energy to pierce right through the hardened metal armour worn by the attacking enemy knights and inflict grievous, incapacitating and fatal wounds. One pities all the poor innocent horses that must have taken the brunt of the carnage.

Of course, it must have been a very shocking and scary spectacle...(no, no, no! It was not scary finding the sardines were Scottish and Polish, stupid, that was just surprising —please pay attention. I’m back to the Agincourt archers again —it was their very, very effective showers of arrows that must have been scary for the Frenchies)...with 5,000 bow strings going twang, twang, twang, twang, twonk (woops!—that last one is a misfire) in near unison followed by the swishing tearing-of-paper sound of thousands of arrows zipping over in the initial loud swoosh-swooshing wave, flying in a graceful but deadly parabolic swarm, each impelled violently through the air by a longbow’s ‘muzzle’ velocity of perhaps more than two hundred feet per second. Yeah, being the target of that must have been very scary.

But what a stirring piece William Shakespeare wrote when nearly two centuries later he attributed the following wonderful words as being spoken by King Henry V as he made ready for battle against a foe five times superior in numbers, on that famed October morning in 1415:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves acursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin's day!

And that’s such an intriguing little observation in the middle of Henry’s imagined soliloquy, that bit about: ...and gentlemen in England now abed... because in those days, when there were no really reliable timepieces and naturally no agreed upon international time zones, and when I suppose all hands just used the hazy shadows cast by sundials in their particular vicinity to decide roughly (no corrections for the Solar Equation of Time at that historical time —1415) when their local noonday sun was passing overhead. This, combined with the fact that slow rates of travel by horse and sailing vessel, would have also made ‘jet lag’ quite indiscernible to the traveller.

Yet over in France on an early morning in October, during an era when most people sort of still believed the world to be flat, Shakespeare’s King Henry surmised that back in limey land, just thirty or so miles distant to the west across the Channel, most of the populace would still be in bed. A surmise further complicated by another fact: Agincourt is only six minutes earlier in solar time than the spot where 500 years later the Windmill Theatre near Piccadilly Circus would arise to timidly stage artistic, motionless-living-statue, nudie-tableaus, and so do battle with the morality and ethics as laid down by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office...

(Look here, Ough, for goodness sake stick to your main story, no more wanderings off. Try to keep your blog blatherings, at least somewhat tidy. — Ok! Ok!. I'm sorry)

...whereas the west coast French port of Brest is about twenty solar minutes later in time than where those delicately prurient wartime goings on were offered close by the ‘dilly — thus just about sharing the same local time as sleepy Cornwall, home to good folks even more likely to be found still abed at Henry's call.

So did Henry, or rather his poetic stand-in, Willie Shakespeare, have a wonky sense of longitudinal-time differences or did they just foster the well-founded opinion that most Englishmen were lazy sluggards.

And while talking about civil time matters, I recall during the war (no, no, not the Agincourt one, I mean our war — WWII) we in UK went on double British Summer Time (DBST) in order to lessen our chances of being bombed by the Nazis before having listened to the nine o'clock news on the radio. But I cannot remember when it began. Probably when the first German early night time air raids started in late 1940. I remember as a 14-year-old, living a scant more than a half-dozen miles northeast of the Windmill theatre, flying my model aircraft outdoors at 11pm on summer evenings in bright daylight. So it must have begun in 1940. Did DBST apply all year round? I guess so. But cannot now remember.

Why, you ask, do I go into such detail in pondering such ancient matters with so little perceived consequence. Because as I’ve explained before, it’s my personal therapy for warding off attacks by our common enemy —that rotten old Assayed Al-Ziyma guy. Also I like drawing little pictures on the computer. And, also, like, I’m a proponent of accuracy in writing stuff, and have pretensions as an historian.

(Ed. note: Assayed sort of means ‘Mister’. I think).

Also of course, I see myself as a Pepys II. Historians and scholars in future centuries will undoubtedly use my old O-Zone diaries and all my other writings as a source of genuine information depicting what the social conditions in our particular era were really like. All this at present spurned literary swill I now present will, way, way, way ahead in the future. be deeply revered for its rock-bottom-hard accuracy. I’m sure you must all agree what a boon to humankind that will be.

But I hasten to add that my similarity to Pepys does not stretch to his religious devoutness. He often states that on Sunday, he ‘arose and to prayer, then to church, then home to dinner, then back to church, and more prayers before bed’. This seemed to all fit in quite well with his frequent all-the-way amorous dalliances with the young wives of his subordinates, when using as persuasive clout his senior position’s power as an omnipotent hirer-and-firer and promotion giver in the naval department.

Also of interest is that he walked about London at all times, day and night, often alone, unmolested. Like his contemporaries he didn’t wear a sword except on formal occasions. It seems not to have been the practice. His younger contemporary, Izaak Walton, gives the same impression in his book, The Compleat Angler. For civilian non-combatants in England at that time, unlike today, it was not a violent society. Even during the Civil War, a couple of centuries after Agincourt, it seems people went about their neutral business in peace.

A Bald Statement: (well not completely, I’ve still patches left). Nevertheless, I’ll humbly make a truly boastful boast in true and proud octogenarian-style. Here it is:

I have never made a mistake, even of a minor character, in anything I have ever offered for publication.

So there. (would you please be quiet and try to control yourselves, this is no time for hilarity).

And what’s more in the exceedingly unlikely event of somebody pointing out such an error, allegedly of mine, I would immediately prove that it was purposely made either as a joke or to test someone’s powers of observation.

In fact, I learned this handy attribute of making no errors long ago in the hydrographic service (you can’t place a sounding showing 42 feet of water on a part of a chart and then have a valuable 36-foot-draught tanker pile up on that very same spot. You may be dragged into a court of law). Same thing at the National Film Board. They just wouldn’t allow one to make mistakes. After all, if you make a blooper when making a film you just can’t do as newspapers do and blame it on ‘an editing error’. Back in the sixties you’d have had to do a costly remake of a portion of the film. You couldn’t just live with it, or fluff it off.

