Board Games, the POW’s Secret Weapon

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Photo courtesy of Christine Roy via Unsplash

My family loves games. We’ve spent many happy hours around the table, trying to discover if it was Miss Scarlett or Colonel Mustard whodunit, trying to outbid each other in Rummy Royale, or seeing who can construct the most elaborate Scrabble word.

Personally, though, I’ve never cared for Monopoly. I don’t mind loosing a game, (in spite of rumors to the contrary- some friends just are jealous of my amazing Parcheesi skills ūüėČ ) but if I’m going down, I’d rather it’s in a blaze of glory having gone “all in,” rather than being slowly bled to death by the bank.

However, I gained a new respect for¬†Monopoly when I learned that it had an exciting role in World War 2- helping save POW’s, no less.

Christopher Clayton Hutton of M19 (British Intelligence) worked on devising ways to smuggle escape aids to POWs. He found an ingenious one when he partnered with the printing and packaging company John Waddington Ltd.

Waddington’s had two things essential for Hutton’s newest plan: they produced¬†Monopoly games, and also had the technology to print on fabric. Specifically, they would be able to print maps on silk- maps that would be thin enough to conceal, and would be silent when unfolded.

A select group of people labored over¬†Monopoly boards, cutting compartments into which were slipped metal files, a compass, and a map of the area to which the game would be shipped. The compartments were hidden under the game’s normal decals. Real money was concealed in the stacks of play money, and the boards were marked so that the POWs could recognize them when they came in.

Of course, smuggling the boards into POW camps was a challenge. Using usual channels such as the Red Cross or care packages from family members would be too much of a risk. If the Germans intercepted contraband in these packages, they might refuse to allow them in anymore. Instead, M19 devised false charities under whose names they could ship the board games.

Just how many prisoners were aided by these special board games is unknown, but they have the distinction of being one of the few means of smuggling in aid that was never discovered by the prison guards.

Since this information was declassified in the 80’s, Hutton has published a memoir about his experiences- I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might be worth a look!

If you’d like more information on this and a few of Hutton’s other tricks, I particularly enjoyed reading through this article.

I will be without my computer (gasp!) for a bit, but fellow bloggers have kindly offered to keep The Naptime Author home fires burning- stop by for some excellent guest posts in the next week or so!

I hope you enjoy their insights, and look forward to reconnecting with you soon.

Many thanks for visiting!

 

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D-Day in Fiction: THE SEA BEFORE US vs. A PURPOSE TRUE

 

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© IWM (A 23894) British troops and US sailors manning 20mm gun positions on board USS LST-25 watch LCI(L) landing craft head towards the beaches of Gold assault area, 6 June 1944.

It’s not surprising that a monumental event like the Allied landings in Normandy would bring up over 30,000 hits on Amazon’s book listings. After all, those landings took a common military term like “D-Day,” which just meant the first day of an operation, and set it apart as a remembrance of the sacrifices on the beaches of France.

However, I was (pleasantly) surprised to suddenly own two of those books within a week of each other.

Fellow bloggers Rachel Scott McDaniel and Gail Johnson each hosted book giveaways, Rachel for Sarah Sundin’s The Sea Before Us, and Gail for Gail Kittleson’s A Purpose True, and I wound up with some new WW2 fiction. (Wohoo!)

Receiving both books so close together, I was curious. Here I held two separate novels, each set in the days before and during D-Day.

Both were by Christian authors.

Both had a blurb that indicated a romantic element.

Both had lovely 40’s ladies on the covers.

I couldn’t help wondering just¬†how similar these two stories would be.

I’m pleased to report that in reading them, I found that in spite of sharing a time frame and similar themes, the authors’ use of setting, of story, and of their characters’ inner journeys made for two uniquely enjoyable books.

The Setting

Following a brief (but essential) prologue in the U.S., The Sea Before Us journeys to Great Britain, and the Allied Navy’s preparations for the Normandy landings. Sundin’s male protagonist, Lt. Wyatt Paxton, serves in the U.S. Navy, and serves as the eyes through which readers are present for a number of real historical events, including the ill-fated¬†Operation Tiger. The female protagonist, Second Officer Dorothy Fairfax, is a “Wren,” serving in the women’s branch of the Royal Navy, and assisting in mapping the Normandy coast. I knew little about either of these specific jobs, but Sundin’s excellent research shone through her writing, bringing these parts of the D-Day preparations to life.

A Purpose True takes an entirely different perspective, with the majority of the scenes taking place in southern France as Kathryn Isaacs, an American serving as an SOE radio operator, scrambles to find safe locations to transmit essential information to London. Domingo Ibarra guides her through the hills, but also serves the resistance, trying to incapacitate German movements so that they will be unable to respond effectively to the Normandy landings. Kittleson’s beautiful descriptions of the countryside draw the reader in to walk alongside the people who fight for it, in spite of intensifying reprisals against their scattered villages. (There’s also a portion of the narrative set many years later in the U.S., but that comes up in the next part. ūüôā )

The Story

When choosing books, I don’t generally search under Romance. It’s not only because all of that emotion isn’t really my Minnesotan cup of tea (or rather black, unadorned coffee, brewed in the church basement.) When the overall big story question is “Will they get together?” I have a hard time sustaining interest, since I generally know the answer. The exception, of course, is when the author has woven that question into an engrossing story.

In my opinion, Sarah Sundin did an admirable job with this tricky task. Opening with an accidental death and a panicked robbery, she threw enough twists and turns into The Sea Before Us to keep me guessing. From family and romantic troubles, embezzlement, lies, and betrayal, to oh yes, D-Day, the novel didn’t lack for interesting topics, and throughout all was a nice love story with likeable characters that I could root for.

