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The Flame and the Glow

Posted By on April 18, 2021

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive. A reoccurring theme of light within the film. (Wiki image)

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive.
A reoccurring theme of light within the film.
(Wiki image)

Radium – Light the catalyst…

She’s wonderful isn’t she…her dance…her name is Loie Fuller [pioneer of modern dance and theatrical lighting] if you wish to see her again…she calls it… this dance…her fire dance…[Why?]…I believe its because she’s interested in the way flames move.

Henri Curie speaking to Marie Skłodowska from Radioactive. Screenplay by Jack Thorne.

Madame Marie Curie. (Wiki image)

Madame Marie Curie.
(Wiki image)

Last night, during the earlier dark hours, I scanned through the available films on offer. Despite my constant click about I chose Radioactive, a biopic of Madame Marie Curie (nee Skłodowska) the discoverer of radium (Ra) and polonium (Po). Released in 2019 the film was directed by Marjane Satrapi whose story, starring Rosamund Pike as Curie, set me on a path of questioning and curiosity. Did Madame Curie really sleep with radioactive material near to her? Did Madame Curie offer to melt her Nobel prizes – Physics (1903) shared with her husband Pierre Curie and in Chemistry (1911) – for the war effort? Why have I not thought about Madame Curie and the Great War previously? How interested was Madame Curie in spiritualism? Has a Great War Petite Curie survived, to be cared for in a museum?

Though these questions I leave, for the most part, for my readers to explore…the film’s time sequences reminded me of my own interests in the history of X-ray. I first encountered Madame Curie in 1967 when upon my return to Canada my family’s possessions stored for some time came home. Amongst the items the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Within Volume 4 Chalk to Czechoslovakia…Madam Curie…the first I read of her. I was seven years old.

In 2000 I wrote a short history of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine delivered in 1924 and first operated by George Bradley the janitor of Chilliwack General Hospital. Chilliwack’s machine was one of the new models specifically designed for use in smaller hospitals and cost $2136.15 equivalent to $32,018.78 today. Prior to the arrival of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine, area patients requiring X-rays were required to travel to hospitals on the coast.

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

In 2005 a visit to the National War Museum, Fort St. Elmo, Valletta, Malta led me to an encounter in the exhibition galleries with an early X-ray machine. No doubt I wondered at the time how similar the machine before me was to Chilliwack’s 1924 machine. Was Malta’s machine an earlier model, of the same vintage to Chilliwack’s? Or had it been on the island some time previous, throughout the Great War, when Malta was known as the nurse of the Mediterranean?

X-rays are a standard form of medical diagnostic tool. First invented in 1895 by German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen, Madam Curie’s discovery and implementation of radium as the gamma ray source for Roentgen’s machine made for more accurate and better X-ray imaging. Radium as the catalyst allows for the use of high energy electromagnetic radiation to create medical images. This penetrative form of imagery allows medical practitioners to discover the physical hurt and complications within our injured and ill persons.

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front. (Wiki Image)

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front.
(Wiki Image)

With the onset of the Great War Marie Curie recognized that the use of radiology would be instrumental in the detection of shrapnel, bullets and fragments as well as the shards of broken bones within the wounded. Her work with the French Red Cross Radiology Service saved untold lives and through her connections Curie created a fleet of 20 mobile vehicles, which became known as Petite Curies and supplied another 200 radiological units to field hospitals. The mobile radiology units were instrumental in saving countless lives as being designed for use closer to the battlefields meant that diagnostic time was considerably reduced. Informed decisions could be made quicker without the complications of travel time to hospitals far back from the fields of conflict.

In 1924 Madame Curie died from aplastic anemia likely stemming from her long-term work with radiation. Her remains, clothes, furniture, cookbooks and laboratory notebooks, the latter considered to be national and scientific treasure remain radioactive. The laboratory archives are stored in lead lined boxes at the Bibliothèque nationale France, Paris.

Tale of Two Canals

Posted By on March 29, 2021

Huge container ship, Ever Green, loaded with containers.

The container ship Ever Given at Rotterdam, 2020.
Image from Flickr (Kees Torn) via Wikipedia.

Container Ships and Dreadnoughts

Since 1849 I have studied incessantly, under all its aspects, a question which was already in my mind since 1832. I confess that my scheme is still a mere dream, and I do not shut my eyes to the fact that so long as I alone believe it to be possible, it is virtually impossible…The scheme in question is the cutting of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez.

Ferdinand de  Lesseps, Developer of the Suez Canal, 8 July 1852

Ever Given

With this day’s announcement that the container ship Ever Given has been freed from its undesirable ground perch on the Suez Canal, all maritime traffic is again free to sail along the 193 km (120 mile) canal.  The delay meant at least 369 vessels had to wait for the obstruction to be cleared but as of this day can now start to move forward or, from earlier days, Make steam! The cost of the Ever Given grounding estimated, by Lloyd’s of London, to be $400,000,000 USD per hour.

