30 June 2009

Carnegie and Greenaway Medal winners announced.

I was so busy with other things that I forgot to go back to CILIP's website last week to find out which books won. The winners are:
The Carnegie Medal, for an outstanding book for children: Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd. (Times book review here.)

The Kate Greenaway Medal, for distinguished illustration in a book for children: Harris Finds His Feet, by Catherine Rayner. (Mother Reader's review here.)

28 June 2009

Victoria Cross: J. McNamara


Corporal, 9th Battalion The East Surrey Regiment

Born: 28 October 1887, Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire
Died: 16 October 1918, near Solesmes, France

Citation: For conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty [on 3 September 1918, northwest of Lens, France].
When operating a telephone in evacuated enemy trenches occupied by his battalion, Cpl. McNamara realised that a determined enemy counter-attack was gaining ground. Rushing to join the nearest post, he made the most effective use of a revolver taken from a wounded officer. Then seizing a Lewis gun, continued to fire it till it jammed. By this time he was alone in the post. Having destroyed his telephone, he joined the nearest post, and again displayed great courage and initiative in maintaining Lewis gun fire until reinforcements arrived.
It was undoubtedly due to the magnificent courage and determination of Pte. [sic] McNamara that the other posts were enabled to hold on, and his fine example of devotion is worthy of the highest praise.

(London Gazette Issue 31012 dated 15 Nov 1918, published 12 Nov 1918.)

Medal of Honor: F. Luke, Jr.


Second Lieutenant, US Army Air Corps; 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group

Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Arizona
Died: 29 September 1918, near Murvaux, France

Citation: After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons [Near Murvaux, France, on 29 September 1918]. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

24 June 2009

RIP: Darrell Powers

Darrell "Shifty" Powers
13 Mar 1923 - 17 Jun 2009

ZUI this article from the Roanoke (VA) Times:
In a 2001 interview with The Roanoke Times, Darrell "Shifty" Powers talked about some of his experiences during World War II.

Powers, a United States Army paratrooper and sharpshooter, belonged to Easy Company, part of the legendary 101st Airborne Division. He recalled a bitterly cold day in the Ardennes when he was able to draw down on a German sniper, sighting his target by the misty cloud of the man's breath. He killed him with one shot.

"Right there," he said, touching his forehead. "Between the eyes."

But Powers, of Dickenson County, who died Wednesday of natural causes at age 86, was also reflective about such matters.

In the second-to-last episode of "Band of Brothers," an HBO miniseries that documented Easy Company's wartime exploits, Powers spoke on camera about the soldiers he fought and also hinted at the intrinsic tragedy of combat.


Powers, who got the nickname "Shifty" playing basketball as a youngster, served three years in the Army during World War II and later worked as a machinist for Clinchfield Coal Corp. He found renewed notoriety when his military experiences were depicted on film and in the Stephen Ambrose book of the same name.

SSgt Powers was one of the veterans who appeared at the beginning of Band of Brothers episodes, reminiscing about the war. He was played in the series by Peter Youngblood Hills, who appeared in all ten episodes.

According to Wikipedia, there are now 38 members of the Band of Brothers - E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (part of the 101st Airborne Division) - still alive.

RIP: Tomoji Tanabe

Tomoji Tanabe
18 Sep 1895 - 19 Jun 2009

The world's oldest man has died. ZUI this article from The Mainichi Daily News:
Tomoji Tanabe, the world's oldest man, died at the age of 113 on Friday morning at his home here [in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki, Japan].

Tanabe, who died of chronic heart failure, became the oldest male in Japan in June 2006, and was listed in the Guinness Book of Records in January 2007 as the oldest living man on earth.


Tanabe had eight children, 25 grandchildren, 52 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. The funeral service is scheduled on Sunday.

At the time of his death Tanabe was the seventh-oldest person in the world and the third-oldest in Japan. He is the second supercentenarian listed by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) to die since the death of John Ross and Shitsuko Araki on 11 March; the other was Carolina Peretti-Scaramelli (21 Oct 1897-15 Jun 2009) of Italy.

The GRG's list of validated living supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday) currently includes 80 people (6 men and 74 women), ranging from 115-year-old Gertrude Baines of California (born 6 Apr 1894) to Grazia-Giovanna Carbonaro-Pitrolo of Italy (born 5 Apr 1899); twenty of them (19 women and one man) live in Japan.

