30 September 2007

Victoria Cross: E. F. Gifford


Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot

Born: 5 July 1849, Ropley, Hampshire

Citation: For his gallant conduct during the operations [during the 1873-74 Ashanti Campaign], and especially at the taking of Becquah.
The Officer commanding the Expeditionary Force reports that Lord Gifford was in charge of the Scouts after the Army crossed the Prah, and that it is no exaggeration to say that since the Adansi Hills were passed, he daily carried his life in his hand in the performance of his most dangerous duties. He hung upon the rear of the enemy, discovering their position, and ferreting out their intentions. With no other white man with him, he captured numerous prisoners; but Sir Garnet Wolseley brings him forward for this mark of Royal favour most especially for his conduct at the taking of Becquah, into which place he penetrated with his scouts before the troops carried it, when his gallantry and courage were most conspicuous.

(London Gazette Issue 24082 dated 31 Mar 1874, published 31 Mar 1874.)

Note: Lieutenant Lord Gifford was the uncle of Lieutenant J F P Butler, The King's Royal Rifle Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in November and December, 1914, in the Cameroons, West Africa.

Becquah (modern Bekwai) is located about twenty miles south of Kumasi, Ghana.

Medal of Honor: D. H. Johnson


Specialist Fifth Class, U.S. Army; Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division

Born: 7 May 1947, Detroit, Mich.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty [near Dak To, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, 15 January 1968]. Sp5c. Johnson, a tank driver with Company B, was a member of a reaction force moving to aid other elements of his platoon, which was in heavy contact with a battalion size North Vietnamese force. Sp5c. Johnson's tank, upon reaching the point of contact, threw a track and became immobilized. Realizing that he could do no more as a driver, he climbed out of the vehicle, armed only with a .45 caliber pistol. Despite intense hostile fire, Sp5c. Johnson killed several enemy soldiers before he had expended his ammunition. Returning to his tank through a heavy volume of antitank rocket, small arms and automatic weapons fire, he obtained a sub-machine gun with which to continue his fight against the advancing enemy. Armed with this weapon, Sp5c. Johnson again braved deadly enemy fire to return to the center of the ambush site where he courageously eliminated more of the determined foe. Engaged in extremely close combat when the last of his ammunition was expended, he killed an enemy soldier with the stock end of his submachine gun. Now weaponless, Sp5c. Johnson ignored the enemy fire around him, climbed into his platoon sergeant's tank, extricated a wounded crewmember and carried him to an armored personnel carrier. He then returned to the same tank and assisted in firing the main gun until it jammed. In a magnificent display of courage, Sp5c. Johnson exited the tank and again armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, engaged several North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to the vehicle. Fighting his way through devastating fire and remounting his own immobilized tank, he remained fully exposed to the enemy as he bravely and skillfully engaged them with the tank's externally-mounted .50 caliber machine gun; where he remained until the situation was brought under control. Sp5c. Johnson's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

29 September 2007

This day in history: 29 Sep

1789: On the last day of its first session, the US Congress passed an act to establish the United States Army, replacing the Continental Army which had been formed in 1775.

1829: London's Metropolitan Police Force, headed by Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, was founded.

1865: Union forces captured New Market Heights, south of Richmond.

1907: The cornerstone was laid for Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

1911: Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on 18 October 1912. In the meantime, Italian forces had taken the Ottoman provinces of Tripoli and Cyrenaica, in Africa, which were combined to form Libya.

1918: The Hindenburg Line was broken by Allied forces.

That same day, Bulgaria signed an armistice.

1935: 5th Battalion (Queen Victoria's Own Corps of Guides), 12th Frontier Force Regiment, was operating against Mohmand tribesmen on the Northwest Frontier. When the battalion commander was unable to get information from forward troops, Captain Godfrey Meynell MC volunteered to go forward. He found the troops - some 30 men with two Lewis guns - on the objective, surrounded on three sides by a superior force of enemy. Meynell took charge of the defence, but the enemy overwhelmed the position; both machine guns were damaged, and hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Meynell was killed, and all of his men were killed or wounded, but they inflicted such heavy casualties that the enemy were unable to exploit their success. Meynell was awarded the Victoria Cross.*

1938: Britain, France, Germany and Italy signed the Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.

1943: US General Dwight D Eisenhower and Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio signed the Italian instrument of surrender aboard battleship HMS Nelson, anchored in Valletta Harbour, Malta.

1962: Alouette 1, the first Canadian satellite, was launched by NASA from Vandenberg AFB, California. (Alouette 2 followed in 1965.)

1988: Space shuttle Atlantis (Frederick H Hauck, Richard O Covey, John M Lounge, George D Nelson and David C Hilmers) was launched from Cape Canaveral as mission STS-26 - the first shuttle flight after the Challenger disaster of 28 January 1986.

1990: Washington National Cathedral was completed.

2004: Michael W Melvill became the first commercial astronaut when SpaceShipOne performed its first successful spaceflight. This was the first of two flights needed to win the Ansari X Prize; the second was made a few days later, on 4 October.

That same day, asteroid 4179 Toutatis passed within four lunar distances of Earth.

In addition to Captain Meynell (1904-1935), Edward Everett Horton (1886–1970) and Charles Addams (1912–1988) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547–1616), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, KB (1725-1774), Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, KB (1758–1805), Enrico Fermi (1901–1954), Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904-1973), Greer Garson CBE (1904-1996), Gene Autry (1907–1998), Trevor Howard CBE (1913–1988), Stan Berenstain (1923-2005), Anita Ekberg (1931-TBD), Jerry Lee Lewis (1935-TBD) and Larry Linville (1939–2000).

* This was the only Victoria Cross presented by King Edward VIII during his brief reign.

28 September 2007

Another space tourist announced

Richard Garriott - son of retired Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott - has paid thirty million dollars for the privilege of visiting the International Space Station next fall.

ZUI this article from Yahoo News:
Richard Garriott, who made his fortune in computer games, is scheduled to blast off aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan in October 2008 on a one-week trip to the international space station.

His father, Owen Garriott, 76, spent 59 days aboard Skylab, America's first space station, in 1973 and flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1983.

It will be the first time a child of an American astronaut rockets into space. In Russia, sons have followed their fathers into the cosmonaut corps three times, and one is slated to go to the international space station next spring.

Cybils Press Release


CHICAGO – Will Harry Potter triumph among critical bloggers? Will novels banned in some school districts find favor online?

With 90 volunteers poised to sift through hundreds of new books, the second annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards launches on Oct. 1 at their web site. Known as the Cybils, it's the only literary contest that combines both the spontaneity of the Web with the thoughtful debate of a book club.

The public's invited to nominate books in eight categories, from picture books up to young adult fiction, so long as the book was first published in 2007 in English (bilingual books are okay too). Once nominations close on Nov. 21, the books go through two rounds of judging, first to select the finalists and then the winners, to be announced on Valentine's Day 2008.

Judges come from the burgeoning ranks of book bloggers in the cozy corner of the Internet called the kidlitosphere. They represent parents, homeschoolers, authors, illustrators, librarians and even teens.