Gail Kittleson avoided this difficulty all together, by formatting her story in a different way.*¬† A Purpose True opens many years after the war, as Kathryn falls from the church balcony in a terrible accident…which may not be an accident at all. The narrative alternates between this story line and the story of her life as an SOE agent in France, with visits to Domingo’s point of view as well. Kittleson introduces Kathryn as an elderly woman, and with the tidbits she shares along the way, the question isn’t so much “Will they get together?” as how their past is affecting, and possibly endangering, their future.

*I should note, this is the third book in a series, and I have not read the others.

The Inner Journey

Both Dorothy and Wyatt in The Sea Before Us have an internal, spiritual struggle that they needed to work through as part of their story arc. Wyatt, burdened under guilt and shame, is unable to forgive himself, or to allow others to forgive him until he has somehow repaid an unpayable debt. Dorothy, afraid of becoming her mother, is also afraid of being her un-loveable self. Sundin made both of them sympathetic, and wove values like honesty and forgiveness into the narrative without distracting from the story.

Kathryn and Domingo’s struggles in¬†A Purpose True were, perhaps a bit less specific, but no less poignant. As they and their friends and allies scrambled across the French countryside, trying to support an invasion that they weren’t entirely confident was coming, they faced the struggle people of faith have always faced during difficult times. How can you reconcile who you are and what you believe with what you must do to defend your home and your family? How can faith, trusting in things unseen, balance the tangible need to lie, steal, and even kill, in a fight against ruthless enemies? Kittleson allowed her characters to struggle with these real questions without loosing themselves and their hope in Christ.

Now I just need to get my hands on the other 2 books for each series….

Have you found any fictional accounts of the events surrounding D-Day that you’d recommend?

Many thanks for visiting!

 

 

If you’d like to learn more about these two authors, see below

AGailn Iowa farm girl, Gail Kittleson is a late bloomer at writing fiction, having published a memoir previously, and taught college expository writing. When she’s not researching, drafting scenes or editing, she’s probably enjoying a walk, her husband and grandchildren, or in winter, Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country. Gail loves connecting with readers who embrace her WWII characters. She can be found at https://www.gailkittleson.com/

 

SarSarah Sundin green 1 (1)ah Sundin is the best-selling author of ten historical novels, including The Sea Before Us. Her novels When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist‚Äôs ‚Äú101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,‚ÄĚ and Through Waters Deep was a finalist for the 2016 Carol Award and won the INSPY Award. A mother of three, Sarah lives in California. Please visit her at www.sarahsundin.com.

 

 

 

 

George Elliot’s MIDDLEMARCH, and Keeping Readers Engaged for the Long Haul

Eight hundred sixty-four pages.

When talented photographer and fellow blogger Arti announced that she would be hosting a “Middlemarch in May” Read-Along, I couldn’t resist.

I’d never read anything by George Elliot, but¬†Middlemarch was ranked as the best English novel of¬†all time. The full list of “best 100” included some of my favorites, and I was excited to read the book that had defeated them.

My excitement dimmed just a little when I saw it waiting for me on the library’s hold shelf- all 836 pages of it.

While I love to lose myself in the winding paths of a good story, the weight of the book made me wonder if I  might have signed on for as much work as pleasure.

Still, I reasoned, there must be something about this hefty tome that made it endure, something to make the story of people living in a provincial town in 1820s and 30s England resonate with readers today.

I dove in

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Photo courtesy of Anastasia Zhenina via. Unsplash.com

When I emerged three weeks later and had reacquainted myself with my family, I felt like, just maybe, I had found what that something is.

Yes, Middlemarch has some slow bits. Some of the obscure medical and historical references bogged me down- thank goodness my book had copious end notes! Also, while I’m sure the issues surrounding the 1832 Reform Act were important, I don’t have much (all right, any) background in 1800s British politics.*

But the characters…the characters kept me coming back.

Middlemarch Rosamond
“Of course she had to finish reading. I’m so pretty, who wouldn’t want to read about me? We should really be richer, though, don’t you think Tertius?” ¬† “Sigh. Yes, dear Rosamond.”

It’s not necessarily that I found Elliot’s characters likeable.¬†Some of them would be the sort of friends who, when their name showed up on your caller id, you might be tempted to ignore.

No, the people of Middlemarch felt too real to be entirely likeable. And because they felt so real, both in their failings and their triumphs, I couldn’t help but finish the journey with them. I had to see where they ended up, because in each of them I could see a little bit of myself.

If¬†Middlemarch were¬† painting rather than a book, no flat, cartoonish portrayal of characters would do. With words rather than brushstrokes, Elliot shaded in her characters’ personalities: a stroke of light here to show their strengths and successes, offset by the deep shadows of flaws and failings.

With 836 pages to work with, I had ample time to get to know the young heiress, passionately spiritual, who only wanted to dedicate herself to something great, to serve in some profound way. Unfortunately, she was so set on doing this that she didn’t take enough time to consider if she were attaching herself to the right cause.

I watched with pity the ageing scholar, who hoped for happiness, hoped for success in his endeavors, but was warped and bent inward by worry, and caged by self-doubt.

I walked beside the talented young doctor, sure of himself and his abilities, unwilling to sacrifice his ambitions for anything. He was so self-assured, he failed to see that his hasty marriage might threaten it all.

Mary Garth and Fred
“Why doesn’t she talk about us, Mary?” “Well, there are an awful lot of characters, Fred.”