The oldest man in the world is now Henry Allingham, the world's 12th-oldest person, who celebrated his 113th birthday on 6 June. ZUI this article from The Telegraph:
Air Mechanic First Class Allingham, at 113, has become the oldest man on the planet after Tomoji Tanabe, just a few months his elder, died in his sleep yesterday.

The oldest surviving member of the Armed Forces holds a clutch of honours, including the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Legion d'Honneur – the highest military honour awarded by France.

In his personal life, Mr Allingham was married to his late wife Dorothy for more than half a century and heads a dynasty which includes his great-great-great grandchild.

He once attributed his grand age to "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women".


He was initially persuaded to remain at home by his mother but in September 1915, after her death, he joined the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) and was sent to France, maintaining seaplanes.


He is now the last founder member of the RAF and the only remaining survivor of the infamous Battle of Jutland off the Danish coast in 1916.

He had a miraculous escape from his ship, the Kingfisher, when a German shell heading directly for it bounced over the top.

21 June 2009

Victoria Cross: J. A. O. Brooke


Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders

Born: 3 February 1884, Newhills, Aberdeen, Scotland
Died: 29 October 1914, near Gheluvelt, Belgium

Citation: For conspicuous bravery and great ability near Gheluvelt [Belgium] on the 29th October [1914], in leading two attacks on the German trenches under heavy rifle and machine gun fire, regaining a lost trench at a very critical moment. He was killed on that day.
By his marked coolness and promptitude on this occasion Lieutenant Brooke prevented the enemy from breaking through our line, at a time when a general counter-attack could not have been organised.

(London Gazette Issue 29074 dated 18 Feb 1915, published 16 Feb 1915.)

Medal of Honor: H. A. Courtney, Jr.


Major, US Marine Corps Reserve; 2d Battalion, 22d Marines, 6th Marine Division

Born: 6 January 1916, Duluth, Minnesota
Died: 15 May 1945, Okinawa

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Executive Officer of the 2d Battalion, 22d Marines, 6th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Islands, 14 and 15 May 1945. Ordered to hold for the night in static defense behind Sugar Loaf Hill after leading the forward elements of his command in a prolonged fire fight, Maj. Courtney weighed the effect of a hostile night counterattack against the tactical value of an immediate marine assault, resolved to initiate the assault, and promptly obtained permission to advance and seize the forward slope of the hill. Quickly explaining the situation to his small remaining force, he declared his personal intention of moving forward and then proceeded on his way, boldly blasting nearby cave positions and neutralizing enemy guns as he went. Inspired by his courage, every man followed without hesitation, and together the intrepid marines braved a terrific concentration of Japanese gunfire to skirt the hill on the right and reach the reverse slope. Temporarily halting, Maj. Courtney sent guides to the rear for more ammunition and possible replacements. Subsequently reinforced by 26 men and an LVT load of grenades, he determined to storm the crest of the hill and crush any planned counterattack before it could gain sufficient momentum to effect a breakthrough. Leading his men by example rather than by command, he pushed ahead with unrelenting aggressiveness, hurling grenades into cave openings on the slope with devastating effect. Upon reaching the crest and observing large numbers of Japanese forming for action less than 100 yards away, he instantly attacked, waged a furious battle and succeeded in killing many of the enemy and in forcing the remainder to take cover in the caves. Determined to hold, he ordered his men to dig in and, coolly disregarding the continuous hail of flying enemy shrapnel to rally his weary troops, tirelessly aided casualties and assigned his men to more advantageous positions. Although instantly killed by a hostile mortar burst while moving among his men, Maj. Courtney, by his astute military acumen, indomitable leadership and decisive action in the face of overwhelming odds, had contributed essentially to the success of the Okinawa campaign. His great personal valor throughout sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Note: USS Courtney (DE 1021) was named in his honour.

15 June 2009


The Queen's Birthday Honours List is out. Reading through it, I find:

Knights Bachelor

Christopher LEE, CBE
Actor. For services to Drama and to Charity.
(London, SW1X)

Order of the British Empire
Officers of the Order of the British Empire

The Honourable Peter Malcolm De Brissac DICKINSON
Author and Poet. For services to Literature.
(Alresford, Hampshire)

Members of the Order of the British Empire

Nicola Ann, Mrs COX
Founder and Editor, First News. For services to Children.
(Leatherhead, Surrey)

Peter Dickinson was the author of numerous books, both for adults and for children, including Tulku and City of Gold, 1979 and 1980 winners, respectively, of the Carnegie Medal. First News is a weekly newspaper for children aged 8-14, established in 2006.

