Saturday, July 13, 2024

Thanks to my Diego

Frida Kahlo, one of the most fascinating and colourful artists of the 20th century, died 60 years ago today. Physically afflicted from an early age, she suffered much in the years before her death, often illustrating her pain and distress in a notebook, with colourful artworks and poetical texts. There is also much in the book about her love for the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. However, even though there are very few dated entries, nor are there any facts about her day-to-day life, the notebook was very successful published - an exact copy, with notes and translations - as The Diary of Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo was born on the outskirts of Mexico City in 1907. Her father was a painter/photographer of German background whose family had originated in Romania. Aged six, Frida was struck down with polio, which permanently disfigured one leg. She studied at a National Preparatory School, which is where she first came in contact with the artist, Diego Rivera, who had been commissioned to paint a mural in the school’s auditorium.

In 1925, Frida Kahlo was involved in a serious bus accident, which left her further physically troubled for the rest of her life, but it was while recovering from this that she began to paint. A friend introduced her to Mexico City’s artistic set; and in 1929 she married Diego River, by then an internationally famous muralist. Their relationship was difficult, each one having numerous affairs, although they were always very supportive of each other as artists.

Diego and Kahlo, both active Communists, befriended Leon Trotsky after he fled to Mexico, having been sentenced to death by Joseph Stalin. Kahlo, famously, also had an affair with him. Kahlo and Diego were divorced in 1939, but a year later they remarried, their relationship continuing in the same troubled way. They both broke with Trotsky, who was assassinated in 1940, to become supporters of Stalin.

Kahlo spent the last years of her life suffering from various ailments, not least gangrene which led to her having a leg amputated at the knee. She died on 13 July 1954, aged only 47. The official cause of death was cited as a pulmonary embolism, though some have suspected she might have died of an accidental or deliberate drug overdose. Further information is readily available online from Wikipedia, Washington Monthly, or the Frida Kahlo official website.

Although the Louvre bought one of her canvases in 1939, for many years Kahlo was mostly remembered as Riviera’s wife. Only towards the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, with the flourishing of a new artistic style in Mexico known as Neomexicanismo, did her reputation develop internationally; and with it came much widespread public interest in her art and her life. Today, Kahlo is considered one of the 20th century’s most important female artists. She only produced about 200 canvases, largely still lifes and portraits of herself, family and friends, all of which can be viewed online.

From 1944 until her death, Khalo kept a journal of sorts, a notebook rich in illustrations and poetry, but with very few actual dated written entries. It was locked away for more than 40 years, but in 1995, Bloomsbury published The Diary of Frida Kahlo - An Intimate Self-Portrait which included an exact copy of all 170 pages, an introduction by the world famous author, Carlos Fuentes, transcriptions into English, and a commentary on the pages by art historian Sarah M. Lowe. The full text and pictures can be borrowed freely online at Internet Archive. Extracts are also available at the Silencing the Bell blog.

In his 1995 introduction to The Diary, Fuentes says: ‘. . . [Kahlo’s] Diary now shows us: her joy, her fun, her fantastic imagination. The Diary is her lifeline to the world. When she saw herself, she painted and she painted because she was alone and she was the subject she knew best. But when she saw the world, she wrote, paradoxically, her Diary, a painted Diary which makes us realize that no matter how interior her work was, it was always uncannily close to the proximate, material world of animals, fruits, plants, earths, skies.’

And he ends: ‘In the measure that her hope was her art and her art was her heaven, the Diary is Kahlo’s greatest attempt to bridge the pain of their body with the glory, humor, fertility, and outwardness of the world. She painted her interior being, her solitude, as few artists have done. The Diary connects her to the world through a magnificent and mysterious consciousness that “we direct ourselves towards ourselves through millions of beings - stones - bird creatures - star beings - microbe beings - sources of ourselves.”

She will never close her eyes. For as she says here, to each and everyone of us, “I am writing to you with my eyes.” ’

Whereas Fuentes’s introduction provides a literary eulogy for Kahlo’s diary, Lowe’s essay provides a more down-to-earth, comparative analysis, and starts by defining it as a ‘journal intime’: ‘Reading through Frida Kahlo’s diary is unquestionably an act of transgression, an undertaking inevitably charged with an element of voyeurism. Her journal is a deeply private expression of her feelings, and was never intended to be viewed publicly. As such, Kahlo’s diary belongs to the genre of the journal intime, a private record written by a woman for herself.

The impulses and purposes of a diary are perplexing and sometimes paradoxical. Is it really an autobiography or is the text transformed when it comes to light? Does it retain its integrity when read by another or published? How should a woman’s private journal be read, and by extension, what can be learned about Kahlo by reading her diary?

Throughout history, diarists, both men and women, have chronicled their lives framed by their times or by particular historical events. In contrast, the predominant subject of the journal intime, and Kahlo’s own diary specifically, is the self.  Kahlo’s motivation has less to do with communication than with negotiating her relationship to her self, and thus the conundrum - why write if no one else will see the text? - is in part answered.’

Lowe also analyses how the diary shows Kahlo recording her physical deterioration: ‘Kahlo kept this diary for the last ten years of her life, and it documents her physical decline. Dated pages are sporadic, and thus it is difficult to discern the chronology. But an awful progression - regression - is unmistakable, as Kahlo faces the loneliness and terror of her illnesses. [. . .] Kahlo’s chronic pain, however, and her encasement in orthopedic corsets and plaster casts for months at a time, the trophic ulcers she suffered on her right foot (which led to its amputation shortly before her death), and the roughly thirty-five operations she is said to have undergone may have been caused by a congenital malformation of her spine, a condition called spina bifida. Her diary chronicles her quest for cures, her resigning herself to the dictates of her medical advisers, and her often stoic response to their failures.

Part of Kahlo’s preoccupation with the details of her infirmities springs from her youthful interest in physiology and biology. Before her fateful accident, Kahlo was taking science courses as prerequisites for becoming a doctor; even as she convalesced, the thought of combining her interest in art and science by becoming a scientific illustrator came to her. Indeed, these studies provided Kahlo with potent visual analogies and metaphors, which she marshaled in her paintings and used throughout her diary: internal organs and processes were often seen outside her body, while she used x-ray vision to picture her broken bones and spine. Of all her biological and botanical metaphors, Kahlo made the most effective use of roots and veins, tendrils and nerves, all routes for transmitting nourishment or pain.

Despite the pain and anguish Kahlo freely and openly expressed in her diary, her unquenchable thirst for life reveals itself. Her wit and alegria, her sense of irony and black humor all emerge here. [. . .] The self-portrait we find in the diary makes more human “la gran ocultadora” of her paintings, and replaces the implacable mask with intimate - at times horrifying details of affliction and despair. But Kahlo also shows her great strength, the resolve only intense suffering confers. “Anguish and pain,” she writes, “pleasure and death are no more than a process”. Kahlo’s diary dramatically and explicitly conveys this process, and is a testimony to her vigilant recording, in words and pictures, of her inexorable path toward death.’

Here are two extracts (the translation reproduces faithfully the line structure of the original even though the original line breaks often come at the edge of the page).

‘Today Wednesday 22 of January 1947
You rain on me - I sky you
You’re the fineness, childhood,
life - my love - little boy - old man
mother and center - blue - tender-
ness - I hand you my
universe and you live me
It is you whom I love today.
= I love you with all my loves
I'll give you the forest
with a little house in it
with all the good things there are in
my construction, you'll live
joyfully - I want
you to live joyfully. Although
I always give you my
absurd solitude and the monot-
ony of a whole
diversity of loves -
Will you? Today I'm loving
the beginnings and you love
your mother.’

‘Yesterday, the seventh of May
1953 as I fell
on the flagstones
I got a needle stuck in
my ass (dog’s arse).
They brought me
immediately to the hospital
in an ambulance.
suffering awful pains
and screaming all the
way from home to the British
Hospital - they took
an X ray - several
and located the needle and
they are going to take it out one
of these days with a magnet.
Thanks to my Diego
the love of my life
thanks to the Doctors’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 13 July 2014.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Life with the Mormons

‘This is the 55th anniversary of my birth. On arrising from my bed, I returned thanks to the Lord for bringing me to see this day. Although I do not have my full liberty [he was in hiding because of the anti-polygamy law], yet I am grateful for that liberty I do enjoy, also for the many blessings I have received from the Lord and for my wives & children & their children.’ This is from the extensive diaries of Leonard John Nuttall, born 190 years ago today. He was private secretary for two important presidents in the early history of the Mormon church. (See also Mobocracy is rife and Father of Mormon history.)

