Friday, December 31, 2021

Robert Boyle’s workdiaries

Robert Boyle, the great English scientist, died 330 years ago today. Famed for his role as the father of chemistry and modern experimental methods, he is also known for discovering Boyle’s Law, various inventions, and for leaving behind a large number of writings, not least his workdiaries. These latter have been made freely available online thanks to the Robert Boyle Project at Birkbeck College, London.

Boyle was born in 1627, son of Richard Boyle, an Elizabethan adventurer-colonist who made his fortune in Ireland and became ennobled as the 1st Earl of Cork. (Richard Boyle, in fact, was a noted diarist - see The Diary Junction and The Great Earl of Cork.) He studied for a short while at Eton before travelling on the Continent with a French tutor. After returning to England in 1644, he went to live at a manor in Stalbridge, Dorset, inherited from his father. He also tried moving to Ireland, where he owned other estates, but by the 1650s was living mostly in Oxford where he associated with a group of natural philosophers.

Boyle’s travels abroad had given him a taste for scientific research, and, although his first writings had largely been concerned with moral and literary aspects of life, once in Oxford he began to focus more on science. A first achievement - improvements to the air-pump invented in Germany - came with the help of Robert Hooke; and in 1660 Boyle published New Experiments: Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects: Made, for the most part, in a New Pneumatical Engine.

In the early 1660s, Boyle described in print what has since become known as Boyle’s Law, i.e. that there is an inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Around the same time he also became a founding member of the Royal Society, as incorporated by Charles II (though later when elected President he declined the honour). In 1668 he moved to London, where he lived at the house of his sister, and where he continued to experiment and write until his death on 31 December 1691. Among his more significant publications during this period were: Experiments, Notes, &, about the Mechanical Origin or Production of Divers Particular Qualities; sequels to his New Experiments; Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood; and Medicina Hydrostatica.

See the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy or Wikipedia for further biographical information. However, there is also a large amount of information about Boyle on the Robert Boyle Project website hosted by Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. In 2001, the Project published an online edition of Boyle’s so-called workdiaries, written between 1647 and 1691. More recently, the workdiaries have been given their own website hosted by Cell (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters).

The Project website says: ‘These modest-looking bundles of papers and stitched books, some stained with chemicals and covered with notes and comments, reveal the methods and procedures of Boyle’s scientific enquiries.’ They also include ‘records of recipes, measurements, apparatus and data collection, as well as notes from Boyle’s reading and conversations with travellers and artisans.’ Here’s two tasters of the workdiaries taken from the start of workdiary 16

1 January 1657
‘Take Linseed Oyle {pound}1 frankinsence {pound}; comon Amber {ounce} 2 Gummi Lacca {ounce} 1; Aloes {ounce} 2 Beat the Amber by it selfe & melt it by it selfe Beat the Gumme into fine powder Boyle all these with a gentle fire 2 houres (keeping the Liquor constantly stirring with a Stick least it Burne) till the Materialls be perfectly dissolv’d in the Oyle And then have you made your vernish to guild Leather with’.

2 January 1657
‘Take Aquila Cælestis & dissolve it in as much water as will barely suffice for the solution of it, In this Liquor dissolve as much Sal Infernalis as you can in a gentle heat Then let it stand in the open aire, (stirring it often) till the humidity be evaporated & the bodies united this masse you may if need be once more moisten/original pagination, with the Solution of the Infernall Salt & to make it dry the sooner you may Incorporate it with sifted bone=ashes & when it is perfectly dry draw it over with a strong fire & if need be severall Cohobations, In like maner you may imbibe the fixt Salt of the Homogeneous Menstruum with as much of the dissolvd volatile Salt or Sp: of the same as the fixt salt will retaine & Conjunction being made in the open aire the united Salts may be drawne over with Due Cohobation as formerly’.

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 31 December 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

That’s all I am to him

‘Any mistake I make, I’m out and he starts again. Really, I thought love was forever and that I, Jane, was more important as a person with all my faults than anyone else in the world, but I’m not. At least that illusion is gone. “Do you love me?” He says, “Of course, otherwise I would have chucked you out.” After six years and all we’ve been through, that’s all I am to him.’ This is from the youthful diaries, recently published, of the singer and actress Jane Birkin. At this point - about half way through her decade-long relationship with the French actor and musician Serge Gainsbourg - Birkin had two daughters, a three year old with Gainsbourg, and a seven year old with her ex-husband. Birkin is 75 years old today.

Birkin was born on 14 December 1946 in London to an actress and a spy, and raised in Chelsea. She was educated at Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight. She married the composer John Barry in 1965. The couple had a daughter, Kate, born two years later, but divorced soon after. In the late Sixties, she won acting roles in films with erotic content, such as Blowup and La Piscine, and then in the French film Slogan, alongside Gainsbourg, with whom she started an affair (despite him being nearly 20 years her senior). In 1969, the two of them released the single Je t’aime... moi non plus (originally written for Gainsbourg’s love at the time, Brigitte Bardot). The song became infamous for its sexual content and was banned by radio stations in several European countries.

After the birth of a second daughter (with Gainsbourg) Birkin took a break from acting in 1971-1972, but returned as Bardot’s lover in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman, and then appeared in Gainsbourg’s first film, Je t’aime moi non plus, which was banned in the UK (but earned her a Best Actress César Award). She separated from Gainsbourg in 1980 but by then she was much in demand as an actress. In 1985, she co-starred with John Gielgud in Leave All Fair; and in 1991 she appeared in in Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse earning her another Cesar award. By this time she was also regularly recording albums. In 1982, she had given birth to her third daughter from her relationship with director Jacques Doillon, though they too were to separate, in the 1990s. She also was to have a relationship with the French writer Olivier Rolin.

Birkin continued film acting and singing into the 2000s though at a lesser pace; and she announced in 2017 that she had no plans to return to acting. Her oldest daughter, Kate, who had suffered from drug addictions over many years, tragically died in 2013. In 2021, her second daughter released a film about her own relationship with her mother, which premiered at Cannes: Jane by Charlotte. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, Interview Magazine, The Washington Post, and several media articles about recovering from a recent stroke (The Guardian and the BBC).

Birkin began keep a diary from the age of 11 and continued sporadically throughout her life - until Kate’s death. In 2018, Fayard published extracts from them in France; and in 2020 Weidenfeld & Nicolson brought out an English edition entitled The Munkey Diaries 1957-1982. Although the French and other editions have been published in two volumes, the second volume covering the years 1982-2013 has not yet appeared in English. According to the publisher: ‘Munkey Diaries re-creates the flamboyant era of Swinging London and Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the 1970s, and lets us into the everyday life of an exceptional woman. There are intimate revelations about Jane’s tumultuous life with her first husband, the composer John Barry, and her romantic and professional collaboration with Gainsbourg, as well as keen insights into a working life as an actor, singer and songwriter.’

In her preface, Birkin explains the term ‘Munkey’. 

‘I wrote my diary from the age of eleven, addressed to Munkey, my confidant, a soft toy monkey dressed as a jockey that my uncle had won in a tombola and given to me. He slept by my side, sharing the sadness of boarding school, hospital beds and my life with John, Serge and Jacques. He witnessed all the joys and all the unhappiness. He had a magic power; we took no planes, stayed in no hospitals without him being by our side.

Father said, “Maybe when we get to heaven it’ll be your monkey that welcomes us with open arms!”

Kate, Charlotte and Lou had his sacred clothes, without which travel was unthinkable. Serge kept Munkey’s jeans in his attaché case until the day he died. Faced with my children’s grief, I put Munkey beside Serge in his coffin, where he lay like a pharaoh. My monkey was there to protect him in the afterlife.

On reading my diaries it seems to me that one doesn’t change. What I was at twelve, I am still today. The lack of confidence, the jealousy, wanting to please . . . I understand better why my loves couldn’t last. The reader will be surprised, as I was, to see how little I talk about my professional life. I hardly mention the films, the plays - not even the songs. When people die, I talk about it months later - the happy times I was too busy living.’

A review of the book in the Evening Standard notes that the ‘relentless introspection comes at the expense of a more detailed survey of Birkin’s early career’; and The Guardian says ‘reading these diaries is like being trapped at a particularly demented piece of performance art, where the actors are clearly having much more fun than the audience.’ The Spectator says the ‘book is lachrymose to the point of sogginess’; but the Daily Mail calls it ‘enchanting’. Some pages can be read online at Amazon or Googlebooks. Many of the published extracts are identified only by the year they were written and a day of the week, but some are fully dated, such as this one.

13 November 1974
‘Dear Munkey,

The silence is so awful I have to write to someone. If I had done something, at least I would have a thing to be ashamed of, but I have nothing because I love someone; I love Serge more than any living thing, I would not lose him or his love for me for anything but sometimes I feel that he could write me off as a ‘bad lot’ and think no more of me. I don’t think he cares about me, except that I am his, but if I was even TEMPTED to be all that is bad, he would never have to think of me again and he would lie to the next girl. He would say, “La petite Birkin is my fabrication; I can make any number of them and better and younger but they’re nothing without me.”