Sir Christopher Lee is probably best known for his roles in horror movies such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), and as Saruman in the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). He wasn't always an actor, though. After the Soviet Union (which was on Hitler's side at the beginning of World War II) invaded Finland, he volunteered to fight with the Finnish forces, though he and other British volunteers were in Finland for only a brief period. After returning to England, he signed up with the RAF, serving as an intelligence officer with the LRDG in the Western Desert, and later with 260 Squadron in Sicily and Italy. He demobbed after the end of the war with the rank of Flight Lieutenant (equivalent to a USAF captain). He was awarded the CBE in the 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours List.

(Left: Insignia of a knight bachelor. Right: Emblem of a member of the Order of the British Empire.)

Oh - and there's also a CBE for Vidal Sassoon, for services to the British hairdressing industry....

H/T to LawDog for the background info on Sir Christopher Lee.

14 June 2009

Victoria Cross: A. F. E. V. S. Lassen


Temporary Major, General List; attached Special Boat Service, No 1 SAS Regiment

Born: 22 September 1920, Baekkeskov, South Zealand, Denmark
Died: 9 April 1945, near Lake Comacchio, Italy

Citation: In Italy, on the night of 8th/9th April, 1945, Major Lassen was ordered to take out a patrol of one officer and seventeen other ranks to raid the north shore of Lake Comacchio.
His tasks were to cause as many casualties and as much confusion as possible, to give the impression of a major landing, and to capture prisoners. No previous reconnaissance was possible, and the party found itself on a narrow road flanked on both sides by water.
Preceded by two scouts, Major Lassen led his men along the road towards the town. They were challenged after approximately 500 yards from a position on the side of the road. An attempt to allay suspicion by answering that they were fishermen returning home failed, for when moving forward again to overpower the sentry, machine-gun fire started from the position, and also from two other blockhouses to the rear.
Major Lassen himself then attacked with grenades, and annihilated the first position containing four Germans and two machine-guns. Ignoring the hail of bullets sweeping the road from three enemy positions, an additional one having come into action from 300 yards down the road, he raced forward to engage the second position under covering fire from the remainder of the force. Throwing in more grenades he silenced this position which was then overrun by his patrol. Two enemy were killed, two captured and two more machine-guns silenced.
By this time the force had suffered casualties and its fire power was very considerably reduced. Still under a heavy cone of fire Major Lassen rallied and reorganised his force and brought his fire to bear on the third position. Moving forward himself he flung in more grenades which produced a cry of "Kamerad". He then went forward to within three or four yards of the position to order the enemy outside, and to take their surrender.
Whilst shouting to them to come out he was hit by a burst of spandau fire from the left of the position and he fell mortally wounded, but even whilst falling he flung a grenade, wounding some of the occupants, and enabling his patrol to dash in and capture this final position.
Major Lassen refused to be evacuated as he said it would impede the withdrawal and endanger further lives, and as ammunition was nearly exhausted the force had to withdraw.
By his magnificent leadership and complete disregard for his personal safety, Major Lassen had, in the face of overwhelming superiority, achieved his objects. Three positions were wiped out, accounting for six machine guns, killing eight and wounding others of the enemy, and two prisoners were taken. The high sense of devotion to duty and the esteem in which he was held by the men he led, added to his own magnificent courage, enabled Major Lassen to carry out all the tasks he had been given with complete success.

(London Gazette Issue 37254 dated 7 Sep 1945, published 4 Sep 1945.)

Medal of Honor: G. H. Rose


Seaman, US Navy; USS Newark (C 1)

Born: 28 February 1880, Stamford, Connecticut
Died: 7 December 1932, Newark, New Jersey

Citation: In the presence of the enemy during the battles at Peking, China, 13, 20, 21 and 22 June 1900. Throughout this period, Rose distinguished himself by meritorious conduct. While stationed as a crewmember of the U.S.S. Newark, he was part of its landing force that went ashore off Taku, China. on 31 May 1900, he was in a party of 6 under John McCloy (MH) which took ammunition from the Newark to Tientsin. On 10 June 1900, he was one of a party that carried dispatches from LaFa to Yongstsum at night. On the 13th he was one of a few who fought off a large force of the enemy saving the Main baggage train from destruction. On the 20th and 21st he was engaged in heavy fighting against the Imperial Army being always in the first rank. On the 22d he showed gallantry in the capture of the Siku Arsenal. He volunteered to go to the nearby village which was occupied by the enemy to secure medical supplies urgently required. The party brought back the supplies carried by newly taken prisoners.

