Category Archives: Society & Culture

Rwanda 25 years ago

Lest we forget: 25 years ago a genocidal massacre in Rwanda started. Nearly a million killed in 100 days. Here is what it was like, a couple months after it ended, at one killing site. A church and school in Zaza in south-east Rwanda.

arriving zaza 25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI know that we’re going to see a well…

We get to the wells, They’re side by side. You can stand right on the lip of the well, if you’re brave enough.

‘Please remember, don’t cross over the slab. And don’t fall in! Please!’

We have some soldiers with us. Airborne guys from one Grizzly that was travelling with us. So when I’m coming up to the well, there’s already ten or fifteen people already milling around. Some are retching. I realize that this is the well. This is the well lip. These are the bodies.

They’re not right on the surface, they’re maybe ten feet below and there’s water in there and there’s probably five bodies that we can see. I don’t know what’s underneath, I don’t want to know.

bodies-in-well-25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI see a woman sprawled out, face up. She has – I don’t notice it at first – but she’s got a silver bracelet on. It’s hard to see. It was kind in the shadows. Her hand was at the side of the well. I couldn’t really make it out but it was a close-fitting silver bracelet.

‘Why do you remark on the bracelet?’

Because it wasn’t a naked dehumanized corpse. She had something that obviously she found pretty or that had meaning for her. Something that she used to dress herself up with. She was a human who had, you know, probably had liked pretty dresses, and pretty cloth and jewellery. And it was still on her. Nothing else was. It showed that she’d been alive.

The well was at a school in Zaza…

We’re stepping over four or five inches of broken glass, of wood, of nails. The bodies had all been destroyed one way or another. The place had been burned, I guess to try to get rid of the evidence.

burned-school-25-sep-1994 photo d stewart‘The room over there was somewhat of a torture chamber.’

‘It must have been rooms for students. Look at this book. This is children’s writing. In Kinyarwanda, English, French. They were learning to cook. This one – how the flowers grow, with drawings of flowers. These are children’s books that they used to study with.’

‘How many were killed?’

‘Some estimate over a thousand people. In here there must have been lots of murders because you can still smell the smell but you can’t see any bodies.’

We go into these rooms…

They’re dark and there’s black stuff stuck to the floors and the walls. If you had a wall with chewing gum stuck on it and then burned, that’s what it would look like.

‘All of this on the walls, from the experts that have been with us, this stuff here is human tissue, bone matter, skin. And then it was burned.’

‘There’s bullet holes right up the wall.’

‘I wonder what this tool is. Well, it’s a farming tool but I bet you they used it to hack people with. So these people here obviously suffered. Jesus, it was not an easy death. That, there, must be bone matter too.’

‘There’s a pile over there – there’s a chapel with a pile of bones, human bones, children’s bones. And it was burned. So they made kind of a camp fire to stay warm at night.’

bones-campfire-zaza-church-25-sep-1994 photo d stewartAs you walk in, on the wall that’s on your left, there’s a big dark brown stain, low on the wall. And then coming up from it, going up in an arc, a splattered arc, curving to the left above this blob, there’s dark splatters of blood. And also curving to the right there’s another arc of splatters.

‘Look at this arc, how high it is. And it’s in kind of a v-shape, eh? So the person who was standing here. It’s like somebody was with a paintbrush, whipping it.’

Somebody was macheted here…

Where their body was is the large stain. You can see where they would have been chopped in one side of the neck and that would have produced that arc. And they would have been chopped on the other side and that would have produced that arc.

I can imagine this, I can look at what’s the indicators of this death. A kid or an adult crouched there. With their head down, trying to protect themselves. And I can see a hand with a machete. Hacking, hacking, hacking. But I can’t attach that arm to anything.

‘Can you put a face on the person that did this?’

No, I can’t. No, I can’t put a face on the people that did that. I don’t think that I could put a face of a monster on. It would be the face of anybody, I think.

zaza outside school 25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI took no pictures of the room described here. It was too dark, too hideous. There was nothing left except trace evidence. That was almost worse.

Tap or click the pictures to enlarge them. The “voices” in the text are mine, the documentary producer, and Canadian Forces officers in the room in Zaza. It is from Rwanda Maps, for CBC Radio Newfoundland. I took the photographs for myself, to remember.