He said last night that I drank only because he let me drink, that I lived only because he let me live. I’m his “poupée” (“doll”) with my “qualités’ as a poupée but completely re-makable with better material than me. All this is maybe just self-protective for my feelings, but I’m sure if I put one foot astray, he would be incapable of taking me back for me. I would have made my “erreur” and that would be an end to it.

My erreur tonight was being one hour late for dinner because I was honest and told him I was having a drink with C and we’d join him at the restaurant. It was 8 o’clock and I turned up at 9.30. He said he would be there at 9, so I was chronometrically half an hour or so late.

The reason was C. I wanted to talk to him. I’m twenty-seven, nearly twenty-eight. I’m afraid I have put him in a mess in spite of myself. I don’t know what he expects of me. I told him I love Serge, that no one can take away that love, it’s important. I care tor C, I like him, I wanted him to be my friend. It’s unimportant except I have a right to have a friend. He’s never tried to make love to me. He’s interested in me as a person. Why I do certain things, why I am embarrassed about certain things, what makes me not a cardboard poster, because that’s what most people associate me with. I wanted Serge to like him, I wanted him to like Serge the way I do - I’ve gone on and on about him. If only I’d kept my big mouth shut. Its almost like Bobby telling cousin Freda about his love life and expecting her to say “Poor Bobby”. I know that. I can’t say that he’s like a girlfriend. But people are doing far worse things, sneaking and not getting caught. Everyone has been unfaithful but I haven’t. So why should I suffer for what I haven’t done? I don’t want to have a sneaky “amant” (“lover”) like the bourgeois people do. I didn’t knock it off with Trintignant. Why? Serge. I didn’t want to spoil my thing with Serge.

Serge is sleeping peacefully and maybe he’s had affairs but is far too clever to tell me about then. And the strange thing is that I now know I wouldn’t mind as much as I thought. I would still love him, maybe hurt, certainly furious, but not to breaking-up point. I love him too much for that. I can’t imagine having a holiday, having a memory, having my life end with anyone but Sergio. So what does the rest matter? I wouldn’t like to look like a fool over the other girl, but if she was a pute or a thing of the moment, would I really die? I don’t think so. I feel happy. I love Serge, I’ve come into my own, I’m standing on my own feet. I had a drink; maybe I wanted a drink. I wanted to talk; I talked. In ten years I’m finished, no one will love me any more, I’ll be old and “moche” (“ugly”). My problems won’t interest anyone, I will no longer be à la mode. I won’t be twenty-seven, I will be thirty-seven and it’s over. I don’t want to get old. I won’t get old. Well, Serge will be looking at girls of seventeen and if I get jealous he will go “Allez-y ma vieille” (“Go ahead, old girl”) and it will be too late, even to have a drink, even to have a friend, and I will realise that life has gone and I’d be bitter of all the things I could’ve done if only I’d known.

But Serge has been twenty-seven, he’s had fun with what he wanted, with who he wanted, in Paris. I’m not asking that, a weekend to screw all Paris. I don’t like screwing. I just want to be wanted and not feel ashamed and old and responsible. And if after six years being with someone you turn up late - and each to his own, and considering everything I have done - and with a child in tow . . . well, I thought Serge loved me more than that, but sometimes he makes me think because of what he says or doesn’t say that six years is nothing, I’m only an episode in his numerous adventures. He’s allowed to be proud of it, to shout about it, and I’m nothing more than Dalida, or Gréco, or Bardot and I’m certainly much less than his precious wife, because he married her.

Any mistake I make, I’m out and he starts again. Really, I thought love was forever and that I, Jane, was more important as a person with all my faults than anyone else in the world, but I’m not. At least that illusion is gone. “Do you love me?” He says, “Of course, otherwise I would have chucked you out.” After six years and all we’ve been through, that’s all I am to him.’

Monday, December 13, 2021

I just shot a bear

‘ “Good evening, Mr. Baldwin, did you hear shooting just now?”
“No. Why?”
“I just shot a bear down the channel.”
“Well, we’ll go back to camp, hitch up a team, and bring him in.” ’ This is an extract from the diary of Russell Williams Porter - architect, artist, Arctic explorer and telescope maker - born 150 years ago today. Although the diaries of his expeditions to the Arctic remain unpublished, Porter himself quotes from them in a memoir which was published, albeit posthumously.   

Porter was born on 13 December 1871 in Springfield, Vermont. His father was an inventor, toy manufacturer and a successful producer of baby carriages. Russell was schooled at Vermont Academy in 1891 and went on to take engineering at Norwich University and the University of Vermont, later studying architecture and art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He became interested in the Arctic when he attended lectures on Greenland by Robert Peary. In 1893, he signed up to sail on the ship Miranda as surveyor and artist for Frederick Cook’s voyage to Greenland that next year. The voyage ended with the ship colliding with an iceberg and the crew being rescued by Inuit. He continued to travel to the Arctic with Peary, and Greenland again in 1896, to Baffin Island in 1897, with the Yukon gold rush in 1898, to Labrador in 1899, and northern Greenland in 1900.

In 1901 and 1903, Porter was given charge of astronomical observations on the Ziegler Polar Expeditions financed by the industrialist William Ziegler. However, during the second expedition, the vessel, the Steam Yacht America, was crushed by ice and sank, and it was two years before the crew were rescued. In 1906, Porter joined a surveying expedition to Alaska’s Denali. After his Arctic adventures, Porter settled down in Port Clyde, Maine, where he tried farming and other ways to make a living. He married Alice Marshall, the postmistress, and they had one daughter. He took up astronomy and telescope making. In 1915, he returned to MIT as a professor of architecture, and during the war he worked for the National Bureau of Standards producing prisms and experimenting with the silvering of mirrors.

Porter moved back to Springfield, Vermont, in 1919 to work at the Jones & Lamson Machine Company, of which James Hartness was president. He helped Hartness to produce an optical comparator, an instrument for accurately checking the pitch, form, and lead of screw threads. He designed the Porter Garden Telescope, an innovative ornamental telescope. With Hartness, he also started a class in making telescopes, and this led to the forming of a small astronomical club. Porter contributed to regular articles in the Scientific American magazine, and to three volumes of the book Amateur Telescope Making. From 1928, he worked at the California Institute for technology on the development of the Hale Telescope, the largest in the world at the time, later to be housed at Palomar Observatory. During World War II, the Hale project was stalled, and Porter produced mechanical drawings for government defence projects. He died in 1949. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Online Archive of California, and Prologue Magazine at the National Archives.

Porter’s papers were donated to the US National Archives and Records Service in 1974 by his daughter, Caroline Porter Kier. In addition to many artworks, the papers contain diaries, correspondence, notebooks, photographs, and memorabilia. There is also a manuscript and typescript, with nearly 100 drawings, of his memoir. This memoir was eventually edited by Herman Friis and published by University Press of Virginia in 1976 as The Arctic Diary of Russell Williams Porter. Porter began writing the memoir soon after settling in California, many years after his Arctic expeditions - indeed the book’ title is a misnomer. The published memoir includes many of the drawings and paintings he completed while on the expeditions, and, occasionally, verbatim extracts from diaries he kept. These extracts are mostly insubstantial and undated, and sometimes the difference between memoir text and diary quote is unclear. A digital copy can be freely borrowed online at Internet Archive. Here are a couple of extracts from the memoir in which Porter does refer to his diaries.

‘I have told this bear story hundreds of times, and everybody knows how a bear story takes on added thrills at each telling, but I can only offer my diary written and the testimony of Mr. Baldwin, who visited the spot soon after. I met him walking out from camp.

"Good evening, Mr. Baldwin, did you hear shooting just now?”
“No. Why?”
“I just shot a bear down the channel.”
“Well, we’ll go back to camp, hitch up a team, and bring him in.”
Which we did.

“You needn't take my word for it, Mr. Baldwin,” after describing the adventure and as we approached the scene of the fracas. “There is the whole story right there on the snow - footprints, blood, bear - everything.”

On the way to camp I asked to have the skin of that bear and was refused. All I have to remember of the affair is the bear’s jaws, which I chopped off the head after the dogs had eaten the meat and torn the skin to pieces.

There seems to be some question as to whether a polar bear will voluntarily attack a white man. The governor of Umanak, Greenland, once told me of an Eskimo hunting at a seal hole through the ice. The bear came up from behind and got his claws into the fellow’s back. Somehow the Eskimo got hold of his gun, pointed it over his shoulder and shot the bear. The fellow’s back was covered with scars.

However. I am just as well pleased not to have had to prove or disprove the theory. You may be sure that thereafter I saw to it that my rifle was always in working order.’

‘The hundred days in that near-starvation camp (we were on less than half rations) would have proved a godsend to a writer who could portray with true dramatic sense the influence of the long night over the characters fate had thrown so closely together. Take the matter of food - and it was vile stuff, walrus meat that an Eskimo will eat only if he is starving. Now cut this food in half.

I quote here at length from my diary: “But you at home would be surprised if you tried it to see what a craving the flesh would feel should you stop eating before you had had what you wanted.” The favorite topic, of course, was what we would eat if we returned to the States. The dream of the sailors, almost to a man, was a full meal of ham and eggs. The field department was more particular.