Nuttall was born in Liverpool, England, on 6 July 1834. Aged 13 he was apprenticed as a ship builder. In 1850, he was baptised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and in 1852, he emigrated to the US. on the Rockaway, arriving in New Orleans. From there he travelled to the Salt Lake Valley. He served in the Utah County militia, taking part in the Wakara conflict. He was a member of the committee that organised the first Sunday School in Provo; and, in 1856 he married Elizabeth Clarkson. In time, he had at least two other wives, and more than seven children. He was elected to the Provo City Council in 1861, and served as a justice of the peace and alderman. He also served as the auditor and recorder of Provo from 1861 until 1875 

From 1864 until 1875, Nuttall was employed as Utah County Clerk and clerk of the county probate court. He went on to serve as the secretary of the Provo Co-Operative Mercantile Institution from its inception in 1869. He is credited with being the first person to operate a printing press in Utah County. In 1872, he was made chief clerk of the Utah Territorial Legislature. Meanwhile, in the LDS Church, he served for a few years as a member of the high council of the Utah Stake, which covered all of Utah County at the time. From 1874 to 1875 he was a missionary in England. He was appointed bishop of the Kanab Ward in 1875, and served as the first recorder of the St. George Temple, and as the first president of the Kanab Stake when it was organised in 1877. 

In 1879, Nuttall became a private secretary for John Taylor, replacing George Reynolds, who was serving a prison term for practicing plural marriage. Nuttall - though often in hiding to avoid his own arrest under the anti-polygamy law - continued in this position first to John Taylor and then to Wilford Woodruff until 1892. From 1881 to 1887 he also served as Utah Territorial Superintendent of Schools. Starting in 1897, he was as a member of the General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union. He died in 1906. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Brigham Young University (BYU) and The Church Historian’s Press.

Nuttall seems to have kept journals for most of his life, from 1857 to 1904. Some 28 volumes are housed at BYU with other written materials. According to BYU, the materials relate to Nuttall’s involvement in numerous Mormon Church and Utah Militia activities, various items on church conduct and doctrine, religious meetings of the ruling bodies, and campaigns against the Ute Indians during the Black Hawk War. Photocopies of the diaries’ contents in typed manuscript form (as created by BYU) can be found at Internet Archive - this is a 1,000 page document that covers the period 1876-1884. The first 100 or so pages are taken up with a chronological listing of events covered in the diaries, as well as an extensive index.

In 2007, Signature Books published In the President’s Office: The Diaries of L. John Nuttall, 1879-1892. This is also freely available at Internet Archive. A review can be read in the Utah Historical Quarterly.

Here are a five extracts from Nuttall’s diaries as found in the photocopied typescript, and two more (dated 1889) from the published diaries.

29 May 1877
‘cold & blustery all night, some rain this morning with wind - made out recommend to the Temple for Wm Albert Beebe his wife Sarah Elizabeth - son John William & Daughter Agnes Cordelia Beebe - after having asked him pertaining to reports & rumors as to the chastity of his wife &c he told me all had been made satisfactory & since which time he & his wife had done some work for their dead in the Endowment House at Salt Lake City, this I made Known in the recommend so it could be understood - rained most of the day heavy shower in the eying -‘

21 August 1877
‘very cold last night froze ice l/4 inch thick in pail. after breakfast we counted the Sheep also examind accounts & decided on a basis of settlement - our count not being satisfactory we counted again in the afternoon - found in all head, found there was due Bro Tyler 84 head - he prepared for leaving for home in the Morning, fitting up his wagon &c - Killed a Sheep for the boys. & talked to them as to their duties & - we built a comfortable shelter for the boys today.’

22 November 1878
‘Myself Leonard & Thomas assisting in digging & making a root house on the Tithing lot. boys also went to Grist mill for Flour out of 1004 lbs of Wheat we only received 528 lbs of flour - & 276 lbs of Bran & Shorts being 200 lbs for grinding & waste - this needs some explanation - this evening talked with the Sisters of Relief Society pertaining to sending what cash they have on hand some 15.00 to purchase Drugs for the use of the Saints in child bed & fevers’

23 November 1878
’Bros Brown Wife & Son Lorenzo also Bros C* H Oliphant & L. Stilson started for Salt Lake City with 2 teams. Bro Brown's Son for Surgical opperation - I sent by Bro Oliphant my two Bonds one of $500 00 & one of $100 00 on Provo Woolen Factory to James Dunn Supt also a letter & an order for Cloth for 2 suits of clothes - also sent by him $15.00 & bill of Drugs needed for Relief Society & requested him to call and see my Wife Sophia at her fathers. this afternoon finished root house on Tithing lot.’

3 August 1879
‘Attended the funeral services of Elder Joseph Standing at the Tabernacle at 10. A.M & took part in the procession but did not go to the Cemetry. Elder Geo Q Cannon & Prest Taylor addressed the Assembly of some 10,000 - the procession was 20 Minutes passing a given point.- also attended the tabernacle services At 2 P.M. Elders C. H Wheelock & T. B Lewis spoke - at 4 p.M attended the prayer & Council Meeting of the Apostles at the Endowment House’

3 July 1889
‘Elder John Morgan reported briefly his trip in finding the body of the late Elder Alma P Richards. He has no doubts but what Bro Richards was murdered and his body afterwards put onto the railway track so as to be run over by the train.

Mr Lars Peterson of Independence, M[iss]o[uri] called & said he had received a revelation pertaining to the redemption of Zion in Jackson Co, Mis[souri]. He was a member of the Church several years ago & lived in Cache Valley, had 2 wives, worked as a carpenter on St George Temple, left the Territory some 12 years ago, went East, was baptized & confirmed by David Whitmer. Prests Woodruff [and] Cannon gave him some very strong talk after recounting his apostasy and Prest Cannon told him that he was destroyed, and that his threats of this people being destroyed by the Gentiles would not lake place, and that if he did not change his course the wrath of the Almighty would overtake him and he would be destroyed. Mr Peterson, finding that he could not make any impression upon these brethren and being spoken to so plainly, he left in a very excited manner.

The payment of the Church note for $50.000 00 at McCornicks Bank, due tomorrow with the interest, was paid and new arrangements made at Z[ion’s] S[avings] Bank.

At 5 20 p.m. Prest Jos F Smith 8 & wife Sarah & little boy and baby, and myself with Bro Chas H. Wilcken as driver, sta[r]ted for Wasatch - the Church quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon. After a pleasant drive we arrived at 8 30. Sister Preston provided us some supper although we had been eating on the way.’

6 July 1889
‘This is the 55th anniversary of my birth. On arrising from my bed, I returned thanks to the Lord for bringing me to see this day. Although I do not have my full liberty, yet I am grateful for that liberty I do enjoy, also for the many blessings I have received from the Lord and for my wives & children & their children. I dedicated myself & family to the Lord and prayed for His mercies for the future, because I know that myself & all I have are in his hands to be used as He may direct.

Bros Smith, [William B.] Preston & myself went up to the Quarry at 11 o clock to see the men split open a large rock which was very nicely done.’

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Work of infinite grandeur

‘For some time past I have been occupied with a work of infinite grandeur. At the moment I do not know whether I shall carry it through. It looks like a mighty dream. But for days and weeks it has possessed me beyond the limits of consciousness; it accompanies me wherever I go, hovers behind my ordinary talk, looks over my shoulder at my comically trivial journalistic work, disturbs me and intoxicates me.’ This is from the extensive diaries kept by Thomas Herzl who died 120 years ago today. An Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer and political activist, he is considered to be the father of modern political Zionism.

Herzl was born of middle-class parents in the Jewish quarter of Pest (now eastern part of Budapest), Hungary. He first studied in a scientific secondary school, but, to escape from its anti-Semitic atmosphere, he transferred in 1875 to a school where most of the students were Jews. In 1878 the family moved to Vienna, where he entered the University of Vienna to study law. He received his license to practice in 1884 but chose to devote himself to the arts.

For a number of years, Herzl worked as a journalist and was also a moderately successful playwright. In 1889 he married Julie Naschauer, daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman, and they had three children. In 1891, the leading Viennese newspaper, Neue Freie Presse, appointed him its Paris correspondent. But, on arriving in the French capital with his family, he was shocked to find anti-Semitism as rife as in Austria (not least because of the Dreyfus Affair). His understanding of social and political affairs led him to take the view that assimilation was not the answer to anti-semitism, instead he came to believe that Jews should work towards a state of their own. 