12 June 2009

NASA news

ZUI the following NASA press release dated 3 June:
NASA Gives 'Go' for June 13 Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour
NASA managers completed a review Wednesday of space shuttle Endeavour's readiness for flight and selected June 13 as the official launch date for the STS-127 mission to the International Space Station. Commander Mark Polansky and his six crewmates are scheduled to lift off at 7:17 a.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


The 16-day mission will feature five spacewalks and complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. Astronauts will attach a platform to the outside of the Japanese module that will allow experiments to be exposed to space.

The STS-127 crew members are Polansky, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Dave Wolf, Christopher Cassidy, Tom Marshburn, Tim Kopra and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette. Kopra will join the space station crew and replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Wakata will return to Earth on Endeavour to conclude a three-month stay at the station.

Polansky (USAF). Lt Col Hurley (USMC). Dr Wolf. CDR Cassidy (USN). Dr Marshburn. COL Kopra (US Army). Payette. Dr Wakata.

ZUI also this press release dated 1 June:
NASA's Shuttle Program Hands Over Launch Pad to Constellation
The May 31 transfer of Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program is the next step in preparing the first flight test of the agency's next-generation spacecraft and launch system. The Constellation Program is developing new spacecraft -- including the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule, and the Altair lunar lander -- to carry humans to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond.

Since the late 1960s, pad B has been instrumental in human spaceflight programs, such as Apollo, Skylab and the space shuttle. The pad originally was built for the Saturn V rockets to launch the Apollo capsules to the moon. In July 1975, the pad was modified to support space shuttle operations. The first space shuttle to lift off from pad B was Challenger in January 1986.

10 June 2009

RIP: George E. Wahlen

George Edward Wahlen
8 Aug 1924 - 5 Jun 2009

ZUI this article from the Salt Lake City (UT) Deseret News:
One of George E. Wahlen's favorite stories to tell was about his wife.

After Wahlen — who died Friday, June 5, 2009, at the age of 84 — returned from battle at Iwo Jima at the end of World War II, the Navy corpsman spent nine months at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oceanside, Calif. Every night, hospital staff found him in fits, waking from violent nightmares.

"They thought he was cracking up," his wife, Melba Wahlen, recalled. Hospital personnel went as far as to isolate him in a lone room.


When they married one year later, his nightmares stopped because, as one of his daughters said Friday, he finally had his dream.

Wahlen passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer, leaving behind his wife, five children, 27 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.

Wahlen, a native of Ogden, is most noted for his valor in battle at Iwo Jima, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in 1945.


Most people who met Wahlen never knew any of this, including his own children when they were young. It was not until they were older that Wahlen divulged openly his time in Japan. Even then, "it was never about him," his son George Blake Wahlen said.

"He told us about Iwo Jima to teach us the importance of doing what you say you are going to do. He always said he was just doing his job."

George E. Wahlen later re-enlisted in the U.S. Army and served during the Korean and Vietnam wars.


After retiring from the Army with the rank of major, Wahlen joined the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where he worked as an advocate for other veterans.

************* *** *************


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.

07 June 2009

Victoria Cross: J. W. Sayer


Lance-Corporal, 8th Battalion, Royal West Surrey Regiment

Born: 12 April 1879, Ilford, Essex
Died: 18 April 1918, Le Cateau, France

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery, determination and ability displayed on the 21st March, 1918, at Le Vergoier, when holding for two hours, in face of incessant attacks, the flank of a small isolated post. Owing to mist the enemy approached the post from both sides to within 30 yards before being discovered. Lance-Corporal Sayer, however, on his own initiative and without assistance, beat off a succession of flank attacks and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.
Though attacked by rifle and machine-gun fire, bayonet and bombs, he repulsed all attacks, killing many and wounding others. During the whole time he was continuously exposed to rifle and machine-gun fire, but he showed the utmost contempt of danger, and his conduct was an inspiration to all. His skilful use of fire of all description enabled the post to hold out till nearly all the garrison had been killed and himself wounded and captured. He subsequently died as a result of wounds at Le Cateau.

(London Gazette issue 31395 dated 6 Jun 1919, published 6 Jun 1919.)

Medal of Honor: E. L. McWethy, Jr.


