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 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%.

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