The contest began last year after blogger Kelly Herold expressed dismay that while some literary awards were too snooty – rewarding books kids would seldom read – others were too populist and didn't acknowledge the breadth and depth of what's being published today.

"It didn't have to be brussel sprouts versus gummy bears," said Anne Boles Levy, who started Cybils with Herold. "There are books that fill both needs, to be fun and profound."

Last year's awards prompted more than 480 nominations, and this year's contest will likely dwarf that. As with last year's awards, visitors to the Cybils blog can leave their nominations as comments. There is no nomination form, only the blog, to keep in the spirit of the blogosphere that started it all.

See you Oct. 1!

For further info:
Anne Boles Levy

24 September 2007

RIP: Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau
22 Mar 1923 - 22 Sep 2007

ZUI this article from the International Herald-Tribune:
Marcel Marceau died this past weekend in Paris. He was 84 and had been anticipating his death at least since July 1997, when he spent an evening on the terrace of a palace near Salzburg talking about his concern that when he passed the art of mime might die with him. He had a right to be concerned.

His name became synonymous with his art. In the 1950s and 1960s, Marceau elevated this finely nuanced silent form of art, L'art du silence, as he called it, to a form of mass entertainment. He won an Emmy for his performance on the Max Lieberman Show, and appeared with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. In 1976, he made a cameo appearance in Mel Brooks's "Silent Movie." When Brooks asks him, in subtitle, if he is willing to appear in the film, Marceau provides the only soundtrack line in the movie, a tart, distinctly French flavored, "Non!"

ZUI also this article from The Times:
Marcel Marceau single-handedly resurrected the art of mime, reinterpreting it for jaded postwar audiences and elevating it to a universal language. One critic said of “l’art du silence” which he created: “He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”

Marceau will be best remembered as the creator of Bip, the mime clown with a white face, tattered shoes and a top hat with a flower in it. “Bip was born in the imagination of my early years,” Marceau wrote, “and always surrounded by characters who are neither better nor worse than himself. He is a romantic and burlesque hero of our time, and he is also my alter ego, struggling like Don Quixote against the windmills in the battlefields of life.”

And from CNN, this:
Marceau died Saturday in Paris, French media reported. Former assistant Emmanuel Vacca announced the death on France-Info radio, but gave no details about the cause.

Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau, notably through his famed personnage Bip, played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, however, he was famously chatty. "Never get a mime talking. He won't stop," he once said.


As he aged, Marceau kept on performing at the same level, never losing the agility that made him famous. On top of his Legion of Honor and his countless honorary degrees, he was invited to be a United Nations goodwill ambassador for a 2002 conference on aging.

"If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on," he told The AP in an interview in 2003. "You have to keep working."

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

When I was a kid I loved watching Red Skelton - another talented mime - on telly. Marcel Marceau was a guest on his show several times, and he was truly wonderful.

23 September 2007

Victoria Cross: C. G. W. Anderson


Lieutenant Colonel, commanding 2nd/19th (New South Wales) Battalion Australian Military Forces

Born: 12 February 1897, Capetown, South Africa

Citation: During the operations [near the Muar River] in Malaya from the 18th to 22nd January, 1942, Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, in command of a small Force, was sent to restore a vital position and to assist a Brigade. His Force destroyed ten enemy tanks. When later cut off, he defeated persistent attacks on his position from air and ground forces, and forced his way through enemy lines to a depth of fifteen miles. He was again surrounded and subjected to very heavy and frequent attacks resulting in severe casualties to his Force. He personally led an attack with great gallantry on the enemy who were holding a bridge, and succeeded in destroying four guns. Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, throughout all this fighting, protected his wounded and refused to leave them.
He obtained news by wireless of the enemy position and attempted to fight his way back through eight miles of enemy occupied country. This proved to be impossible and the enemy were holding too strong a position for any attempt to be made to relieve him.
On the 19th January Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson was ordered to destroy his equipment and make his way back as best he could round the enemy position.
Throughout the fighting, which lasted for four days, he set a magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage. He not only showed fighting qualities of a very high order but throughout exposed himself to danger without any regard to his own personal safety.

(London Gazette Issue 35456 dated 13 Feb 1942, published 13 Feb 1942.)

Medal of Honor: G. E. Wahlen


Pharmacist's Mate Second Class, US Navy; 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division

Born: 8 August 1924, Ogden, Utah
Died: 5 June 2009, Salt Lake City, Utah

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano group on 3 March 1945. Painfully wounded in the bitter action on 26 February, Wahlen remained on the battlefield, advancing well forward of the frontlines to aid a wounded marine and carrying him back to safety despite a terrific concentration of fire. Tireless in his ministrations, he consistently disregarded all danger to attend his fighting comrades as they fell under the devastating rain of shrapnel and bullets, and rendered prompt assistance to various elements of his combat group as required. When an adjacent platoon suffered heavy casualties, he defied the continuous pounding of heavy mortars and deadly fire of enemy rifles to care for the wounded, working rapidly in an area swept by constant fire and treating 14 casualties before returning to his own platoon. Wounded again on 2 March, he gallantly refused evacuation, moving out with his company the following day in a furious assault across 600 yards of open terrain and repeatedly rendering medical aid while exposed to the blasting fury of powerful Japanese guns. Stouthearted and indomitable, he persevered in his determined efforts as his unit waged fierce battle and, unable to walk after sustaining a third agonizing wound, resolutely crawled 50 yards to administer first aid to still another fallen fighter. By his dauntless fortitude and valor, Wahlen served as a constant inspiration and contributed vitally to the high morale of his company during critical phases of this strategically important engagement. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming enemy fire upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Updated 0942 10 Jun 09 to add date of death.

22 September 2007

Philadelphia I

I had meant to include a few photos in this post, but apparently my camera-to-computer cable went to God. After I find or replace it, though....

We went down to Philadelphia this week to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute Science Museum; figured something educational like that would justify the girls' missing a couple days of school. 1776 is the younger one's favourite movie, so we also planned a visit to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. There was also one more important stop, which I'll discuss in part two of this.

Neither of us felt like trying to drive in downtown Philly, so we got a hotel room out in the suburbs and then rode the train in from Paoli. The walk from the Suburban Station to the Franklin Institute turned out to be rather shorter than it looked on the map, and along the way we passed through Logan Square, which has a really nice fountain in its centre (perhaps not as large as the one in Chicago, and certainly not as fancy as the one I saw in Toulon, but nice nonetheless).

Once in the Franklin, we started with the IMAX film about the finding of King Tut's tomb. Narrated by Omar Sharif*, it was quite impressive, though I would have been much happier seeing it in a regular cinema. (The stairs were too steep and the rows of seating to narrow for my taste - I don't do heights.)

As I'd expected, no photos were permitted in the King Tut exhibit. (Why do museums always do that?) Not all of the material in the exhibit came from Tut's tomb - there were things from his father's, and from others - but it was all interesting. I'd love to have that golden dagger, for instance, or the cosmetic jar with the lioness on its lid. My real favourite, though, was the fan.