The most interesting character was, by far, the skipper, a weatherworn whaler from Edgartown (Mass.), wise about oil, grease, blubber, bone, and ships. He did a good deal of his thinking aloud. I never got a word of it, and probably few of the sailors did. They were sort of stage asides.

The diary has him remark: “Guns? Rifles? Mr. Porter, how many rifles do you think I have bought and sold in my lifetime? I might say thousands. And as for walrus, I’ve seen them so thick you could not see anything else, thousands on thousands of ’em. But we never fool with ’em on our side [meaning Alaska]. Only Norwegians go walrusing, and they can live on almost anything. Why, these walrus here are nothing. I’ve seen, I suppose, tusks three feet long without any exaggeration, and yet there is someone thinks they can tell me something about walrus and how to shoot ’em. They don’t know what they’re talking about, that’s all there is to that.” On and on in this puffed-up strain.

Diary: “This morning when the captain took down his ham tin (full of snow water for washing purposes) hung up by the stovepipe, he found something in it which he had unwittingly scooped up along with the snow in the dark, something as big as my fist, and I would give twenty-five dollars to know who did it.” I never saw him so wrought up with the world at large, ordering me to remove the matches from the wall over his table so that no one would have occasion to come into his corner.

However, someone did invade his corner in a hurry. The lie was passed between two sailors over in the other end of the room, and quick as a flash they came over, giving it to each other in earnest. When they arrived with a bang, over went my oil lamp, the covering over a window fell in, and down came the captain’s table with its contents.

Now that we are on fights, here’s another.

Diary: “The skipper is sitting in his chair mumbling, delivering his usual asides, and the crew is conversing in low tones - some have disappeared into their bunks - when one notices loud talk down the passage by the kitchen.

“Look out now.”
“Don’t you touch me. I’m a sick man.”
“You’re no more sick than I am. Look out now.”
“Bill Ross, if you should hit me now, I would drop like a dead dog. If you ever dare strike me, I will run this knife through your heart.”

A quick, shuffling sound; an oil lamp tumbles to the floor sputtering in its spilt oil; a sound as of a man’s wind being slowly cut off growing fainter and fainter until a sharp metallic ring is heard as the knife falls from relaxing fingers. A man emerges from the passage and throws a long sheath knife on the table in front of the captain.

“Dere, captain, you see, over six inches long - eight, if an inch. I’ve half a mind to run it into him now.” And he makes a move for the knife but does not take it.

These pleasant little affairs at least had the merit of breaking the long monotony. Monotony was there all right, for the next entry (December 21) says: “At last after days and days of waiting, this ‘red letter’ day has arrived. After all, it only means that the sun has stopped going down.”

[. . .]

Diary: “It was the dogs that worried us - I mean their lives. You must remember that we had just emerged from an arctic winter, subsisting on half rations, and were in no physical condition to meet a severe test of staying powers.”

[. . .]

The fifth day found us on an island within sight of the old winter quarters of the Baldwin expedition; that is, we could have seen it had it been clear weather. Here we were held prisoner two days by drift.

Diary: “P.M., March 4. As I feared, bad weather has caught us. We have made only three miles a day for nearly a week. Yesterday the whole afternoon was required to make something under a mile. But we hope for the best. Six of my fingers are badly blistered.”

But the storm that held us in sight of our goal for two days had a silver lining. It packed or blew away the soft snow, making better going, and at the old West Camp we were furiously burning anything at hand to melt enough snow to quench our thirst.

[. . .]

Diary: “Hello, Chips. Come in.”

The bottle was placed on the table before us. It was half full, and I applied my nose to the opening.

“Why, it’s beer,” I exclaimed in surprise. “Where did you find it? And L. Macks Olbrygurie, Tromsø, too. Run across some old cache of the Baldwin expedition?”
“No, no; help yourselves.”

I looked at him. The perspiration was standing out in big drops over his forehead, and he seemed to find difficulty in breathing. Surely, I thought, this fellow has been hitting it rather heavily. Nevertheless, I filled two cups and offered one to Mr. Peters.

“Well, anyway, here’s to - to - the relief ship’s coming this year.” It was all I could think of worth a toast. Even then I couldn’t understand.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Porter, you don’t catch on,” the carpenter protested.

Then Peter’s face began to change. Then, not until then, did the arrival of a ship enter my mind.

“Chips, the ship hasn’t come?”
“Come, no joking.”
“Yes, it has, it has.”
“Say it again.”
“The ship is at Cape Dillon. The party is at the house now.”

It was hard to believe even then, with so many rumors of ships about. With shaking hands, Mr. Peters and I drained the aluminum cups to the sand dregs and followed the carpenter down to the house. Turning to me, Peters smiled (he rarely smiled when with me) and said, “There’s no need for economizing on paper now.” ’

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Baffy on Edward’s abdication

‘King George VI came to the Throne. [. . .] At ten o’clock H.R.H. Prince Edward spoke on the wireless to the world. Fine and moving, ending on a firm harsh cry of ‘God Save the King.’ Nothing became him in his kingship like the leaving of it.’ This is Blanche Dugdale, niece and biographer of Arthur Balfour, writing in her diary exactly 85 years ago today.

Blanche was born in 1880 in Holland Park, London, the eldest child of Eustace Balfour, an architect and brother to the prime minister Arthur Balfour. She was educated at home, and from an early age was known as Baffy. She married Edgar Dugdale, a Lloyds of London underwriter in 1902. They had two children, and lived in South Kensington. Dugdale worked in the Naval Intelligence Department, and was associated with the League of Nations Union in various role from its founding in 1920. She was also one of the British delegates to the 1932 League Assembly. That year also saw her publish a two-volume biography on her uncle.

Dugdale was a committed Zionist and was constantly trying to influence those in power in favour of the Jewish cause in Palestine. She addressed public meetings, Zionist conferences, and even World Zionist Congresses; and she advised Chaim Weizmann in his political dealings with the British - see also How I saved the Balfour papers! She regularly published articles in the Zionist Review and authored a pamphlet The Balfour Declaration: Origins and Background. From 1940 until a few months before her death she worked daily in the political department of the Jewish Agency. She died in 1848, one day after being told that the State of Israel had come into being. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Jewish Virtual Library and

Dugdale’s diaries, political and gossipy, were first edited by N. A. Rose and published as Baffy: The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale, 1936-1947 (Valentine Mitchell, 1973). The publisher claimed: ‘Little of consequence escaped her discerning eye: the Abdication crisis; the Peel partition proposals; the Munich agreement; the May 1939 White Paper; the course of the war and the first news of the Holocaust; the post-war struggle for a Jewish state; and finally, and for Baffy triumphantly, the establishment of the State of Israel. These are some of the tumultuous events Baffy recorded in her detailed, pertinent, and often provocative style. Her diaries offer us a document of genuine historical interest, granting us an invaluable insider's glimpse into the controversial world of politics, domestic and international.’ The book can be virtually borrowed freely at Internet Archive.

Here are some choice extracts from Baffy’s diaries, including those written in the run-up to Edward VIII’s abdication.

7 December 1936
‘No! Not yet. Lunched at Club with Walter who explains the King’s one idea is Mrs Simpson. Nothing that stands between him and her will meet his approval. The Crown is only valuable if it would interest her. He must have marriage because then she can be with him always. Therefore he has no wish to form a ‘Party’ who would keep him on the Throne and let her be his mistress. Therefore he has no animosity against Ministers who are not opposing his abdication. On the contrary, he is very matey with Baldwin and asked his permission to see Winston, which was readily given and Winston dined with him on December 4th, though the Press has not got this. What really got him was Baldwin’s parting remark yesterday. ‘Well, Sir, I hope, whatever happens, that you will be happy.’ He is very upset by the newspapers, never having seen anything but fulsome adulation in all his forty years! Baldwin will be very careful not to press him. So the situation may remain as it is for some days, though this is bad, for unrest must grow. Nevertheless, I do not think, in light of this knowledge, that there is much danger of a King’s Party. It is impossible to be ‘plus royaliste que le roi’.’

8 December 1936
‘Rob Bernays drove me home. He says Winston was absolutely howled down yesterday, and is in a very chastened mood today, and told him (Rob) that when he put the question he really had not read Baldwin’s Statement!! I think he is done for. In three minutes his hopes of return to power and influence are shattered. But God is once more behind his servant Stanley Baldwin.’

10 December 1936
‘Went with Melchetts to House of Lords tea-room, also crowded. Speculations about where he will live and about money. Henry says Duchy of Cornwall revenues mortgaged for many years for her jewels. But above all, the difficulties about the divorce decree. He must be allowed to marry her!

As Henry said, we all make muddles of our lives, but none can make so great a muddle as that poor miserable creature!’

11 December 1936
‘King George VI came to the Throne.

Lunched at Ritz with Jack Wheeler-Bennett . . . [He] talked about Germany. He is convinced that Ribbentrop used Mrs Simpson, but proofs are hard to come by. But I think Government and Times have them. There must in that case be wailing and gnashing of teeth! Oswald told me on telephone, Beaverbrook had predicted two days of rioting all over the country. But the calm is unbroken.

Jack had heard what Mrs George Keppell said, ‘The King has shown neither decency, nor wisdom, nor regard for tradition.’! !