Specialist Fifth Class, US Army; Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)

Born: 22 November 1944, Leadville, Colorado
Died: 21 June 1967, Binh Dinh Province, Republic of Vietnam

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Serving as a medical aidman with Company B, Sp5c. McWethy accompanied his platoon to the site of a downed helicopter [in Binh Dinh Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 21 June 1967]. Shortly after the platoon established a defensive perimeter around the aircraft, a large enemy force attacked the position from 3 sides with a heavy volume of automatic weapons fire and grenades. The platoon leader and his radio operator were wounded almost immediately, and Sp5c. McWethy rushed across the fire-swept area to their assistance. Although he could not help the mortally wounded radio operator, Sp5c. McWethy's timely first aid enabled the platoon leader to retain command during this critical period. Hearing a call for aid, Sp5c. McWethy started across the open toward the injured men, but was wounded in the head and knocked to the ground. He regained his feet and continued on but was hit again, this time in the leg. Struggling onward despite his wounds, he gained the side of his comrades and treated their injuries. Observing another fallen rifleman Lying in an exposed position raked by enemy fire, Sp5c. McWethy moved toward him without hesitation. Although the enemy fire wounded him a third time, Sp5c. McWethy reached his fallen companion. Though weakened and in extreme pain, Sp5c. McWethy gave the wounded man artificial respiration but suffered a fourth and fatal wound. Through his indomitable courage, complete disregard for his safety, and demonstrated concern for his fellow soldiers, Sp5c. McWethy inspired the members of his platoon and contributed in great measure to their successful defense of the position and the ultimate rout of the enemy force. Sp5c. McWethy's profound sense of duty, bravery, and his willingness to accept extraordinary risks in order to help the men of his unit are characteristic of the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

05 June 2009

RIP: John Campbell Ross

John Campbell Ross
11 Mar 1899 – 3 Jun 2009

The last remaining Australian veteran of World War I has died. ZUI this article from the Sydney Morning Herald:
THE life of Jack Ross, the last of 416,000 Australians who enlisted for service in World War I, began two years before Australia became a nation and spanned three centuries.

Officially he was the nation's last World War I soldier, although he never left Australia or saw active service. He was ready to leave for France when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

John Campbell Ross, who died in Bendigo yesterday at 110, was born in Newtown, Victoria, the son of a goldminer. He taught himself Morse code by the age of 15, after learning how to pump the organ at the local church, using a similar pattern of starts, pauses and stops.


After training at Broadmeadows, Melbourne, he was transferred to the Light Horse, based at Liverpool, as a wireless operator in the Wireless Corps. By then the Allies had won major battles at Villers Bretonneux and Hamel and the Somme.


Jack Ross's wife, Irene (Laird) predeceased him by many years. He is survived by a son, Robert, a daughter, Peggy Ashburn, four grandchildren - Janette, Heather, Kay and John - and nine great-grandchildren.

ZUI also this article from the Melbourne Herald Sun:
There's a saying that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. But not quietly spoken, chocolate-loving Jack Ross.

For the last Digger of World War I, it was entirely the opposite. Instead of drifting from public view, old Jack became more and more significant with every birthday and with the passing of every other worn-out veteran of that bloody conflict.

With each historic demise, the media would respectfully pay him a call.

When Somme survivor Marcel Caux passed away in 2002 . . .

When Peter Casserly, 107, the last of the 330,000 Australian servicemen who served overseas in the 1st AIF, died in Western Australia in 2005 . . .

And when the last Australian serviceman who saw active service in WWI, former chief petty officer William Evan Crawford Allan, drew his final breath a few months later, at the age of 106. Jack knew them all. Not personally of course, but by association. Like members of an elite, if extremely elderly club.


"Today we mourn the death of Jack Ross," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Parliament. "I ask that we also reflect on the service and sacrifice of the 417,000 Australians who served our nation during the First World War, and the 61,000 who gave their lives.

"We will continue to remember and to honour their legacy."


Jack Ross was the oldest living Victorian, from a family that is remarkable for its longevity. His eldest sister died at 99, another made it to three figures and another was still going strong in her 90s.

But of course war could easily have snuffed out his life almost before it had begun, as it did to tens of thousands like him.

John Campbell Ross enlisted in February 1918 at Maryborough in central Victoria, but his mother gave him permission only on the proviso he was posted to the wireless and telegraph section after his brother, Harrie, suffered spinal injuries while fighting in France.

He did as mum told him and his good fortune in 1918 was to not make it past Sydney's North Head before the war came to an end. In World War II he served in the volunteer defence force, but survived again unscathed.