Marine Traffic Map

The Ever Given at 399.94 m (1,312’ 2”) long, 58.8 m (192’ 11”) wide across the beam and a draught of 14.5 m (47’ 7”) makes it one of the world’s largest container ships. In contrast the Suez Canal is about 200 m (656’) wide and is able to accommodate vessels with a beam of 77.5 m (254’ 3”) , and a draft of 20.1 m (66’). Over time changes have been made to increase the size of the Suez Canal but so too has the size of commercial and naval vessels increased. With the increased global demand for goods, container ships have grown in size. One wonders how much bigger these commercial vessels can become? However, this is not the first time that large vessels or canals have collided with the desires for greater commerce and control of the waterways.

The recent Ever Green grounding is not the first time that the Suez Canal has been obstructed or featured in the desires of nations. However the episode has been my impetus to recall those sea stories and river narratives I have read or watched. Perhaps today is time to bring O’Toole, Hawkins, Wallach, Lukas, the SS Patna to my thoughts again…another time…another time.

Maersk Line Suez Canal Time Lapse Journey

The bow of HMS Dreadnought.

The bow of HMS Dreadnought.

Dreadnought…

Fisher was volatile, egocentric, overbearing, belligerent, and bellicose. He was also passionately patriotic, brilliantly intelligent, and possessed of prophetic powers that were almost uncanny in their accuracy. Even his contemporary enemies, of whom there were many, had to acknowledge that he had been responsible for almost every important innovation incorporated in the battle fleet in 1914…

A History of the Modern Battleship, Richard Hough, 1975

A revolution in sea power occurred when the brainchild of Sir John “Jackie” Fisher, HMS Dreadnought was commissioned 2 December 1906. HMS Dreadnought (Fear Nothing) was unequalled or unrivalled. Dreadnought was 160.6 m (527’) long, a beam of 25 m (82’ 1”) and a draught of 9 m (29’ 7.5”). It was the first vessel to be powered by steam turbines and it was the first of 35 Royal Navy dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts to be built that served during the Great War 1914 -1918.

With its appearance upon the waters HMS Dreadnought’s presence did not go un-noticed. Germany commenced its own build of warships commencing with their own dreadnoughts commissioning 19 vessels by October 1916 when the program stopped in favour of U-Boat production.

The stern of HMS Dreadnought.

The stern of HMS Dreadnought.

Meanwhile…

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal in 1900. Renamed in 1948 as the Kiel Canal. (Wikipedia image)

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal in 1900. Renamed in 1948 as the Kiel Canal.
(Wikipedia image)

The advanced design and appearance of the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought also affected a major German waterway. The 98.26 km (61.06 miles) Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal [KWK], now the Kiel Canal, required widening to accommodate increased commercial traffic as well as the demands of the Imperial German Navy. Between 1907 and 1914 the fresh-water KWK was widened and its lock capacity increased. These important modifications allowed Germany’s new dreadnoughts to sail from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to sail around Denmark.

On 31 May – 1 June 1916 some 250 warships of two rival nations, Great Britain and Germany, met upon the waves at the Battle of Jutland. Of these 28 Royal Navy and 16 Imperial German Navy were dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts. Not amongst them was HMS Dreadnought being in refit at the time of the only major naval engagement of the Great War. Twenty-five vessels, 14 British and 11 German were sunk – none were dreadnoughts.

Ten Imperial German Navy dreadnoughts were scuttled at Scapa Flow, Orkney Island, Scotland in 1919.

The sea on this misnamed planet Earth. (P. Ferguson image, 2011)

The sea on this misnamed planet Earth.
(P. Ferguson image, 2011)

The sea has never been friendly to man.
At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad, 1906

Brother Captains in the 16th

Posted By on February 21, 2021

Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral Cemetery, Winnipeg. (P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral Cemetery, Winnipeg.
(P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

The Strang Brothers

Some years ago, a decision was made to visit Winnipeg and have a wander about over a three-day period. The visit was our typical exploration of a city, its cemeteries, historical sites and points of interest. Much was learned as both new names of interest and familiar ones were brought to light. So too many images were gathered and recently, whilst contemplating tags and metadata, I came across some of the pictures taken at Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral Cemetery.

Of interest for today are the markers of the Strang brothers, former officers of the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Both brothers include the given name of Sinclair; being the maiden name of their mother, Ann Harriet Strang.