In his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State, Herzl argued that the establishment of a modern, European homeland for Jews would provide a refuge for a persecuted people and prevent competition with non-Jews. Antisemitism would disappear and Jews would be able to ‘live at last as free men on our own soil’. The following year, he convened the first Zionist Congress, in Basle, with the aim of taking practical steps to establish a Jewish state. The Congress launched the World Zionist Organization with Herzl as its president, and he soon established a Zionist weekly newspaper, Die Welt, in Vienna. Negotiations began with Turkey and Britain for a mass Jewish settlement in Palestine or the Sinai Peninsula, but these did not prove successful. Although Herzl was willing to accept an offer from Britain of land in what was then Uganda, other members of the Congress strongly opposed this idea (though it was not actually rejected until after Herzl’s death). 

Herzl died on 3 July 1904, aged only 44. First buried at a Viennese cemetery his remains were brought to Israel in 1949 and buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which was named after him. His coffin was draped in a blue and white pall decorated with a Star of David circumscribing a Lion of Judah and seven gold stars recalling Herzl's original proposal for a flag of the Jewish state. An Israeli national holiday is celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, to commemorate his life and vision. Further information is readily available online - see Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or The Herzl Institute

The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl edited by Raphael Patai, translated by Harry Zohn, was published in five volumes (inc. an index) by Thomas Yoseloff in 1960. A one-volume compendium - covering 1895-1904 - can be read freely online at Internet Archive - though beware it runs to nearly 2,000 pages! The preface begins: ‘A hundred years after his birth, fifty-six years after his death, and twelve years after the realization of his dream in the State of Israel, Theodor Herzl is universally recognized in Jewish history, and, in fact, in world history, as the founder of political Zionism and the father of the Jewish state. His Diaries, published here in full for the first time, contain the fascinating record of the eight last years of his life during which, practically single-handed and at the sacrifice of his fortune, his career, his family and his very life, he created a world movement among the Jews and made the rulers and governments of his day accept the idea that the Jewish people must have a homeland of its own.’

Herzl’s own text begins as follows: ‘For some time past I have been occupied with a work of infinite grandeur. At the moment I do not know whether I shall carry it through. It looks like a mighty dream. But for days and weeks it has possessed me beyond the limits of consciousness; it accompanies me wherever I go, hovers behind my ordinary talk, looks over my shoulder at my comically trivial journalistic work, disturbs me and intoxicates me. It is still too early to surmise what will come of it. But my experience tells me that even as a dream it is something remarkable, and that I ought to write it down - if not as a reminder to mankind, then at least for my own delight or reflection in later years. And perhaps as something between these two possibilities - that is, as literature. If my conception is not translated into reality, at least out of my activity can come a novel. Title: The Promised Land!’

Here’s a flavour of Herzl’s diaries.

11 June 1895
‘Daudet asked me whether I wanted to carry on my Jewish campaign in a novel. He reminded me of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I told him then and there that I desired a more manly form of announcement. At that time I was still thinking of the Enquête [treatise] to be entitled The Situation of the Jews.

Today, the more I think about it the more it seems to me that it would really be beneath my dignity to make my plan palatable to the masses through love affairs and little jests, as Bellamy did in his utopian novel.

It would be easy for me, because I am an experienced writer of belles-lettres. Yet I must take care not to let the book become unreadable. After all, it is to make a deep impression on the people, on the nations.

Let it have a bit of literary fascination, then. It consists in the free-flowing sequence of ideas as they moved through my mind during these sunny days of the world dream in serene profusion, with all their accidents [imperfections], as the sculptors put it (“finger marks in the clay”).

This will also prevent leafing through this book in search of chapter headings. Whoever wants to know what is in it will have to read it.’ 

21 November 1895, London
‘Visit to Israel Zangwill, the writer. He lives in Kilburn, N. W. A drive in the fog through endless streets. Arrived a bit out of sorts. The house is rather shabby. In his book-lined study Zangwill sits before an enormous writing table with his back to the fireplace. Also close to the fire, his brother, reading. Both give one the impression of shivering southerners who have been cast up on the shores of Ultima Thule. Israel Zangwill is of the long-nosed Negroid type, with very woolly deep-black hair, parted in the middle; his clean-shaven face displays the steely haughtiness of an honest ambitious man who has made his way after bitter struggles. The disorder in his room and on his desk leads me to infer that he is an internalized person. I have not read any of his writings, but I think I know him. He must bestow all the care that is lacking in his outward appearance on his style.

Our conversation is laborious. We speak in French, his command of which is inadequate. I don’t even know whether he understands me. Still, we agree on major points. He, too, is in favor of our territorial independence.

However, his point of view is a racial one - which I cannot accept if I so much as look at him and at myself. All I am saying is: We are an historical unit, a nation with anthropological diversities. This also suffices for the Jewish State. No nation has uniformity of race.

We soon get down to practical points. He gives me the names of several suitable men: Colonel Goldsmid, the painter Solomon, Rabbi Singer, Mocatta, Abrahams, Montefiore, Lucien Wolf, Joseph Jacobs, N.S. Joseph, and, of course. Chief Rabbi Adler.

I shall meet these men next Sunday at the banquet of the Maccabeans and arrange a conference for Monday at which I shall present my plan.

Colonel Goldsmid - for me the most important - is stationed at Cardiff with his regiment.

Zangwill is asking him by telegram to come here. Otherwise I shall have to go to Cardiff to see him.’

18 February 1896
‘At noon the university lecturer Feilbogen called on me at the office and said he had to talk to me about the pamphlet - “It is the most significant thing that Zionist literature has produced to date,” etc. - paeans of praise.

In the afternoon he came to my house and opened the conversation by asking whether my pamphlet was meant to be taken seriously or whether it was not a satirical presentation of Zionism.

I was quite taken aback and answered: “I am too old for such Alcibiadic jests.”

Then, for hours on end, he split hairs, harping on this, carping on that.

I was so sickened by it all that I was unable to go on writing the letter to Badeni, and, in fact, didn’t feel like doing anything any more.

In the evening, however, I heard at the office that the Deutsche Zeitung (anti-Semitic) is going to publish an editorial on the subject tomorrow. Presumably abuse. But important in any case, because of the attitude the other papers will take in reply. Now I again feel like writing to Badeni.’

12 May 1896
‘Great things need no solid foundation. An apple must be put on a table so that it will not fall. The earth floats in mid-air.

Similarly, I may be able to found and stabilize the Jewish State without any firm support.

The secret lies in motion. (I believe that somewhere in this area of thought lies the invention of the dirigible airship. Weight overcome by motion; and not the ship but its motion is to be steered.)’

25 June 1896
‘Sent off the Grand Vizier interview to Vienna today, by a passenger on the Orient Express.

In the evening Newlinski came from the Palace where, it appears, people are already very favorably disposed toward me. They are taking to the Jewish idea.

Right now they seem to be in a very bad fix in regard to money. However, the matter would have to be presented in some other form. Sauver les apparences [Save face]!

Izzet (through whom, of course, the Sultan speaks) or the Sultan (through whom Izzet speaks) would be willing enough to yield Palestine if the proper formula could be found for the transaction. Precisely because things are going badly for them they must not sell any land, Newlinski reports; but he observes that my idea is making good progress.

In a few months’ time, the people in Yildiz Kiosk will perhaps be ripe for it. L'idée les travaille visiblement [it is plain to see that the idea agitates them].

Nuri Bey, too, is very sympathetic toward our cause. Today he said that we should endeavor to win over the Czar.

Bad news again today from Anatolia. New massacres at Van.’

26 June 1896
‘Another selamlik. Exactly the same spectacle as a week ago.

Newlinski says he is convinced that the Turks are willing to give us Palestine. He says it is just like when a man has a hunch that a woman is willing to surrender; in such a situation one may not even be able to say as yet what this hunch is based on.

“I say she’s a whore - I don’t know why; I just feel sure,” he said in his broken Polish-German.’

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Out for Chinese chow again

‘Out for Chinese chow again tonight. Tom [Hannah], Joe [Greenwood], and I. Morale in this theater at this point is low. Efficiency is also low and V.D. [venereal disease] rates are going up.’ This is from the diaries of John Hart Caughey, an army colonel who served with General George C. Marshall’s during his posting to China as special envoy after WWII. Caughey, who died 30 years ago today, is said to provide, through hid diaries and letters, ‘a rare behind-the-scenes view of the general’s mediation efforts as well as intimate glimpses of the major Chinese figures involved.’