...and this article from Adelaide Now:
Mr Ross was awarded the 80th Anniversary Armistice Remembrance medal in 1998 to commemorate the end of the war.

He also received the Centenary Medal for his contribution to Australian society in the 100 years since federation.

The last serviceman who saw action in World War I was seaman William Evan Allan, who died in Melbourne aged 106 in October 2005.

The last veteran of the Western Front was Digger Peter Casserly, who died in Perth aged 107 in June 2005.

The last Gallipoli veteran was Tasmanian Alec Campbell, who died aged 103 in May 2002.

The last survivor of day one of the Gallipoli landings on April 25, 1915, was Sydney man Ted Matthews, who was 101 when he died in 1997.

Wikipedia lists five remaining verified WWI veterans (three British, one Canadian and one US), along with one unverified veteran (British) and one WWI-era veteran (Polish).

Update 1025 10 Jun: Ross is the 29th supercentenarian listed by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) to die since the death of Beatrice Farve on 19 January; Shitsuko Araki of Japan (born 24 Mar 1898) also died on 3 June. The GRG's list of validated living supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday) currently includes 82 people (8 men and 74 women), ranging from Gertrude Baines of California (born 6 Apr 1894) to Grazia-Giovanna Carbonaro-Pitrolo of Italy (born 5 Apr 1899); none of them live in Australia.

04 June 2009

Any Which Wall (Laurel Snyder)

Back a couple of lifetimes ago, when I was in junior high school or perhaps high school, I discovered the books of Edward Eager: Half Magic and Magic by the Lake, about the magical adventures of four kids of the 1930s; Knight's Castle and The Time Garden, about the children of the two youngest girls from the first two books; and Seven-Day Magic, a stand-alone book unrelated except by theme to the other four. All five books were about ordinary American kids in ordinary American towns, who somehow stumbled across real, working magic. (I've read two other books by Eager, Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers, but I didn't really care for those two.)

Around the same time, I discovered the works of E (for Edith) Nesbit. I actually first ran across her in the pages of other books, for other authors' characters seemed to make a habit of reading Nesbit. I'm not sure where I first found her mentioned - perhaps in Eager's works, or in those of Dean Marshall (the Guthrie children, from Marshall's books*, were certainly familiar with The Hobbit and The Hunting of the Snark) - but I definitely recommend Five Children and It and its two sequels, The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet, which again are about ordinary children (English, this time) faced with real magic.

A few weeks back I wrote about five books to be released this year which I was looking forward to reading. At the top of the list was Any Which Wall, by Laurel Snyder. I finally got hold of it this week - and I wasn't disappointed.

The book is about four kids in small-town Iowa - ten-year-old neighbours-and-best-friends Roy and Henry, Roy's sister Susan (twelve) and Henry's sister Emma (six). It's summertime, and they're out for a bike ride in the country when they follow a path through somebody's cornfield and find a wall, "tall as City Hall and about that wide," right in the middle of the field. Not just a wall - a wishing wall (not, of course, to be confused with a wishing well), as they soon accidentally discover.

First things first: The kids agree to keep the magic a secret for themselves.
"Now everyone swear," Henry said. "Swear that you won't tell a soul." Henry looked at each of them one by one. "Swear!"

Susan swore quickly, with a giggle.

Emma's eyes were gigantic as she repeated after Susan. Sacrifices and swearing all in one day!

Roy appeared cool and thoughtful. "I solemnly swear," he said, "though I reserve the right to revisit this issue at a later time, since we just don't know what'll happen. Okay?"

Henry gave a brief head shake that meant "Yes, okay, sure, whatever you say, Roy" and also "That won't happen, goofball" before he went on in a rush of excitement. "And I swear too. Okay!"

Next, as is usual with this sort of thing, the kids must figure out the rules - the way the magic operates, and how to control it. This requires experimentation, of course, with mixed results, but they finally end up in Camelot and meet Merlin, who gives each of them a single glimpse of the future before going off to take a three-day nap.

From then on it's adventure time, as they travel to interesting places and meet up with the world's worst pirate, a Wild West outlaw, a unicorn, a chirky librarian and other interesting people. Some places are more interesting than others....
They were in a barn.

Henry breathed deeply and said, "Man, this place smells worse than Camelot." He sounded impressed. A goat responded by nibbling his shoe.

Susan took her hand from the wall and wiped it on her shorts. "I guess most frontier houses were on farms, so we shouldn't really be surprised, but is everything in the past smelly?"