Elliot, the omniscient narrator, sketched her characters through description and observation, then shaded them in using the observations of her other characters, and finally breathed life into them by showing how they reacted to their world.

In the end, it was almost as if the people populating Middlemarch were the ones who took my hand and led me through their story. (Well, maybe sometimes they got behind and pushed me through the rough patches.)

All in all, Middlmarch was not only an excellent example of complex and realistic characters, but it was also an excellent encouragement to continue refining my own characters. After all, they need to be ready and equipped to lead readers on the journey through their world.

Have you read Middlemarch? What did you think of it? Can you think of other stories with striking, detailed characters?

Many thanks for visiting!

 

* If you want a summary of the book, here’s one that includes links for character descriptions etc.

BATAAN: A SURVIVOR’S STORY

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Going to the library used to be a restful outing.

I loved meandering through the shelves, surrounded by the smell of books. Familiar titles called out like old friends, while the unfamiliar ones promised new stories and adventures.

After having kids, going to the library is a bit different.

They love stories too, and browsing the children’s section with them is great fun. But if I want to find something to read, well, let’s just say I’ve learned to move fast.

Last week I dared the history aisle with them. I knew I had about five minutes before someone got restless and wandered off, started fighting with a sibling, or started idly pulling books off the shelf.

Luckily, Lt. Gene Boyt’s slender volume Bataan: A Survivor’s Story caught my eye at once. I had been reading and writing about the WW2 tragedies of Bataan, and I’ve written before about how I love survivor stories.¬† I grabbed it and ran, and I’m so glad that I did.

Boyt learned early how to do without. He was born on March 29, 1917 in Houston, Missouri. His father, whose unpredictable work had just kept them financially afloat, abandoned the family when Gene was in high school. Gene’s mother scraped by with the help of friends, but the Great Depression left them wondering how they’d manage.

Gene found the answer in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a part of FDR’s “New Deal.” He worked building roads, and was able to save up enough for college. He earned his mechanical engineering degree at the Missouri School of Mines.

Since Mines was a federal land-grant college, Boyt was required to take basic ROTC. He enjoyed it, decided to take advanced courses, and ended up a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

In July of 1941, he received his first assignment. He was headed to the Philippines.

Boyt’s accounts make his early days in the Philippines sound idyllic. He met kind people, lived in comfortable surroundings, and he was given charge of engineering projects on Clark Field.

The Philippines is on the other side of the International Date Line from Hawaii, so Boyt heard about the attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 8th.

While he was shaken by the news of the attack, the threat seemed far away. He and his housemates sat down to lunch as usual, laughing as a radio broadcaster announced that Clark Field, right outside, was under attack by the Japanese.

Just to be sure, his friend looked out the back door, scanning the sky. They asked him if he saw any Japanese planes.

“No.” He laughed, as if the idea seemed ridiculous.

We were behaving nonchalantly with no sense of the severity of the situation. The adjutant lieutenant returned to the table, and dessert, a tasty pie, was served. I took two bites of my piece before the house blew up.” (Boyt 56)

So begins Boyt’s account of the failed defense of the Philippines. He takes his readers on the retreat down the Bataan Peninsula, through his eventual surrender, and then back up the peninsula as a member of the Bataan Death March.

Bataan American POWs burial detail

Boyt’s survival story could be pretty bleak reading, but his tale, though dark, has moments of light.

He writes of their captors forcing men to march without food or drink, then making them stand by sources of clean water without being allowed any. He also tells of the one Japanese soldier, who as he was relieved of guard duty murmured, in perfect English, “I’m sorry.”

He writes of comrades succumbing to cruelty in the darkness of their captivity, but also of Filipino people who risked their lives to leave sugarcane and water along the road to help the troops survive.

He writes of the horrors and deprivations of the five (yes five) prison camps he was interned in during the war, but also of he people who helped him survive it.

“I want to make one thing clear about my wartime service. I am¬†not a hero. I saw real heroes in action, however – men such as Tom Griffin, who saved my life during the Death March; Dr. Van Peenen, the physician who did so much with so little at Zentsuji; and Major Orr, who risked his life in support of prisoners’ rights in Japan. These fine men, and countless others like them, deserve our adoration for their bravery and self-sacrifice.” (Boyt 219)

I’m thankful for writers like Boyt, who preserve memories of the courage and sacrifice and suffering of those who’ve come before us. If a copy of Bataan: A Survivor’s Story crosses your path, it’s well worth reading, and taking the time to remember them.

Many thanks for visiting!

Memorial Day and Adam Makos’ VOICES OF THE PACIFIC

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Pons on unsplash.com

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day the U.S. sets aside to remember those who’ve given their lives in service to their country.

Growing up, I spent a portion of each Memorial Day bumping slowly along winding cemetery roads.

If we were visiting Minnesota’s north woods, we’d also visit Great-Grandpa’s graveside, tidying around his and Great-Grandma’s headstone, making certain that the little memorial marking his service in WW1 was in place. If we were closer to home, we’d visit my mother’s father’s graveside, pulling out any unruly grass around the star commemorating his service in WW2.

My adult Memorial Days leave me with a nagging feeling that there’s¬†something I ought to be doing, or somewhere I ought to be. Living so far from my roots, I can’t visit the old sites in person.

Of course, with or without a walk through the grass-covered plots, Memorial Day isn’t really about cemetery maintenance. It’s about taking a moment to remember those who’ve served, who’ve suffered, and who’ve sacrificed.