Once when, Lorraine Monk, my NFB boss called me into her office, she was on the telephone. I heard her say: ‘...if John Ough says the ice was twelve feet thick, then the ice was twelve feet thick.’ Then she handed the phone over to me. It was some big guy in the Montreal NFB office quibbling part of a story I’d written. When he repeated his doubts and asked me how I could say the ice was an unbelievable twelve feet thick, I replied: ‘Because I’ve spent weeks working aboard ships breaking through ice, often more than twelve feet thick, and, as the ship’s hydrographer, noting, observing and recording such facts for inclusion in my official report as part of my job’.

Another little episode: I did a story on the amazing Nodwell tracked-transporters at work in the northern reaches of the Mackenzie River area. The Alberta manufacturers called to thank me for the story. The next day they called again. This time with an angry gripe. Why, they wanted to know, had I called their machines Caterpillars? I had not, I replied. Look at today’s Globe and Mail they said. I did. One of my story’s pictures was placed large on the op-ed page and entitled a Caterpillar. Not my doing, I said to the Nodwell guys, I sent you a full copy of the story as sent out. You will find no Caterpillar word in it. Look at my full story as published by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald. Both those Alberta big dailies have used it as issued. I’m not responsible for mistakes by some superior twerp of a Toronto Globe and Mail editorial cutline writer.

Lots of freelancers around the world plagiarised my stories and bylined them. I didn’t care. Our lawyers were going to warn them off. I said, no, let them go on. They’re doing a bit extra for NFB’s job of presenting Canada to the world—at no added cost to us. Just as long as they don’t mess up the intrinsic story content.

Once, in conversation in the press club with a Montreal Star staffer, he told me condescendingly that their paper would certainly never use any of my NFB stuff. So I was very pleased to be able to tell him how one of his senior colleagues quite often picked up large chunks of my stories, added a new head, and how then they were published in the Star under that same guy’s byline. I added that I had quite a few clippings if he wished to see them...

And here’s a real giggle. Four decades ago I spent a day at Government House with Madame Vanier, the then Governor-General’s very gracious wife. Her husband was a truly, classically old time, Canadian G-G —a real Canadian army general of the famed ‘van doos’ who lost part of a leg fighting in France during the Great War. (Did I mention that my choice for the next truly Canadian G-G is retired star ballerina Karen Kain?). Anyway, the press clippings resulting from the story I did on Madame Vanier included one from a pocket-sized girlie magazine published in New York. Such an occurrence was quite outlandish. Though very tittyvating the magazine was nowhere near modern standards of salaciousness, but it was still a dedicated hot girlie mag.

A little while later I had the opportunity to tell Madame Vanier of her photographs appearing in such a magazine. She was highly amused. Of course, of late, it would be nothing out of the ordinary with the bunch we’ve had recently up at Gov. House.

But why did that girlie book use my story? Because, so it was said, in that way they could be classified as a general-content magazine and pass through the US Mail Service.

Really of course, it was because it was just a top-rate story.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Common Knowledge

Fishing amid the
One day when the good ship MV Theron was anchored in northwest Hudson Bay, just off the coastal northwest barrens, I took a dory ashore and went fishing alone.
I arrived at the narrow sandy beach of a fairly large lake and as I crossed over to the lake’s edge I noticed fresh wolf tracks clearly imprinted in the sand. Tracks left by several wolves. This gave me to pause. I mean really to pause. I looked around at the undulating treeless terrain. I stood on a small rise and gazed intently around. I could see for nearly a mile but there was no sign of wolves. So I just started fishing.
After all, everyone knows that wolves never attack humans.
Everybody agrees on that.

It’s common knowledge.

I continued fishing for several hours, completely circling the lake. Every now and then I would climb the few feet of a nearby rise and scan the horizon in all directions. I saw nothing. Becoming more and more relaxed I continued my fishing.

In the evening I arrived back at my starting point and saw the footprints I had left that morning.

They were covered over in wolf tracks.

Wolf tracks on top of my tracks.

This time it didn’t give me to pause.

It gave me to scurry.

I clutched my catch and rod and made for the shoreline and the dory.

Quite casually.

As if full of common knowledge.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dateline: Thailand 1967

A Quiet Noonday beer in Bangkok

Though I had arrived in Thailand as one of a group of twenty or so Canadian journalists on a special round-the-world flight by an RCAF long-range Yukon military aircraft, back in 1967, it was on one particular fine cool morning when, by chance alone, I came across an attractive large café-restaurant set well apart from the more modern parts of the city.

A few hours before, some of the television crew, going off in their borrowed jeeps to take footage of the Floating Market and other typical attractions of Bangkok life, had invited me to go with them. But I declined, saying I would wait to watch their documentary coverage on my home TV in a week or two, when we were back in Canada.

So, after leaving the hotel I had wandered aimlessly for an hour or two through the colourful Bangkok streets. I enjoyed being an inconspicuous part of the bustling life around me.

Then, nestled away from the noonday sunshine, far from the hotel, the peaceful uncrowded expanse of a shaded and well-kept café, its tables facing the large city square, had enticed me to sit down in quiet solitude and order a cool beer.

Back then, forty-two years ago, in 1967, Bangkok was still largely very ordered and peaceful. For half an hour I sipped beer, smoked my pipe, and watched the colourful pageant of passers-by: cyclists, street hawkers and the many charming young women busy with babies and market produce.

Suddenly there was a well-rehearsed stir of activity among the café staff. The head waiter himself, bowing importantly, bustled out to the terrace entrance where several large limousines had arrived. The café staff opened the car doors and deferentially assisted thirty or more passengers to alight. At once I understood the reason why the long central table, with other smaller ones grouped around in satellite fashion, had until now been kept strictly unused in pristine reservation.

From my small table a dozen yards away, and seated with my back to a flower-bedecked lattice screen, I could discreetly enjoy what was obviously a large family event to the fullest extent. For a large family gathering it most certainly was. And a very loving family. As soon as the feeble patriarchal figure of the old gentleman was placed in his seat at the head of the table the rest of the party cheerfully settled themselves into their places with much animated chatter, mostly in the Thai language but often interspersed with snatches of English. And I was delightedly intrigued to hear one of the lissome young matrons, as her young son spilled a glass of juice over his bare legs, exclaim: Oh, Crumbs! Obviously, I thought to myself again, an intriguing story lies here.