Roy, holding his nose, answered her. "Yeah, I actually kind of think so. Indoors, anyway, since they hadn't invented air fresheners yet. If you think about it, barns in our time don't smell that great either." Just then, Emma stumbled over a chicken, and there was a great deal of squawking on Emma's part, as well as on the part of the chicken.

Things I liked: The very concept of a wishing wall - a nice variation on the familiar. A couple mentions of Edward Eager (the kids have read Magic by the Lake). Drawings by LeUyen Pham; I especially liked the one of the kids in the diner and the one of them washing the dog. Snyder's sense of humour, which I first encountered in Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, her previous book.

Things I didn't like: It's too short (though 242 pages is actually a good length for a children's novel); a sequel or two would be nice.

Any Which Wall, by Laurel Snyder. Random House Children's Books, 2009. Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course - though buying through IndieBound or from your local independent bookseller is highly recommended!

* The Invisible Island, Dig for a Treasure and Wish on the Moon - which despite the titles are not works of fantasy, but are stories about ordinary kids in small-town Connecticut. Think Melendy (Elizabeth Enright) or Penderwick (Jeanne Birdsall)....

Update 1912 10 Jun: This review by Charlotte includes a brief interview with Snyder, wherein she says that a sequel is in the planning stages, though nothing is definite. Jen Robinson has also written a review.

01 June 2009

RIP: Millvina Dean

Elizabeth Gladys Dean
2 Feb 1912 - 31 May 2009

The last survivor of RMS Titanic has died. ZUI this article from the Los Angeles Times:
Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the legendary ocean liner Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, died Sunday. She was 97.

She died at a nursing home near Southampton, England, the port where she and her family boarded the ship, according to Charles Haas, the president of the Titanic International Society. Her death came on the 98th anniversary of the launching of the Titanic, on May 31, 1911.

"She was a remarkable, sparkling lady," Haas told The Times on Sunday. "She knew her place in history and was always willing to share her story with others, especially children. She was the last living link to the story."

Dean was about 8 weeks old when she and her family set sail, third class, on the luxury ocean liner on April 10, 1912. Five days later, she was among about 700 passengers and crew who were rescued off the coast of Newfoundland. She and her mother, Georgetta, 32, and her brother Bertram, 23 months old, were put into lifeboats. Her father, Bertram, 27, stayed on board the ship and was among more than 1,500 passengers and crew members who went down with the Titanic.

She had no memory of the disaster, but at age 8 her mother told her what had happened. "It was so awful for her that she never wanted to speak about it," Dean said of her mother in a 2002 interview with the Irish News. Georgetta Dean suffered severe headaches every day for years after the ship's sinking.


Dean attended secretarial school. During World War II, she moved to London and worked as a mapmaker for the British Army. She later returned to Southampton and was a secretary at an engineering firm. For many years, she lived in a house in nearby New Forest. She never married.

Born on Feb. 12 [sic], 1912, Dean might easily have gone through life without telling anyone that she was a passenger on the Titanic. She ignored the books, movies, clubs, websites and submarine tours of the shipwreck after it was found in 1985, 12,500 feet under the surface of the North Atlantic.

Her anonymity ended in 1987 when she attended a memorial service in Southampton on the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.


In 1998, Dean finally completed the sea voyage from Southampton to New York City that she had set out to make 86 years earlier. She traveled on the Queen Elizabeth II, compliments of Michael Rudd, a Titanic enthusiast and travel agent in Missouri. He and Dean gave a presentation together during the voyage.

"She hadn't been on a ship since 1912," Rudd said in a 2007 interview with The Times. "People crowded around her, they just wanted to touch her."


Dean's mother died in 1975, at 95. Her brother died in 1992 on the 80th anniversary of the ship's sinking. He was 81. Dean is survived by two nephews and two nieces.

The Times has an article with further information here.

Bertram and Millvina Dean, ca 1912

ZUI also this article from The Telegraph:
Although she had no memories of the disaster, Millvina Dean always said it had shaped her life, because she should have grown up in the United States instead of returning to Britain. She died on the 98th anniversary of the launching of Titanic – the ship that was billed as "practically unsinkable". Built in Belfast, the White Star Line vessel became infamous for not having enough lifeboats on board, leading to the deaths of so many passengers.


Elizabeth Gladys Dean, always known as Millvina, was born on February 2 1912 in London, where her parents ran a pub. She was only nine weeks old in April when the family left Britain for America, intending to settle in Kansas City, where her father had hoped to open a tobacconist's shop.