I treasure books that help me in this remembrance, that highlight the cost of the freedoms I cherish. One such is Voices of the Pacific, written by Adam Makos with Marcus Brotherton.

Voices of the Pacific

“On Monday morning, December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was at work at the shoe factory in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. I was twenty years old. I shut down my machine. The boss said, “What the h*** are you doing?” and I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m leaving to join up.” It was then that I heard other machines being shut down and guys saying, “We’re going too.” (Interview with Jim Young, Voices of the Pacific pg 3)

The December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on targets including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, inflamed the American people.

As the United States prepared to declare its entrance into the Second World War, individual citizens declared their resolution to fight. Enlistment offices flooded.

Voices of the Pacific opens in these tumultuous times. It is a collection of memories of fifteen Marines who served in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO).

The book was printed in 2013- none too soon. As time goes on, the voices that carry these stories are fading away. The author sums up his goal in these words:

“What follows is not a sanitized version of the war. It’s the last survivors talking to you, digging deep and pulling out painful memories, gut-busting humor, and rousing accounts of American bravery, sacrifice, and old-fashioned goodness. Here they give us one last tale, one last time.” (Voices of the Pacific, Introduction page xiii)

The authors actually narrate little of the story. Rather, each chapter is set up with title, location, and a brief introduction. Then, the Marines speak.

They share their stories, and we follow them through Guadalcanal, Australia, New Britain, Pavuvu, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

I found the book’s organization very effective.¬†The first chapter, “We’re In It Now: Pearl Harbor,” shares the memories of Marines Sid Phillips, Jim Young and Roy Gerlach, all of whom joined just after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Makos and Brotherton organized the men’s memories in short segments, so that they flow in roughly chronological order.

It’s almost like getting to sit in the room with these Marines while they’re reminiscing.

The subsequent chapters follow the pattern. New voices join the conversation as the narration moves to new locations, and old voices bow out as they pass the end of their service.

Of course, keeping track of who was who could have been confusing for someone like myself who has difficulty remembering names of people I’ve just met. However, the authors included captioned photos at the beginning of the book, listing the interviewees in order of appearance.

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Like some of the troops’ service, the book does not end with the official end of the war. The book also shares stories of their (sometimes eventful) journeys back home, and how they went about rebuilding their lives.

As the authors’ quote that I shared suggests, this book doesn’t only deal with pleasant events, always use nice language, or gloss over the horrors of war that these men experienced (it’s not one for the kids!) However, as a glimpse of real experiences during an awful time, and as a remembrance of what these men suffered in service to their country,¬†Voices of the Pacific is worth reading.

The final chapter, “The Last Words,” gave these 15 Marines a chance to leave a message for the generations of today. On this weekend of remembrance, I think that the last, a message from Marine Clarence Rea, is a great note to end on.

“I’ll be ninety-two soon, and I’ve got everything to be thankful for. A great family, a great wife, a bunch of great friends. I thank God that I’m still here…

My message to anyone is care about your country. America is a great country, and it’s worth taking care of.

That’s my story.”(pg. 378.)

Many thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

Spies and Subterfuge: Ben Macintyre’s OPERATION MINCEMEAT

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Image courtesy of Craig Whitehead, Unsplash.com

I’ve always believed in the importance of being honest with my husband. However, when it came to James Bond movies, honesty got me more than I bargained for.

My husband and I usually enjoy the same types of books and movies, so my dislike of the tuxedo-clad super spy took him by surprise.

“Well, which Bond movies have you seen?” he asked. I listed them, and he nodded, looking relieved. “Ooooh, you’ve seen the worst ones.”

His solution?

We watched ALL 25 OF THEM. (This count includes the “unofficial” Bond movie starring Sean Connery,¬†Never Say Never Again.)¬†

There were a few bumps in the road. For instance ‘someone’ kept falling asleep at the end of Moonraker, so we had to repeat that final space fight over and over…and over. But, while I didn’t run out to buy any action figures when we finished, I had to admit that the franchise includes some entertaining movies. The hubby might even get me to watch most of them (not¬†Moonraker!) again with minimal coercion.

I¬†do still have a hard time taking the stories seriously when they include things like inflatable gondolas, invisible cars, and Mary Goodnight serving in ‘Intelligence’ – it’s all just a bit far-fetched.

Then again, true spy stories of the past are nearly as improbable.

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Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat details a bit of World War 2 espionage worthy of a Bond film. (Fitting, as one of the plan’s originators was Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming.)

In 1943 the Allies had defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa, but the Axis still controlled Europe. The Allies already had plans for the “D-Day” invasions of France, but they needed more troops, time and materiel. They would not be ready for another year.

In the meantime, British and American leaders decided to target the island of Sicily. Taking Sicily would give the Allies free run of the Mediterranean and a stepping-stone into Italy.

Unfortunately, Sicily was an obvious target.

It fell to British Intellegence to convince the Axis that the Allied troops massed opposite Sicily weren’t¬†actually going to invade the island, but were heading for Greece and Sardinia instead.

If they could manage this, the Germans would reinforce the wrong places, leaving Sicily vulnerable. If they failed, Sicily could be built up into a stronghold that would shatter the British and American invaders.

No pressure.

The job fell to RAF flight lieutenant Charles Christopher Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumly) who worked for MI5, and acting Lt. Cmd. Ewen Montagu, a former barrister working in Special Intelligence.

They planned to deliver sensitive documents “accidentally” via the drowned body of Major William Martin, floated ashore near the Spanish home of a well-known German spy.

The trick was, Major William Martin didn’t exist, nor did the sensitive documents.