Also see my post Rwanda. You can listen to Lt.-Gen. (Retd) Roméo Dallaire on today’s CBC Sunday Edition.

A Great Reckoning

Usually I read an author’s acknowledgement page first, even if it’s at the back of the book. But when I started A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, for some reason I didn’t. And for that I am so thankful. Maybe it was Inspector Armand Gamache telling me – leave it, let the story tell its tale.

My three pines in misty morning photo d stewartMs Penny’s acknowledgements are heartfelt and heartbreaking. So too is her novel. After reading the last page of the novel, and letting my emotions and thoughts settle, I read the acknowledgements. Ah, I should have known. I should have known where this book fit in Ms. Penny’s real life story. But not knowing while reading it made both all the more moving.

This 2016 novel, 12th in the series, gives the history and geography of Three Pines. It explains some of the mysteries of this isolated little village in Quebéc’s Eastern Townships. It also tells some of the backstory of Inspector Gamache. I wasn’t sure, while reading, that I wanted to know these things. The formative aspects of Armand Gamache and Three Pines were mysteries, yes, and ones I no longer felt I needed to know about. But their telling was good. Knowing more of their histories hasn’t diminished my appreciation for either him or the village.

There are many reckonings in this book, murder being the central one. Many reverberations of Shakespeare’s line in As You Like It: “It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” Ms Penney uses that as her introductory quote. Paying up, consequences.

A Great Reckoning is best if you know Three Pines

I think this is the most beautiful book in the entire series. But don’t start with it. To see the beauty, and significance, you need to know Three Pines and Inspector Gamache’s history in the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force. It’s good also to already know the odd assortment of village residents. Then you get the full import of this story.

World War I is part of A Great Reckoning too. No matter what time of year you read it, that will stand out for you. But if you like to mark November 11th with a special personal tribute, read it then. If you haven’t read the series, you could start now and easily get to this one by Remembrance Day.

Amazon.ca for A Great Reckoning
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Thank you, Ms Penny. It must have been very hard for you writing this book. I’m so glad you did. It will stay with me, phrases and images that bring a smile and a tear.

Louise Penny’s website has a lot about Three Pines and writing as well as the complete order of novels. There are two more published after A Great Reckoning and a new one due in August 2019 entitled A Better Man.

King’s Curse

the king's curse amazon link
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The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is about Henry VIII. It was published in 2014. Despite knowing this, I kept checking the publication date because of passages like this:

Dear God, I’d never tell the truth to this king… He has become a man quite out of control of his teachers, of the priests, perhaps of himself. There is no point giving the king an honest opinion, he wants nothing but praise of himself. He cannot bear one word of criticism. He is merciless against those who speak against him. (p. 495)

In 2019, two years into US President Donald Trump’s reign, The King’s Curse reads like subversive allegory. That is unintentional of course. It was written pre-Trump. Also Philippa Gregory is a historian, and keeps her imagination true to historical likelihoods.

A passage in her author’s note, about “how easily a ruler can slide into tyranny,” is chilling, though. And it applies equally to those born to the position or elected.

Because no one effectively defended

As Henry moved from one advisor to another, as his moods deteriorated and his use of the gallows became an act of terror against his people, one sees in this well-known, well-loved Tudor world the rising of a despot. He could hang the faithful men and women of the North because nobody rose up to defend Thomas More, John Fisher, or even the Duke of Buckingham. He learned that he could execute two wives, divorce another, and threaten his last because no one effectively defended his first. (p. 603)

Henry VIII just wanted people to like him. He was a breath of fresh air at the beginning. Accomplished in everything he did, young and handsome, in love with his Queen Katherine. But then it went wrong. His moral compass, it seems, centred on himself. The belief system and welfare of the country took second place to what he needed. And he needed a son. So began his complete upheaval of everything sacred and secular in Britain. For Henry, the political was extremely personal.

Lady Margaret Pole

Unknown_woman_formerly_known_as_Margaret_Pole_Countess_of_Salisbury_NPG_retouched-wikicommons
possibly Margaret Pole, National Portrait Gallery

The King’s Curse tells Henry VIII’s story from boyhood, when he was the “spare”, to midway through his six wives. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, tells the story. She is a York from the Plantagenet line of British monarchs. The Yorks wore the white rose in the War of the Roses, opposed to their cousins, the Lancasters, whose emblem was the red rose.