. . . At ten o’clock H.R.H. Prince Edward spoke on the wireless to the world. Fine and moving, ending on a firm harsh cry of ‘God Save the King.’ Nothing became him in his kingship like the leaving of it.’

13 December 1936
‘Stanley Baldwin is quite unmoved by his personal prestige. He says he was on a pinnacle before (at the time of the General Strike) and within six weeks all were abusing him. The House of Lords were such mugs that they went on with business after the King abdicated and a Special Act may have to be passed to indemnify them from treason!’

15 December 1936
‘Victor Cazalet drove me back to the House, where I had tea with Rob Hudson. Saw Winston for a second. He looked distraught. I hear he is very miserable. Hear also Sibyl Colefax wept at hearing Archbishop’s broadcast strictures on The Hostesses. Lady Cunard said ‘Ridiculous - I hardly know Mrs Simpson.’ Rat Week!’

18 September 1941
‘To Zionist Office. Lewis and Chaim both away. Had long talk with Locker and Ben-Gurion, who arrived from Palestine while I was away. Both of them deeply pessimistic about the chances of His Majesty’s Government agreeing to a Jewish Army now, after so many postponements. But they are as strong as ever that the claim to fight must not be abandoned. David Ben-Gurion feels that the pressure must come from Palestine now. There is no more political work to be done here he thinks, only publicity and propaganda. It may be that he is right. I shall believe him if the P.M.’s answer to a letter Chaim has written to him is evasive or discouraging. In that case the relations of the Agency with His Majesty’s Government would be altered, and it might be that we ought to publish all the records of the Army negotiations of the past two years . . .’

19 September 1941
‘Went to Zionist Office. Found old Lewis returned. A Yeshiva which convinced me that there is little hope of getting H.M.G.’s consent to the Jewish Division under present conditions. The P.M. has practically refused to answer Chaim’s letter on the subject. The question is - what next? I am personally in favour of asking H.M.G.’s permission to publish a documentary statement of the negotiations of the last two years. I think that the Jewish public has a right to demand it, and that for its own sake the Jewish Agency should do it. However, Chaim may not take that view, which is shared by Lewis. Ben-Gurion most tiresomely persists in harking back to his disagreements with the Yeshiva last time he was here and makes no constructive suggestions.’

Friday, December 10, 2021

What we need . . .

‘For the second time our aeroplanes have dropped bread. How much help is that? It is like a drop in the ocean. What we need is (1) supplies being transported by train via Kosiolsk, (2) catching up with the motorized troops, (3) petrol.’ This is from the diaries of Gotthard Heinrici, a German general who fought in both world wars, and who died 50 years ago today. According to Johannes Hürter who edited the diaries, Heinrici’s papers are ‘one of the largest and richest sources left by any of the Wehrmacht [German army] generals’.

Heinrici was born in Gumbinnen, Germany, in 1886, the son and grandson of theologians. However, on completing his school years, he joined the army, as a infantry division cadet, attending a war college during 1905 and 1906. He fought in the German invasion of Belgium in WW1, and he earned an Iron Cross (2nd class) in 1914 before being transferred to the Eastern Front, where he was awarded an Iron Cross (1st Class). In 1917, he was posted to the German General Staff, and later served as a staff officer with VII Corps and the VIII Corps. In early 1918, he was posted to an infantry division, serving as a staff officer responsible for operations. In this position, he was awarded the Prussian Knight’s Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords.

After the war, Heinrici remained in the army. He married Gertrude, who had a Jewish parent, and they had two children, later labelled by the Nazis as mischlinge. Heinrici also refused to join the Nazi party, which led to clashes with Hitler. Nevertheless, Heinrici received a German Blood Certificate from the leader himself, which validated the supposed Aryan status of his children and protected them from discrimination.

In WW2. Heinrici commanded the XII Army Corps which was part of the 1st Army. His forces succeeded in breaking through the Maginot Line (built in defence of France) south of Saarbrücken in June 1940. And, in 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, he served in the 4th Army under Günther von Kluge as the commanding general of the XXXXIII Army Corps during the Battle of Białystok-Minsk, the Battle of Kiev and the Battle of Moscow. Over the next two years, he developed successful defensive strategies against the Red Army (building a reputation as a defensive specialist), and, after briefly being relieved of his command for failing to set fire to Smolensk as ordered, he was appointed commander of the 1st Panzer Army. He went on to succeed Heinrich Himmler as Army Group Vistula. However, in April 1945, he again went against orders, this time to defend Berlin, from Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, and was relieved of his command. He gave himself up to British forces on 28 May.

Heinrici was held at a British prisoner of war camp in Wales (Island Farm) until his release in May 1948. In the 1950s, he helped create the Operational History (German) Section of the US Army Center of Military History, established in January 1946 to harness the operational knowledge and experience of German prisoners of war for the US Army. He was also featured prominently in Cornelius Ryan’s 1966 book, The Last Battle. Heinrici died on 10 December 1971 in Karlsruhe, and he was buried with full military honours. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Spartacus-Educational and Island Farm

The German historian Johannes Hürter first edited Heinrici’s papers for publication in 2001. They were then translated by Christine Brocks for an English edition (Pen & Sword, 2014 and 2021) with the title A German General on the Eastern Front: The Letters and Diaries of Gotthard Heinrici, 1941-1942.

According to Hürter, Heinrici’s private papers form ‘one of the largest and richest sources left by any of the Wehrmacht generals’. ‘Thus’, he adds, ‘it is all the more surprising that Heinrici is one of the forgotten generals of the German-Soviet war. His numerous, at times daily, personal notes on the course of the campaign give us a rich and authentic picture from the perspective of a senior officer, which no other corps and army commander has provided.’

13 September 1941
‘We came through Chernigov yesterday, arguably the city that has been hit the hardest by the destructive forces of the war. Literally everything is in ruins. Only some churches are left, but their interiors are completely destroyed. Such a destruction of the cities as in this eastern war is probably comparable only with the Thirty Years War.

Colonel-General von Schobert hit a mine and was killed. Manstein is his successor. Schobert was not a bright man, but very ambitious and vain, yet also very brave.’

19 October 1941
‘It has been raining for the whole day. Supplies cannot get through because every vehicle gets stuck. Even at the General Command bread rations are cut. We have found flour in the city and started to bake bread in the kolkhoz bakery.

From now on we are assigned to the Panzer Group Guderian. It is located in Orel. We are not exactly happy about the separation from the 2nd Army, since with the Panzers we are only a fifth wheel. Under the current circumstances and due to the given distances we cannot even reach them. The 2nd Army also regrets us leaving. When I gave notice of our departure over the phone, the Colonel-General [von Weichs] cordially thanked us and mentioned the ‘great victories’ the corps has achieved. We are also reluctant to separate from the 2nd Army because they have always supported us in the best possible way.’

1 November 1941
‘For the second time our aeroplanes have dropped bread. How much help is that? It is like a drop in the ocean. What we need is (1) supplies being transported by train via Kosiolsk, (2) catching up with the motorized troops, (3) petrol.

We will not get all of it. We cannot even get a Storch here. We have no connection to the divisions. We are in a fix, helpless. We have never experienced a situation like this. The weather does not change at all. It is warm and wet all the time. We hope for frost, but it is always raining. Then the roads are impassable at once. We’ve been stuck in this bloody backwater for eight days. Bugs and lice are our roommates. There is no hope for an improvement of supplies. We live from the land. We bake our own bread. What the men miss most is that they no longer have any drink rations like coffee or tea, and they have to survive on soups. Otherwise they are not too bad. They just eat everything they find here. But this, again, is limited. Some items are already running short, for instance oats.’

21 January 1942
‘In the morning I drove to the army. 42° below freezing. Rollbahn [roadway] clear. Dead Russians, broken vehicles lying at the edge of the road, covered with snow. The continuous and extreme cold weather is unusual even here. Met General Kübler. He has lost his command, because he told the Fuehrer that he did not believe it possible to hold the rollbahn and Yukhnov with the army. Maybe he will be proved right. But because he did not show unconditional faith and said so, they sent him away! Situation of army is tense. Thank God that we can still hold the rollbahn, which is our only transportation route for provisions and supplies.’

27 January 1942
‘This morning bad news: the rollbahn was disrupted and the road to Gzhatsk closed by the enemy northwest of Yukhnov. Both two deadly threats. At the rollbahn the situation has been getting worse during the day. We were successful in reconquering a village in the north. In the evening both roads were still closed. And the enemy was pressing against the rollbahn from the north out of the forest . . . In our rear he landed airborne troops. We did not have anyone, because all our troops are tied up in fighting at the existing front line. The closed roads mean the end of our provisions. Only two days and the army will start starving to death.

Our forces to win back the roads are extremely meagre and motley. We do everything to increase them. But where do we get them? It is enough to drive one to despair. And Field Marshal Kluge reminds us that the Fuehrer demands we hold the position east of Yukhnov under all circumstances. It is by no means to be given up. And yet we are encircled in this very position. There is no other way to put it. It will depend on tomorrow if we can get free at the rollbahn. I fear not.’