Cholmondeley and Montagu needed to acquire a suitable body, create a history for him, generate documents for him to carry, and then find a way to transport him to the Spanish coast without the Axis powers discovering the plan…all while keeping him ‘fresh’ enough to be convincing as a recent crash victim.

This plan, Operation Mincemeat, required an eclectic team of medical men, drivers, scientists, spies and submariners. Macintyre’s sketches of the real-life characters are fascinating.

Of course, even the most elaborate deception might not make it past the suspicious eyes of the German Abwehr officers. Macintyre introduces the major players on the German side, and how greed and eagerness to produce results may have colored their acceptance of “Major Martin’s” intelligence. One name that caught my eye was Lt. Col. Alexis Baron von Roenne. Von Roenne was Hitler’s top Intelligence analyst. He was also a Christian and anti-Nazi conspirator. Von Roenne passed along the Mincemeat papers, vouching for their authenticity, though he likely realized that they were fakes.*

As I don’t want to give away the entire story to those who might be interested in the book, I’ll close by saying that Macintyre’s research and detail are excellent, and his prose generally easy to read. If you enjoy a good spy story (even one with no inflating gondolas) Operation Mincemeat is an interesting look at the ins and outs of espionage, and a unique slice of history. **

Many thanks for visiting!

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Image courtesy of David Sinclair, Unsplash.com

*I did a little extra research into Alexis von Roenne. He not only (likely) helped conceal Operation Mincemeat, but consistently changed numbers of Allied troops in his reports. His false reports helped Allied Intelligence as they prepared for the Normandy landings, bolstering Hitler’s belief that the landings would be at Pas de Calais. In the end, von Roenne was arrested, tried and killed, not for his actual subterfuge, but for being friends with the conspirators who attempted to assassinate Hitler. When given a chance to defend himself at his sham of a trial, he “simply declared that Nazi race policies were inconsistent with Christian values.” (Macintyre pg. 235)

**Ewen Montagu also published his account of this story, The Man Who Never Was, in 1953. It was made into a film in 1956, in which Montagu played an air vice marshal, with another actor playing him. 

 

 

 

 

“Pull In Your Ears!” U.S. Troops in Great Britain, 1942

Off Duty picture Locals and United States troops meet at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 1944.
“Off Duty: Locals and United States troops meet at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 1944.” Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193597

December 7th, 1941 changed everything for the American people.

The Japanese surprise attacks on targets including Pearl Harbor ended the United States’ neutrality.

Isolationist voices stilled. Military enlistment skyrocketed. The people of the United States clamored for action.

The leaders of the US were ready to comply, but with the Second World War raging on many fronts, where should they begin?

President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met to discuss the order of the war. They concluded that winning the war against Germany would leave Japan overextended, while defeating Japan would not necessarily weaken Germany.

They also believed that holding off on full-scale war in the Pacific could work to the Allies’ advantage.

Churchill noted “The Japanese have naval superiority…The Allies will not have for some time the power to fight a general fleet engagement.” (Churchill 652)

Given time, the Allied fleets would grow stronger while Japan would “be compelled to nourish all his conquests and kept extended, and kept burning up his resources.” (Churchill 652)

Churchill had high hopes for North African gains under General Auchinleck while masses of Hitler’s armies were occupied, facing the Eastern winter and the stubborn Russian resistance.

The decision was made.

American, British and Free French troops would retake North Africa in 1942. A large-scale Allied invasion of Europe would take place in 1943. (Well, that was the initial plan. Reality intervened…but we’ll get to that another time.)

The first US troops came to Great Britain in January of 1942.

They came, armed for war, but also armed with¬†information.ww2 guide bookWhile Britain and the US¬†theoretically share the same language and some of the same roots, the military felt it expedient to produce a handy guidebook for its troops. (After all, there was no way for them to sneakily Google what a Briton meant when he said he was “chuffed” to see them. Not that¬†I’ve ever had to do that. As far as you know.)

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942 is an interesting snapshot of the time. They’ve reprinted it, so you can get your own copy on Amazon. Brian from Hardscrabble Farm was kind enough to let me share a few quotes from the copy he has on his site.

The US troops were reminded, first and foremost, that they were Britain’s guests, and ought to behave as such.

“If somebody looks in your direction and says, “he’s chucking his weight about,” you can be pretty sure you’re off base.¬† That’s the time to pull in your ears.”

(Speaking of communication difficulties, how about that 1940s US slang? Consider my ears pulled in.)

” You can rub a Britisher the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.” “

Oh, REALLY?

“…remember that crossing the ocean doesn’t automatically make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in knee pants in Britain who have lived through more high explosives in air raids than many soldiers saw in first class barrages in the last war.”

The book also noted some important differences in culture and in attitudes.

“Be careful not to criticize the King… Today’s King and Queen stuck with the people through the blitzes and had their home bombed just like anyone else, and the people are proud of them.”

“If British civilians look dowdy and badly dressed, it is not because they do not like good clothes or know how to wear them. All clothing is rationed and the British know that they help war production by wearing an old suit or dress until it cannot be patched any longer.¬† Old clothes are “good form.” “

And of course, in any travel there is the question of food and drink- will it be like home?

“The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap.”

If you have about 40 minutes, Burgess Meredith (who I will always remember as “The Penguin” from the old Adam West Batman program- POW! WHACK!) was featured giving similar advice in¬†How to Behave in Britain. (See the link below.)

How to Behave in Britain expands on the themes from the original booklet, using humor and some really good examples of really bad behavior. (If you end up watching it, all I can say is, I hope no one actually behaved like Meredith pretended to over dinner!)