Caughey was born in 1912 in Bellevue, Pennsylvania. Graduating from West Point in 1935, he was appointed to several posts in the US and in Honolulu. He married Alice Elizabeth “Betty” Bowman, and they had one child. After attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was appointed to the War Department General Staff in Washington in 1942. He was awarded the Legion of Merit. In 1944 he was sent to India but was transferred to the China theatre shortly thereafter to serve on the staff of Lieutenant General A.C. Wedemeyer, commander of U.S. forces in China. Upon General Marshall’s arrival in Chungking, China in 1945, Caughey was selected by Marshall to serve on his staff. He returned to the US in 1947 and continued his military career attaining the rank of Major General. He died on 2 July 1994. A little further information is available at the George C. Marshall Foundation and Find a Grave.

Caughey is mostly remembered today for a diary he kept and the letters he wrote, all collected and published, firstly, in The Marshall Mission to China, 1945-1947: The Letters and Diary of Colonel John Hart Caughey (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), and then in The Letters and Diaries of Colonel John Hart Caughey, 1944–1945: With Wedemeyer in World War II China (Lexington Books, 2018), both edited by Roger B. Jeans. The two books can be previewed at Googlebooks (1944-1945 and 1945-1947).

According to the publisher, The Marshall Mission to China, 1945-1947 ‘breaks new ground in our understanding of a pivotal period in the history of American foreign policy, the early Cold War, and the struggle for dominance in China between the Nationalists and Communists’. 

The publisher’s blurb continues: ‘The famous Marshall Mission to China has been the focus of intense scrutiny ever since General George C. Marshall returned home in January 1947 and full-scale civil war consumed China. Yet until recently, there was little new to add to the story of the failure to avert war between the Chinese Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek, and the Chinese Communists, led by Mao Zedong. Drawing on a newly discovered insider’s account, Roger B. Jeans makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Marshall’s failed mediation effort and the roles played by key Chinese figures. Working from the letters and diary of U.S. Army Colonel John Hart Caughey, Jeans offers a fresh interpretation of the mission. From beginning to end, Caughey served as Marshall’s executive officer, in effect his right-hand man, assisting the general in his contacts with the Chinese and drafting key documents for him. Through his writings, Caughey provides a rare behind-the-scenes view of the general’s mediation efforts as well as intimate glimpses of the major Chinese figures involved, including Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, and Zhou Enlai. In addition to daily contact with Marshall, Caughey often rubbed shoulders with these major Nationalist and Communist figures. As a meticulous eyewitness to history in the making, Caughey offers crucial insight into a key moment in post-World War II history.’

Of the second book to be published - The Letters and Diaries of Colonel John Hart Caughey, 1944–1945 -the publisher says: ‘[Caughey] chronicled the US military’s role in wartime China, especially his life as an American planner (when he was subject to military censorship). Previous accounts of the China Theater have largely neglected the role of the War Department planners stationed in Chungking, many of whom were Caughey’s colleagues and friends. He also penned colorful descriptions of life in wartime China, which vividly remind the reader how far China has come in a mere seventy-odd years.’

Here’s a page of typical near-daily diary entries from The Marshall Mission to China, 1945-1947.

10 December 1945
‘[Mel] Huston left last week. Hated to see him go but his hind end needs looking after.’

11 December 1945
‘US Frs [Forces] China Theater rapidly deactivating. But I seem to be stuck. TPS [Theater Planning Section] of which I am chief seems to be taking on more and bigger jobs as others close down.’

13 December 1945
‘Marshall has publically accepted blame for Pearl Harbor. Such a statement would ruin a lesser man.’

16 December 1945
‘New directive received.’

17 December 1945
‘Presidents new Policy on China announced. New attitude may not be better but it sure is different. Where do we go from here?’

18 December 1945
‘Pres[ident’s] Policy at least got the Gmo [Chiang Kai-shek] and Chou En Lai [Zhou En-lai] (N 2 Commie) together again. Maybe something can be worked out.’

19 December 1945
‘Marshall due in tomorrow. Hdrs. is flying about trying to get everything all set.’

20 December 1945
‘Marshall arrived. He’s become China’s “White Hope.” Individually the two factions [the Nationalists and Communists] don’t think so though because somebody is going to have to give or else U.S. will quit.’

21 December 1945
‘Gave presentation for General Marshall today. Each staff section chief did the briefing. He seemed impressed and extremely interested.’

22 December 1945
‘Out for Chinese chow again tonight. Tom [Hannah], Joe [Greenwood], and I. Morale in this theater at this point is low. Efficiency is also low and V.D. [venereal disease] rates are going up.’

Monday, July 1, 2024

Only Tanya is left

The diary of the teenager Tanya Savicheva has to be one of the most poignant documents left behind by the Second World War, no matter that it is also, probably, the shortest diary of any significance on record. Tanya, who died 80 years ago today, lived through part of the Siege of Leningrad and watched her family members die one by one around her, recording each death on a page of her notebook.

Tanya was born in Gdov, Russia, near the border with Estonia, in January 1930, the youngest child of a baker and seamstress. Her father died when Tanya was six, leaving her mother with five children. The family planned to spend the summer of 1941 in the countryside, but the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June disrupted their plans, so most of them decided to stay in Leningrad.

As a former capital of Russia, and militarily important as a main base for the Soviet Baltic fleet, Leningrad was a prime target for the German army. A siege of the city started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed, and it was not lifted fully until 27 January 1944 - making it one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history.

All of Tanya’s family worked to support the Soviet army, even Tanya, then only 11, dug trenches and put out firebombs. One of Tanya’s sisters, Nina, went to work, and never returned leaving the family thinking she was dead. Tanya was given a small notebook in memory of Nina, and, after a while, she used it sparingly to record the deaths of her family members, including one sister (Jenya) and one brother (Leka).

By March 1942, Tanya was the only one of the family left. She was discovered, barely alive, by special nursing missions who went through the streets of Leningrad. Along with more than 100 other children, in a similar state, she was transported to Shatki, a village in the Gorkovskaya region. There the villagers tried to look after the children; though most survived, Tanya eventually succombed to tuberculosis, and died on 1 July 1944.

Tanya never learned that some of her family survived. Nina, in fact, had been saved and transported away from the front line. She returned, with the siege over, in 1945, to her house, where she found, amidst bare walls and complete ruin, Tanya’s notebook. Tanya’s brother Misha also survived having suffered severe injuries at the war.

See Wikipedia, the Russian Orthodox Church website, or Russiapedia, for more information.

Today, Tanya’s diary is in the Museum of the History of St Petersburg, and a copy is at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery (where around half a million people, who died during the siege, are buried in mass graves). There is some suggestion that the diary might have been presented by Allied prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, though there appears to be no proof of this. It contains just a few pages, with a few words on each page, as follows (translation according to Wikipedia).

‘Jenya died on 28th Dec. at 12.00 PM 1941’

‘Grandma died on 25th Jan., 3 PM 1942’

‘Leka died on 17th March at 5 AM 1942’

‘Uncle Vasya died on 13th Apr. at 2 o’clock after midnight 1942’

‘Uncle Lesha on 10th May at 4 PM 1942’

‘Mom on 13th May at 7.30 AM 1942’

‘Savichevs died.’

‘Everyone died.’

‘Only Tanya is left.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 1 July 2014.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Journal of a trapper

‘On the 28th about 9 o’clock a. m. we were aroused by an alarm of “Indians.” We ran to our horses. All was confusion, each trying to catch his horses. We succeeded in driving them into camp where we caught all but six, which escaped into the prairies. In the meantime the Indians appeared before our camp to the number of 60, of which 15 or 20 were mounted on horseback and the remainder on foot, all being entirely naked, armed with fusees, bows, arrows, etc.’ This is from Journal of a Trapper written by Osborne Russell, born 210 years ago today, which is considered one of the best first-hand narratives about the life of an ordinary trapper during the heyday of the Rocky Mountains fur trade.

Osborne was born on 19 June 1814 into a large farming family in the village of Bowdoinham, Maine. Aged 16, he is said to have run away to sea but to have soon given that up for a job with the Northwest Fur Trapping and Trading Company, which operated in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That led to him joining Nathaniel Wyeth’s Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company, and to being part of an expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Subsequently he joined Jim Bridger’s brigade of Rocky Mountain Fur Company men, continuing with them after a merger that left the American Fur Company in control of the trade. When the fur trade declined, he became a free trapper operating out of Fort Hall (by then part of the Hudson’s Bay Company), staying in the mountains until the great Westward migration began.

