Thursday, October 27, 2011

Of "Puff-Pastries" and Partisans: Soviet partisans vs. GRM rail traffic 1943

Flames of War
Leonid Grenkevich's The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941-1944 argues that the Soviet partisans behind the German lines were effective in their efforts to destroy communications.  One major success was the dismantling of railways, which were critical to German logistics.  When lacking explosives for basic demolitions, partisans were said to dismantle rails and hide them in marshes, rivers or lakes.  Grenkevich notes, "in this fashion, in August 1943 the fighters of three large partisan units in the Rovno District of the Ukraine managed both to blow up and dismantle about 34 kilometres of permanent railroad way." (249)  Actions such as this led to the greatest success of the partisans during the war, greatly hampering the later stages of the Battle of Kursk.

Flames of War
Partisans reportedly innovated in their methods of disrupting German rail traffic.  Removing both rails and sleeping cars, they would pile these up on top of each other resembling a layered "culinary delicacy".  When these so called "puff-pastries" were set on fire, the result was rails which were so mangled, they would never be used again.  Partisans near Minsk reportedly bent rails in such a way that they could never be used again, reminiscent of the famed Sherman's neckties in his destructive march to the sea.

Bedwetting as a Ticket Home: Canadian Psychiatrists in Britain, 1940

Psychiatry was a relatively new field when Canada went to war in 1939.  The establishment in 1940 of the No. 1 Neurological Hospital (or No. 1 Nuts as the group was known), in Basingstroke, England, to deal with neuropsychiatric cases was thus a milestone in Canadian Military History.  Here the staff assessed a number of men who had become stress casualties, during the Blitz.  Terry Copp and Bill McAndrew noted in their work Battle Exhaustion, that a number of men riding motorcycles on the wrong side of the road during the blackouts caused not only accidents but post-traumatic anxieties as well.   Some of these unfortunate men were treated to an "electric wire brush treatment", but most were diagnosed, treated to some psychotherapy and sent on their way.
Mrs. M.A. Simpson of the Canadian Red Cross assisting Lance-Corporal L.D. Turner with needlepoint work, No.11 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.), Taplow, England, 14 December 1944.  Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith. / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-128180

With little in the way of psychological screening for the original members of the 1st Canadian Division, a number of soldiers with previous records of neurosis had been enlisted and were visiting the hospital.  H.H. Hyland, who had worked in the Toronto General Hospital in the interwar years, was not convinced anything could be done for these men.  Alcoholics and the occasional psychopath that graced Basinstroke's halls were also deemed incurable.  Hyland was determined that these men should be returned to Canada, but that policy was soon found to be troublesome.  When administrators told one "chronic bedwetter" that he would be returned to Canada, the other patients soon caught wind of the news.  As Copp and McAndrew note, "by next morning word had spread and the ward stank of urine."

A wartime article by Hyland on neuroses cases at No. 1 Neurological Hospital:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Major Rogers Cusses a Blue Streak

Rogers.  Explorer and Cusser.  Train Web
Major Albert Bowman Rogers is deeply entrenched in Canadian history for the discovery of a railway route through the mountain pass that bears his name.  Pierre Berton's Last Spike characterizes Rogers as a hard travelling man who could survive on some hard tack and a plug of tobacco for long periods in the bush.  Rogers was no shrinking violet, and his demeanour could best be described as gruff.

An incident in 1881 serves to illuminate the colourful language spat when Rogers rode into a survey crew's Bow River camp. The top engineer, Hyndman, was the unfortunate recipient of Rogers' ire.  Rocky Mountain outfitter and guide Tom Wilson noted that he had the honour of leading Rogers, described as the "tattered creature on the scarecrow horse", to the man's tent.

"'What's your altitude?' [Rogers] shot at Hyndman.  The engineer stammered that he did not know. 'Blue Jesus!  Been here several days and don't know the altitude yet.  You _____!' There followed what Wilson described as 'wonderful exhibition of scientific cussing [which] busted wide all of Hyndman's 'Holy Commandments' and inspired delighted snickers and chuckles of admiration from the men who had quickly gathered around.'"

Buy your Own Blue Jesus at room322shop
Pierre Berton had to guess at what expletive came after the word "Blue", as Wilson had edited it out of his memoirs.  Berton explains that, "it is doubtful that he would have censored so mild a word as 'blazes' (and equally doubtful that the Major himself would have lapsed into such a euphemism), I have filled in the blank with the most obvious expletive." "Blue Jesus", seems to be a fitting 1880s epithet. One is left to wonder what term Rogers used to call Hyndman at the end of the statement.  There is so many options that Berton didn't even wager a guess and left the expletive blank.

"You _____!"