Travelling steerage, the Deans had originally booked on another White Star liner, possibly Adriatic, but were transferred to Titanic because of a coal strike.

The family boarded at Southampton on the morning of Wednesday April 10, the infant Millvina, her parents and brother, who was a few weeks short of his second birthday. They embarked with 493 other third class passengers joining the vessel at Southampton, on a family ticket that had cost her father £20 11s 6d.


At 11.40pm the following Sunday, baby Millvina was asleep in her cot when her father heard a crash, woke the family and told them to dress warmly.

Like many third-class passengers, they found it difficult to get on deck.

"It was so dreadful for my mother," Millvina later recalled. "It was heartbreaking.

"She said goodbye to my father and he said he'd be along later." Millvina Dean said her father's quick actions had saved his family. He had felt the ship scrape the iceberg and hustled the family out of its quarters and towards the lifeboat that would take them to safety. "That's partly what saved us – because he was so quick," she explained.

A sailor bundled her into a sack and put her into lifeboat 13, which was lowered into the freezing Atlantic. It was a bitterly cold night but after several hours Millvina, her 32 year old mother, Ettie, and brother Bertram were picked up by the Cunarder Carpathia. Although some 700 others survived, her father perished – like many of the men – because there were not enough lifeboats.

The surviving Deans returned to England aboard the liner Adriatic, Millvina being the object of some astonishment that such a tiny baby should have made it to safety. First and second class passengers on Adriatic queued to hold her, and many took photographs of her, her mother and brother, some of which accompanied breathless stories in the newspapers.

The Daily Mirror, for example, reported that Millvina "was the pet of the liner during the voyage, and so keen was the rivalry between women to nurse this lovable mite of humanity that one of the officers decreed that first and second class passengers might hold her in turn for no more than 10 minutes".

Back in England, Ettie Dean and her children lived with her parents on their farm in the New Forest; an emergency relief fund paid her £40 and a pension of £1 3s a week for the care of her children until they were 18. In 1920, Ettie married Leonard Burden, the vet who attended her parents' farm. She died in 1975 aged 96.


After Millvina Dean, the second-youngest passenger aboard Titanic was Barbara West, who was nearly 11 months old when the liner sank. She also survived. Barbara Dainton, as she became after her marriage, died in October 2007, leaving Millvina Dean as the last Titanic survivor.

I reported on Dainton's death here.

RMS Titanic in Southampton

Book list - May 09

Lionboy - children's, by Zizou Corder
World War I: The African Front - WW I, by Edward Paice
Eight is Enough - family life, by Thomas Wardell Braden *
Uncharted Stars - SF, by Andre Norton *
Nightfall - SF, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World - European history, by Roger Crowley
Amos Fortune, Free Man - children's biography, by Elizabeth Yates (Newbery Medal, 1951)
Witch World - fantasy, by Andre Norton *
Web of the Witch World - fantasy, by Andre Norton *
Year of the Unicorn - fantasy, by Andre Norton *
Lincoln: A Photobiography - children's biography, by Russell Freedman (Newbery Medal, 1988)
Shen of the Sea - children's (short stories), by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Newbery Medal, 1926)
The Secret of the Old Mill - children's mystery, by "Franklin W Dixon"
The Hero and the Crown - children's fantasy, by Robin McKinley (Newbery Medal, 1985)
The Capricorn Bracelet - children's historical fiction, by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Book of Three - children's fantasy, by Lloyd Alexander
The Black Cauldron - children's fantasy, by Lloyd Alexander
The White Stag - children's mythology, by Kate Seredy (Newbery Medal, 1938)
Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America - American history, by John Keegan
The Mystery of the Ivory Charm - children's mystery, by "Carolyn Keene"

20 books this month, with the four or five rereads (I'm not entirely certain if I read Eight Is Enough back in the '70s or not) marked by asterisks. To reach my goal of 209 books this year, I'll have to average 17.417 per month, so I'm currently still a bit behind.

"Franklin W Dixon" and "Carolyn Keene" were Stratemeyer Syndicate house names. The Secret of the Old Mill (1927) was the third book in the Hardy Boys series, and The Mystery of the Ivory Charm (1936) was the 13th Nancy Drew book. Revised editions of the earliest books in both series were published beginning in 1959, but in the 1990s Applewood books began issuing reprints of the original texts; these were what I read this month.

The five Newbery Medal winners bring my total thus far up to 81 of 88, while I'm still at 16 of 69 Carnegie Medal winners.