The film also addresses the fact that, while the United States was still deep in the grip of racial segregation, Britain was not. How were troops of different races to regard each other? The film’s brief interview with a US general had some positive things to say, as far as it went. “We’re all here as soldiers. Everything we do, we do as American soldiers. It’s not a bad time to learn to respect each other.”¬† No, it’s never a bad time to learn that lesson, and it’s a lesson still worth remembering today.

The shared closing lines of book and film sum up nicely.

“It is always impolite to criticize your hosts;

It is militarily stupid to criticize your allies”

Many thanks to Mike at “A Bit about Britain” (http://bitaboutbritain.com/) for suggesting this topic! His site is an excellent resource to learn about Great Britain through its landmarks and history, and his humor makes the lessons anything but dull!

Thanks for visiting!

 

Note: All Winston Churchill quotes and background information on his and FDR’s planning comes from¬†The Grand Alliance, the third volume of Churchill’s memoirs of the Second World War, copyright 1950 by Houghton Mifflin Co.

 

 

Elephant Bill: Saving Lives in WW2 Burma

“Mommy, why do you like reading about war?”

I suppose the question shouldn’t have surprised me. My eldest is an observant, curious child, and she’d asked questions about my history books before. I’d shared little stories and anecdotes nothing too heavy or unsettling.

This…it wasn’t a question I was prepared for. I didn’t have a ready answer to hand – at least not one I could frame in a way that a seven-year-old would understand.

After some thought I told her, “I like to read stories about people who are brave, and people who are kind, even when things are hard.”

A simple answer, meant for a child, but true. I love reading history, but the stories that honor courage and kindness are the ones that resonate.

The story of¬† James Howard Williams, or ‘Elephant Bill,’ is a perfect example.

KristineJames Howard Williams was born November 15, 1897 in Cornwall. He was known as “Jim” to his family, “Billy” to his friends.

Williams finished his World War I service in the “Bloody Eleventh” Devonshire Regiment physically unharmed.¬† He found, however, that he couldn’t just resume his old life at home. He longed for a change.

He decided that an opportunity to move to Burma and work with elephants in the teak tree harvesting industry was perfect. Elephants! Williams had always loved animals- from dogs, to his boyhood pet donkey, to ‘Frying Pan,’ his wartime camel companion.

Williams took to the strenuous and dangerous life of the jungle. He befriended the elephants¬† he supervised and learned all he could about their personalities and care from limited texts available and from their uzis (the native elephant handlers.) He became adept at dealing with elephant illnesses, and at times would use his skills as an amateur MD for people in the isolated villages. He established an ‘elephant school’ to train working elephants, and championed humane training techniques and conditions for the infants born in captivity. He even met his wife in the jungle- Susan Rowland was keeping house for her uncle, who happened to be the chief conservator of forests.

The onset of WW2 seemed distant from the Burmese jungle- until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Japan’s entrance into the war and aggressive push into Asia left Burma vulnerable. Williams and his growing family- he and Susan had a son and a baby on the way- were also vulnerable, facing an uncertain future.

During the course of the war, Williams would have to evacuate Burma three times.

The first time involved the wives and children of his company’s employees. Once he got them over the mountains to India, Williams returned to Burma, aiding other refugees and checking on the elephants and people he left behind. He hoped to take 200 elephants back to India with him, but the treacherous mountain roads were packed with refugees, and so he was forced to retreat to India again, on foot.

He offered himself to the Allied war effort, and became the leader of the No. 1 Elephant Company, operating under the SOE (the British ‘dirty tricks’ department) behind enemy lines. He and his compatriots rescued elephants from under the noses of Japanese troops and used them to build roads and bridges and to aid the Allies in every way possible, (while still doing all he could to protect the elephants themselves.)

As the Allies geared up for a huge offensive in March of 1944, Williams was told to be ready to withdraw his elephants- they were to be evacuated so that they weren’t caught and killed in the crossfire.

Williams, the refugee families of a number of Gurkha (Allied) soldiers, his elephants and his coworkers set off on his third evacuation, across unfamiliar territory with enemy troops closing in. The group totaled 64 women and children,  53 elephants, 40 Karen soldiers, 90 uzies and 4 officers.

After days of struggling through thick vegetation, plagued by Japanese patrols and suffering from illness and lack of food, the party reached and insurmountable obstical- a 270 foot sheer rock wall, blocking their path.

Moving forward was impossible; Williams decided to do it anyway.

 

Williams’ party labored for two days and created an ‘elephant staircase,’ cutting steps into the sandstone cliff, trimming back brush, expanding existing ledges, hoping the elephants would cooperate and climb it.

They did.

 

elephant
Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A few notes about the book

Generally, I prefer to read primary sources whenever possible- I like to ‘hear’ the voice of the person who lived the events telling the story. However, Vicki Constantine Croke’s list of sources and her careful citing was enough to silence even¬†my inner skeptic, who likes to say things like, “Sure, but how do YOU know he felt that way, hmmm?”¬†That being said,¬† I’d still like to get my hands on James Howard Williams’ own books. (The library really needs to start asking me which books they ought to stock… :))

While the cover of the book highlights the WW2 part of the story, the reader has to wait until the third section of the book and past the 200 page mark to get to that era in Williams’ life. If you don’t mind the wait, the rest of his story is interesting, and I learned a great deal about elephants in those first 200 pages. (From her bio on the back, Vicki Constantine Croke writes many nature/animal oriented tales.)

Whatever source you use, the true tale of ‘Elephant Bill’ is well worth reading and remembering!

