The three Canadian heroes who hailed from a single street

During the past century and a half, fewer than 100 Canadian soldiers have earned the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded to members of that country’s military. Of those, the vast majority, 71, earned the award for action during World War I.

Amazingly, three recipients lived on the same street in the city of Winnipeg.

Cpl. Leo Beaumaurice Clarke, Sgt.-Major Frederick William Hall and Lt. Robert Shankland were separately awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of valor, or “valour.” as our Canadian friends spell it, during World War I, which Canada entered 100 years ago this month.

The three men all lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, which was renamed Valour Road in the 1920s to honor the trio. The name reflects the inscription on the Victoria Cross: “For Valour.”

The medals, now the property of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, have been loaned to the Manitoba Museum, which is commemorating the beginning of the Great War with a display of the three medals. This marks the first time all three Victoria Crosses have appeared together in Winnipeg, according to Global News.

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories.

Clarke and Hall died during the war, while Shankland survived. In all, 30 of Canada’s 71 World War I Victoria Cross recipients died during the 1914-18 conflict, which claimed the lives of approximately 67,000 Canadian soldiers, or nearly 1 percent of the nation’s population.

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Idiot fined for pretending to be ghost in graveyard

It was said that Samuel Colt’s famed revolver was the great equalizer in that it put men on a comparable footing when it came to defending themselves. That wasn’t necessarily the case, however, unless one knew how to wield a weapon.

The real equalizer has always been and will always be alcohol, for if one imbibes enough one can sink to a level of idiocy on par with most any other Grade A souse.

Take Anthony Stallard of Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, who was fined for, among other things, pretending to be a ghost in a cemetery, according to The Guardian.

The unemployed 24-year-old had been out drinking with friends when they went to Kingston cemetery in Portsmouth, where they started to play soccer.

Witnesses reported the group then began engaging in rowdy behavior, with one – Stallard – throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” within earshot of mourners visiting graves, according to a Hampshire police spokesman.

Stallard was fined £35 (nearly $60) and ordered to pay a £20 (nearly $35) victim surcharge and £20 in costs.

Stallard also had an extra three months added to a conditional charge for previous harassment which he was found to be in breach of, according to a Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman.

A charge of causing criminal damage to gravestones was dismissed.

Sure, some potted lout throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” is good for a laugh, but the part about doing it while people visit the graves of family members and the damaging of gravestones is hardly funny.

As the photo above indicates, Kingston cemetery is filled with many old gravestones; just because Stallard is without self-respect doesn’t mean he should get away with disrespecting others, whether they be dead or living descendants of the dead.

Wreaking havoc in cemetery may seem to some a victimless crime, but the desecration of gravestones shows a very real contempt for society as a whole.

A more fitting punishment would have been to have Stallard repair damage done and spend weekends maintaining the graveyard. While unlikely, there’s always the chance he would have gained at least a small understanding of why cemeteries are held to be reverent and historic locales by many.

However, one suspects this won’t be Stallard’s last brush with the law, so it’s likely there will be future opportunities for a judge or judges to consider interesting sentences for this miscreant.

(Top: Kingston cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Photo credit: The Guardian.)

American flags, from 1767 to 2014, and a lot in between

american flags

If there’s one thing Americans like, it’s a good flag. We’ve certainly had our fair share over the years.

The folks at Pop Chart Lab were kind enough to condense nearly 250 years of the American flags into a single poster, beginning with the Sons of Liberty’s 1767 banner to today’s familiar 50-star pattern.

This, however, likely isn’t all the flags used to represent the United States over the many decades, as the poster jumps from 1877, when there were 37 states, to 1912, when there were 48 states.

Given the concept of adding a star for each state in the Union, one supposes that the flag was altered every time a new state – or perhaps group of states (six were admitted between Nov. 2, 1889, and July 10, 1890, for example) was admitted – which would seemingly have resulted in other versions of the flag during the years in between.

Or perhaps the US government was so hell-bent on expansion that they simply decided to wait until they had filled in all the space between Canada and Mexico before coming up with the 48-star design in 1912.

Personally, I’m partial to the Gadsden Flag, although it’s pretty much been co-opted by the Tea Party rabble, the Moultrie Flag, which closely resembles today’s South Carolina flag, and the Green Mountain Boys Flag. Old, but interesting.

(HT: Fast Company)

Living in a world shaped by World War I and its aftermath

verdun cemetery

As the centennial marking the beginning of the Great War nears, we would do well to remember the sea change brought about by the 1914-18 conflict.

Beyond the more than 10 million killed, the onslaught of the Spanish influenza in 1918 which claimed an additional 50 million lives worldwide and the collapse of four major empires, World War I reshaped the world, and continues to impact us today.

The seeds for a second, much great world clash a generation later were planted in the peace treaties following the Great War; boundaries were drawn that still exist today, with countries created along arbitrary lines that served as catalysts for future tension and strife; and government control over areas such as trade and travel were forever altered and often restricted.

As Margaret MacMillan of Oxford College, the author of The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, writes in the Wall Street Journal, the conflict not only changed the course of history but sent the world down a dispiriting path that likely didn’t have to happen.

Before 1914, Russia was a backward autocracy but was changing fast. Its growth rate was as high as any of the Asian tigers in the 1960s and 1970s; it was Europe’s major exporter of food grains and, as it industrialized, was importing machinery on a massive scale. Russia also was developing the institutions of civil society, including the rule of law and representative government. Without the war, it might have evolved into a modern democratic state; instead, it got the sudden collapse of the old order and a coup d’état by the Bolsheviks. Soviet communism exacted a dreadful toll on the Russian people and indeed the world—and its remnants are still painfully visible in the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.