With no delay, and requiring little interaction with the guests, waiters were at once placing food and drink in front of this large, pleasant, and handsome group.

This gathering, my own waiter informed me, after I asked him its meaning, was a regular happening. Every one or two weeks, he said, for many, many years past.

The old gentleman? He was a little surprised by my question. Why he said, that is the English Lord. His name? He gave the Siamese version of a shrug of his shoulders. He is the ‘English Lord’, he repeated, once again seemingly surprised by my ignorance.

As I watched I saw that the old man was truly frail and unable to help himself. The venerable old lady at his side, still proud and lissome, with superfine oriental features and a bearing that told of superb past beauty, had to superintend and often delicately taste, every small morsel of food administered in turn by two of the younger women to their father figure. The old lady reserved for herself the task of dabbing his mouth with one of a pile of snow-white serviettes. She also periodically held, with loving care, as if nursing a favoured child, a thimble-sized whisky glass to his lips each time he sent her some secret sign. And with all the cheerful chatter around him, the old man was silent, his hands motionless in his lap and with his age-dimmed eyes never leaving the handsome face of the woman he had undoubtedly loved so well for so many years.

Yet suddenly, the old man said something and slowly half-turned his head in my direction. And then I saw that several of the family had also turned their heads in my direction. I was caught off guard. Embarrassed for a reason of which I was unaware. Had I been rude in my role as rapt onlooker, had I broken some obscure rule of etiquette? But the looks the group gave me were quizzical, not hostile. Then one of the younger men rose up and came to my table. In perfect English he asked me to excuse his intrusion but grandfather had caught a whiff of my pipe smoke and had exclaimed that there must be an Englishman nearby. Would I be willing to come over to the big table and pass a few words with the old man?

Naturally, I was more than ready to comply with the request. At the table I instinctively bid as polite a good morning, sir, to the old gentleman as I could, and then, somewhat un-Britishly, bowed to the old lady and then to the gathering. A waiter seated me and in a tremulous but cultured voice the old man, straining to meet my gaze, asked me if I was indeed an Englishman. I told him yes, but had lived in Canada during the past fourteen years. Then I mentioned that earlier I had been in Canada during the war when taking flying training. So, he asked, you were in the Royal Air Force? No, I replied, the Fleet Air Arm. At once his poor useless arms and hands moved in excited spasmodic jerks and his already quavering voice pitched higher. In his faltering voice he told me that fifty two years before, in 1915, he had left his rubber plantation in Malaya to go home to England and join the Royal Navy. And he added, he himself soon became a member of the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service. He had himself been flying in the Royal Navy. In fact, he had been one of the pioneers who landed Sopwith Pup biplanes on the makeshift of early makeshift aircraft carriers. For several minutes he was back to more youthful times.

Then, with an effort, he continued. With the war over, he said, in 1919, he had returned to the east, met and married his lovely Sophie. They had started their large family here in French Indochina, and he had never again visited Britain. His eyes twinkled faintly, as he called himself a social outcast. At first, a family blacksheep. A remittance man. But he had prospered in business and now his sons and their sons were prospering in turn. Then, worn out with so much unaccustomed conversation, he drooped down, and at a word from his wife, and after a feeble shake of my hand, he was helped out to one of the waiting motor cars, followed by his cheerful and animated tribe of descendants.

A few moments later, his son returned to my table to ask if I could come to luncheon at the family home next day. Regretfully I had to reply that our party was flying away to India early the next morning in our RCAF Yukon.

What an interesting opportunity I missed there.

For some reason I forgot to even ask the old gentleman’s name. And to inquire if he was indeed a castaway English lord.

Well, he was more than a lord to that large, happy family.

He was a living example of a true patriarch.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dateline: Bombay 1953

A Garden Party to Remember

The main guest of honour at an afternoon garden party in early 1953, on the grounds of the Colaba officers’ mess in Bombay, where I had been given splendid accommodation, was the newly-appointed Chief Minister of Bombay State, Moraji Desai, who later on was to become Prime Minister of India.

One of this ascetic gentleman’s quirks, or maybe attributes (he maybe proved his point by living to the age of 99 years) was his belief, by no means unshared by other natives of the 'Jewel', in the healthy effects to be gained by daily drinking a little of one’s own urine. Mr Desai was at that time also famed, rightly or otherwise, for bringing the prohibition of alcohol into effect for the whole state.

Thus though being honoured to be engaged by the chief minister in a surprisingly lengthy stand-up tête-à-tête chat on the crowded lawn that afternoon, I was exceedingly careful to take only the tiniest of sips from the glass of orangy-lemony-amber-coloured, liquid handed me by a bearer. There was nothing else for it. I had to. Because though, thank goodness, the officers’ mess still had a bar serving strong spirits and beer, it was prudently keeping its services tightly closed up until the Chief Minister departed the festivities.

So I have often wondered. Of what was my drink composed? And for what reason did Mr Desai keep me in such close company and conversation for so long a time that afternoon? After all I was no dignitary. No visiting moneyed businessman. I was just a young man, John Ough, undertaking a hydrographic survey of Bombay harbour, and a portion of the Gulf of Kutch, and the employee of a British consulting engineering firm from London.

After his eminence finally left the party I found myself amid a group of senior Indian Army officers. As the other generals and colonels listened, one of them said to me: “You British left us three very good things when you left in 1947. One, you left India with an excellent army. Two, you left us with a very efficient and extensive railway system...” Then, after a long pause, when I asked the obvious question as to what was the third good thing we left, he came back with his, no doubt oft-practised, punch line:

“You left us.”

Everybody roared with laughter. And of course, so did I. And we all had another drink.