In 1843, Russell participated in the so-called Champoeg Meeting (the first attempt at formal governance by European-American and French Canadian pioneers in the Oregon Country) voting in favour of forming a government. He was selected by the First Executive Committee to serve as the Supreme Judge for the Provisional Government of Oregon and served until May of 1844. However, he was unsuccessful in his run for governor of the Provisional Government in 1845, giving his support to George Abernethy. Russell eventually went to California in 1848, after the discovery of gold there. He died in Placerville in 1884. 

There is some limited further information about Russell available on the web (for example at Wikipedia), but mostly this is based on the contents of a journal he kept and which was first published by Boise in 1914, as Journal of a Trapper: or, Nine years in the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843: being a general description of the country, climate, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc., and a view of the life by a hunter in those regions. According to the website Mountain Men and the Fur Trade, it is ‘one of the best first-hand narratives available of the everyday life of an ordinary trapper during the heyday of the Rocky Mountain fur trade.’

The journal can be read freely online at Internet Archive (a more recent volume edited by Aubrey Haines can also be digitally borrowed at the same site) and at the Library of Western Fur Trade Historical Source Documents. The original manuscript is held in the William Robertson Coe Collection of Western Americana in Yale University Library, and images of its pages are also available on the website.

Here are two extracts from the published diary, one from July 1834, and the other from June 1835.

‘On July 11th we left Bear River and crossed low ridges of broken country for about 15 miles in a northeast direction, and fell on to a stream which ran into Snake River, called Blackfoot. Here we met with Captain B. S. Bonneville and a party of 10 or 12 men. He was on his way to the Columbia and was employed killing and drying buffalo meat for the journey. The next day we traveled in a westerly direction over a rough, mountainous country about 25 miles, and the day following, after traveling about 20 miles in the same direction, we emerged from the mountains into the great valley of the Snake River. On the 16th we crossed the valley and reached the river in about 25 miles travel west. Here Mr. Wyeth concluded to stop, build a fort and deposit the remainder of his merchandise, leaving a few men to protect them, and trade with the Snake and Bannock Indians.

On the 18th we commenced the fort, which was a stockade 80 feet square, built of cottonwood trees set on end, sunk two and one-half feet in the ground and standing about 15 feet above, with two bastions eight feet square at the opposite angles. On the 4th of August the fort was completed and on the 5th the “Stars and Stripes” were unfurled to the breeze at sunrise in the center of a savage and uncivilized country, over an American trading post.

The next day Mr. Wyeth departed for the mouth of the Columbia River with all the party excepting twelve men (myself included) who were stationed at the fort. I now began to experience the difficulties attending a mountaineer, we being all raw hands, excepting the man who had charge of the fort, and a mulatto, the two latter having but very little experience in hunting game with the rifle, and although the country abounded with game, still it wanted experience to kill it.

On the 12th of August myself and three others (the mulatto included) started from the fort to hunt buffalo. We proceeded up the stream running into Snake River near the fort called Ross Fork in an easterly direction about 25 miles, crossed a low mountain in the same direction about five miles and fell on to a stream called the Portneuf. Here we found several large bands of buffalo. We went to a small spring and encamped. I now prepared myself for the first time in my life to kill meat for my supper, with a rifle. I had an elegant one, but had little experience in using it. However, I approached the band of buffaloes, crawling on my hands and knees within about 80 yards of them, then raised my body erect, took aim and shot at a bull. At the crack of the gun the buffaloes all ran off excepting the bull which I had wounded. I then reloaded and shot as fast as I could until I had driven 25 bullets at, in and about him, which was all that I had in my bullet pouch, while the bull still stood, apparently riveted to the spot. I watched him anxiously for half an hour in hopes of seeing him fall, but to no purpose. I was obliged to give it up as a bad job and retreat to our encampment without meat; but the mulatto had better luck - he had killed a fat cow whilst shooting 15 bullets at the band. The next day we succeeded in killing another cow and two bulls. We butchered them, took the meat and returned to the fort.’


June 1835
‘On the 28th about 9 o’clock a. m. we were aroused by an alarm of “Indians.” We ran to our horses. All was confusion, each trying to catch his horses. We succeeded in driving them into camp where we caught all but six, which escaped into the prairies. In the meantime the Indians appeared before our camp to the number of 60, of which 15 or 20 were mounted on horseback and the remainder on foot, all being entirely naked, armed with fusees, bows, arrows, etc. They immediately caught the horses which had escaped from us and commenced riding to and fro within gunshot of our camp with all the speed their horses were capable of producing, without shooting a single gun, for about 20 minutes, brandishing their war weapons and yelling at the top of their voices. Some had scalps suspended on small poles which they waved in the air, others had pieces of scarlet cloth with one end fastened round their heads while the other trailed after them. After securing my horses I took my gun, examined the priming, set the breech on the ground and hand on the muzzle, with my arms folded, gazed at the novelty of this scene for some minutes, quite unconscious of danger, until the whistling of balls about my ears gave me to understand that these were something more than mere pictures of imagination and gave me assurance that these living creatures were a little more dangerous than those I had been accustomed to see portrayed on canvas.

The first gun was fired by one of our party, which was taken as the signal for attack on both sides, but the well directed fire from our rifles soon compelled them to retire from the front and take to the brush behind us, where they had the advantage until seven or eight of our men glided into the brush and concealing themselves until their left wing approached within about 30 feet of them before they shot a gun, they then raised and attacked them in the flank. The Indians did not stop to return the fire, but retreated through the brush as fast as possible, dragging their wounded along with them and leaving their dead on the spot. In the meantime myself and the remainder of our party were closely engaged with the center and right. I took advantage of a large tree which stood near the edge of the brush between the Indians and our horses. They approached until the smoke of our guns met. I kept a large German horse pistol loaded by me in case they should make a charge when my gun was empty. When I first stationed myself at the tree I placed a hat on some twigs which grew at the foot of it and would put it in motion by kicking the twigs with my foot in order that they might shoot at the hat and give me a better chance at their heads, but I soon found this sport was no joke for the poor horses behind me were killed and wounded by the balls intended for me. The Indians stood the fight for about two hours, then retreated through the brush with a dismal lamentation. We then began to look about to find what damage they had done us. One of our comrades was found under the side of an old root, wounded by balls in three places in the right and one in the left leg below the knee, no bones having been broken. Another had received a slight wound in the groin. We lost three horses, killed on the spot, and several more were wounded, but not so bad as to be unable to travel. Towards night some of our men followed down the stream about a mile and found the place where they had stopped and laid their wounded comrades on the ground in a circle. The blood was still standing congealed in nine places where they had apparently been dressing the wounds. 

29th - Staid at the same place, fearing no further attempt by the same party of Indians.

30th - Traveled up the main branch about 10 miles. 

July 1st, traveled to the southeast extremity of the valley and encamped for the night. Our wounded comrade suffered very much in riding, although everything was done which lay in our power to ease his sufferings. A pallet was made upon the best gaited horse belonging to the party for him to ride on and one man appointed to lead the animal. 

On the 2d we crossed the Teton mountains in an easterly direction, about 15 miles. The ascent was very steep and rugged, covered with tall pines, but the descent was somewhat smoother.’

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Around the world in diary days

It is half a century ago today that I upped and left my home and family to travel round the world, not to return for nearly three years. That day - 18 June 1974 - also marks a watershed in my diary-keeping habit, in that I started keeping a daily diary, to record my travels; and I have kept up the diary habit (although not every day) since then.

I completed my university degree in mid-1973, and had no idea what to do with my life. I went from temporary job to temporary job, and my parents, eventually, kicked me out of their house, believing I should pay my own way. As chance would have it, I found a flat share in Earl’s Court, and my flatmates were all travellers, Aussies and Kiwis, who had come overland across Asia. It wasn’t many months before I decided to go off and explore the world too. My aim was to hitchhike across Asia, to Bali, then fly to Australia where I would work until I had enough money to get to South America and travel there for a while.

With relatively little preparation - I bought traveller’s cheques, forwarded money to a bank in Singapore, and tried to get some preventative medicines - I set off. I had no visas, there was little in my rucksack apart from clothes, books, a map of Europe, and - most importantly - a photostatted guide put together by travellers for travellers to India and beyond. At the time, there were no Lonely Planet or Rough Guide books, so the photocopies were a near-essential supplement to the information gathered along the way - from others on the so-called Hippy Trail.