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pearl Harbour diaries

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbour that brought the United States into the Second World War. A few diary extracts recording the event are available online. East Carolina University has a list of digital resources on Pearl Harbour; the editor of Skagit River Journal has made available the diary entry of his father; and Brandon University has web pages honouring one of its professors, who was a student in Hawaii on the fateful day. At the political level, the US Secretary of War at the time kept a diary, and entries from this have been used to support the idea that the US and British governments knew of the attack in advance but let it happen so as to draw the US into the war.

The American military base at Pearl Harbour on Hawaii was attacked by Japan during the morning of 7 December 1941. Japan’s aim was to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with its own actions against the overseas territories of several European nations in Southeast Asia. Some 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, launched from six aircraft carriers, caused huge damage: 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded; four US battleships were sunk, and four others damaged (six of these eight, however, were raised and/or repaired for further service); other vessels, including cruisers and destroyers, were also damaged; and 188 aircraft were destroyed. By contrast, Japanese losses, in personnel and hardware, were very light.

The Japanese aggression shocked the American people, which hitherto had been pro isolation and against American involvement in the European war, and it led directly - on the following day - to a US declaration of war on Japan. Clandestine support of the UK turned into active alliance, and within three further days, Germany and Italy had declared war on the US and vice versa. For more information see Wikipedia or the BBC.

East Carolina University’s Joyner Library has an online exhibition remembering the attack. It lists a large number of digital resources, including official and personal texts, biographies, and pictures. However, there are very few actual diary texts. One was written by Robert Hailey on USS Indianapolis; and another by Louis P. Davis, Jr. on USS Reid. There is no biographical information about either sailor. Although Davis’s diary extract sometimes reads as though it was written while the action was happening, the photographs of the diary pages, on the exhibition website, suggest the entry was written all at one time.

Robert Hailey’s diary
7 December 1941
‘G.Q. [General Quarters] at 0538 - routine drill! Shortly before 0800 no. 1 Higgins boat was placed over the side after we had anchored just off Johnson Is. Before other boats could be placed over the side or any trys made dispatches were received that P.H. [Pearl Harbor] Had been bombed by Japanese planes. All plans for landing on Johnson Is. were abandoned. Boats and planes hoisted aboard - no fuel to the 5 DMS with us - course set for interception of enemy forces south of Hawaii - these forces proceeding from the south, last reported near Palmyra - 8 large ships and one Jap sub sunk by planes off PH. - two carriers engaged just outside P.H. several miles - Hickam - Ford Island - residential Honolulu near the Pali bombed. - G.Q. about noon because of what appeared to be a sub - false alarm but not a drill. War has been declared - now there is to be much required from us all.

Afternoon - dispatches, newscasts and “scuttlebutt dope” has kept the day a busy one. Division put on a full wartime basis - all excess gear stowed below. We have changed rendezvous several times - mostly in an effort to intercept the fleeing carriers. P.H. seems to have suffered severely, Hickam damaged badly - 350 men killed in a bombed barracks, oil tanks at P.H. afire Oklahoma hit by bomb, is afire - no word on other damage-rumors Honolulu also damaged.

Manilla definately bombed - Wake & Guam uncertain. Condition II throughout day & tonight - Everyone excited but with only one thought - glad to get things underway and have uncertainty over. No one can understand how this attack was executed and the Japs gotten so close - why carriers not sunk is also not understandable.

Anticipate with what the chance that we may encounter then and get a whack at them- it would be an enjoyable sensation after today’s activity.’

Louis P. Davis, Jr.’s diary
7 December 1941
‘Was peacefully reminicing in my bunk about last night. Had been to a party with the Wilhmots at the Hickam Field Officer’s club. Several alarm sounded the clock said 0800 so I surmised that they must be testing it. Heard a yell from passageway “Mr Davis, we are being attackd” I jumped up ran to the door of the Wardroom. As I went up a Japanese plane bellied up over Ford Island clearly showing the rising sun on it’s wings. Made the director in nothing flat to get battery firing. I am senior gunnery officer aboard and only one who knows how to work the director. I got the machine guns going about 0803. God damn locks on magazine.

Had a hell of a time getting 5” firing. About 0820 I got them ready with ammunition. During time I was getting ammunition for 5” battery I saw Utah capsize astern of us. We are second DD in Harbor to open up with machine guns, first with 5” Arizona is burning fiercely. Her back is broken. Raleigh is torpedoed astern of us Quickly gets bad list to port. All DDs are firing now. This is hottest part of harbor. Plane is attacking our west. “All guns fw’d train 45” “Fire when hearing” Fw’d machine guns are firing steadily. Several Machine seen bullets ricochet off sides of director and mast. One 6” from my head a bunch about a foot away. Glad this is my lucky day.

Gun #2 is firing. Machines guns hit planes burst into flame and crashes on hill dead ahead of ship. No one hurt yet. Port fw’d machine gun burning up “Fire until it blows up” Johny is getting ready to get underway. Plane just connected with 5” shell over Curtiss. Nothing left of him. 2nd attacks starting must be only about 0845. God it’s cold only have on skinny troa [trousers] Plane coming over “Give to him All guns fw’d” Tally two for us today; hope he fries in hell Quickest hangover I ever got rid of in my life. Jesus we need water and everything is shut off. Comparitive lull now. About ten planes shot down during their last visit near the DDs. These ships can sure shoot.

High altitude bomber. No power for director! Engines have been secured Whitney cannot supply enough for 5 ships. Cannot get near them with local control “Cease firing” Wonder whats happening over on battleship row? All DDs out here are safer. Cassen and Downes, other half of hour division burning furiously. Monaghan just sunk sub in harbor. My clothes got here. Must be 0945 California and West Virginia are sinking. Sub just torpedoed Nevada. She is burning fw’d. Wonder how Joe Taussig is? Am so mad am crying. First time in years. Damn dumb admirals and generals. Locking up all the ammunition Good thing we belted machine guns ammo yesterday 200 rds 5” expended no casualties 10,000 rds 50 Cal. expended one gun burned up. “Cut off all magazine locks.” God damn good thing no carriers and crusiers are in.

Only Helena is slighlty damaged and Raleigh Curtiss hit by bomb aft. Oklahoma just capsized. Poor S.O.B.’s

Captain and rest of officers returned.

“Mr. Davis single up.” 1005 under way “Mr Davis report to executive officer” Exec bawled me out for cutting locks off magazines. Says I act too quickly should wait and reflect first Goddamn fool sits home on his fat ass then comes out and tells we are all wet and gives us hell for the way we fought the battle. Ted says he was too scared move coming out. Hope he gets one in the gut So the big thing will spill all over the deck.

“Mr. Davis Captain says clear ship for action” Am hungry as hell. No breakfast. Thrown over all wood and canvas, all excess gear topside and below. “Mr Davis report to Executive officer” “What the hell are you doin you fool”

“Captain’s orders clear ship for action sir.”

Hope he fries in hell. They are bombing Honolulu. Can see them from ship. We are forming up to attack 77 destroyers and Detroit all that’s left of battle force. Passed Nevada in channel burning furiously “secure from GQ set condition three watch one” Rest at last its 1500. Of all the stupid cowards are exec is the worst. Ford at last. Have mid better get some sleep. What a day 5 battleships sunk 2 cruisers hit Agala sunk Half of our division sunk. All because people try to kid themselves.’


Victor Andrew Bourasaw was another sailor at Pearl Harbour on the eventful day. He was born in Festus, Missouri, in 1901, but left home in his early teens to mine boron by hand on the Mississippi river. In 1922, he joined the US Navy, and, in 1941, was a chief petty officer on the destroyer, USS Ramsay. The following diary entry can be found on the Skagit River Journal website edited by Victor’s son, Noel V Bourasaw.

7 December 1941
‘This morning at a few minutes before eight the Japanese began an air raid on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. The Utah and the Raleigh was hit by torpedoes launched by torpedo planes and dive bombers. Bombs of all kind - incendiary, shrapnel and high explosives - were dropped. The hangars on Ford Island and Hickam Field were set afire and all the grounded planes staffed. Also numerous oil tanks were set afire, burning for two days and nights.

About 0815 a submarine was discovered inside of the harbor astern of the Medusa and the Curtis (two destroyer tenders). A nest of destroyers were alongside of the Medusa, and all were taking pot shots at [the sub’s] conning tower. One 3-inch shell hit her bow and tore it off. She then submerged and reappeared again. The Monaghan, DD-354, had got under way and made for her, ramming her and letting go two depth charges. A mighty cheer went up from the crews of the ships around. Of course she has never reappeared since. Unfortunately the Monaghan ran her bow onto the beach on Ford Island and she had to back her engines full speed and, at that, had difficulty backing off.

The Ramsay crew acted like veterans under fire. Each man to the lowest rating did his duty and did it well. Am proud to be a member of a crew like this.

The enemy aircraft, having dropped their bombs, now turn to strafing. They sure are bum shots. We were strafed five times and have only one bullet hole to show on the ship, through the rail on the flying deck.

It was terrible to have to go through that oil-covered water on the way out, seeing our shipmates struggling in it and not being able to help them. We threw life buoys to the ones we saw that needed one.