Everybody knows what an ankh is: A cross with a loop above the arms, the Egyptian symbol of life. The fan was a semicircle (sort of) of gold attached to the top of a handle; originally it held a bunch of ostrich plumes, though they're long gone. The fan is heavily decorated, of course, with a scene showing Tut riding in a two-horse chariot, getting ready to shoot a pair of odd-looking ostriches. And right behind the chariot, running along on two little legs and holding a similar fan in its hands, is ... an ankh. Looks like something Disney would have dreamed up.

My wife spotted one weirdness. Each item had two cards describing it - one card next to it in the case, and another at the top of the case, presumably so that if the room were too crowded one could read that card above people's heads and decide if it was worth the trouble of trying to get close enough to actually see the item (or for something to read whilst waiting for the people in front to move). The texts on the two cards were identical - but in two places, on the top card the "fi" in the word "figure" had been replaced by a thorn:


Yes, we checked; the cards inside the cases read correctly. It was just the upper cards that had this odd quirk.

The IMAX film had taken up almost an hour, so we didn't have time to see much else in the museum. The most interesting permament exhibit, to me, is the Baldwin 60000 steam locomotive, so after leaving the King Tut exhibit we test-operated a couple of geedunk machines and then headed down to the first floor.

The Baldwin 60000 is a three-cylinder 4-10-2, built in 1926 to demonstrate some of Baldwin's newest technological innovations. The railroads found it overly heavy, at a total weight of over 350 tons for the engine and tender, and were wary of most of its features, so it was put in stowage in 1928 and was eventually donated to the Franklin Institute in 1932. It's set up on a short section of track, with a hydraulic system to move it back and forth a few yards; visitors can enter the cab and listen to a short talk about the engine and its history which includes a "demonstration" of the controls: A visitor mans the throttle, while the museum guide operates the switches that actually work the hydraulics.

After leaving the train area (they also have a 4-4-0 and an early 0-4-0, which I didn't pay as much attention to as I should because I was so fascinated by the big Baldwin) we made short stops in the Space Command exhibit and the gift shop before heading out. By this time the museum was closed, except for the King Tut exhibit and presumably the theatre.

After passing through Logan Square again, and giving the girls another chance to splash in the fountain, we headed back toward the train station. Along the way we stopped at TGI Friday's for dinner. This was the first time I'd ever been to a TGIF, though I did eat at a TGI Thursday's** once in Dubai.

Right outside Friday's is a fountain that gives me problems deciding whether I want to smack the artist first, or the person who decided to put it out on a public street. I can't find a picture of it on the web, so as soon as I can hook the camera up to the computer....

After that it was back to the train and then the hotel. More later on the next day's adventures.

* One of those "wow - is he still alive?" people.

** The name "TGI Friday's," of course, comes from the expression "Thank God It's Friday" - because that means tomorrow's the weekend and I won't have to go to work/school. In the Arab countries, though, the weekend - meaning the days off work at the end of the five-day work week - are Friday and Saturday. So the restaurant chain there is TGIT's, with the same menu and decor as in the American restaurants, as near as I could remember.

21 September 2007

This day in history: 21 Sep

1745: Some 1400 of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Scots defeated a Hanoverian army commanded by Sir John Cope in the Battle of Prestonpans. The battle lasted less than 15 minutes.

1765: François Antoine killed a large wolf, thought to be the Beast of Gévaudan. This was later proved wrong by more attacks, which stopped after another animal was killed in June of 1767.

1780: US war hero Major General Benedict Arnold met with British spy Major John Andre to discuss surrendering the fort at West Point.

1857: At Lucknow, India, Lieutenant William Rennie, 90th (Perthshire Volunteers) Light Infantry, charged the enemy's guns under heavy fire, in advance of the regiment's skirmishers, and prevented their dragging off one gun. Rennie was awarded the Victoria Cross for this and for his actions at Lucknow on 25 September.

That same day, at Mungulwar, India, Sergeant Patrick Mahoney, 1st Madras (European) Fusiliers (attached the Volunteer Cavalry), aided in the capture of the colour of the 1st Regiment Native Infantry. Mahoney was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

1918: Lieutenant Samuel L Honey DCM MM, 78th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was the only surviving officer from his company at Bourlon Wood, France. Taking command of the company, Honey led it on to take the objective, then went out alone to eliminate a troublesome machine-gun nest. After repelling four German counter-attacks, Honey went out alone again that night to locate another enemy position, then led a party out to capture it and three guns. Honey was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, having died of wounds on 30 September, after another attack on the 29th.

1942: The Boeing XB-29, prototype for the B-29 Superfortress, made its maiden flight.

1944: At Arnhem, Holland, the last few paratroopers of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (commanded by Major Gough since Lieutenant Colonel Frost had been wounded), out of ammunition after holding the northern end of the bridge since the evening of the 17th, either surrendered or dispersed to evade capture. The first German troops were finally able to cross the bridge at midday, although it was littered with destroyed vehicles.

Elsewhere, the Guards Armoured Division were able to resume their advance from Nijmegen. The Irish Guards once more took the lead, but had to halt at Elst. 1st Polish Parachute Brigade (Major General S Sosabowski), repeatedly delayed by bad weather, was finally dropped on the southern bank of the Lower Rhine at Driel, opposite 1st Airborne Division's position.

1953: North Korean pilot Lieutenant Ro Kim Suk landed his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 at Kimpo airfield, outside Seoul. On 26 April 1953, two US Air Force B-29s had dropped leaflets behind enemy lines, offering a $50,000 reward and political asylum to any pilot delivering an intact MiG-15 to American forces for study. Although Ro denied any knowledge of the bounty, he collected the reward, and American scientists were able to examine the MiG-15.

1964: Malta became independent from the United Kingdom.

That same day, the North American XB-70 Valkyrie made its maiden flight, from Palmdale to Edwards AFB, California.

1967: A squad from F Company, 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, was conducting a reconnaissance operation near Con Thein, Vietnam, when it was hit by enemy sniper fire. The squad immediately deployed and advanced to a strongly fortified enemy position, where it was struck by heavy fire, sustaining numerous casualties. Although wounded by the initial burst of fire, machine-gunner Lance Corporal Jedh C Barker remained in the open, firing on the numerically superior enemy, who began to direct most of their fire at his position. Barker was wounded again, in the hand, which prevented him from operating his machine gun. When an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the surviving marines, Barker threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the explosion with his body. Before succumbing to his wounds, he crawled to the side of a wounded comrade and administered first aid. Barker was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

2001: Deep Space 1, launched 24 October 1998 from Cape Canaveral, flew within 2200 kilometres of Comet Borrelly.

2003: Galileo, launched 18 October 1989 aboard the shuttle Atlantis (mission STS-34), was destroyed when the probe was sent into Jupiter's atmosphere.

In addition to Lance Corporal Barker (1945-1967), Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (1771–1832), Chief Joseph (1840–1904), Haakon VII of Norway (1872–1957) and Walter Brennan (1894–1974) died on this date.