A week or two earlier, in January of 1953, as our Air India plane was approaching Bombay, some type of official landing declaration forms were handed out to be filled in by the passengers. As a colleague and I were licking our pencils over this task one of the most graceful of the Indian female (there was absolutely no doubt about her delicious gender) flight attendants came over to us. She looked at the forms we were holding and said: “What are you doing? These forms are not for you, they’re just for foreign people”. And she tore them up. It was, and still is, one of the nicest things ever said to me.

Twenty minutes later we were smoothly ushered through customs with just a cheery “Good Morning”.

Actually, whenever the subject of the ending of the British Raj, just a few years before, was raised it was seldom or never at all acrimonious. One very senior civil servant whom I had cause to visit in his office told me that because the British system of colonial government was so generally very benign the changeover from British to full Indian administration had been very smooth. He used his own experience as an example. He was already the vice-director of his department (and thus did most of the real directing) and so when his boss took off for Cheltenham Spa or Bournemouth or wherever, he, as the vice-chairman or vice-minister, just moved up one step to the top rung of the ladder. And all the people below him smoothly moved up a another rung. This lack of any animosity was widespread. I wandered alone through the night time streets of Bombay and elsewhere with no fear for my personal safety at all.

That’s how it was and how it is that India today is an increasingly important, powerful, and burgeoning democracy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

World Census — 110 years ago



Published by E.N. Moyer & Co. Toronto, 1903.

This large map, topped by a prominent picture of King Edward VII and his Queen, is divided into five incontestably-logical sections of then contemporary global power:

Europe and, of much more importance,

The British Empire’s four Naval Patrol Regions, subtitled:

West Africa;

East Indies;



Prominently and liberally displayed on the map are big, all-important, black symbols denoting the geographical positions of fully-fortified coaling stations.

All very impressive.

But it is the compact and confident population table at the bottom of the map which really draws attention.

Because even in these days of electronic computers, mass registrations for social services; firearm possession, voting and tax lists, the task of counting Canada's burgeoning population is still no mean job.

So perhaps today's pampered public servants at Statistics Canada could learn something from the tenacity of purpose shown by the British Empire census takers whose figures were used by the Toronto map maker 110 years ago.

India for example. Surely back then India must have been a much more challenging place to count heads than Canada is today. But the British Raj got the census down with remarkably exact precision — with an irrefutable figure of:

294 million, 266 thousand, seven hundred

—and one. (or 294,266,701).

This figure alone must argue favourably for the efficiency of the British Empire in India. The temptation to round off to the nearest hundred would have lured anyone but the most dedicated empire builders. But, no. If there was that one odd soul left over, then he or she, young or old, must be included.

And the British civil servants in the Straits Settlements would appear to have served their previous periods of apprenticeship in India. For they came up with another nice exact population figure: 572,249. Almost as good a show for sticking to the facts as their Indian counterparts by spurning the temptation to round off to the nearest ten.

Over in the tiny Windward Islands the administrators showed a similar pernickety dedication to exactness with their 160,621. And, as could only be expected of a mature, self-governing, senior dominion, despite its vast ungainly sprawl, there was no doubt whatsoever about Canada's 5,369,666.

On the other hand John Barleycorn had obviously taken fuzzy hold of the administration on Labuan Island, Malaysia. And also in Ceylon. They could only come up with slovenly, and rather suspect, figures of 8,410 and 3,576,990, respectively.

And as for New Guinea and Basutoland, we must assume that the supply ships bringing good Scotch whisky and London gin from Britain had been long overdue. The colonial administration wallahs out there must have been well into the local snake juice for some considerable time. It's a wonder how their woozy submissions of 350,000 and 250,000 ever got past the Colonial Office and then passed to the map publishers in Toronto.

Though it would perhaps be nice if this facility for exact figures could be attributed only to the British census takers of that period, that doesn't seem to be the case.

For comparison purposes (but tucked well away from the big red-coloured areas) are some other population figures for foreign countries. Imperial Russia makes a laudable effort at accuracy with 129,004,514, as does the United States with 85,048,037; France with 90,247,412; and Germany with 71,054,175.

A fine showing considering all these national figures included the populations of their various colonies, dependencies and, in the case of Mother Russia, her dominions.

One wonders. How did they get their figures with such confident accuracy?

Let's go back to Imperial India. There is little doubt that it would have fallen to the British Army to do much of the leg work.

One can imagine the scene. A native runner loping up to the mud fort being defended by a tiny detachment of riflemen on the distant northwest frontier. He hands Sergeant Grimes a terse message from HQ:

"Number off and report all personnel in your area—both friendly and hostile”.

This would entail month-long patrols out into unfriendly territory, often pinned down for days by fierce tribesmen. And all the while the laborious task of counting and pencil licking by Sergeant Grimes goes on.

"You did it again, Private Sludge. Showed yer ugly, miserable face over the parapet and scared 'em all off just as I was counting. Now we'll have to do it all over again. Corporal Boggs, stick your 'elmet up to get 'em in closer. Then sharpen my pencil. And for gawdsakes — don’t look fierce at the buggers. Everybody smile. Look attractive. That’s an order. And don’t do anything nasty. There’ll be plenty of time for that after I've got 'em all counted and sent in my report."

Quietly browsing round the supermarket

It’s Inexplicable:

When we go into our local supermarket food stores during midweek mornings, here in west Ottawa, the only people under fifty-five years of age to be seen are perhaps a couple of the younger check-out cashiers. All the other denizens of the place, doddering about up and down the aisles, peering awkwardly down at the lower shelves and straining their necks upward to the upper ones, are on average aged about three score and ten and counting.

So why does the store management pipe relentless, unmelodic noise, combined with the screeching of demented insane lyrics by so-called vocalists, and meant for vacant-faced teenagers, at such heavy decibel levels.

Anyway, how often does one see a teenage shopper in a food store at any time?

But just in case a very young person might come into the store later on, couldn’t the store schedule the diabolical crass sound effects for late afternoon and evenings.

My wife often says she cannot stand the noise any more. So we cut short our shopping and go elsewhere for the time being.

Other co-shoppers vigorously agree with these complaints.

When store managers are tackled about the matter, they plead helplessness. Head office decides on the music, they say.