The war also destroyed other options for Europe’s political development. The old multinational empires had their faults, to be sure, but they enabled the diverse peoples within their boundaries to live in relative harmony. Both Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans were trying to work out ways of encompassing the demands of different groups for greater autonomy. Might they have succeeded if the war had not exhausted them to the point of collapse? We will never know, but since then, the world has suffered the violence and horrors of ethnic nationalism.

The armistice of 1918 ended one gigantic conflict, but it left the door open for a whole host of smaller ones – the “wars of the pygmies,” as Winston Churchill once described them. Competing national groups tried to establish their own independence and to push their borders out at the expense of their neighbors. Poles fought Russians, Lithuanians and Czechs, while Romania invaded Hungary. And within their borders, Europeans fought each other. Thirty-seven thousand Finns (out of some 3 million) died in a civil war in the first months of 1918, while in Russia, as many as a million soldiers and many more civilians may have died by the time the Bolsheviks finally defeated their many opponents.

The war had brutalized European society, which had grown accustomed during the largely peaceful 19th century to think that peace was the normal state of affairs. After 1918, Europeans were increasingly willing to resort to other sorts of force, from political assassinations to street violence, and to seek radical solutions to their problems. The seeds of the political movements on the extremes of both the right and the left – of fascism and communism – were sown in the years before 1914, but it took World War I to fertilize them.

The war aided the rise of extremism by weakening Europe’s confidence in the existing order. Many Europeans no longer trusted the establishments that had got them into the catastrophe. The German and Austrian monarchies were also overthrown, to be succeeded by shaky republics. The new orders might have succeeded in gaining legitimacy in time, but that was the one thing that Europe and the world didn’t have. The Great Depression at the end of the 1920s swept the new regimes away and undermined even the strongest democracies.

The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28, 1914, was, sadly, just one of a number of high-profile assassinations that had taken place in the previous few decades, including those of US President William McKinley, Czar Alexander II of Russia and King Umberto I of Italy.

But by the time Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip killed Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on a street in Sarajevo, the world was, quite simply, bound on a course for destruction.

One hundred years later we would do well to study the Great War and the world it made.

(Top: Cemetery at Verdun, France, scene of some of the worst fighting of World War I.)

Famed one-cent stamp sells for nearly $9.5 million

one cent magenta auction

A tiny piece of paper nearly 160 years old reaffirmed its place as the world’s most expensive item by weight and size.

The famous British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp, the only one of its kind, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York earlier this week for $7.9 million – nearly $9.5 million if one includes the buyer’s premium.

It marks the fourth time the stamp has fetched a world-record price over its storied existence and a marked increase from the $935,000 it last sold for, when John duPont purchased it in 1980.

The stamp was produced in a very limited issue in Georgetown, British Guiana, (now Guyana) in 1856, and only one specimen is now known to exist. It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return).

The stamp came about after an anticipated delivery of postage stamps by ship did not arrive, forcing the local postmaster to authorize printing of an emergency issue. The postmaster gave some specifications about the design, but the printers, showing an artists’ inclination, chose to add a ship image of their own design to the stamps.

The postmaster was less than pleased with the result and, and as added protection against forgers, ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk. This cursive initials “E.D.W.” seen on the One-Cent Magenta are those of clerk E.D. Wight.

There are several reasons why this stamp reached such stratospheric heights at auction on June 17, according to The Economist:

  • The One-Cent Magenta is the only one of its kind known to exist;
  • It has a fascinating history, having been printed in 1856, just 16 years after the introduction of the first stamps, by a British Guianese newspaper when the colony was in danger of running out of stamps; and
  • There are a growing number of rich people throughout the world, due particularly to China’s turbo-charged economic rise, increasing the premium for collectible items.

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Conrad Heyer: Oldest American ever photographed

conrad_heyer

Conrad Heyer was 103-years old when he had his photograph taken for the first time. Heyer wasn’t so much camera-shy as a man on the cusp of a technological revolution, which accounts for the reason why he was so old when he posed for his initial photo, taken in 1852.

Heyer, a Revolutionary War veteran who crossed the Delaware River along with Gen. George Washington and Capt. James Monroe in December 1776, is acclaimed as the person with the earliest birthdate ever captured in a photograph.

Heyer not only lived a long life, but remained surprising active practically until his death.

In 1852, the Portland (Maine) Advertiser reported that Heyer, despite being a centenarian, travelled six miles through a severe storm to cast a vote for presidential candidate Gen. Winfield Scott.

Heyer had voted in every presidential election to that point, “and had always been a Whig,” according to the publication.

Heyer was born in April 1749 in Waldoboro, Maine, which was then part of the colony of Massachusetts. He died nearly 107 years later, also in Waldoboro.

He enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment in December 1775 and not only served in the Continental Army under Washington during the Revolutionary War and crossed the Delaware with the Patriot commander-in-chief but fought in several major battles.

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Eisenhower and the North Dakota corporal

Eisenhower talking to troops on d-day

The photograph of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower talking with American paratroopers moments before they were to board planes bound for the French coast and the invasion of Normandy on D-Day is among the most famous of World War II.

The story behind it is less well known.

Bill Hayes, the helmetless trooper shown in the center of the photo just to the right of Eisenhower, behind the latter’s uplifted hand, remembered getting ready to make his first-ever combat jump when someone asked, “Well, you ready?”

He looked over to see Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe.

Hayes was a corporal in Company E, 2 Battalion, 502nd Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, which was spearheading the American wing of the invasion, which began 70 years ago today.

Their objective was as simple as it was difficult: Jump from C-47 transport planes behind enemy lines and destroy German guns along the Normandy coast before the infantry landed on the beach.

Hayes, who was 26 at the time, recalled Eisenhower spent just a few minutes with his unit before they boarded the planes.

“He says, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He kind of danced around … and I said I was damned scared,” Hayes would recall in 1994, on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing.

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