For amateur historians and trivia collectors everywhere

Location: Masterton, New Zealand

I survived school history despite the best efforts of the education system to bore me to death. Many years later, I discovered Treaties, dates, the movement of nations, are mere context. The fascination is in the details.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Footnote to my last post - The original purpose of the Dardanelles campaign, If I remember correctly, was for the British Empire troops to advance from the Gallipoli beachheads, driving the inferior Turkish army before them, and capture the guns guarding the sea approaches to Constantinople/Istanbul.
Instead, the might of the Empire was pinned down on the beaches for nine months, culminating in a gradual retreat spread over ten nights. An abject failure by any measurement? Not according to Commander-in-Chief Sir Charles Monro who wrote this on 21st December 1915 -

"During the past months the troops of Great Britain and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, Newfoundland and India, fighting side by side, have invariably proved their superiority over the enemy, have contained the best fighting troops in the Ottoman army in their front, and have prevented the Germans from employing their Turkish allies against us elsewhere."

Spin, propaganda, or self-delusion?

Monday, December 19, 2005

On the night of 19th December 1915, the last British Empire troops were withdrawn from Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove on the coast of Turkey. Their evacuation by stealth, planned by General Sir Charles Monro and organised by Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, had been spread over ten nights and was much more successful than the Dardanelles campaign that preceeded it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

James Bruce, the 18th century adventurer, explorer, and British Consul to Algiers, was born this day in 1730.
Bruce claimed to have "discovered" the source of the Blue Nile, although some suspect he knew the 17th century Spanish missionary Padre Paez found it first. The Ethiopians, of course, knew it was there all the time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

This day in 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman discovered "a large land, uplifted high" in the South Pacific, but never set foot on its shore. After an unfortunate introduction to the locals, whose ancestors had discovered the place several centuries earlier, he sailed north, charting the coast, and left "Staaten Landt" as a scratch on the edge of the world map. His discovery would later be renamed New Zealand.
William Pember Reeves, in his book 'The Long White Cloud' (1898), described the country -

The first European to find it was a Dutch sea-captain who was looking for something else, and who thought it a part of South America, from which it is sundered by five thousand miles of ocean. It takes its name from a province of Holland to which it does not bear the remotest likeness, and is usually regarded as the antipodes of England, but is not. Taken possession of by an English navigator, whose action, at first adopted, was afterwards reversed by his country's rulers, it was only annexed at length by the English Government which did not want it, to keep it from the French who did.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From 'Flames in the Sky' by Pierre Clostermann, D.S.O., D.F.C. (1953)

The tragedy of France and the Low Countries, the result of our superiority complex, improvisation, complacency, administrative chaos and improvidence, was to be repeated for the Americans when the Japanese attacked on 7th December 1941.
There, too, cheese-paring while the spectre of war loomed large on the horizon, the hope of a problematical appeasement by dint of concessions, outworn tactical and strategical ideas, were to exact a heavy price in unneccessary sacrifices and lost lives. ....
A few hours after the blow at Pearl Harbour, at the other end of the Pacific, the Japanese hurled themselves with irresistible ferocity on the Philippines and Singapore. There, too, they had calmly gone ahead with their preparations amid the general somnolence.
Twice, on 24th and 25th November, brazenly and in broad daylight, two Japanese reconaissance planes had photographed from a height of 23,000 feet every American airfield in the Philippines.
The interpretation of the photos revealed the presence of scarcely 300 American aircraft, instead of the 900 the Japanese were expecting. This considerably relieved Admiral Tsukahara, in command of the 11th Imperial Air Fleet, which was earmarked for these operations. And if he had known what aircraft they were - and in what state - he would have gone into the attack with a song in his heart.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Today in 1783 the Parisian professor J.A. Charles made the first manned flight in a hydrogen balloon. This followed the first flight ever in a Montgolfier hot air balloon on 21st November.
All Europe was buzzing about the new technology and English poet William Cowper saw the future. He wrote to Rev. John Newton on 17th November -
"The time, we may suppose, is at hand .... when these airy excursions will be universal, when judges will fly the circuit and bishops their visitations, and when the tour of Europe will be performed with much greater speed and with equal advantage by all who travel merely for the sake of saying that they have made it."