Oh yes, and in the rucksack, I also had a 1973 desk diary which I planned to use as a journal. I don’t recall why I used an out-of-date diary, with all the confusion of the days being wrong, but it was probably to save me buying a new one. (There was a half a page for each day, which was often insufficient, so I would write in other parts of the book, going backwards from the June start point, and note down something like ‘see also 23 May’ - thus I filled the book even though it only covers my travelling for about six months.)

I hitchhiked much of the way to Bali, although trains were far easier (and very cheap) in India; aeroplane was the only way across Burma at the time (though, one could stop for a week there on route to Thailand), and from Bali to Darwin. I also took a plane out of Laos, and from Singapore to Bali; plus I took boats across the Persian Gulf and to and from Sumatra. But hitchhiking was the always the aim: generally it was free (and, when drivers charged, it was still cheaper than any other form of transport), and, it brought me into direct contact with all kinds of people, mostly from the country I was in, who would often enhance my experience in some way.

The journey took me through the following countries: Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (and Tibet), Burma, Thailand, Laos, Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia. And these are a few of the experiences I found in this, the first part of my round-the-world adventure: seeing Nureyev perform in Swan Lake (see below); driving a truck across sand-rutted desert; watching a car accident in the middle of the Persian Gulf waters (!); discovering deserted ancient cities; walking hand-in-hand with Arab boys; selling blood; feeling hash-induced paranoia in the middle of tribal Afghanistan; having bedouin hosts eat scraps from my own plate; watching four Pakistanis fully occupied in operating a domestic lawnmower; seeing dead people burn; losing and finding my diary; meeting godless priests in a remote Himalayan monastery; overviewing the largest book in the world; window-gazing in Bangkok; receiving charity from the poor; learning to swim against the current in crocodile-infested rivers; finding the largest flower in the world; being stoned by children; fearing moonlight sacrifices; working in a power station; being nearly wiped out by a cyclone.

Any how, in memory of that thing I did, 40 years ago, upping and leaving, so casually, to travel the world - something which surely has affected my whole life long - here are the first few diary entries I wrote in that first travel diary (NB: the World Cup was taking place in West Germany - England hadn’t qualified, but Scotland had!).

18 June 1974
‘The English Channel
Last day in England. I drive father into work because his car is in the garage waiting for the fridge man. At Endsleigh I buy five months insurance for £16 - the chemist can’t get me any Daraprim. I pack and bathe after salmon salad - watch the football - pick father up. Half way through Scotland-Brazil I leave home - I am crying and so is Mum - I virtually run out. I am in a daze right the way through to Brent, it is as much as I can do to keep my eyes dry on the tube. Total funds: £150 in envelope, £85 in wallet, $240 in traveller cheques, £150 in Singapore.’

19 June 1974
I meet a Kiwi on the coach from the waiting room to the ferry. He’s from Christchurch - we have a couple of lifts together. He’s off to Amsterdam and me to Brussels. Oh dear what a job to remember my French. I am quite weary and despondent. I ask a copper how to get to Rue Charles De Groux and walk the long way round Congress to Rue Belliard. A pharmacie is getting me the Daraprim. My forged letter gets me a current international student card. Mutti, my stepfather’s mother, makes me very welcome. I fall asleep on Mutti’s floor watching the football.’

20 June 1974
Mutti talks and talks and there’s never anything I can directly disagree and debate with her, it’s always ‘yes I suppose so’. She is very healthy - we walk miles and I am more tired than she. At the Musee, there is a large section on ancient Iran and Anatolie and Egypt - some fine examples of original letters and envelopes of the day. Mutti dresses for bridge - I suss out the tram system and go north. I’m most impressed by the Atomium from Expo 60. Father turns up before seven and we go to a typical Belgian restaurant - plain decor, good service and excellent food - Waterzooie - prawn croquets. I walk a little - rub a brass for luck and visit the Manikin Piss.’

21 June 1974
Say goodbye to Mutti and am on the road by 11.30. First lift is from a friendly van driver - we communicate little in French. Lifts take me past Liege and Aachen and Koln - from the autobahn there is a magnificent view of Koln and the cathedral. Two splendid lifts follow - the first to Frankfurt from a young guy who offers to take me into town for a meal after two hours at a conference - I decline. But I am very lucky to change some money - the E-5 goes straight by the airport - phew! - I will eat this weekend. A student in a rented car takes me to and around Wurzburg. It is very lovely - there’s an old chateaux by the castle on the hill overlooking all, and an old palace where an international Mozart festival is being held. I finish off the night with a non-talking falling-asleep lift to just outside Nurnberg.’

22 June 1974
I sleep reasonably well on lumpy ground in some services - and feel really ace after a thorough wash and clean in the services. It takes me over an hour to get a lift to Nurnberg. I tour round all the lovely buildings c/o Nurnburg tourist organisation. I am sitting underneath a cloudless sky on some parapets overlooking the city. Just now more tourists are coming to see the view. Nurnberg is more lovely than Wurzburg. The countryside is splendid, forests rolling like dunes out of sight. A long walk, a long beer and big hassle getting out of town. Regensburg is second rate - but I am hungry, the last thing I ate was a roll yesterday morning. I look and look for a non rip-off place to eat and eventually find a snack bar - schnitzel and chips for DM 3.95 (like a dream come true finding this). I lie in the park and clean my feet in the fountain. I have a bad head all afternoon and evening, from the sun I suppose. One beer lasts the whole of the Scotland-Yugoslavia match - 1-1.’

23 June 1974
A heavy dew in the night. An hour and a half till 8:30 to get a lift - two lifts to Passau. Everywhere in this area there are churches - very beautiful, very old. Here in Passau, does one of them contains the biggest organ in Europe? Many houses too are old, and the castle-type houses on the tops of small hills always make the scene beautiful. I am sitting on a bench looking out across where the Danube and the Inn meet - church bells are peeling and the sun is hot. It is so peaceful here, the water flowing fast to pass Wien and Budapest and Bucharest, a long way to the Adriatic.

I get a lift from the head of the largest spectacles frame-maker in the world, in a Merc - following the Danube with the forest and fields and beautiful views to Linz. Some Austrian hamburgers ‘mit salat’ - tasty. A little sleep and a hefty walk and a long wait for a lift to Wien, but I make it by 6:00. A bier and football - Poland 2 Italy 1 - and a map from tourist information. I walk around, although it’s a bit of hassle, of course, with the pack - some fabulous buildings - the Hofburg home of the Habsburgs in winter - Baroque mostly - statues abound - Austrian elections for President - everyone must vote.

A real hassle finding somewhere to sleep - I’m wandering around this park up by the Sud Bahnhof - strange men keep following - it is half an hour before I realise it’s the local gay playground. I storm off and sleep very well in the gardens of some college.’

24 June 1974
About 7:00, I buy a lemon tea, wash in the toilets, and a sit in Goethe Park. I talk for a while to a pigeon man - he’s a much travelled journalist, but getting old now he works in a library and writes - every morning he brings food for the pigeons and talks to them. He shows me the way to the periodicals room where I read the Guardian (19 June). It’s also a good place to leave my bag. I go to the Esperanto museum but it looks dead and decayed so I don’t bother - the Neue Gallerie where I find Cezanne, Van Gogh (best of which is his self portrait), Degas, Munch. I meet two chatty girls from Brighton - graduates who’ve been to Prague and Budapest.

We meet outside the Vienna State Opera at 4:00 to get tickets for the ballet - crowds of people, and our numbers are shouted out. This entitles us to a place in the queue where we wait until 5:30. I buy a ticket and then have to wait again to have the ticket torn and again, with even more of crush near the top of the stairs, to find a place - but I have to check my rucksack in and so lose the chance of securing a place. I meet a couple from New Zealand who let me join their patch, and for one act I have a seat. This is first ballet I’ve ever seen live, and what a way to start - Carol Cain and Nureyev in Swan Lake. Cain is fabulous. Her movements, with Nureyev controlling her, are faultless - apparently Nureyev rewrote acts 1, 3 and 4 and changed Tchaikovsky’s music. There are tremendous applauses through each act and after - at the end I leave before the encores have finished. I am invited to join the NZ couple for coffee but I don’t have enough Austrian funds. I sleep in the same place.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 18 June 2014.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Saw Red Shouldered Hawk

‘Saw Red Shouldered Hawk at breakfast time. He came to terrace - after the birds. Wes did desk work - balanced check book etc. I straightened up after last night’s dinner - tablecloth etc. Alex & Helen coming for breakfast tomorrow to pick color for livingroom, so we made blueberry muffins.’ This is a typical entry from the diaries of Gertrude (Guggie) Farrington who was born 110 years ago today, and who died just recently, aged 107. For 15 years, in her later years, she kept a diary. This has been partially transcribed (and is available online) and is also the focus of a Smithsonian Learning Lab project. 