So some pimply-faced morons in a corporate office are responsible for driving you batty while you try to accomplish one of the few otherwise quite enjoyable activities of which you may still be fully capable.

Those dim-witted executives should be sentenced to life locked in a prison cell with loud speakers, 24/7, blaring George Formby playing on his ukulele, circa 1936, and singing:

When I’m cleaning windows.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Nobel for Neville Chamberlain

David Warren, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, writes today, that if Obama is considered worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, then poor old British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain should surely have received one back in 1939.

I agree, when reading some of the following:

My wife, found four copies of the UK's Daily Mail, one each originally published back in the years 1900, 1923, 1936 and 1939.

I’ve been spending hours reading every word of them. And they’re fascinating.


The front pages of the old issues are full of advertisements of all kinds including one in 1900 headed:


(Established 1745)

No, this was not a personal hygiene promotional ad. It merely sought customers for Dirty Dick’s pub on Bishopsgate, opposite Liverpool Street Station in London, an old public house in which I’ve often quaffed a few pints of ale.

Shipping news and weather reports, are prominent items, giving sightings of incoming vessels passing points in the outer approaches to the Channel.

Among personal columns of urgent and serious mien there were two or three like this one:

PW (Editor: illegible). sic. Yeah! That was it. Nothing more. Probably sent in anonymously with no return address. The editor had no choice. He took the enclosed money order fee and published the only two letters he could make out of the item.

Some items were in code, thus:

FAITH—Zshbsav nym zyhp jdwljumxxn-ty fw owxx lag tiffin-jwldwhp nymdh always. This was no computer glitch, they weren't to be invented for another seventy years. It was obviously a secret code between two illicit lovers who sent erotic messages to one another. (Clue: Tiffin is Hindi for dinner).

The Daily Mail charge for these personal ads was eight words for 3s. and 4d per additional word.

(Note: The first O-Zone reader to solve this early Enigma-coded message and send it in, accompanied by the lids torn off from 26 non-Macintosh laptop computers, will receive a guided tour of the Bletchly Park facilities in UK).

Interspersed between ads offering to buy scrap metal and stuff, second-hand watches and jewellery, were widespread demands for old used false teeth. Yuck!!

Prominent among the ads are those of pawnbrokers with ‘amazing bargains and sacrifices’,

Other oddments from 1900 include one reporter’s comments on an economic situation which described one group of people as “...being screwed...” by a certain decision. I’ve always thought that term to be a modern crudity, akin to the other popular term of “blowing" opportunities as often used by the most staid of public figures. So perhaps both these figures of speech are derived from circumstances different, and much less earthy, from those I have hitherto believed to be the case with my vulgar seafarer’s vocabulary.

An ad offers a gentleman’s horse for sale, equally good for riding or driving, £25. It’s daring owner indicates he has thoughts of buying a motor car.

And a lengthy column is devoted to railway companies’ promotions of special excursions to all parts of the nation.

Chapter XXIX of a gripping fiction serial story is somewhat spoiled by the author butting rudely into his own script to clumsily destroy the magic entrancement he has tried to create, with interjections like: the curtain rises upon a different scene and a wonderful change has taken place in the fortunes of the principal actors in our drama... This sort of brings the readers sharply down to reality from the heights of gripping imagination one expects the author surely had hoped he had put them in.

Shades of Afghanistan — News item (1923)

Two British army officers who took their dogs for an after-tiffin walk along the Khyber Pass were found later, each with three bullet holes in their heads. Happily, their dogs were ok and found guarding the bodies.

In 1936 the RAF was advertising for young men, 18-25, to apply for Volunteer Reserve pilot training. Daily pay of 15/6d was followed up with a £2 annual retainer. Pretty good. They got three shillings more in flying pay than I did nine years later when on 805 squadron — and this was when they were still undergoing training.

Also in 1936 the BBC was under observation and criticism by the Press and Parliament regarding not only their secret balance sheets and accounting but complaints of having bias and opinions of a subversive character. This led to a ruling that in future all BBC officials must be British subjects. What on earth was this all about?

A lengthy and detailed column on Week-End Angling Prospects for coarse fish, for different parts of the realm, forecast good sport unless the wind was from east or north.

Of real interest is the September 4, 1939 issue —printed just a dozen hours after war was declared.

Of importance, apart from being the first day of war, this was the first day the Daily Mail placed its big news items on the front pages —displacing the classified advertisements from their hallowed traditional place of prominence to unaccustomed obscurity back among the twelve inner pages.

And what a medley and welter of pertinent and topical ads they carried:

ARP —(Air Raid Precautions) was the advertisers’ key word for attracting customers. Everything for the on-the-ball, abreast-of-the-situation householder was advertised:

Rolls of blackout cloth and paper, cans of black paint (guaranteed dense and fully opaque), first-aid kits, blankets, extra-thick combination underwear, camp cots and portable heating stoves for back yard air raid shelters, flashlights (torches), water bottles, rubber boots, and, for the extra timid: dwellings, properties, and accommodations for sale or rent in ‘safe areas’ such as Ireland, Wales, Devon and Scotland.

The blackout curtaining industry was given a government boost when the penalty for allowing stray light through curtains, or doors, was threatened to be as much as two years in jail and a really hefty fine. If enforced this would have seen two-thirds of the population incarcerated and living on the public purse.

Car lights had to be shaded to near obscurity, with headlights reduced to 1/2” slits, and hooded slits at that. Also shades over side lights and the single rear red light (British cars only had one rear light in those days, something modern war-film movie makers today seem to be ignorant of when showing staff cars and other WWII vehicles with two rear lights).

All a bit far fetched this light hiding business, anyway. Do you think you could have seen the faint glow from a dim 1939 rear light, or the thin glowing end of a Wills Wild Woodbine or Players Weight cigarette from 10,000 feet up? And if you did see it what information could you gather from this momentary glimpse? Would the keen-eyed enemy observer at once have yelled out on the radio to the his whole squadron or wing: “Break starboard 180 and release all bombs”. Poof! There goes Farmer Giles field of prize mangel-wurzels or turnips. Furthermore, if a traitorous glow from a pipeful of Digger Shag, in some rural farmer's pipe, could possibly have been seen from two miles above on one particular night, it might well have diverted the enemy and saved Coventry Cathedral and its surroundings from the devastation they suffered that same awful night.