 

Many thanks for visiting, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Publishing Paths: Interviewing Lydia Eberhardt

IMG_9464
“Are you¬†sure this is a path?”

A dear friend asked me today about my book-publishing progress.

“Welll…..” I debated whether I should give her the long version, or the quick sum-up- “Nothing yet!”

It’s not that the process is taking¬†longer than I expected.

I did not expect to have to choose between so many publishing paths: traditional publishing via agent, small-press publishing, self-publishing via Amazon, all the other routes for self or indie publishing…

Even after the work of writing and editing a book, it’s still an awful lot of work to decide how to bring it into the world.

I happen to have a few lovely ladies in my circle of friends who preceded me on this journey. While I am currently pursuing traditional publishing (or will restart pursuing it post-Christmas craziness) they have travelled some different routes.

I’ve been meaning to pester them- ahem, I mean¬†ask them- about the details of their personal journeys, and they have been gracious enough to allow me to share their answers on my site.

Today, I would like to introduce Lydia Eberhardt.

Lydia

Lydia is the author of Esther A.D, a modern-day retelling of the Biblical book of Esther, Beast, a retelling of the classic fairy tale, and Global Warning, a Star-Trek flavored sci-fi tale with some interesting twists.

Welcome, Lydia! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am an educator.¬† I’ve been teaching for 13 years, and taught children from 6 months old all the way to eighth grade. My husband and I like to travel-both nationally and globally.

How did you develop your love of writing?

I have always loved to read.  I love good stories-whether it’s a book or movie or even a tv show.

I also have a good imagination.  As a child, I used to imagine myself into a book or movie when I was trying to fall asleep.  As I grew, I still did this, but the stories began to be more of my own creations rather than someone else’s.

Your three books are very different from each other. Where did you find the inspiration for them?

When I wrote Esther A.D., I had just finished reading one of my favorite versions of Esther.¬† I was thinking of how all the variations I’ve read were always set historically, and I began to wonder if it would work translated into current/future times. That idea came from my enjoyment of all the classic fairy tales being retold into modern times. It may sound odd, but it was like the story was poking me saying, “Write me. Write me.”

 Esther AD

Beast came from my love of fairy tales. Cinderella is my favorite fairy tale, but I think Beauty and the Beast is my next favorite. It’s fun to find all the different variations on the fairy tales. For example, I once read a version of Cinderella where the prince discovered her because he slipped a ring on her finger before she ran off on the third night of the ball.

 Beast

¬†Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where Global Warning came from.¬† I never planned on writing an environmental science fiction. But I do love science fiction, so I guess it came from that.

Global Warning

Once you decided to publish, what was your process? Did you consider traditional publishing or did you always plan to self-publish?

Unless you are willing to get an agent, finding a publisher can be challenging. Many publishing houses won’t take unsolicited manuscripts or manuscripts not from an agent. When I was writing Esther A.D, I did some searching on the internet and found a subsidy publisher that was interested in publishing my book. Basically I paid them to publish and promote my book. I was not overly impressed with them, but I was excited because someone thought what I wrote was good enough to publish!

One of my friends is also an author, and she published through Amazon.  I spoke with her about her experience, and she had many positive things to say.  So when I was ready to publish a second book, I decided to go that way.

How has Amazon been different from the subsidy publisher? Have you liked working with them?

I am using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) services.¬† Basically, your book gets published as an ebook. Amazon also allows you to have the option of releasing your book as a paperback.

It’s a pretty neat service! They even have a cover creator, so if you are not very artistic, you can still get a decent looking cover. They do NOT provide an editing service.

KDP is interesting because they allow you to publish and only charge you if ebooks or paperbacks are ordered–and the charge comes out of the sale. Plus they tell you what it costs to make them.¬† For example: the cost to them for publishing one of my books is about $2.15. So when you go to set your price, they tell you that in order to cover printing and Amazon’s portion of the pie, you need to sell your book for around $3.60 to cover costs. So there is no up front cost like there is with a subsidy publisher.

Dislikes-you are on your own for publicizing and promoting your book.  Which can be challenging for someone who is more introverted like me.

I also have used Teachers Pay Teachers to “publish” some of the children’s plays I have written.¬† When I was teaching preschool and kindergarten, the children would put on a play at the end of the school year.¬† It was challenging to find a children’s play that was written to be performed BY children as opposed to FOR children, so I began writing simple plays for the children to perform. TPT is not for publishing books as much as it is a place where teachers can share the resources they have created with other teachers and be compensated for their efforts. Plus it’s nice to know that you are supporting the education community by buying and selling directly with other teachers. Downside-once again, how do you promote and publicize?

Do you have any advice for authors looking into publication?

Research.¬† If you Google “The Writer’s Guide” you’ll get results for some books that may be helpful. Also if you decide to go with a subsidy publisher, see if they have Google reviews.¬† Check if they have a rating with the Better Business Bureau. See what other people have to say about them before committing.

Have your friends read your writings and be willing to listen to their feedback. If something doesn’t make sense to them, it’s not going to make sense to others either.

Consider getting an agent. I currently have not gone that route, but that’s partly because I consider myself an educator first and an author sixth or seventh. If you are seriously into writing, I would encourage you to at least speak with some agents and see what they could do for you.

Money depends on what path you are taking.  There are many companies out there that will publish your book for several hundred to even thousands of dollars, and provide a variety of services for that fee.  You have to decide what you are willing to invest into you book.

 Thanks so much for your time, Lydia!

Links to all of Lydia’s published works can be found at lydiaeberhardt.com or lydiaeberhardt.wordpress.com .