Henry VIII’s father was the first Tudor king. Henry VII took the throne after defeating Richard III, the last Yorkist king, in battle. So Henry VIII was desperate for a son to ensure the continuation of the still new House of Tudor. But it lasted only to the next generation. First the brief reign of his young son Edward VI, then his daughter Mary, and finally Elizabeth I. She fulfilled her father’s dreams of empire but, having no children, the Tudor dynasty died with her.

Family_of_Henry_VIII_Allegory_of-Tudor_Succession wikicommons
Tudor Succession: Mary, Henry VIII, Edward, Elizabeth (detail) National Museum Cardiff

The King’s Curse is the last in The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. It also fits in with her Tudor Court novels (philippagregory.com). Despite it being late in the story, you could easily start her books with this one. It stands alone and touches on much of what is in the other novels. For more on those, see my Reading History.

pagination from Touchstone paperback ed. 2014

Roger Gonzales

roger gonzales-poster-april-1989A poster of a young man in Tegucigalpa’s central square. Kidnapped April 19, 1988. It’s in a photograph I just happened to take when I was there one year later. Looking at it recently, I wondered who is he? Thanks to search engines and dedicated searchers for the disappeared in Honduras, I found him. Roger Gonzáles, 24 year old student. Still disappeared.

Last week I’d wondered if Donald Trump remembered anything about the 1980s US interference in Central America. If he really didn’t realize that there might be a connection between then and the caravan of people at the US border now. (see Honduran Contra Camps 1989)

desaparecidos-roger-gonzales-1988 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras
Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras

Disappeared in 1988: ROGER SAMUEL GONZALEZ

The contradictory responses of the military no longer surprise Elvia Zelaya, mother of the “disappeared” student Roger González.

Roger González, a 24-year-old leader of the Federation of Second-Year Students (FESE) and employee of the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), was kidnapped before witnesses on April 19, 1988, at noon, while walking through the Central Park of Tegucigalpa. His captors were two men and a woman dressed in civilian clothes. Subsequently, one of them was identified by a witness as a member of the DNI*.

In the Honduran courts, five writs of habeas corpus were filed in favor of Roger González. In response to these appeals, several members of the DNI, FUSEP* and the First Infantry Battalion denied having Roger González in their custody. In one case, the executing judge was not even allowed access to the cells of the police unit cited in the habeas corpus. A statement by a spokesman for the Armed Forces, according to which Roger González had been captured by FUSEP, was later vehemently denied by agents of FUSEP itself, one of whom added that, in fact, FUSEP was looking for Roger González in relation to a violent demonstration held before the United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa on April 7, 1988.

In May 1988, relatives, friends and colleagues of Roger Samuel González Zelaya began a hunger strike in the Central Park of Tegucigalpa to protest their arrest and demand their release. The hunger strike lasted 23 days, and was suspended when Roger’s mother became ill.

In an interview with the press on October 8, 1988, the then head of the armed forces declared that Roger Samuel González Zelaya was probably hiding somewhere abroad.

However, Fausto Reyes Caballero, a former member of Battalion 3-16* who fled to the United States of America after deserting, testified in a testimony before several human rights groups in 1988 that he had seen Roger González in mid-July in the barracks of Battalion 3-16 in San Pedro Sula.

(Google translation of COFADEH page)

*DNI is Dirección Nacional de Investigación, National Directorate of Investigation (police).

FUSEP is Fuerza de Seguridad Pública, Public Safety Force (police).

Battalion 3-16 was an intelligence unit of the Honduran army “responsible for carrying out political assassinations and torture… Battalion members received training and support from the United States Central Intelligence Agency” (Wikipedia).

“Honduras Accused of Death-Squad Operations”

Julia Preston, in The Washington Post  (Nov. 1, 1988), tells the story of González and others. She wrote about Sgt. Fausto Reyes Caballero:

Reyes said he last visited the [Battalion 316] office in San Pedro [Sula] in mid-July [1988], caught a glimpse there of a pale youth, handcuffed and blindfolded, and was told by a sergeant on duty that the prisoner was Roger Gonzalez. Gonzalez disappeared in Tegucigalpa during a police sweep in which about a dozen Hondurans were arrested after the burning of the U.S. Consulate there April 7…

Honduran police first acknowledged, then denied Gonzalez was in their custody.

donde estas roger-conexihon.hnWhere are you Roger?