Yet all in all, this issue of the Daily Mail shows how wonderfully prepared Britain was under the seemingly irresolute Chamberlain government.

And how well planned and executed were the essential services required for wartime.

The evacuation of children and mothers to the countryside was right on time. All who had applied were either already gone from London and other big cities, or were on their way. Hesitant latecomers were given yet another chance to meet at assembly places for late back-up removal to safety.

All had gas masks, thousands more were being manufactured. Rules were in force to punish employers who fired male staff of call-up age. Free delivery of air raid shelters, stirrup pumps, small sandbag bags had been carried out smoothly and quickly. Emergency water supply tanks for fire fighting had been built and filled and solid street air-raid shelters constructed. And no terrible foul-ups, political haggling or waste seemed to have marred these efforts.

All this showed that droopy old Neville Chamberlain, now thought of and, probably rightly so, ridiculed, for presenting himself in his silly, kind, old innocent gentleman role vis-à-vis a scheming Hitler, was nevertheless all that time yet allowing Britain to be readied for war and had been doing so for at least a year, probably much longer—see item above regarding RAFVR pilots being trained in 1936 as an example; and Spitfires and Hurricane fighters were being built in fair numbers.

And today, the pathetically over-civilized gentle Neville’s over appeasement of ambitious, cruel and heartless evil ones, applauded by the faint of spirit and the barmy, the ‘we’re all loving brothers and sisters’, multitudes, can be seen being re-enacted ineffectually against an even more diabolical threat. It all goes to show that pathetically-mentally-deficients can always be relied on to be abetted by other well-meaning mentally-deficients.

Back on the evening of September 3, 1939, the King’s radio address to the nation is just about the most excellent example of its kind one might ever hear. Beautiful in words, texture and meaning, clear and simple, not insipid, but right on target. It is especially a delight to read today.

The pound sterling, that September 4, 1939, was worth $4.20. Ten years later it was to be devalued by 45%.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ultra-simple Sundeck Gardening

A considerable amount of excellent edible ultra-fresh produce can be grown on anyone’s back yard sun deck, patio, or in odd spots around the garden or on apartment balconies just by using half-a-dozen of the ordinary inexpensive normal-sized (12” diameter x 16” deep) plastic flower pots sold in stores across the nation.

Using ten or so such pots, I grow enough really succulent and delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, and scarlet runner beans to keep my wife and myself amply supplied in late July, August and September — and even into October.

It’s really worth the doing, satisfying and easy too. No digging up of patches of hard ground. No special watering or weeding paraphernalia required. No battles with pests and diseases. Just nominal care with a watering can, and a mild dose of fertilizer every couple of weeks.

This year using only four pots provided us with about five dozen excellent tomatoes, another four pots continuously produced feed after feed of scrumptious scarlet runner beans week after week, which I cut up in French style with a special little gem of a slicing tool (imported from Australia).

Another three shallow pots, saucer shaped, eighteen inches in diameter and about ten inches deep, perfectly mimic the raised earth beds meant to provide the good drainage traditionally recommended for growing cucumbers. Just those three pots of earth, each planted with five seeds, produced all the cucumbers we ourselves needed with more to give away to friends.

The tomato plants, if placed next to a post or trellis, will climb six or eight feet high, the beans, with their brilliantly coloured scarlet flowers which hummingbirds cannot resist, will climb up trellis, strings and sticks as high or higher, and cucumbers if given a tomato cage to tempt them to initially climb up a couple of feet will readily do so then snake back down to ground level and spread out in all directions. My cucumber pots are placed conveniently on an old wooden table I made many years ago. This keeps them shielded from any damage caused by lying on wet ground and, being raised up, they are easily harvested when ripe.

In each of two or three other pots I grow a tobacco plant. They grow up very strong and high and are very attractive with enormous, deep green leaves. In the fall each produces a large spray of delicately-coloured flowers which are also much loved by hummingbirds. In October the leaves can be picked and hung up in the sun, but sheltered from the rain, until they are cured. The flower pods produce a prolific amount of tiny seeds, no larger than grains of pepper. When dried the 20” to 30” long and 12” wide leaves can be stored in the basement in paper bags for later spraying with rum or other seasoning and smoked in a pipe if desired. But that is an involved process I have yet to master with any true success.

Each fall I save enough of the scarlet-runner-bean pods, when they have turned yellow or brown and crisp, and each containing about five beans, to use for planting the next years crop. And when eating an especially finely-flavored tomato I pick out some of its seeds and drop them on a paper serviette, let them dry, and put them away for planting next spring.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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Dateline: Atlantic Ocean — May 1944, a wartime crossing

An Early Summer Holiday Cruise

Finally, our exams were over. Our strict St. Vincent naval training-ship days were over. We were promoted to Leading Naval Airman with increased pay and a killick-anchor badge on our sleeves. A band played, we marched past the commanding officer and his staff, past our fearsome Chief Petty Officer Wilmott and his disciplinary staff, noted for their strictly traditional naval views and abhorrence of aviation talk—but did we at last see they all had more benign looks on their rugged, weathered faces at that moment?

Then we were gone.

At last we could scent, far off, the distinctive smell found only in the cockpit of an aeroplane. For we were off to Canada to be trained within the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Wartime Britain was no place to have unarmed, trainee pilots meandering around and cluttering up vital defensive radar screens amid the battleground of the busy at-home skies—or even perhaps being shot down by enemy intruders. The wide, peaceful skies of Canada were ideal for flying training. So off to Canada went thousands of embryo pilots, navigators and other aircrew. Yet others went to South Africa, Rhodesia and Trinidad for their flight training and a few of our St. Vincent classmates were sent to the huge US Naval Air Station at Pensacola in Florida.