And happy birthday to John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836), H G Wells (1866–1946), Walter Breuning (1896-TBD), Chuck Jones (1912–2002), Larry Hagman (1931-TBD), Henry Gibson (1935-TBD) and Stephen King (1947-TBD).

RIP: Marie-Simone Capony

Marie-Simone Capony
14 Mar 1894 - 15 Sep 2007

ZUI this article from RIA Novosti:
France's super-centenarian, Marie-Simone Capony, died Saturday at the age of 113 in Cannes, local media said Wednesday.

Capony, a former librarian, was born in 1894, and was the fifth-oldest person in the world. She became France's oldest person in August 2006 after the death of the 114-year-old Camille Loiseau.

"She died peacefully from heart failure," her nephew, Rene Capony, said.

And this from the International Herald-Tribune:
Capony never married after a young aviator to whom she had been engaged was killed in World War I. She lived her entire life in Cannes, where she worked as a librarian.

Capony was recently listed as the world's fifth-oldest living person on the Web site of the Gerontology Research Group at the UCLA School of Medicine, which documents people over 100.

According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), which keeps records on verified supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday), the oldest woman in France is now Clementine Solignac, born 7 September 1894; she is the world's 7th-oldest living person.

The GRG also report that Myra Nicholson died on 20 September 2007. Nicholson, born in Australia on 14 December 1894, was at the time of her death the oldest person in Australia and the 11th-oldest person in the world. (I haven't been able to find any news articles concerning her death.)

GRG's list of validated living supercentenarians currently includes 74 people: 69 women and 5 men. Six of the ten oldest live in the United States; all are women. (The oldest man, Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, is number 22 on the list.)

16 September 2007

This day in history: 16 Sep

1400: Owain Glyndwr was declared Prince of Wales by his followers.

1701: James Edward Stuart, the "Old Pretender", became the Jacobite claimant to the thrones of England and Scotland on the death of his father.

1893: The Cherokee Strip, in Oklahoma, was opened for settlement by whites, who raced to be the first to reach good land to claim.

1916: At Courcelette, on the Somme, Private John C Kerr, 49th (Edmonton) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, refused medical treatment after losing the fingers of one hand in a shell explosion, and instead went forward to support a grenade attack on the German positions. While the bombing party exhausted its supply of grenades, Kerr ran along the top of the trench under heavy fire to get into a flanking position. Ignoring his injuries, he opened fire with such effect that the Germans believed they were surrounded and 62 men surrendered. Kerr was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1919: The American Legion was granted a charter by the US Congress.

1920: Over 30 people were killed and hundreds injured when a bomb in a horse wagon exploded in front of the J P Morgan building in Wall Street - the deadliest bomb attack on American soil for seven years, until the Bath School bombing on 18 May 1927.

1942: German submarines U 156, U 506 and U 507, and Italian submarine Cappellini, carrying survivors from RMS Laconia (which had been sunk by U 156 on 12 September), were attacked by an American B-24 Liberator. The four submarines were on the surface, displaying Red Cross flags, with loaded lifeboats in tow; additional survivors were carried on board the submarines themselves (U 156 pictured). The B-24 pilot reported the presence of the survivors, but was ordered to attack anyway. He did so, and the submarines cut their tows and submerged. All four submarines escaped, but at least one lifeboat was destroyed by American bombs.

1944: A US Navy FM-2 Wildcat from VF-26, flying from USS Santee (CVE 29) was shot down by antiaircraft fire over Halmahera Island, northwest of New Guinea. The pilot, Ensign H A Thompson USNR, parachuted to safety, landing several hundred yards from shore in Wasile Bay. A PBY Catalina tried to land to rescue him, but was driven off by heavy antiaircraft fire. Lieutenant A Murray Preston USNR, commanding Torpedo Boat Squadron 33, got under way in PT 489, accompanied by PT 363. With Navy fighters strafing the Japanese shore batteries, which continued shooting nonetheless, the two PT boats entered the bay after being turned back twice. By this time Thompson's life raft had drifted up against an unmanned cargo ship anchored in the bay. A fighter laid a smoke screen, PT 489 manoeuvred alongside the cargo ship, and two men dove overboard and towed the life raft to the boat. The aircraft departed because they were running low on fuel, and Japanese fire intensified as the two PT boats departed. By the time they were out of range, they had been under almost constant shellfire in broad daylight for two and a half hours. Preston was awarded the Medal of Honor.

1963: Malaya, Singapore, British North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak united to form the Federation of Malaysia. (Singapore dropped out of the federation two years later, becoming an independent nation.)

1975: The Ye-155MP, first prototype of the Mikoyan MiG-31 (Foxhound) fighter, made its maiden flight.

2004: Hurricane Ivan made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, becoming the third- (now fourth-) costliest hurricane to strike the United States.

Charles V of France (1338–1380), James II and VII of Great Britain (1633-1701), Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736), John Hanning Speke (1827–1864), Edward Whymper (1840–1911), Samuel Z Arkoff (1918–2001), James Gregory (1911–2002) and Sheb Wooley (1921–2003) died on this date.

And happy birthday to James C Penney (1875-1971), Karl Dönitz (1891–1980), "Mad Jack" Churchill DSO and Bar, MC and Bar (1906-1996), Allen Funt (1914–1999), Lauren Bacall (1924-TBD), Peter Falk (1927-TBD), Jack Kelly (1927—1992) and David Copperfield (1956-TBD).

Victoria Cross: Phipps-Hornby, Parker, Lodge and Glasock


Major, Royal Horse Artillery; commanding Q Battery

Born: 31 December 1857, Lordington, Emsworth, Hampshire

Citation: On the occasion of the action at Korn Spruit on the 31st March, 1900, a British force, including two batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, was retiring from Thabanchu towards Bloemfonrein. The enemy had formed an ambush at Korn Spruit, and before their presence was discovered by the main body had captured the greater portion of the baggage column and five out of the six guns of the leading battery.
When the alarm was given Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, was within 300 yards of the Spruit. Major Phipps-Hornby, who commanded it, at once wheeled about and moved off at a gallop under a very heavy fire. One gun upset when a wheel horse was shot, and had to be abandoned, together with a waggon, the horses of which were killed. The remainder of the battery reached a position close to some unfinished railway buildings and came into action 1,150 yards from the Spruit, remaining in action until ordered to retire. When the order to retire was received Major Phipps-Hornby ordered the guns and their limbers to be run back by hand to where the teams of uninjured horses stood behind the unfinished buildings. The few remaining gunners, assisted by a number of Officers and men of a party of Mounted Infantry, and directed by Major Phipps-Hornby and Captain Humphreys, the only remaining Officers of the battery, succeeded in running back four of the guns under shelter. One or two of the limbers were similarly withdrawn by hand, but the work was most severe and the distance considerable. In consequence all concerned were so exhausted that they were unable to drag in the remaining limbers or the fifth gun. It now became necessary to risk the horses, and volunteers were called for from among the drivers, who readily responded. Several horses were killed and men wounded, but at length only one gun and one limber were left exposed. Four separate attempts were made to rescue these, but when no more horses were available the attempt had to be given up and the gun and limber were abandoned.
Meanwhile the other guns had been sent on, one at a time, and after passing within 700 or 800 yards of the enemy, in rounding the head of a donga and crossing two spruits they eventually reached a place of safety, where the battery was re-formed.
After full consideration of the circumstances of the case the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa formed the opinion that the conduct of all ranks of Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, was conspicuously gallant and daring, but that all were equally brave and devoted in their behaviour. He therefore decided to treat the case of the battery as one of collective gallantry under Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant, and directed that one Officer should be selected for the decoration of the Victoria Cross by the Officers, one non-commissioned officer by the non-commissioned officers, and two gunners or drivers by the gunners and drivers. A difficulty arose with regard to the Officer, owing to the fact that there were only two unwounded Officers–Major Phipps-Hornby and Captain Humphreys–available for the work of saving the guns, and both of these had been conspicuous by their gallantry and by the fearless manner in which they exposed themselves, and each of them nominated the other for the decoration. It was ultimately decided in favour of Major Phipps-Hornby as having been the senior concerned.