Marker of Captain Harold Beresford Sinclair Strang. (P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

Marker of Captain Harold Beresford Sinclair Strang.
(P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

Captain Harold Beresford Sinclair Strang 1887 – 1969

Originally a Lieutenant with the 43rd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Harold was transferred to the 16th Battalion serving in France from 13 October 1915. On 4 September 1916 at La Boiselle he received gun shot wounds to both legs, the left leg being amputated. In December 1917 Harold was awarded the Russian Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd Class with swords and bow.

Captain Campbell Sinclair Strang. (Winnipeg Tribune, 20 February 1939, p. 18)

Captain Campbell Sinclair Strang.
(Winnipeg Tribune, 20 February 1939, p. 18)

Captain Campbell Sinclair Strang 1878 – 1939

A Canadian Mounted Rifles veteran of the Boer War Campbell Strang was an accomplished horseman who in his youth bred dogs and much later canaries. His birds were known to international fanciers who exhibited at events in Europe and the United States. Strang’s horses were equally well known. In Winnipeg, his horse Catbouche was a prize winner in local show circles and during the Great War his horse Sheila was considered one of the finest show horses in the British Army.

Soon after the outbreak of Great War in August 1914, Strang volunteered and was sent for training at Valcartier. Initially with the 6th Battalion CEF (Fort Garry Horse) he subsequently joined the 27th Battalion serving with them in France before proceeding to the 16th Battalion. His portrait photograph shows him wearing the insignia of the 16th Battalion with whom he served 8 November 1916 to 19 October 1917. He was a member of the 16th Battalion Veterans Association. A third brother, Robert Sinclair Strang, known as Robin, also served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Marker of Captain Campbell Sinclair Strang. (P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

Marker of Captain Campbell Sinclair Strang.
(P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

These Legs Need to Journey

Posted By on January 16, 2021

Pen and Key

The quiet suggests a slight hint of echo within my ears. They too…like all of self are searching, my mind races towards an endless sea of pages, facing not upwards but viewed from their edges. Within the constant turning only the blur of ideas. No story…no pictures…only endless notes posted haphazard to a mind board…these legs need to journey.

My eyes stumble time and time again…is this just more of the same? This observer of history’s reminders and remainders is stymied. Our constant companion the menace of the time lurks…no menace wanted here…and so the pages of my virtual book of ideas continue to flip. Surge no surge. Nothing anchors within…only the drag of a chain and flukes seeking a foundation.

I have watched Ted Talks (Andrew Stanton) about clues to a great story, chosen to watch John Carter (2012) and channeled Edgar Rice Burroughs; The 39 Steps (1935) but these are not the steps I seek; V for Vendetta (2005) – a menace here too…interesting but no path for my musings;…The Red Baron (2008) soaring but wanting; and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), intriguing but mostly in its brief treatment of the Blitz.

I come to realize that my usual treasury of resources is not delivering…film, sound and soundtrack, the words of others…all require my own journeys to find connection, similar and dissimilar…joys of discovery. These legs need to journey…finding the places and things that bring all together…when resources are easier at hand and the pen and key become willing partners again. Still have I missed something…I still haven’t found what I am looking for and yet here I am…

All About Biscuits

Posted By on December 21, 2020

A HAPPY XMAS FROM DARDANELLES 1915 Army biscuit, Imperial War Museum, London. (P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

A HAPPY XMAS FROM DARDANELLES 1915
Army biscuit, Imperial War Museum, London.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

A Christmas Dardanelles Army Biscuit

The four inch square number 4 Army standard biscuit, and other known varieties, were hard as a rock, made of whole wheat flour and lacked nutrients. The mostly loathed biscuit was produced during the Great War by British firms such as Huntley & Palmers, based in Reading. The biscuit could be a challenge to a soldier’s dental work but soldiers, being an inventive and resourceful lot, managed to find creative uses to allow the biscuits to pass for palatable by soaking them in tea or water. Or alternatively, by turning them into picture frames, canvases, postcards and message boards. Some of these army issued refashioned biscuits became the subject of a 2015 exhibition produced by the Reading Museum and The Museum of English Rural Life. See The First World War in Biscuits”. 

Huntley and Palmer was founded in 1822 and became equally known, apart from their biscuits and cakes for their fine decorative and prized tins.  During the Great War not only did they produce No. 4s and seemingly Nos. 1- 5, 9 and 10, but they also converted their tin shops to the production of cases for artillery shells. See: Huntley and Palmers tinsThe firm, The Most Famous Biscuit Company in the World continued in the biscuits and cakes trade until 1976 but has recently returned to operations.

Huntley and Palmers Great War biscuits were impressed with the lettering “Huntley & / ARMY No. 4 / PALMERS”. Presumably other varieties include different numbers and other manufacturers.