Scat­tered war notes

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - LOCAL - Paul Sparkes Paul Sparkes is a long­time jour­nal­ist in­trigued by the his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador. E-mail: [email protected]­gram.com.

“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.

PAUL SPARKES PHOTO

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.

PAUL SPARKES PHOTO

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.

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