(London Gazette Issue 27205 dated 26 Jun 1900, published 26 Jun 1900.)


Sergeant, Royal Horse Artillery; Q Battery

Born: 11 March 1870, Birmingham, Warwickshire

Citation: Was elected by the non-commissioned officers, as described above.

(London Gazette Issue 27205 dated 26 Jun 1900, published 26 Jun 1900.)


Gunner, Royal Horse Artillery; Q Battery

Born: 6 May 1866, Great Canfield, near Dunmow in Essex


Driver, Royal Horse Artillery; Q Battery

Born: 16 October 1880, Islington, London

Joint Citation: Were elected by the gunners and drivers, as described above.

(London Gazette Issue 27205 dated 26 Jun 1900, published 26 Jun 1900.)

The name of Driver Horace Harry Glasock, Q Battery Royal Horse Artillery, the grant to whom of the Victoria Cross was notified in the London Gazette of the 26th June, 1900, is as now, and not [Henry Glassock] as therein stated.

(London Gazette Issue 27208 dated 6 Jul 1900, published 6 Jul 1900.)

Major Phipps-Hornby's medals

Note: A donga is a gully made by soil erosion. A spruit is a rivulet or watercourse.
Lieutenant F A Maxwell DSO, Indian Staff Corps (attached Roberts's Light Horse), later was also awarded the Victoria Cross for assisting in the recovery of Q Battery's guns.

Edited 25 Nov 07 to include the correction to Glasock's name.

Medal of Honor: T. W. Leonard


First Lieutenant, US Army; Company C, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion

Born: Dallas, Tex.

Citation: He displayed extraordinary heroism while commanding a platoon of mobile weapons at Kommerscheidt, Germany, on 4, 5, and 6 November 1944. During the fierce 3-day engagement, he repeatedly braved overwhelming enemy fire in advance of his platoon to direct the fire of his tank destroyer from exposed, dismounted positions. He went on lone reconnaissance missions to discover what opposition his men faced, and on 1 occasion, when fired upon by a hostile machinegun, advanced alone and eliminated the enemy emplacement with a hand grenade. When a strong German attack threatened to overrun friendly positions, he moved through withering artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, reorganized confused infantry units whose leaders had become casualties, and exhorted them to hold firm. Although wounded early in battle, he continued to direct fire from his advanced position until he was disabled by a high-explosive shell which shattered his arm, forcing him to withdraw. He was last seen at a medical aid station which was subsequently captured by the enemy. By his superb courage, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit, 1st Lt. Leonard enabled our forces to hold off the enemy attack and was personally responsible for the direction of fire which destroyed 6 German tanks.

14 September 2007


SELENE, the Selenological & Engineering Explorer (also known as Kaguya) was launched today from Tanegashima, Japan.

ZUI this article from the Asahi Shimbun:
Japan on Friday successfully launched a lunar explorer into orbit on a mission dubbed the first full-scale exploration of the moon since the U.S. Apollo program.

The H2A rocket carrying the moon explorer Kaguya lifted off at 10:31 a.m. from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

About 45 minutes later, the rocket, the H2A Launch Vehicle No. 13, entered its elliptical orbit that circles the Earth at an altitude of between 280 and 233,000 kilometers.

And this from the Beeb:
The three-tonne probe is called Selene, the Selenological and Engineering Explorer.

It has been nicknamed Kaguya, after a princess in a folk story who ascended to the Moon.

The probe will orbit the Earth before travelling the 380,000km (237,500 miles) to the Moon.

There the main orbiting unit and two smaller satellites will be positioned 100km (60 miles) above the surface of the Moon.

Much more information is provided in this article from Spaceflight Now:
The Selenological and Engineering Explorer - or SELENE - is the first of four lunar explorers set for launch before the end of next year. Orbiters from China, India and the United States will soon join Kaguya at the moon.


Science objectives for the mission focus on uncovering mysteries about the origin and history of the moon. The probe will also help lay the groundwork for an onslaught of upcoming lunar missions.

Precise maps of mineral concentrations across the moon could be used to corroborate theories that material broke off from Earth to form the moon as a Mars-sized object crashed into the planet about 4.5 billion years ago.

A high-definition camera aboard SELENE will record high resolution video clips of the lunar surface and images of Earth rising above the moon's horizon. The camera features a telephoto lens to provide both wide-angle and zoomed-in imagery.

The camera will record the dramatic videos and later send the imagery back to ground stations for use in public relations and outreach activities. Japanese broadcasting giant NHK provided the camera to JAXA.

MHI photograph of SELENE's launch borrowed from the Spaceflight Now site linked to above.

"Carmen Possum"

It's cooled off a bit in the last couple of weeks, but there are still two or three months to go before we get any snowy nights (like the one described in this poem) around here. One can always dream and hope....

I still remember my chief's reaction when he first read this - "It's a dachshund. They're going possum hunting with a dachshund!?"