We found submarines in wait outside. We dropped depth charges as did the other destroyers. The navy authorities are sure that we got four subs. The subs evidently were waiting for the battleships to come out but of course they never did. It would have been suicide. We have heard that the West Virginia and the Oklahoma were damaged. We could see the West Virginia listing considerably as we were leaving port. All this morning the destroyers were busy tracking down subs, pounding them with depth charges. All this morning destroyers are busy tracking down subs, pounding them with depth charges.

Afternoon 7 Dec: Two o’clock, dropping depth charges. We must be getting some for there are usually bubbles and oil. 1430, no word yet from Task Force One, who went to engage the enemy. Still dropping ash cans [depth charges]. Are now in Condition Three at 1500. Two light air attacks on Pearl harbor between 2000 and 2100. Very little sleep for the crew tonight.’


At the time of the Pearl Harbour raid, Robert W Brockway was 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Hawaii. His father was in the Army Air Corps, serving on a ground crew, and the family lived in quarters at Hickam Field, where Robert identified with the soldiers from an early age. After being evacuated, he went to Washington, D.C. to continue his studies. He served as a church minister until 1959, and as a teacher thereafter, first at Coventry Technical College in England, then at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. From 1965, he taught at Brandon University in Canada, as a professor of religion. He died in 2001. Brandon University has an extensive website in memory of Brockway, including extracts from his Pearl Harbour diary (photographs and transcriptions).

7 December 1941
‘As I write today from the home of Mr. O’ Sullivan who very kindly took us in, we have experienced a Japanese raid. This morning at 8:00 a.m. I was awakened by loud booming. Believing them to be maneuvers I paid little heed. On going outside, I saw stukas diving and circling, but still paid no heed, until I saw the Rising Sun on wing tips. By then the depot hangars were in flame and gasoline blazed. We went to Burkes [?] and then returned home - everyone telling me that war was on. We then got the Haltermanns in our car and Mr. Willy and I hurried up Aiea heights. We saw a carrier burned to the water edge. Fren [friends?] at Hickam [Hickam Field]. We waited there and then returned. Most of our planes had been destroyed. Our fleet force crippled. The radio had just pronounced martial law. Our forces are supposed to be dealing with the sit[uation].’

8 December 1941
‘As the dawn came after a long weary nite spent anxiously waiting for Japanese bombers which never came, we got the paper stating that some 340 fellows from Hickam were killed. One of them was probably Tony Mariaschella since he was in the 42d. After a morning spent uneventfully Mother, I, Mrs Haltermann and Mr. Wiley went to the field [Hickam] and got the remainder of our stuff. The British are in it too. A parachutist is up back here somewhere and they couldn’t find him. Hickam Field looked hit but not shattered. Purdin’s house is gutted out. So are several friends’. Auers’ all messed up inside. Probably we will never go there again. Pop is in the hospital [he was there with an unspecified complaint at the time of the raid]. Pres. Roosevelt declared war against Japan today. Under martial law Habeus Corpus is suspended.’


Finally, it’s worth noting that the US Secretary for War at the time, Henry L Stimson, kept a diary, and that certain extracts from this diary (see paragraph below) have been employed repeatedly over the years by those who believe there was a conspiracy - the Pearl Harbour advance-knowledge conspiracy theory - involving high officials in the US and UK who knew of the attack in advance and may have let it happen so as to force America into the war.

25 November 1941
‘Then at 12 o’clock we went to the White House, where we were until nearly half past one. At the meeting were Hull, Knox, Marshall, Stark and myself. There the President . . . brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what should we do. The question was how much we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.’

After the attack, Stimson wrote in his diary: ‘When the news first came that Japan had attacked us my first feeling was of relief that . . . a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people. This continued to be my dominant feeling in spite of the news of catastrophes which quickly developed.’ (This is widely quoted as being dated 7 December 1941, but the sense of the quote seems much later, and without access to the diary itself, I cannot check the date.)

For more on this topic see Institute for Historical Review articles by Charles Lutton and David Irving. Irving, in particular, has a lot to say about Stimson’s diary, claiming there is evidence for post-Pearl Harbour deletions and revisions. Wikipedia, however, has a detailed and well-referenced look at the facts.

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 7 December 2011.

The best head in the rooms

Today marks the 190th anniversary of the birth of the painter, Joanna Mary Boyce, best known for her historical works and her association with the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her brother, too, was a painter, a watercolorist associated with the Brotherhood. He kept a diary, and there are a few mentions - but only a few - of his younger sister. The more famous pre-Raphaelite Ford Madox Brown mentioned Joanna just once in his diary but in doing so he showed much admiration for her art - calling one of her portraits, ‘the best head in the rooms’.

Boyce was born on 7 December 1831 in Maida Vale, London, the daughter of George Boyce, a prosperous pawnbroker. Her father and George helped school her in the visual arts. She began formal study of drawing aged only 11, and aged 18 she entered Cary’s art academy. She worked under James Mathews Leigh at his school in Newman Street, London; and in 1855 she studied with Thomas Couture in Paris. That same year, she first exhibited her artwork publicly, at the Royal Academy, and one of her two paintings, Elgiva (pictured), drew praise from John Ruskin, and from Ford Madox Brown (see below).

Boyce spent 1857 painting in Italy, and late that year, in Rome, married miniaturist Henry Tanworth Wells. She also continued a lifelong practice of analysing the artwork of her contemporaries, and publishing art criticism in the Saturday Review. She died young, in 1861, after the birth of her third child, and Wikipedia says, her last completed painting, A Bird of God, was left on her easel. More information is also available from Reveries under the Sign of Austen. Select artworks by Boyce were exhibited recently (in 2019) at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of its Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition.

Also in 2019, Boydell Press published The Boyce Papers: The Letters and Diaries of Joanna Boyce, Henry Wells and George Price Boyce as edited by Sue Bradbury. However, despite the conjunction of words in the book’s title, the diaries quoted are those of her brother George. He does not mention his sister very often, but here are few extracts in which he does.

‘14 January. Got up at 20 m. to 6 this morning and met John Note on ice at Regents Park at 1/2 past 7. Skated till 9.30.
Sunday, 20 January. Tom Hakes and I took glorious walk by Primrose Hill to Kentish Town etc. etc.
25 January. To oratorio of St Paul by Mendelssohn, by far the greatest musical treat I have ever had. Exquisite music made the most of (Mem. at Wells’ met Mr Ganci about some sketches for lithograph. Agreement for sketches from a guinea to 25/- and travelling expenses besides).
Sunday, 27 January. Very cold and frosty - took Anne, Joney and Bob to Kensington gardens - skating going on.
30 January. Joined Anne and Joanna at Hakes 3rd meeting of Friendly Harmonic Society.
1 February. Large evening party at home - 64 guests.
7 February. Father and Mother, Anne and Joanna went to Mr Marsh’s. Did not accompany them on account of bad hip.
8February. Finished watercolour drawing of Stolzenfels Castle, old Welsh fiddler. Went with Wells to Hancocks studio. Saw there in plaster a splendid figure of Dante’s ‘Beatrice’ by him.’

‘6 July. My Father is in tears because Joanna is, and the latter because I will not be more helpless than needs be. O, that I were in the wilds of North Wales with one faithful but manly attendant and a few books and drawing materials. Come what would, tis the happiest life I can think of.
10 July. In donkey chaise. Father left.
11 July. Mother and Hester came. Sketching from Prout. Sat on beach.’

‘20 May. Bid goodbye to dear Mother and Joanna as affectionately as my cold heart would allow. To Russell Street whither Father brought my drawing board and set square from Westminster Abbey and helped me to pack up - Boat from Southampton - Tom Seddon soon took berth in cabin. I had supper and passed the rest of the time on deck. The growth of the dawn over the sea most impressive [. . .] the pointed rocks between Alderney and Sark looked very quaint. We touched at Guernsey for 1/2 hour then proceeded to Jersey and visited a friend of Tom Seddon’s at St Aubin - Rev. Mr King.’ 

‘22 September. Received a letter from Joanna in which she says that she, Mother and Bob start for Paris on Tuesday next. Her engagement to Wells was not yet broken off, but she intended doing it after the aspersions and slanders Mother had thrown upon his character were ---ly recanted. Mother (she more than suspects) has descended to writing or dictating an anonymous letter to herself - injurious to Wells’s character, which she had tried to blast in every way she could.
24 September. My birthday - received a letter from Mat [. . .] and one from Wells (containing others, one of which, a copy of an anonymous letter received by Mother on August 4th, a shameful piece of business, I believe, annihilating all respect for the writer of the letter. W., I think, successfully proves the authorship by analysis thereof. A copy of a letter from W. to Joanna with Mother’s written comments in pencil enclosed.
25 September. Wrote to H.T. Wells and enclosed the copies of his letter to Joanna, one of the anonymous letter and his analysis there of -’

It is also worth noting that Ford Madox Brown mentioned Joanna Boyce just once in his diaries (The might of genius) which were published in Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters, but that mention is worth quoting for it heaps some praise on Joanna: ‘Miss Boyce, the best head in the rooms’.