So within a few days, in the spring of 1944, we were carrying our kitbags up the gangway of the newest Cunard ocean liner, the two-funnelled Mauretania. We were lucky to sail across the wartime Atlantic aboard that ship—the third largest Cunarder after the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. When America entered the war, Britain handed over the directive operation of these massive luxury ships to the United States government. The Allies’ possession of these wonderful ships was credited for hastening the end of the war by at least one, and possibly more years. Because they could carry 16,000 troops on each voyage—safely and speedily. Without them, the build-up of the powerful American armies, which flooded into Britain, would have been much slower. The concentration of the D-day invasion force would have been so delayed as to probably allow Hitler to stem or reverse the Russian advance and give the Germans time to manufacture and send a massive and continuous rain of V2 rockets upon Britain.

Our compact contingent of 121 naval airmen formed only a small fraction of the Mauretania’s total complement of varied passengers. So, though destined for flying training in Canada, we were taken to Boston, the liner’s regular port of rapid turnaround. From there we were to be transported by train to the Moncton, New Brunswick, personnel dispersal unit.

Converted into a fast super-troop ship, as were her two massive sister ships, the Mauretania was capable, because her high speed provided such a safety factor, of sailing as an individual, steering a lone, erratic zigzag course that would prove extremely unpredictable to any lurking U-Boat that might come within torpedo range.

And, strangely enough, even though all Europe was still in German hands, there was a pronounced and relaxing holiday atmosphere on board. It was almost as if we were on a cruise in peacetime. This party spirit was engendered in some part by the fine sunny, calm weather, but in far greater part by the fact that a large segment of the ship’s passengers consisted of several hundred gallant aircrew members of the United States 8th Army Air Force. These aircrews had miraculously survived the completion of their allotted number of missions in their Flying Fortresses and Liberators, and were now heading home on leave. They were now actually homeward bound at a fast rate of knots, as they could easily verify by looking over the ship’s rail at the blue ocean water scudding by, and one may imagine, not yet really believing that they had actually outlived and were, at least for some time, finished with their ghastly task. They were relieving their pent up, deep down wells of hitherto innermost sickening fear.

So the gently rolling decks of the Mauretania were athrong with happy groups of young men in much uncaring disarray of uniform, soaking up the sunshine, smoking, rolling the dice for enormous jackpots and most of all just sitting, feeling, and getting used to being aware of being alive, of being okay, and with the probability of being alive and okay tomorrow and next week and the week after.

When I told them my first ever flight in an aeroplane had been by courtesy of an American Eagle Squadron pilot three years before in 1941, they were delighted and all over me. To this day they remain in my memory as the most wholesome, carefree, and uninhibited generation of Americans that ever were or ever will be. They were the crème de la crème of what the US of A professes to be. I loved them. They, as the saying went then, were the “bee’s knees.”

Some of the groups were quiet and small, around half-a-dozen or fewer. They tended to be more subdued and kept closer together. They would arrive on deck together, go below deck together, laugh together, fall silent together. Their eyes seldom rested for more than a brief instant on any one spot and they subconsciously tended to arrange their deck chairs so they could squint up into the sun and see unimpeded between each other. And though they always seemed to be searching individual sections of a far and high horizon, at sudden commotions or noises, they would instantly all turn their heads together. These small groups had flown together and brought back their dead and wounded together. They had watched together as their buddies’ bomber aircraft, flying next to them, and closed up tightly in the defensive box formation, had suddenly erupted into flaming segments of metal intermingled with torn apart human bodies.

So they sat out on the Mauretania’s sunny deck close to their buddies. It would take a little time before some of them would be fully content about going their own separate ways. Alone as they never had been before. Alone and not together.

Seemingly not so caring, other larger groups of differently tempered men, or of somewhat more fortunate experience, gambled away stacks of pound notes, dollar bills, IOUs, wrist watches, even real estate properties back home, anything of value. What was the worry. They had just won the biggest gamble ever. They were euphoric. They were headed home. To the good old United States. Unlike eight out of ten of their friends who had fallen from the heavenly heights of the German killing skies.

Those USAAF guys were so clean. Their uniforms were smart and clean. Their faces were clean. Their language, all in all, was clean. Not just in wordage, but in thought. Incredibly, most of all, despite their hitherto hopeless horizons, their outlook was clean.

What a tragedy that so many like them, the overwhelming majority, were lost in the, clear, subzero, thin air of high altitudes. Lost flying during long, drawn-out, freezing hours of extreme peril—an insane orchestration of brilliant sunshine, widespread lethal and maiming frostbite, and blazing flesh-rending gunfire.

How sad, also, that after bailing out from stricken aircraft, so many of these young gentlemen, who maybe only twenty-four hours before had been chatting with fresh-faced English girls of the Womens Land Army, in peaceful, civilized English country pubs, were to be stabbed and murdered by the pitchforks of German farmers—and their wives—who, when their armies had met with early success, had loudly heiled and applauded Adolf Hitler’s initial greedy endeavours to conquer and evilize the whole world.

For many of our 121 neophyte naval airmen, now following in reverse geographical direction the road those US army air corps survivors had taken two or three years before, even the North Atlantic’s early summer gentle swells meant a day or two of sea sickness. Down below our cramped quarters became quite unpleasant.

So when volunteers were called for to work in the butcher’s shop, Vincent Ramos, my oppo (the naval vernacular for a buddy), and I, went for the job. Vin was an adventurous and exuberant friend. His father had been a well-to-do Spanish sherry merchant who settled in the Cheshire Wirral and became a naturalized Englishman. After the war Vin stayed in the navy and became a Lieutenant-Commander in command of a naval vessel.