Carmen Possum

The nox was lit by lux of Luna,
And 'twas a nox most opportuna
To catch a possum or a coona;
For nix was scattered o'er this mundus,
A shallow nix, et non profundus.
On sic a nox with canis unus,
Two boys went out to hunt for coonus.
The corpus of this bonus canis
Was full as long as octo span is,
But brevior legs had canis never
Quam had hic dog; et bonus clever.
Some used to say, in stultum jocum
Quod a field was too small locum
For sic a dog to make a turnus
Circum self from stem to sternus.
Unis canis, duo puer,
Nunquam braver, nunquam truer,
Quam hoc trio nunquam fuit,
If there was I never knew it.
This bonus dog had one bad habit,
Amabat much to tree a rabbit,
Amabat plus to chase a rattus,
Amabat bene tree a cattus.
But on this nixy moonlight night
This old canis did just right.
Nunquam treed a starving rattus,
Nunquam chased a starving cattus,
But sucurrit on, intentus
On the track and on the scentus,
Till he trees a possum strongum,
In a hollow trunkum longum.
Loud he barked in horrid bellum,
Seemed on terra vehit pellum.
Quickly ran the duo puer
Mors of possum to secure.
Quam venerit, one began
To chop away like quisque man.
Soon the axe went through the truncum
Soon he hit it all kerchunkum;
Combat deepens, on ye braves!
Canis, pueri et staves
As his powers non longius carry,
Possum potest non pugnare.
On the nix his corpus lieth.
Down to Hades spirit flieth,
Joyful pueri, canis bonus,
Think him dead as any stonus.
Now they seek their pater's domo,
Feeling proud as any homo,
Knowing, certe, they will blossom
Into heroes, when with possum
They arrive, narrabunt story,
Plenus blood et plenior glory.
Pompey, David, Samson, Caesar,
Cyrus, Black Hawk, Shalmanezer!
Tell me where est now the gloria,
Where the honors of victoria?
Nunc a domum narrent story,
Plenus sanguine, tragic, gory.
Pater praiseth, likewise mater,
Wonders greatly younger frater.
Possum leave they on the mundus,
Go themselves to sleep profundus,
Somniunt possums slain in battle,
Strong as ursae, large as cattle.
When nox gives way to lux of morning,
Albam terram much adorning,
Up they jump to see the varmin,
Of the which this is the carmen.
Lo! possum est resurrectum!
Ecce pueri dejectum,
Ne relinquit back behind him,
Et the pueri never find him.
Cruel possum! bestia vilest,
How the pueros thou beguilest!
Pueri think non plus of Caesar,
Go ad Orcum, Shalmanezer,
Take your laurels, cum the honor,
Since ista possum is a goner!

Click on the "Poetry Friday" button at left for this week's round-up, which is hosted by HipWriterMama.

12 September 2007

Pennsic XXXVI

Darter the Chronicler's photos from this year's Pennsic War are now available at his website.

Excellent work, as always.

This day in history: 12 Sep

1213: Pedro II of Aragon was killed when his forces were defeated by Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, at the Battle of Muret, near Toulouse, France.

1609: Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River.

1857: 426 passengers and crew were lost when SS Central America sank about 160 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The ship was carrying several tons of gold from the San Francisco Gold Rush.

1874: Sergeant Zachariah Woodall, 6th US Cavalry, was in charge of five other men - Privates John Harrington, Peter Roth (or Rath) and George W Smith, and civilian scouts Amos Chapman and William Dixon - carrying dispatches when they were attacked by a force of 125 hostile Indians near the Wichita River, in Texas. The soldiers took refuge in a buffalo wallow, and the battle continued through the day; Smith was mortally wounded early in the fight and died the next morning, but the others survived. All six men were awarded the Medal of Honor.

1917: Near Broenbeek, Belgium, a small detachment from 2nd Battalion the Irish Guards were finally forced to retreat, having held out for 96 hours without support. Lance-Sergeant John Moyney and Private Thomas Woodcock stayed behind to cover the retreat. Moyney was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership during the defence. Woodcock was also awarded the Victoria Cross, for going back to find and rescue a missing man lying wounded in the open.

1918: On the Western Front, Sergeant Harry J Laurent, the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, led twelve men in a successful attack east of Gouzeaucourt Wood, France, killing thirty of the enemy and capturing 112. Laurent was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1938: Adolf Hitler, making a speech at the annual Nuremberg rally, demanded autonomy for Germans living in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.

1940: Four teenagers exploring the caves near Lascaux, France, discovered the cave paintings there.

1942: RMS Laconia, carrying some 2300 civilians, Allied soldiers and Italian POWs, sank off the coast of West Africa after being torpedoed by the German U 156 (Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein).

1942: The Battle of Edson's Ridge, on Guadalcanal, began, with Japanese forces under Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi attacking US Marines protecting Henderson Field.

1943: Benito Mussolini was rescued from house arrest in Abruzzi, Italy, by German commandos led by Otto Skorzeny.

1944: US submarines Growler (SS 215), Pampanito (SS 383)* and Sealion (SS 315) encountered a Japanese convoy before dawn, east of Hainan. Growler sank destroyer Shikinami with a single "down-the-throat" shot, and also sank the frigate Hirado. Sealion sank the transport Rakuyo Maru and damaged a tanker. That night, Pampanito sank the transport Kachidoki Maru and another ship, and damaged a third. Unfortunately, Rakuyo Maru and Kachidoki Maru were carrying between them over 2200 Allied prisoners of war. 792, mainly from Kachidoki Maru, were picked up by the Japanese, and 159 from Rakuyo Maru were rescued a few days later by Pampanito, Sealion, Queenfish (SS 393) and Barb (SS 220). (Seven of those rescued by the submarines died on the way back to port.)

1959: Luna 2, the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon, was launched from Baikonur. It impacted in the Palus Putredinis region, west of Mare Serenitatis, on 14 September.
That same day, "A Rose for Lotta," the first episode of Bonanza - the first regularly-scheduled TV programme in colour - was aired on NBC. (Yvonne De Carlo played Lotta.)

1974: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was deposed following a military coup by the Derg.

1992: Space shuttle Endeavour was launched from Cape Canaveral as mission STS-47, the 50th shuttle mission. On board were commander Robert L Gibson, pilot Curtis L Brown Jr, payload commander Mark C Lee, mission specialists N Jan Davis, Jay Apt and Mae C Jemison, and payload specialist Mamoru Mohri. Jemison was the first black woman to fly in space, Lee and Davis were the first married couple to fly on the same space mission, and Mohri was the first Japanese astronaut to fly aboard the shuttle. Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Centre on 20 September.

In addition to Pedro II (1174–1213), Blanche of Lancaster (1345–1369), Gebhard von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt (1742-1819), Peter Mark Roget (1779–1869), Hugo Schmeisser (1884-1953), William Boyd (1895-1972), Raymond Burr (1917–1993) and Johnny Cash (1932-2003) died on this date.

And happy birthday to François I of France (1494–1547), Henry Hudson (1570?–1611), Richard Gatling (1818–1903), Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972), Jesse Owens (1913–1980), Desmond Llewelyn (1913—1999) and George Jones (1931-TBD).

* USS Pampanito is now a museum ship in San Francisco.

11 September 2007

Free association

I'm probably the only person in the world who would look at a sweatshirt emblazoned with the single word LION, and immediately think ...Tiger and Blake.

Wonder what that says about me....

Nerd factor

I'm a lightly nerdy Cool High Nerd.

I am nerdier than 54% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

NerdTests.com says I'm a Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

Fancy that.

H/T to Tam at View from the Porch.