Montgomery's Terse Advice to the Secretary of State for the Colonies: Malayan Emergency 1951

Oliver Lyttelton.
Upon the return of the Conservatives to the British government in 1951, Mr. Oliver Lyttelton was appointed as the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and visited Malaya on a tour of inspection.  Malaya, recently reduced to a colonial backwater due to the emergence of hostilities in Korea, had been the scene of a communist insurgency for a number of years.  As John Coates notes in Suppressing Insurgency: An Analysis of the Malayan Emergency, 1948-1954,  Lyttelton quickly learned that the government in Malaya was in shambles, with control divided between the British Officer Administering the Government, and the military and paramilitary.  It was hard to discern how government administration and military operations were separate.  In hopes to implement broad reforms in administration, education, and training, Lyttelton decided that a strong leader was needed to run the show.

Looking first to General Sir Brian Robertson who hastily declined, and Field Marshal Slim, who claimed he was "too old to go flipping around in an Auster aircraft in the trying climate of Malaya", the report was forwarded to Prime Minister Churchill's office. (Coates, 111)  It just so happened that Field Marshal Montgomery was lunching with the PM that day, and the press speculated that Monty would be asked to take the task.

The next day Lyttelton recieved the following letter:
Montgomery at the Coronation, 1953.
NAM 1992-10-143-1600

Dear Lyttelton,
Malaya: we must have a plan.
Second, we must have a man.  When we have a plan, and a man, we shall succeed.
Not otherwise.
     Yours Sincerely,
     Montgomery, Field Marshal.

Lyttelton's response, a classic example of crisp British understatement was, "I may, perhaps without undue conceit, say that this had occurred to me." (Coates, 112)

Dumbo takes a Bullet: Odd Duties of a Second World War Staff Officer

Wanted Scrap Metal...To Make Tanks, Guns, Ammunition :  Canada's war effort and production sensitive campaign. Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-72
Austerity measures during the Second World War meant tightening belts and conserving materials.  One such sacrifice was made by a local zoo near Aldershot, England, where beginning in the bitter winter of 1939-40 the 1st Canadian Division was stationed overseas.  The zoo phoned the Canadians to inform them that they were unable to feed their elephant, and that the services of a soldier were needed to put the animal down.

John  Buchan, 2nd Baron Tweedsmuir PostalHistoryCorner Blog
John Buchan, later Baron Tweedsmuir, was the unfortunate officer to whom the deed fell to.  Buchan had proven an excellent shot during service in Africa, and was assigned to perform the unfortunate execution.  As Dominick Graham writes in The Price of Command, "permission was granted by CMHQ, but [GSOI] Turner made it a condition that the entry in the war diary show that it was in response to a request.  The sad deed was done.  Later the war diary was found to have the bald entry under the date "Leatherhead, 1531 hours.  The G 3 Intelligence shot an elephant."
Belfast Zoo's elephant managed to survive the war in a friendly zookeeper's backyard. BBC story.

An Ignorant Hobo that Needs a Good Thrashing: Canadian Army Medical Jargon, 1942

Copp and McAndrew's Battle Exhaustion, now over twenty years old, is still the only serious work on Canadian medical psychiatry in the Second World War.  The work is full of interesting information regarding the fledgling psychiatric organization in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and their attempts to run a system which sorted the mild and amenable stress cases from those irreparable psyches which required permanent evacuation from the combat zone.  One noted difference between the Canadian and British psychiatric establishments was that the British linked psychiatry with personnel selection and psychology, whereas the Canadians associated their psychiatrists with the medical side of war.  These difference withstanding, the Canadian Army did use some psychiatric principles in efforts to psychologically screen personnel. Copp and McAndrew's feelings about personnel selection can be summed up as such: "In Canada, staff officers of the personnel selection directorate - young men given commissions on the basis of university degrees or some university attendance - were testing, interviewing, and diagnosing other young men with the kind of assurance that only profound ignorance can provide."

An unidentified parachute candidate undergoing a medical examination at A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, 20 March 1945. Credit: Capt. Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-188829
In 1942, problems were identified with the young personnel examiners using pseudo-medical jargon in their assessment forms.  Bill Line, having credentials from the Toronto National Committee for Mental Hygiene, urged the examiners to avoid "diagnostic terms (or phrases that smack of diagnosis) [such as] psychopathic inferior, feeble minded, mental defective, moron, imbecile, neurotic, hysterical, sexual pervert, psychotic, [and] insane."  Line had to further outline several slang phrases of the day which should not be written in records which soldiers may have had access to.  Strictly forbidden were the phrases, "ignorant hobo", "needs a good thrashing", and "should be put through the mill." (Copp, 34).