22 May 1855
‘To home to fetch Emma; ’bus to the R.A. Met William Rossetti by appointment. Millais’ picture more admirable than ever. Fireman perfect, children wonderful, but the mother ill-conceived; still as a whole wonderful. Leighton’s picture a mere daub as to execution, but finely conceived and composed, and the chiaro-scuro good; very difficult to judge how he will go on. So much discrepancy ‘twixt execution and conception I have not yet seen it is strange. Miss Boyce, the best head in the rooms. Martineau’s picture good as far as can be seen. Dyce pretty and mannered. Maclise, as usual, mannered. Herbert bad; the Cordelia beautiful however, but wrong in action. A lovely little picture by Inchbold high in the Architectural Room. No good sculpture. . .’

Monday, December 6, 2021

What darkens prison life

Six weeks into his detention by the Gestapo, Odd Nansen, a young Norwegian architect, was writing in his secret diary that ‘the tobacco shortage is glaring, and beyond all comparison the thing that darkens prison life most’. Some 18 months later he would be writing, ‘every day prisoners are being brought here from Berlin, and they are shot at once.’ Nansen - born 120 years ago today - survived the concentration camps and the war, and is today remembered mostly for this diary.

Odd was born on 6 December 1901 near Oslo in Norway, the second youngest of five children born to explorer and diarist Fridtjof Nansen (see Siberian driftwood cannot lie). His mother died when he was six, and he went to live with a neighbour. He studied architecture at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim. In 1927, he married Karen Hirsch, and they would have two children. That same year he went to work in New York City, returning to Oslo in 1930 where he was apprenticed with Arnstein Arneberg, one of the country’s leading architects. However, by the following year, he had started his own architectural practice.

In 1936, Nansen formed the humanitarian organisation Nansenhjelpen to provide relief for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in central Europe; and in 1939, it set up the Jewish Children’s Home in Oslo. Together with his wife and a journalist they set up an office in Prague, and Nansen himself travelled extensively through Europe trying to enlist help for the growing number of refugees. Back in Oslo, he joined the fledgling Norwegian resistance. However, he was soon arrested by the Gestapo and detained at Veidal prison camp, outside Oslo (where daily life was tolerable, and he was even allowed some freedom to visit the city), and then at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.

Nansen survived the war, and returned to Norway where he resumed his architectural career. However, he also continued his humanitarian work, as president of One World from 1947 to 1956 and as a co-founder of UNICEF. He received many honours in time, from his own nation, but also from Germany and Austria. He died in 1973. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Norwegian American or Tim Boyce’s website.

Odd Nansen is mostly remembered today for the diary he kept throughout his incarceration by the Gestapo. It was first published in its original Norwegian in three volumes in 1947. An English one-volume version (as translated by Katherine Jones) was published by G. P. Putnam in 1949 titled From Day to Day (which can freely borrowed online at Internet Archive). However, much more recently, in 2016, it was edited by Timothy J. Boyce and re-published as From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps. This new edition - which can be sampled at Googlebooks - is fully annotated and indexed. It contains a wealth of information and commentary as well as all the sketches by Nansen that were also in the original edition. 

In his introduction, Boyce explains that Nansen was already an inveterate diarist at the time of his arrest in 1942, and that he started his secret note taking on the very first night in jail, continuing, more or less daily, throughout his captivity. ‘With an unsparing eye Nansen recorded the casual brutality and random terror that was the fate of a camp prisoner. His entries reveal the quiet strength, and sometimes ugly prejudices, of his fellow Norwegians; his palpable longing for his wife and family; his constantly frustrated hopes for an early end to the war; his horror at the especially barbaric treatment reserved for the Jews.’

Both editions of the book include a foreword by Nansen himself. Here is the first part of it: ‘This book is a diary and makes no claim to be anything else. I was in the habit of keeping a diary, so it was natural to continue after my arrest on January 13, 1942. Paper and writing materials were the last things I put in my knapsack before going off with the district sheriff and his henchman, up in the mountains at Gausdal. I began to write the very next day in my cell in the Lillehammer county jail and kept it up for nearly three and a half years. For reasons easily understood I wrote the diary in a very small hand on the thinnest of paper. The writing was so small that the typists had to use a magnifying glass.

I never wrote with the idea that what I was writing would be published. I was writing for my wife, to let her know what was happening and how I was getting on—and also to arrange my ideas. Therefore the diary may often seem rather too personal, even though most of the private matter has been cut out. I couldn’t cut it all out, I felt, without taking from the diary too much of its character. For it is the case that a prisoner thinks a very great deal about his wife, his children, and home.

Friends, both outside and inside, thought that a diary like this might be of interest beyond my immediate circle. I feel that they may be right, and so here it is. I should explain that it has been cut down to about a third of the original manuscript. I found much that ought to be cut, and could be cut, and it has turned out long enough.

Here are a few extracts from Nansen’s diaries. A few further extracts can be read online at History Net

13 January 1942
‘At half-past seven the district sheriff of East Gausdal came up to the cottage with two Germans. It was dark. We saw the sheriff’s flashlight a long way off. We thought he was hunting radios, as he came just at the suspicious hour.

It was for me. They said I must come away to Lillehammer, and then to Oslo, where I should be told the reason. I was given time to pack my knapsack. Kari was calm, Marit, Eigil, and Siri cried, poor things, but were smiling bravely through their tears before I left.

So off we went. The car was waiting at the sanatorium garage. The sheriff talked a lot in the car. No doubt he was anxious to gloss over his pitiful role. He wished me a speedy return when he went off at Segalstad Bridge.

I was put into the Lillehammer county jail. A single cell. When the jailer had gone, a voice in the cell next door asked who I was. It was Odd Wangs voice. He did not know why he had been arrested either, but thought it must be due to a misunderstanding. That I should have been arrested, he said, was natural enough, but that he. . . No, it was certainly a misunderstanding, which would be cleared up as soon as he got to Oslo and had a chance to explain himself. It had grown late, and we soon lay down. The light was left us until twelve o’clock, and we could read. The plank bed was hard, as plank beds are, but I was not cold, for we were given blankets.

One of the “Germans” turned out to be a purebred Norwegian. At the cottage he pretended to be German. Admiral Tank-Nielsen had spent the night before in my cell.

I heard about the new actions against special officers and against the friends of the royal family, who were all arrested at this time. I supposed I must come under the latter heading, and if so I should probably be “inside” until the war was over?’

23 February 1942
‘Today the whole Bergen gang was sent off. We couldn’t even say good-bye to them. We stood here at the office window and watched them as they moved off with their trunks and knapsacks, in civilian clothes and under a strong guard of roaring Germans. Bryn waved gallantly as he marched away downhill with the rest.

Otherwise life goes on as before; soon we shall be right back in the old familiar grooves. Yesterday there was even a distribution of tobacco - half a box of pipe tobacco each - as before.

On the very morning the escape took place, the Storm Prince had complained to the Terrace that he had too few men for guard duties. That’s what one may call a lucky hit, and it has most likely saved him from unpleasantness. New sentries have been posted, and things have been tightened up a little all round. In the future, it’s reported, no one may go into Oslo (except Rinnan, who enjoys the personal favor of the Storm Prince). But no doubt that too will gradually pass off, so that others can have their chance as well. In the meantime we must have patience and enjoy the many and various advantages of prison life as well as we can. For there are in fact certain advantages in this life. If we can’t exactly call it peace, still it offers much of what is called peace - no telephones, no bother, no nervous hurry to get this and that done in time, no meetings, no importunates coming to see one and to chatter about this and that, no oppressive responsibility for one thing and another.’

24 February 1942
‘It is six weeks ago today that I was arrested up in Gausdal. That seems to lie so infinitely far back in time. It’s strange how the days fly past. Working hours are positively too short if there is anything one wants to get done. And there is, here in the architects office. There are songs to write, caricatures to draw, matters to arrange. Recently there have been more and more prisoners wanting free designs for houses and cottages. Some must have them quickly, for they are expecting to get out soon; others have more time, but then as a rule they have also time to enforce their views on architecture, so that the problems gradually become comprehensive and downright wearing.

Our stout, comfortable Bauleiter is in the know. He quite realizes that we are working on things we ought not, but he has secured us the personal permission of the Storm Prince to have lights in our rooms until eleven every night, since we have “urgent matters” on hand. In addition he has now procured us a quantity of excellent drawing material.

We have even got hold of a copying machine, so that now we can get our caricatures and private jobs copied on the spot. Also he has arranged the purchase of an edging machine, so all our drawings are elegantly bordered. He is in on a certain amount of smuggling, thinks for instance that our bread ration is terribly small. His opinion was that he would starve to death if he had to live on it.

Of architecture he has not the faintest idea. He is a carpenter from Hannover, where in civil life he ran a little business. He is homesick for it and has had enough of soldiering, he says. It is badly paid and unattractive altogether. He was on the North Finnish front and was wounded there. He saw and experienced war at close quarters, and it was frightful. Once he saw a Finn cut the throats of four Russians, cut out their Adam’s apples and put them away as souvenirs. The Finn explained that he had to have sixteen Adam’s apples to get a holiday. Our fat friend Bauleiter Gebecke shook his head, which is like an egg the wrong way up, threw out his hand and smiled his broad smile, so that the little mouse teeth stood out between his mighty lips. “That’s war,” he said. It was something he had once been in, now it was past and gone. His reflections went no further. He was now in Grini, where he had been sent to look after some building work, far, far from the fronts. And here he thought he would have to stay at least two years.