10 September 2007

Victoria Cross: T. Watkins


Lieutenant, The Welch Regiment

Born: 18 November 1918, Nelson, Glamorgan, Wales

Citation: In North-West Europe on the evening of 16th August, 1944, Lieutenant Watkins was commanding a company of the Welch Regiment. The battalion was ordered to attack objectives near the railway at Bafour. Lieutenant Watkin's [sic] company had to cross open cornfields in which booby traps had been set. It was not yet dusk and the company soon came under heavy machine-gun fire from posts in the corn and farther back, and also fire from an 88 mm. gun; many casualties were caused and the advance was slowed up.
Lieutenant Watkins, the only officer left, placed himself at the head of his men and under short range fire charged two posts in succession, personally killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun. On reaching his objective he found an anti-tank gun manned by a German soldier; his Sten gun jammed, so he threw it in the German's face and shot him with his pistol before he had time to recover.
Lieutenant Watkin's [sic] company now had only some 30 men left and was counter-attacked by 50 enemy infantry. Lieutenant Watkins directed the fire of his men and then led a bayonet charge, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the enemy.
It was now dusk and orders were given for the battalion to withdraw. These orders were not received by Lieutenant Watkin's [sic] company as the wireless set had been destroyed. They now found themselves alone and surrounded in depleted numbers and in failing light. Lieutenant Watkins decided to rejoin his battalion by passing round the flank of the enemy position through which he had advanced but while passing through the cornfields once more, he was challenged by an enemy post at close range. He ordered his men to scatter and himself charged the post with a Bren gun and silenced it. He then led the remnants of his company back to battalion headquarters.
His superb gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during an extremely difficult period were responsible for saving the lives of his men, and had a decisive influence on the course of the battle.

(London Gazette Issue 36774 dated 2 Nov 1944, published 31 Oct 1944.)

This day in history: 10 Sep

1419: John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was assassinated by followers of the Dauphin, the future Charles VII of France.

1608: Captain John Smith was elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia.

1813: A US squadron under Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British, commanded by Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, at the Battle of Lake Erie.

1898: Empress Elisabeth of Austria was assassinated by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.

1918: At Kefr Kasim, Palestine, a British patrol from 1st/5th Battalion The Bedfordshire Regiment was ambushed by Ottoman forces, suffering heavy casualties. A group of some forty Turks then closed in to complete the patrol's destruction. Private Samuel Needham ran out alone to confront this fresh force, and held them off in a firefight at a range of only thirty yards. This action allowed the surviving members of the patrol to extricate themselves, taking all their wounded with them. Needham was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1919: Austria and the Allies signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain, which amongst other things established between the opposing sides and recognised the independence of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

1939: HMS Oxley (Lieut Cmdr H G Bowerman, RN) was sunk by mistake by HMS Triton (Lieut Cmdr H P DeC Steele, RN) off the coast of Norway - the Royal Navy's first loss of World War II.

That same day, Canada declared war on Germany.

1942: British forces carried out an amphibious landing at Majunga, in Vichy-held northwestern Madagascar, as part of the Madagascar Campaign.

1945: Vidkun Quisling was sentenced to death for collaboration with Nazi Germany. The sentence was carried out by firing squad on 24 October 1945.

1950: 16th Reconnaissance Company, 1st Cavalry Division, attacking an enemy-held hill near Kasan, Korea, came under intense grenade, mortar and small-arms fire. Corporal Gordon M Craig, with four other men, moved forward to eliminate an enemy machine-gun nest. When an enemy machine gunner hurled a hand grenade at the advancing men, Craig threw himself on the grenade and smothered its burst with his body. Craig was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

1967: The people of Gibraltar voted 12,138 to 44 to remain a British dependency, rather than becoming part of Spain.

1977: Hamida Djandoubi, convicted for torture and murder, was executed at Baumettes Prison in Marseille - the last execution by guillotine in France.

In addition to John the Fearless (1371-1419), Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) and Gordon Craig (1929-1950), the Empress Matilda (1101–1167), Henry II of Champagne (1166–1197), Sir Richard Grenville (1542–1591), Jason Fairbanks (1780–1801) and Tāufa'āhau Tupou IV of Tonga (1918–2006) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia (1550-1615), Henry Purcell (1659–1695), Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes (1788–1868), Joseph Wheeler (1836–1906), Maria de Jesus (1893-TBD), Robert Wise (1914–2005), Charles Kuralt (1934–1997), Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002), Christopher Hogwood CBE (1941-TBD) and Colin Firth (1960-TBD).

09 September 2007

RIP: Sir Tasker Watkins VC

The Rt Hon Sir Tasker Watkins VC GBE QC
18 Nov 1918 - 9 Sep 2007

ZUI this article from The Times:
Sir Tasker Watkins made a unique contribution to the administration of justice as the first Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, 1983-91. A lord Justice of Appeal from 1980 to 1993, he was also Deputy Chief Justice of England, 1988-93.

Yet the distinction for which he will perhaps be best remembered was one he gained before his legal career had even begun. This was the award of the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery and leadership during the campaign in Normandy in summer 1944.

He won the decoration for two actions in one evening during the Battle of the Falaise Gap in August 1944. Both demonstrated his total contempt for danger, as well as tactical leadership of the highest order. It was his first encounter with an enemy fighting to contain the Allies’ Normandy landing within the beachhead, before a concentration of armour intended to destroy it.

And this from The Guardian:
In 1980 Sir Tasker Watkins, who has died aged 88, was to become a lord justice of appeal, but in 1944 he became one of two Welsh soldiers to earn the Victoria Cross during second world war. While a lieutenant commanding a company of the Welch Regiment near the Normandy town of Fresnay-le-Vieum on August 16 1944, his battalion was ordered to attack objectives near the railway at Balfour.

His company had to cross booby trapped-cornfields. then as the company came under fire, he placed himself at the head of his men and charged two posts in succession, personally killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun. Approaching a German with an anti-tank gun when his Sten jammed, Watkins threw it in the German's face and shot him with his pistol before he had time to recover. With some 30 men left and counter-attacked by 50 Germans, Watkins led a bayonet charge, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the enemy. In failing light Watkins's company was almost completely surrounded. He decided to rejoin his battalion by passing round the flank of the enemy position through which he had advanced. Challenged by an enemy post at close range, he ordered his men to scatter, charged the post with his Bren - and silenced it. He then led his survivors back to headquarters. He rarely spoke of the incident. On one occasion he told his questioner, "I just got so totally bloody angry".

And this from the BBC:
First Minister Rhodri Morgan said he was "one of the outstanding Welshmen of the 20th Century".

Mr Morgan called him a "unique institution," adding: "I don't think we'll see many more like Tasker Watkins".

Sir Tasker died in the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, in the early hours of Sunday, a few weeks after a fall at his home in the Llandaff area of the city.