 

Are you seeking publication? Where have your writing journeys led you?

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

Books I Pretended to Read ‘For the Kids’

Summer vanished overnight.

My corner of the world has returned to its natural state – cold, gray drizzle.

It’s the perfect time to avoid the outside world, curl up with a mug of something warm, a plate of something fresh-baked, and a good book.

Last time, I wrote about the power historical fiction wields – the power to absorb even reluctant historians into an engaging story. In particular, I shared how I’d enjoyed reading Connie Willis’ historical sci-fi books¬†Blackout and¬†All Clear.

Excellent historical fiction is powerful for adults, but it might be even more powerful for young readers.

History cloaked in fiction provides something a list of facts can’t: a face. A character that kids/middle graders/young adults can relate to, empathize with, can guide them through places and times that they don’t have the background knowledge and experience to traverse alone.

I couldn’t choose just¬†one book for this topic, oh no. One of the best things about the title ‘teacher’ is having a free pass to spend large amounts of time reading stories, because hey, it’s research!

The following are just a few of the stories I’ve come across and enjoyed.

DISCLAIMER: This list is not a recommendation to go out, buy these books, and have your child/grandchild/classroom read them, sight unseen.

My children won’t be seeing most of these for a long time yet.

After all, historical fiction deals with real people and real events. Some of these people are cruel. Some of these events are ugly. Stories can help provide teachable moments, valuable discussions, and relevant lessons, but I am a firm believer in saving books for when your child can handle them.

Books about World War 2 (Of Course ūüôā )

number the starsLois Lowry’s Newbery winning Number the Stars details the courage of Anna Marie Johansen and her family as they struggle to protect their Jewish friends in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

There’s a reason this one ends up in classrooms. It’s a moving story, building suspense without delving too deeply into the horrors of the era.

snow treasureChildren in Norway help smuggle their country’s treasure out of Nazi hands in Marie McSwigan’s¬†Snow Treasure.

I read this one in grade-school. I still recall loving the adventure, of the story and loving that children were the heroes of the piece.

MilkweedJerry Spinelli tells the story of a nameless boy without a family  who finds and looses the people he loves in the Warsaw ghetto..

Milkweed is powerful and painful, and definitely one for older readers – honestly, I’d almost say that this is more an adult book (remembering the story to write this is making me tear up.) Still, it bears a mention on this list, as a remembrance of the terrible suffering during the days of the Holocaust.

American History

Johnny Tremain

An injury dashes Johnny Tremain’s dreams of becoming a silver-smith and launches him into the American Revolution.

Winner of the 1944 Newbery Medal, Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain is another story I remember from elementary school that I still enjoy as an adult. Johnny’s growth as a character – from being on top of his world, to loosing everything, to finding himself again in a cause that he believes in – makes this book stand out as a classic.

Chains_novel_cover

Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Isabel, a slave who ought to have been freed, who searches for freedom for herself and her sister during the turmoil of the American Revolutionary War.

I bought Chains this summer just because I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and it looked interesting. I’m so glad I did! Isabel’s story moved me to tears. (Ok, honestly? I was bawling like a baby halfway through.) Despite this, it’s not a story of despair. There’s sorrow and realism, but also hope.

Chains (and its sequels) looks at this period through the eyes of slaves. I appreciated the unique approach to the era, and the even-handedness of the author. I felt she told the story without vilifying any particular group, (which makes a refreshing change from so much of what’s going on these days!)

Out of the dustBillie Jo wrestles with terrible losses in her family during the Dust Bowl years.

It’s been a few years since I’ve picked up Karen Hesse’s¬†Out of the Dust, the 1998 Newberry Winner, and I’m thinking I’ll have to reread it. It’s written as free-verse journal entries, and it’s a fast read, but full of depth. (If you haven’t explained childbirth to your kids yet, be prepared for questions. ūüėČ )

Dear America

Minnie’s family takes in an orphaned relative from the Texas dust bowl, and tries to ‘make do’ for a Christmas during the Depression.

The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift is part of the “Dear America” series. The series employed different authors for its books, and¬† I haven’t picked up others in the series, but if Katherine Lasky’s contribution is an indication of the quality, they may be worth looking into.

 

World History

The Bronze Bow

Daniel bar-Jamin hates the Romans and determines to help drive them out of Israel, until the teachings of the rabbi Jesus lead him to question whether his hatred will bring the healing he needs.

Set in Israel during the time of Christ, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow delves into the political and social struggles of the day (which fit in awfully well with all of the current world’s turmoil and hate) in an engaging and exciting way. Judging by the Amazon reviews, you don’t need to be a Christian to enjoy the story.¬†As a Christian, I found the story a fascinating way to help me better visualize living in this era…and it’s a great read.

Magic Tree HouseIn The Magic Tree House books, Jack and Annie of Frog Creek Pennsylvania travel through time to complete quests, helped by the mythical figures of Camelot.

The Magic Tree House series includes a healthy dose of ‘fiction’ in its historical premise, as Morgan Le Fay and Merlin send Jack and Annie on quests for various magical do-dads. The series uses this fantastical premise to introduce all sorts of historical places, people and events in a very basic way. My seven and five-year-old love hearing these as read-alouds, and when Jack and Annie ended up in Normandy the day before D-Day, my daughter was excited that she was reading a World War 2 book, just like mommy.

Then, of course, there are the ones I’ve been meaning to read…

… and if you have others to suggest, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy reading, keep warm, and if you’re in a part of the world that is still enjoying sunshine, soak some up for me, won’t you?