He quite understands that the building work will be so-so. He fully shares our amusement at the way the plans are constantly being changed and that the bigwigs never can agree on how a first-class concentration camp ought to be designed. Today he was grinning all over when he arrived from Oslo with a big copying machine under his arm and announced that the last plan also had been rejected and therefore we were for the moment without a plan. That being so, he said, we had no use for this big machine, and it cost two hundred kroner, but “money is no object,” he declared with an even broader grin, which went almost to his ears.

I suggested that we might draw an office hut and build that first, and I turned up a sketch of such a hut. He got interested immediately and by the afternoon had already secured the Storm Prince’s consent, so now we can just get on with it and not bother about anyone else. “We won’t even show them the drawings,” said he. “We’ll just build the whole thing, order the materials, and get ahead.” Then he sat down and wanted to know how we actually set about building such a hut. I gave him a brisk little lecture on elementary domestic building, accompanied by sketches, and he was very attentive, very docile, and very grateful. After all he has really nothing to do, and if he had, he would be in rather a fix without us to lean on.’

24 August 1942
‘Today I’ve taken in my “big wash.” I boiled and washed my clothes yesterday, and this evening they were dry and fine and clean, and I still haven’t begun to use one extra change of underclothes. I’m doing first-rate. Tomorrow I must try and get my socks darned. They’re having a hard time.

I forgot to say that yesterday we bathed in the brook under guard. Bathed is a strong expression; the brook isn’t more than half a meter [20 inches] wide and hasn’t much water in it, but still it flows, and one can get wet all over if one turns about. Per Krohg painted a sketch of that scene. He showed me another preliminary sketch: Divine Service. That may be grand. Otherwise he’s busy painting for the Tot-Baurat [construction superintendent], who nosed him out in the list of prisoners, embezzled him and set him to painting pictures. Now he behaves as if he owned Per Krohg, hide and hair. Everything Per does is the Baurat’s property, but he has his time to himself, goes about without a guard, and I think really he’s thriving on it. He has become enthusiastic over a couple of subjects, and manages to hide away enough sketches for them. Yesterday he became a grandfather, or was it today? He’s coping splendidly with this life.

The tobacco shortage is glaring, and beyond all comparison the thing that darkens prison life most. And there are small prospects of getting any for a long time. Several are bartering their watches and valuables for a little tobacco. Some of the civilian workers are turning the situation to good account. The Poles and Czechs are not backward either. One or two decent German guards give me a pinch of tobacco or a cigarette now and then. I’m almost over the worst now. But it is a severe privation. Good night!’

5 December 1943
‘The day before yesterday, when we were just leaving work, there came an order that everyone was to fall in instantly for counting. A man had been missed. It turned out to be a prisoner in the next squad who had hanged himself somewhere in the woods. As soon as that fact was ascertained, all was forgotten and in order. They had the correct total - including a corpse, which was fetched and driven up on a cart to be counted in!

On the same day the man in charge of the shoe factory, a Hauptsturmführer, was arrested for swindling on a large scale. He had had ten thousand pairs of shoes burned to wipe out the traces of his fraud. For the shoes were property stolen from murdered Jews, and he had had them cut up on his own behalf, to secure the ornaments and currency they contained. How much he found is not known, but from previous experience one may safely reckon that immense sums are involved. The man was arrested not for embezzling the valuables but for burning the footwear! Many prisoners, who were employed in the shoe factory and carried out his orders, have been up for questioning, and the case is apparently brewing up to great dimensions. If only it gets big enough, no doubt it will be shelved and stifled. For if that splits open, everything will split. All are implicated in some swindle or other, and that binds them all together in a kind of freemasonry.

Yesterday a prisoner was shot in an attempt to escape. A poor wretch of a Pole, who had first attempted to hang himself. I suppose he could stand no more. Well, so he found peace, and that was doubtless what he longed for.

Every day prisoners are being brought here from Berlin, and they are shot at once. There were eleven yesterday, seven the day before, etc. What they had been guilty of we don’t know, but most probably they had been stealing, looting, and exploiting the situation in burning Berlin. Last night we had another raid.’

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Saw television!

‘Met John Logie Baird; a charming man - a shy, quietly-spoken Scot. He could serve as a model for the schoolboy’s picture of a shock-haired, modest, dreamy, absent-minded inventor. Nevertheless shrewd.’ This is from the diary of Sydney Moseley, a journalist and writer, who died seventy years ago today; but, he is not well-remembered other than for his association with Baird, and writing a biography of the inventor.

There is very little information about Moseley readily available on the internet. He was born in 1888, and became a journalist, working initially for the Daily Express. For some years he lived in Cairo, editing English-language newspapers and acting as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and others. Back in Britain, he founded the Southend Times and also stood for election to Parliament as a member for Southend-on-Sea.

Moseley worked to promote the invention - a television broadcast system - of his friend John Logie Baird, and was instrumental in persuading the BBC to try it out. There is a little more about this on the BBC website.

Moseley authored many books during his life. Truth about the Dardanelles and With Kitchener in Cairo were published during the First World War. Books on London, about the criminal system, and making investments followed. Most well known, though, are his books on television, including Who’s Who in Broadcasting; Simple Guide to Television; and Television for the Intelligent Amateur. His best remembered work is probably the 1952 biography of his friend, John Baird, The Romance and Tragedy of the Pioneer of Television.

A little while before Moseley’s death - on 5 December 1961 - Max Parrish published The Private Diaries of Sydney Moseley in association with Moseley’s own publisher in Bournemouth, The Outspoken Press. Used copies are available at Abebooks. The diaries are said to be a ‘startlingly frank record of a poor, ambitious boy’s struggle to make good’. Here are a few extracts.

31 March 1911
‘(Fleet Street) And now, after a week of continuous work, I can rest awhile and write my thoughts. Ten minutes ago I hadn’t a penny in my pocket; now I have over £4! Watney offered me the ‘night news-editor’ job and I accepted - again on space! This means that anything I write through the night which is printed will be paid for. I can ‘order’ any stories from our correspondents in the provinces, too. I think he has a good opinion of me, and this has been strengthened by the report of Sir William Bull, who was ‘very pleased’ with what I did. As regards the work I am about to do, he added: ‘there are great possibilities’ in it, and I am of course going to make use of most of them. According to Watney’s description, it is a post I should love; but I must take care of my health. It is now 6:30pm and I have had nothing to eat since 8 this morning!’

12 April 1911
‘(The Old Victoria Park) I should really be in bed but here I am! Been too busy to write these notes; it seems as if I have made a really good start on the Evening Times. Given a chance at last I am seizing it with both hands. Despite my column stories I am none too confident. I’ve already has some experience of the vagaries of journalism, thank you! It is very easy to slip. Have ordered suit, overcoat and writing desk. The Census job fairly unnerved me. Had to go into terribly poor quarters of the East End slums. St Peter’s Road in Mile End, where I lived, was a paradise in comparison - with trees and a church at one end, and the Charrington brewery at the other! What terrible lives some people endure! I thought I had seen enough! Dead people . . . dying people . . . starving people. There was a beautiful slut sitting beside a coffin. Beneath her rags and dirt was a queen. . . Wrote an article on my experiences which will be published - I hope!

Today I put 10s down as ‘extra’ expenses, and it’s going to Watney for his OK. Careful my lad, careful!’

1 August 1928
‘Met John Logie Baird; a charming man - a shy, quietly-spoken Scot. He could serve as a model for the schoolboy’s picture of a shock-haired, modest, dreamy, absent-minded inventor. Nevertheless shrewd. We sat and chatted. He told me he is having a bad time with the scoffers and sceptics - including the BBC and part of the technical press - who are trying to ridicule and kill his invention of television at its inception. I told him that if he would let me see what he has actually achieved - well, he would have to risk me damning it - or praising it! If I were convinced - I would battle for him. We got on well together and I have arranged to test his remarkable claim.

(Later) Saw television! Baird’s partner, a tall good-looking but highly temperamental Irishman, Captain Oliver George Hutchinson, was nice but very nervous of chancing it with me. He was terribly anxious I should be impressed. Liked the pair of them, especially Baird, and decided to give my support. . . I think we really have what is called television. And so, once more into the fray!’

9 March 1956
‘(Bournemouth) Today is my 68th birthday - and it is time I finally closed my diaries! Would that it were possible to close my mind with equal emphasis. Thoughts, ideas, views continue to chase each other. . . How will it really end?

What comparisons can one make with the past? Were my times the ‘good old days’? Or were they, as our modern progressives call them, the ‘bad old days’? Well - where are we today? We have: penicillin; hydrogen bombs; radio; plastics; Teddy-boys; modern plumbing; Bikini suits; pheno-barbitone; television; cafetarias; automobiles for all; telephones for all; a broken sound-barrier; long-playing records; inflation; diesel engines; higher wages; guided missiles, and aspirin tablets which dissolve much more quickly than ever before. Are we any happier? - more secure? - really better off? One could write much on the subject, and the ensuing discussion would go on ‘far, far into the night’.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 5 December 2011.