Victoria Cross: C. Bushell


Captain (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel), commanding 7th Battalion The Royal West Surrey Regiment

Born: 31 October 1888, Neston, Cheshire

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in command of his battalion.
Lt.-Col. Bushell personally led "C" Company of his battalion, who were co-operating with an Allied Regiment in a counter-attack [on 23rd March, 1918, west of St Quentin's Canal and north of Tergnier, France], in face of very heavy machine-gun fire. In the course of this attack he was severely wounded in the head, but he continued to carry on, walking in front of both English and Allied troops encouraging and re-organising them. He refused even to have his wound attended to until he had placed the whole line in a sound position and formed a defensive flank to meet a turning movement by the enemy. He then went to brigade headquarters and reported the situation, had his wound dressed, and returned to the firing line, which had come back a short distance. He visited every portion of the line, both English and Allied, in the face of terrific machine-gun and rifle fire, exhorting the troops to remain where they were, and to kill the enemy.
In spite of his wounds this gallant officer refused to go to the rear and had eventually to be removed to the dressing station in a fainting condition.
To the magnificent example of energy, devotion and courage shown by their Commanding Officer is attributed the fine spirit displayed and the keen fight put up by his battalion not only on the day in question but on each succeeding day of the withdrawal.

(London Gazette Issue 30667 dated 3 May 1918, published 30 Apr 1918.)

Medal of Honor: J. P. Martinez


Private, U.S. Army; Company K, 32d Infantry, 7th Infantry Division

Born: Taos, N.Mex.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy [on Attu, in the Aleutian Islands]. Over a period of several days, repeated efforts to drive the enemy from a key defensive position high in the snow-covered precipitous mountains between East Arm Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor had failed. On 26 May 1943, troop dispositions were readjusted and a trial coordinated attack on this position by a reinforced battalion was launched. Initially successful, the attack hesitated. In the face of severe hostile machinegun, rifle, and mortar fire, Pvt. Martinez, an automatic rifleman, rose to his feet and resumed his advance. Occasionally he stopped to urge his comrades on. His example inspired others to follow. After a most difficult climb, Pvt. Martinez eliminated resistance from part of the enemy position by BAR fire and hand grenades, thus assisting the advance of other attacking elements. This success only partially completed the action. The main Holtz-Chichagof Pass rose about 150 feet higher, flanked by steep rocky ridges and reached by a snow-filled defile. Passage was barred by enemy fire from either flank and from tiers of snow trenches in front. Despite these obstacles, and knowing of their existence, Pvt. Martinez again led the troops on and up, personally silencing several trenches with BAR fire and ultimately reaching the pass itself. Here, just below the knifelike rim of the pass, Pvt. Martinez encountered a final enemy-occupied trench and as he was engaged in firing into it he was mortally wounded. The pass, however, was taken, and its capture was an important preliminary to the end of organized hostile resistance on the island.

08 September 2007

This day in history: 8 Sep

1514: Forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, under the command of Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski, defeated a much larger Russian army in the Battle of Orsza.

1565: The Knights of Malta lifted the Turkish siege of Malta.

1755: British forces (including 200 Mohawks led by Theyanoguin, aka King Hendrick) under Sir William Johnson defeated a larger French and Indian army commanded by the Baron de Dieskau in the Battle of Lake George, in northern New York. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the British, and King Hendrick was one of those killed in the battle.

1831: William IV, who had been King of Great Britain since the death of his brother on 26 June 1830, was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

1855: The British attack on the Redan at Sevastopol failed, but nine men were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the attack; amongst them were Bombardier Daniel Cambridge, Royal Artillery, and Assistant Surgeon Thomas E Hale, 7th Regiment (the Royal Fusiliers). The French attack on the same night was more successful, however, and the Russians successfully evacuated at night shortly afterwards, bringing an end to the eleven-month siege.

1863: Confederate forces under Lieutenant Richard Dowling defeated an invading Union army commanded by Major General William B Franklin at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass (Jefferson County, Texas).

1900: A hurricane made landfall at Galveston, Texas; over 6000 people were killed.

1910: The brand-new* battleship USS North Dakota (BB 29) suffered an oil-tank explosion and fire at sea. Six men - Chief Watertenders August Holtz and Patrick Reid, Chief Machinist's Mates Thomas Stanton and Karl Westa, Machinist's Mate First Class Charles C Roberts and Watertender Harry Lipscomb - each received the Medal of Honor "for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession" during the fire.

1914: Private Thomas James Highgate, the first British soldier to be convicted of desertion and executed during World War I, was shot.

1917: Men of the North Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's) were digging a new trench near Zwarteleen, Belgium, when a grenade was unearthed and the fuze started to burn. Serjeant John Carmichael ran to the grenade, but realised that throwing it clear would have endangered the lives of the men working up top; he therefore placed his helmet on top of the grenade, then stood on the helmet. No-one in the working party was killed when the grenade exploded, but Carmichael was severely injured. Carmichael was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1923: Seven US Navy Clemson-class destroyers - USS Delphy (DD 261), S P Lee (DD 310), Young (DD 312), Woodbury (DD 309), Nicholas (DD 311), Fuller (DD 297) and Chauncey (DD 296) - were lost when they ran aground in heavy fog off Honda Point (Point Pedernales), near Lompoc, California. Two others - USS Farragut (DD 300) and Somers (DD 301) - also struck, but were only damaged. The remaining five ships with them managed to avoid grounding. Amazingly, only 23 men were lost: 20 in Young and 3 in Delphy.

1934: 135 people died in a fire aboard the passenger liner SS Morro Castle.

1935: US Senator Huey "Kingfish" Long (D, LA) was shot in the Louisiana capitol building by Doctor Carl Weiss. Long died two days later.

1941: The Siege of Leningrad began when the last land connection to the city was blocked by German forces. The siege was not lifted until 27 January 1944, by which time at least 641,000 people had died in the city.

1943: USAAF aircraft bombed German and Italian headquarters in Frascati, near Rome. One bomber and around thirty defending fighters were lost.

That same day, the Italian armistice (which had been signed on 3 September) was publicly announced.

1944: Six people were killed in southeastern Paris by the first successful V-2 rocket, launched from a site near Houffalize, Belgium. Later that day, three people were killed in Chiswick, London, by a V-2 launched from Wassenaar, the Netherlands. A third rocket, also fired from Wassenaar, hit Epping, Essex, 27 kilometres north of London.

1951: In San Francisco, California, 48 nations signed a peace treaty with Japan, in formal recognition of the end of the Pacific War.

1962: The Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway's Pines Express made its last run between Bournemouth and Manchester, pulled by British Rails 2-10-0 No 92220 (Evening Star).

1966: "The Man Trap", the first episode of the science-fiction television series Star Trek, was broadcast on NBC.

That same day, the Severn Bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

1974: US President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for any crimes the latter may have committed whilst in office.

2004: The NASA unmanned spacecraft Genesis crash-landed after its parachute failed to open.

In addition to King Hendrick (c 1680-1755) and Highgate (1895-1914), Enoch Poor (1736–1780), Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Bud Collyer (1908–1969), Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969), Zero Mostel (1915–1977) and Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Richard I Cœur de Leon (1157–1199), Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (1621–1686), Joshua Chamberlain (1828–1914), Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933), Frank Cady (1915-TBD), Sid Caesar (1922-TBD), Peter Sellers CBE (1925–1980), Harlan Howard (1927-2002) and Patsy Cline (1932–1963).

* Commissioned 11 Apr 1910.