Gertrude was born on 14 June 1914. She graduated from the College of New Rochelle in 1935. In 1944, she was appointed stenographer in Texaco’s personnel department. In 1963, she became the first female officer of Texaco when she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the company. She retired from the firm in 1973. Gertrude and her husband, Wesley, shared a lifelong passion for gardening - indeed Gertude was a key member of the Ridgefield Garden Club. She died in 2021 at the venerable age of 107 - see The Ridgefield Press for a short obituary

There is very little further information about Gertrude available online, but between 1978 and 1992, she kept three diaries logging her activities in the local garden club, the community park, and home life in general. These diaries span five years each and track national events, weather reports, and the prices of food, gas, and gardening supplies. They have been used by The Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens for a Learning Lab titled, Explore One Woman’s Experience in Civic Life, 1978-1992. Images of many of the original diary pages, along with transcriptions of the entries, can be found online at The Smithsonian.

Here are the volunteer transcriptions from two facing pages in the first of the five-year diaries (though they have not always been thoroughly copy-edited!) 

19 February 1978
‘Sunday - 15º at 6:45 Sun and cold.

To 9:30 Mass. Saw Red Shouldered Hawk at breakfast time. He came to terrace - after the birds. Wes did desk work - balanced check book etc. I straightened up after last night's dinner - tablecloth etc.

Alex & Helen coming for breakfast tomorrow to pick color for livingroom, so we made blueberry muffins.’

20 February 1978
‘Monday - Minus 12 at 6 AM - Fair - beautiful day - George Washington Celebration. To 7:30 Mass. Dry run to find Mrs Leers’ home on Peaceable Ridge Road (very hilly) to Kathleen Eason to leave Speede Puck Tower & other articles for Hartford Statehouse Gardens Restoration in April. Wes bought golf gloves - none available for me. Home for lunch - Anne Tracey here at 2 o’clock to go over plans for May Garden Club Meeting. Eileen phoned in evening Eddie Conroy died Sunday.

Alex picked Chalk Beige for livingroom. To Dan Machlin’s at five for drinks

19 February 1979
‘Monday - Washington Birthday Celebration

12º at 6 AM - Snowing. Snow stopped about noon and sun came out at 4 pm. Sun 6:45 - 5:35.

Plowed driveway and cut path to bird feeder. After snow stopped plowed again and cleared terrace

Did some hobbying. Made bran muffins and cooked two of our winter squash. Temperature went to 24º in afternoon - 0º at bedtime’

20 February 1979
‘Tuesday - 5º below at 6:30. clear - beautiful day - high 38º. Mr. Vareau reinstalled the swinging door between kitchen and diningroom. Had long talk with his nephew of Railroad Engineer Vareau - worked with Gage - knows Christopher etc. After lunch to Bethel, thistle seed at Agway, groceries at Bethel Market and Miss Emily’s - Booklet for birthday present for Gizela - “Diary of an Edwardian Lady” - Wes split wood. I prepared dinner. Day goes fast.

19 February 1980
‘Tuesday - at Treasure Cay - beautiful morning - walked beach - walked to Atlantis to look at boats - new condominiums Royal Palms - Brills asked us in their Mariner love #1107 for coffee. Watched Caribshelt Towne come in. Bought 3 pieces of meat from them - They go home Thursday. Lunch - nap - went shelling - we picked up beautiful piece of coral - no sand dollars - saw rainbow. Saw Northern Oriole off terrace.’

20 February 1980
‘Ash Wednesday - at Treasure Cay. Beautiful day - walked beach in morning - high tide - sat in sun - I was covered - finished books “Rivers” and “Evergreen” To Post Office - first mail arrived - Eileen - Mary & Jule - all have problems. To hotel at 5 o’clock to wait for bus to church for Ash Wednesday Mass - never came at 5:20 we gave up.’

19 February 198
‘Thursday - 33º at 6 AM - Very foggy - clear morning - clouded up at noon and light done at 5 pm: To Mass. Hobby hour. To Bogus property - killed more gypsy moth and cut some branches - We brought back wood. Lunch and more hobbies. I threw out some material scraps.’

20 February 1981
‘Friday - 50º at 6:30 and raining - it had rained gently all night - Wes heard a Redwing. Rained heavily during day. NYC reported over 2 inches - water over road at 5 o’clock - up to Crimson King on lawn. Hobbies Kes tried to fix pressure tab and it broke. I made Bermuda bag from [[?]] and learned paper pattern was not balanced on both sides after sewing it. Not the best of days but good to be alive!’

19 February 1982
‘Friday - 27º at 6:30 - Sun 6:45 - 5:35 Light snow / rain in morning - shopped in afternoon - started again at night.

We cleaned other half of den floor and applied Lestoil. Eileen came up at 4 o’clock and spent evening with us. Saw possum under bird-feeder at night. ran when Boo barked.’

20 February 1982
‘Saturday - 32º at 6:30. Eileen stayed overnight with us. Left at 8 o’clock with Boo - about one inch snow - sun came out and temperature in 40ºc about 10 o’clock - beautiful day - plants in Solar - we had lunch there.

Did house chores. To Chariots of Fire at Davisbury Cinema at 2:45 - good movie - bought milk at Marcus - home to dress - to Castle with Varga at 6 o’clock for dinner.’ 

Saturday, June 8, 2024

The quest for Sandy Irvine

‘It has been very trying for everyone with a freezing air temperature and a temperature of 120 in the sun, and terribly strong reflection off the snow. My face is perfect agony. Have prepared two oxygen apparatus for our start tomorrow morning.’ This is part of the very last diary entry written by the young mountain climber Andrew (Sandy) Irvine before he was lost, along with his expedition leader George Mallory, near the summit of Everest. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the very day he and Mallory might, in fact, have reached the summit of Everest nearly a quarter of a century before Hilary and Norgay - though this possibility remains a matter of much discussion, as well as of conspiracy theories.

Irvine was born on 8 April 1902 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, one of six children to a historian and his wife. Educated at Birkenhead and Shrewsbury Schools, he demonstrated a natural engineering acumen, and excelled at sports particularly rowing. On entering Merton College, Oxford, he joined the Oxford University Mountaineering Club, and was also a member of the winning Oxford crew in the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. That same year, he took part in the Merton College Arctic Expedition to Spitsbergen led by Noel Odell. On Odell’s recommendation, Irvine, still an undergraduate, was invited to join the third British Mount Everest expedition.

Irvine and three other members of the expedition, including George Mallory, set sail for the Himalayas from Liverpool on board SS California on 29 February 1924. According to Wikipedia, Irvine ‘made major and crucial innovations to the expedition’s professionally designed oxygen sets, radically improving their functionality, lightness, and strength; he also maintained the expedition’s cameras, camp beds, primus stoves, and many other devices; and he was universally popular, and respected by his older colleagues for his ingenuity, companionability, and unstinting hard work.’

The expedition made two unsuccessful attempts on the summit in early June, and time remained for one more. This last chance fell to the expedition’s most experienced climber, George Mallory, and he chose the inexperienced Irvine (over Odell) to accompany him. They began their ascent on 6 June, and by the end of the next day, they had established a final two-man camp at 8,168m. The pair were last seen alive a few hundred metres from the summit, and it is unknown whether one or both of them reached the summit before they died. An ice axe was found in 1933, and Mallory’s body was found in 1999, but Irvine’s body has never been found. The date of Irvine’s death is given as either 8 or 9 June 1924. Further information is available from Wikipedia

Since then, the mystery about whether the climbers reached the summit before perishing has inspired hypotheses and conspiracy theories. This is partly because if they had reached the summit they would have done so nearly a quarter of a century earlier than the duo credited with being the very first to climb Everest, i.e. Hilary and Norgay (see On Top of Mount Everest), and more than 40 years earlier than the Chinese climbers who first conquered Everest via the same North Face route taken by Mallory and Irvine - see Explorersweb and Daily Mail. See also Mallory, Irvine and Everest: The Last Step But One by Robert H. Edwards, recently published by Pen & Sword History. (A note by Edwards on his research for the book can be read at Goodreads.)

