Scattered war notes
“It was during the dying weeks of 1916, according to history, that there arose a disturbing factor which caused the Allies some concern. It was a peace note which was issued by the President of the United States and which was apparently based on the assumption that the two belligerent parties were equally responsible for the manner in which the war was being fought.”
This note I found in a work of fiction published 62 years ago by P.J. Wakeham. In that lull between Christmas and New Year I found myself thumbing through a copy of “Newfoundland’s Sister Thackery,” wondering if it was fact or fiction. It’s Wakeham’s story of an outstanding nurse who joins the Great War effort under the Red Cross banner. The story is one thing, but another is Wakeham’s apparently close reading of the history of “The Great War.” He injects what we might call war updates into the story as it moves along. These updates sometimes make an abrupt entrance into the Thackery story.
However, Wakeham, in this part, went on to argue that perhaps there were some who did not understand the manner in which the war was being conducted but the majority of the peace-loving nations knew that ... “everything that made life worth living was at stake, and the Allies would have to win the great struggle, or the world would sink back to the historical days of tyranny and oppression.”
It wouldn’t be the first time an American president misunderstood events in the larger world.
Sandwiches and coffee
In a recipe book published in St. John’s at the very start of the Second World War, there’s a section entitled “Sandwiches to serve with black coffee.” I may be just imagining things, but it seems like an appropriate section to have in those stressful times. One imagines a navy man standing on deck in the dead of night as his vessel leaves the shelter of St. John’s harbour and heads into the hazardous east. A cook emerges from inside carrying a steaming enamel mug of coffee and a tin tray of sandwiches. Here are a few from the book, word-for-word:
“Hot cheese sandwiches are delicious served with black coffee after dinner or luncheon. To make them spread both sides of thinly sliced white bread with butter. Between two slices put thinly sliced or grated cheese. Place in hot oven and brown quickly. Turn over and brown. Serve at once.
“HAM AND EGG SANDWICH – Mix yolks of six hard-boiled eggs with one teaspoon made mustard. Add one cup finely chopped ham and whites of the eggs chopped finely.
“CHICKEN SANDWICH — Chicken chopped, salt, pepper, celery, salt and melted butter.
“TONGUE SANDWICH — Tongue, thinly sliced, with salt, pepper and mustard or chopped and mixed with salad dressing.
“FILLINGS — Celery and nut and salad dressing. Cold baked beans, seasoned with salt and pepper. Minced ham with cream.”
World events are not the only things that change mightily over time; clearly, sandwiches, too, have evolved.
Talking about sandwiches
Here’s an American toast from 1916: “How proud I am of Uncle Sam! He’s known to all creation, as ruler of the land I love, this grand and mighty nation. What though I brag about flag, she well deserves renown; no enemy on land or sea has ever pulled her down.”
I don’t know about that flag never being pulled down. That sounds to me like fake news. Certainly, there was northern shipping sunk by the south during the Civil War and the American battleship Maine was blown up (or, blew up) in Havana harbour in 1898 during America’s war with Spain/ Cuba. She must have taken her flag with her.
War with the Boers
Next, two stanzas from what was once a well-known “flag” poem (it celebrated the Union Jack) but adjusted here in Newfoundland to include our little Dominion. This is extracted from an essay published in 1901 as the Boer War in South Africa, a thorn in Britain’s side, morphed into a war between an organized, uniformed army and a raggle-taggle, determined band of Boer guerrillas:
“It’s only a small piece of bunting, It’s only an old coloured rag, Yet thousands have died for its honour And shed their best blood for the flag.
“It floats o’er Newfoundland and Malta; O’er Canada, the Indies, Hong Kong; And Britons, where e’er that flag’s flying, Claim the right that to Britons belong.”
A historian may like to explore those two critical words in the last line: “the right.”
“THE ROYAL NEWFOUNDLAND REGIMENT, unlike most of the early regiments founded in Great Britain was never fortunate enough to be commanded by wealthy and influential colonels and was therefore never a fashionable regiment in the manner of the day. This of course is not surprising as there was no resident aristocracy in Newfoundland with the time and wealth to engage in such pursuits.”
Lt. Col. J.T. Allston, Commanding Officer, R.N.R., writing in the foreword to Skinner’s Fencibles, The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1795-1802, authored by David Webber, 1964.
A British-made water pitcher “For Right and Freedom”, c. 1901, commemorating the Second Boer War. It was purchased at a St. John’s antique shop. It had most likely been owned locally since the time of that war.
Ducks and gulls at Quidi Lake in late December. A one-volume general encyclopedia owned here in St. John’s in 1892, contains this vital data on ice thickness: “Ice, strength of — ice 2 in. thick will bear infantry; ice 4 in. thick will bear cavalry or light guns; ice 6 in. thick will bear heavy field guns; ice 8 in. thick will bear 24-pounder guns on sledges, weight not over 1,000 pounds to a square foot.