Vin and I didn’t regret volunteering to work our passage one bit. For the Mauretania’s butcher’s shop, several decks down, proved to be a cheery place with a crowd of cheery men and lots of less-cheery animal carcasses. So while they prepared the meat for the several thousand people aboard, Vin and I were charged with sweeping up the showers of scraps that fell to the deck from the cutting tables and sluicing buckets of water around to wash the mix of blood and other matter down the scuppers. Thus my practice with squeegees in the corridors of the Kings Road seminary where we were quartered during a messy air raid, and where the navy had sent us, somewhat incongruously, to brush up our mathematics, English, and oratory capabilities at the Chelsea Polytechnic, just three months before, stood me in good stead. Except, of course, that the broad lower deck of the butcher’s shop in the Mauretania heaved in ponderous and noticeable fashion in response to the long flat ocean swell coming in from abeam. This caused the flood of animal flotsam and jetsam swirling in the bloodstained water to slosh first to port, then to starboard. This called for playing a waiting game. Waiting for the tide of detritus to approach in unison with the ship’s rolling, quickly fishing out the bigger pieces of offal and pushing as much of its liquid component as possible down the scupper drains before the tide turned and it all flowed away. Fascinating as this version of limpid deck quoits was, our days in the butcher shop had real advantages. For down here, with the ship’s bakery close at hand, we dined with the crew in luxury and amazing plenty. We had bread and pastries not seen in Britain for years. We had roasts, steaks, bacon, eggs, butter, fruits and scads of other foods so scrimpily rationed at home.

And we were not worked all that hard. Filling up huge garbage cans with our harvests of skin, gristle and unmentionable animal parts, plus other accumulated rubbish, we would load them on trolleys, and go off with them for an hour or more. Our goal was the Mauretania’s stern where a chute was positioned for ejecting garbage into the sea. Once there, we would not dispose of our garbage, but would place the full cans nearby in special holding racks. There they would stay until sundown, when we would return and empty them down the chute. This was because of orders never to dump material overboard during daylight hours. This was a precaution against the chance passing of a U-Boat over our track some hours later. The trail of floating garbage might lead to the deduction of our course and our expected future position being radioed to another submarine ahead of us.

On many of these trips to the ship’s stern, Vin and I went to the upper decks to watch the Yank’s crap games, enjoy being part of their total camaraderie and listen enraptured to their descriptions of the warm receptions and delights we might expect to receive from the beautiful girls who were in such overabundance all over the USA and Canada.

A couple of times, gas-filled balloons were released from the ship so the US Army Air Corps machine-gunners could practise and demonstrate their battle-honed skills. This was more for sport than a precaution against the remote expectation of any kind of aerial attack after the first day or two at sea,. But, with the threat from U-Boats far from over, for what was a more meaningful practice, a floating and smoking drogue was left drifting astern for the chief petty officer DEMS Royal Navy gunner and his three-man crew to shoot at. While everybody watched as the target was left further and further astern, the gunner appeared to show indifference as to its whereabouts. Standing with his back to the scene, he just wiped imaginary specks of dirt from the breech and shell casings. Then just about when all hands thought the practice had been abandoned, he uttered a few words of laconic command. The gun crew slammed in a round, quickly laid their elevation and aim, fired, repeated the procedure twice more in rapid succession, then at once resumed cleaning their gun. Casually, after some seconds, the gunner looked out to mid-horizon, as did we all, to watch as the shell bursts blended with the smoking target. After that the smoke disappeared—except for the faintest of whiffs. And there was no sign of the raft. The American airmen applauded with hand-clapping, cheers and shouts of: “Just a lucky shot! Bet you ten bucks you can’t do it again!”

Getting to and from the butcher’s shop to the ship’s stern with a heavy load on a trolley meant a lengthy journey along a labyrinth of passageways, and up and down many lifts or elevators. One of our naval airmen fell down one of the lift shafts and was seriously injured and remained in hospital for months. We were now only 120.

Vin and I usually returned to our allotted sleeping quarters fairly late at night. We were lucky in having commandeered the only bunk on the sleeping flat. All our companions had to sling hammocks every night, but we had an upper and lower bunk which was fastened into a fairly secluded corner spot inset just inside the doorway. I slept in the lower bunk and Vin used the upper.

About three o’clock in the middle of one night, I woke up and became quite concerned upon noticing several inches of water flooding down the passageway, which was only a foot or two from my makeshift pillow. Also, there was quite a bit of smoke about. Looking into the flat, I saw that not only had all the fellows in hammocks disappeared, but most of their hammocks had gone as well. I banged on the bunk above me and called to Vin. His sleepy head looked over the edge of the bunk. I was glad to see he was still there. I was glad not to be alone in this strange situation, in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night with water and smoke about, in the middle of a war. We were discussing what to do when someone came sloshing up the passageway through the water. We called to him and he stopped to tell us not to worry. The dry canteen on the deck above had caught fire. The smoke had woken all our people who had retreated to the clear air of an upper deck with their hammocks. We had been overlooked in our little nook. And the water coming down the companionway and along the passage was just the water from the fire hoses. It was all just about over, he said, so we might as well stay where we were. He went off down the passage. Relieved, we were about to go back to sleep when we noticed that floating down the ladderway from the deck above was a variety of objects. After bumping down the steps, they floated along the passageway past our doorway. By reaching out across the low coaming and without leaving my bunk, I could grab these items out of the water. As I picked them up I passed them up to Vin who dried them with our towels and stowed them away in our kitbags. We soon had a good haul of Hershey chocolate bars, boxes of lifesaver candies, hairbrush and comb sets in cellophane packets, a few cartons of cigarettes, and other oddments. After a while, the flow ceased so we went back to sleep. But we were able to give away chocolate bars and things to the deserving and obliging for several weeks after landing ashore.

When a couple of American patrol aircraft flew out of the sunset to meet us, we knew we were near the end of our sea trip. Our US Air Force passengers went mad waving to their compatriots as they flew past the ship several times so low that from our promenade decks we were looking down and into the planes.

I borrowed a pair of high-power binoculars and went up on the highest deck. I looked back eastwards over the ship’s wake. I could see nothing. Nobody was following us. Finally, we were safe. I went down and told the rest of our group. “We’re okay, lads. There’s no sign whatever of Chief Petty Officer Wilmott coming up astern. Everybody relax. Talk about aeroplanes and flying as much as you want.”

The next morning we saw the Massachusetts’ coastline and within an hour or so, we were docking in Boston and getting our first look at the vaunted new world.