A first edition of Irvine’s diary was compiled in 1979 by the English climber Herbert Carr and published as The Irvine Diaries: Andrew Irvine and the Enigma of Everest 1924 by Gastons-West Col Publications. Carr based the book on Irvine’s expedition journal, as the sub-title makes clear, but he also quotes from more youthful diary material. Some extracts - including the very last one - are available to read online at The Andrew “Sandy” Irvine Blog. Moreover, Julie Summers often quotes from, and refers to, Irvine’s journal in Fearless on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine (which is available to borrow digitally at Internet Archive). Here are Irvine's last diary entries.

31 May 1924
‘Started for the North Col about 9.00 a.m. Snow on glacier was balling badly, even with crampons. We storied our way slowly up the Col. I had a very heavy load and so was thankful to go slowly. One coolie lost an Unnamed stove and meter, which made us a bit short. Much time had been spent fixing the rope ladder in the chimney.’

1 June 1924
‘Up at 4.30 a.m. to cook breakfast for the climbers. Very cold and disagreeable job. Thank God my profession is not to be a cook!’

2 June 1924
‘Up at 5.00 a.m. to cook breakfast for Norton and Somervell, and got them off shortly after 6.00 a.m. with two porters. About 9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Georgia Passang returned very done in, and as far as I could gather from him, the rest were pushing on, but by 11.00 a.m. I could see quite plainly the first party returning. I set two primuses going for their tiffin and took up a rope and met them at the Col. The porters had been unable to stand the wind and even Camp V was short of what they wanted in altitude. George was very tired after a very windy night, and Geoff had strained his heart. Hazard and Odell escorted porters up from Camp III and George decided that I should go down in Hazard’s place and prepare apparatus for and oxygen attempt. He, Geoff and I got to Camp III with all spare porters at about 4.30 p.m. My face was badly cut by the sun and wind on the Col, and my lips are cracked to bit, which makes eating very unpleasant.’

3 June 1924
‘A most unpleasant night when everything on earth seemed to rub against my face, and each time it was touched bits of burnt and dry skin came off, which made me nearly scream with pain. Spent the afternoon preparing oxygen apparatus ready for an oxygen attempt with one Camp only above the North Col.’

4 June 1924
‘Mallory and I prepared for our oxygen attempt, but shortly after breakfast a porter came down to say that Norton and Somervell had established Camp VI at 27,000 feet, and stayed the night there. Great was the excitement in the camp. Noel had his telephoto camera out and everyone watched unceasingly all day, but not a sign. After an early tiffin George and I put the worst aspect on things, and we decided to go up to the North Col and be ready to fetch ice men down, or make an oxygen attempt ourselves a day later. We took exactly three hours going up, which included about a quarter of an hour at the dump selecting and testing oxygen cylinders. I breathed oxygen all the last half of the way and found that it slowed my breathing down at least three times. George and I arrived at the Camp feeling very surprisingly fresh. Odell, who had been deserted by Hazard in the morning, had failed to pick anything up with the glasses. George believes he has seen their downward tracks some 700ft. below the summit. I hope they’ve got to the top, but by God, I’d like a whack at it myself. Have brought Noel’s pocket cinema up, but not used it yet. Norton and Somervell spotted at about 8 p.m. on the snow. Odell and George went to escort them down while I prepared a hot meal and plenty of drink. They were both very exhausted indeed. They had reached 28,000 feet. They all got back to Camp IV at 9.30.’

5 June 1924
‘My sore face gave a lot of trouble last night. Somervell still very exhausted, but started for Camp III before tiffin. Norton is badly snow blind and can’t be moved down just yet. We covered his tent with sleeping bags to keep it dark - he’s had a pretty miserable day of it - it has been very trying for everyone with a freezing air temperature and a temperature of 120 in the sun, and terribly strong reflection off the snow. My face is perfect agony. Have prepared two oxygen apparatus for our start tomorrow morning.’

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Up the Republic!

‘Ireland is a hot desert of sand into which blood is poured. Seven centuries of pouring. It still thirsts for more - & the more disappears. When will it have drunk its fill of blood? When will the bloody manuring bear fruit?’ This is from a diary kept secretly by the Irish poet Joseph Campbell throughout his 18 months internment in 1922-1923 at the hands of the newly formed Irish Free State. Campbell, who was Belfast-born but became a staunch republican and was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, died 80 years ago this month.

Campbell was born in Belfast, in 1879, into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He was educated at St Malachy’s College, Belfast. Working for his father, a builder, led him to having some kind of nervous collapse, followed by a slow recovery. He taught for a while, and, partly through a cousin who was a poet, became interested in the Irish language and folk music. He travelled to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. By 1904, he had written the ballad My Lagan Love, the most successful of his early poems, and helped set up the Ulster Literary Theatre. He moved to London in 1906, where he continued to teach and was involved in Irish literary activities.

In 1910, Campbell married Nancy Maude, and they returned to Ireland, to live in Dublin, then Wicklow. They had five children. His play Judgement was performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1912. He began to act as publicist and recruiter for the Irish Volunteers; and he was engaged in rescue-work during the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1921, he became a Sinn Féin Councillor, and was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The following year he was interned, by the newly established Irish Free State, for 18 months.

After his release, Campbell was much disillusioned, and his marriage had broken down, so he decided to move to the US, where he settled in New York. There, he founded a School of Irish Studies, and he re-established The Irish Review: he is generally credited with pioneering Irish studies in the US. He returned to Ireland and Wicklow in 1939; and he died in June 1944. Further information is available from the Dictionary of Ulster Biography,, or Wikipedia.

According to Irish Archives Resource, Campbell left behind several diaries. However, the only one to have been made public, as far as I know, is the one he wrote on scraps of paper secretly during his internment. This was edited by Eiléan Ní Chuileanain and published by Cork University Press in 2001 as As I was Among the Captives: Joseph Campbell’s Prison Diary 1922-1923.

Cork University Press says Campbell’s voluminous diaries provide much more than a chronicle of events and experiences: ‘Being the work of a skilled writer and acute observer, they offer revealing cameos of his republican colleagues, vivid notes of personal conversations, and imaginative reflections on the psychological effects of incarceration. Sympathetically edited by another distinguished poet and scholar, this selection from his diaries will fascinate all students of the Irish Civil War.’

6 June 1922
‘I am a prisoner in the Royal Hotel, Main St., Bray. Arrested by Free State Army on information of an ex-soldier in street. Rotten accommodation and no food so far. The O. C. is a grocer’s assistant in Clery’s shop in Main St. Treats me like a dog. No charge formulated yet. I am one of six other prisoners - one of them Frank Crowley of Shankhill. Up the Republic!’

7 December 1922
‘The architects of the ‘Free’ State - Collins & Griffith - by a miraculous interposition of providence have gone. So surely as I write this will the Free State go itself. Dishonour is a bad foundation to build on.

If I ever felt unconvinced the Mountjoy was Hell, I am convinced today. Such a pandemonium of metallic sound in the Circle! Old pipes, bars, scrap of all kinds from one of the Wings is being removed. Oh! God keep me sane in mind through it all - the Powers of Darkness gird me round about.

As I was washing mugs at A2 Lavatory before going to bed (10 p.m.) was told that Sean Hales & Padraic O Maille had been fired at as they were getting on a hack car outside Exchange Hotel. First killed, second wounded.

“How do you mean?” “H-how? Not so much of my dear F-frank. H-h-hump off out of my cell!” Blue-black shiny hair. Pugnacious face. Queer dry ironic humour. Chess. Cards. Savonarola.’

8 December 1922
‘As I came in darkness had fallen. Guards jangling their keys in the gloom. No lights (or few - 3 or 4 - in compound.) Prisoners moving about like figures in a Cyclops’ forge (Vulcan’s stithy) - with flaring pieces of paper to light the gas in their cells. (Or like workers in a bottle factory.) The sight gave me a curious aesthetic ‘lift’ - suggested Wagner’s music, somehow. Confused babel of voices - prisoners at doors waiting for tea - tin mugs being rattled together. Clarke’s voice bawling (as if being strangled!) in A1. Oh, God save Ireland from further horrors! We have supped full enough.’

9 December 1922
‘Ireland is a hot desert of sand into which blood is poured. Seven centuries of pouring. It still thirsts for more - & the more disappears. When will it have drunk its fill of blood? When will the bloody manuring bear fruit?’

19 October 1923
‘Night of high wind - but slept well. Did not eat breakfast of Hovis bread and cheese I had set on plate under my bed over night. Meant to breakfast at 5 a.m. - HUNGER-STRIKE begins at 6 a.m. for unconditional release. P. A.’s knocking and running stones along corrugations (they know, as notice of strike was sent to Governor by our O/C before lock-up the previous evening).’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 2 June 2014.