“My tongue sticks to my palate
from so much repeating
your name to the wind.
My hands age playing
insensitive gates
They offer me silences for an answer … “

– Fragment of the poem Where are you Roger?, written by his mother Elvia Zelaya.

In a 2017 Conexihon post (Spanish, or see in English), Doña Elvia remembers her son Roger. He’d be 52, she says. She still offers a Mass for him. Aside from protests for answers, that’s all she can do in his memory. “When the mother buries her son, she knows that she is going to put a flower in the cemetery, she is going to visit there,” she says, but “not even that” for her. There still are no answers to what happened to Roger Samuel González Zelaya.

Honduran Contra Camps 1989

Donald Trump calls it “the Democrat Party led… assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador…” (Twitter Oct. 18, 2018). A caravan of migrants started in Honduras, headed to the US border. This is one time when he legitimately can blame his predecessors. Especially the Reagan Republican administration which did everything it could do, legally and illegally, to get rid of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. That included funding an army and basing them in – guess where – Honduras. Honduras and all of us are still paying for that today. This is what I saw at a contra camp in 1989. (Click/tap photos to enlarge.)

Killing Time in the Honduran contra camps

contra-man-seated-photo-d-anger-1989The Sunday Express, August 20, 1989 pp 25, 40

Last week, five Central American presidents signed a peace accord for that region, agreeing to demobilize the Washington-backed rebel army by December 1989. Contra leaders say they will not lay down their arms, but nine commanders have already asked for asylum in the U.S. In April, Dorothy Anger visited the contra camps.

By Dorothy Anger, Special to The Sunday Express

From 1 a.m. until almost daybreak, the slap-slap-slap of hands shaping corn meal into tortillas is the only sound heard in the camp in the jungle of the Yamales Valley in southern Honduras. This is the strategic command base camp of the Nicaraguan resistance army – the contras. Nearer dawn, the noise of roosters and cicadas is joined by noise of the waking troops. The soldiers bathe and do morning exercises before daylight.

At 6:30 breakfast is served from a kitchen hut just outside the barbed-wire which surrounds the camp. Fifteen kilometres from the Nicaraguan border, this is the administrative centre for the 10,000 contra troops. The troops are divided into 26 regional battalions scattered over several kilometres in the valley.

Women and men commandos

Most of the commandos, as they call themselves, are men, but there are some women among them. Now that they are not engaged in active fighting, the women have been removed from combat roles and instead are responsible for cooking. The soldiers said that when they were militarily active, both men and women cooked and fought.

The women, both commandos and civilian family members, seemed shy. They, and the children, avoided me during this visit, only occasionally scurrying by with a pot of food or jug of water. The men, however, were happy to talk about anything from politics to North American music. Most of the men I met were young, in their 20s. However, there were some as young as 13 years old carrying rifles in the drills. They jokes and laughed, talking about being homesick, posed for pictures, wanted to take pictures, and were quite happy to talk in sign language to a non-Spanish speaker like me. No different than the guys on the other side of the border, except that these guys were killing the ones across the river in Nicaragua.

honduran-camp-photo-d-anger-1989Outside the base camp is a collection of plastic-covered tents, hammock shelters and small wooden huts. The soldiers on guard duty are rotated from within the ranks of the regional commands. Some soldiers, such as the five musicians in the camp band, are permanently stationed in these huts. Half a kilometre from the guard post there is a row of wooden shacks where Hondurans sell pop and food or clothing and trinkets to the troops.

USAID Helicopters

Large pine trees, palm trees and ferns cloak the surrounding hills. Helicopters go back and forth all day long from a nearby U.S. Agency for International Development landing pad used to supply the contra. Security measures for visitors to the camp are even stricter since a news photograph was published, showing the USAID helicopters carrying armed contra troops, in direct violation of U.S. regulations prohibiting military assistance by the agency. Everywhere there are automatic rifles – a presence that was very disturbing at first, though I soon stopped noticing them.

Eventually I was allowed into the camp, accompanied by a man who used as his nom de guerre Commander Jackson, and was second in command of psychological operations. With him, I visited a classroom where a human rights class was in progress, a regional command post, and the strategic base command.

contra-classroom-photo-d-stewart-1989Classes are periodically given in literacy, artillery practice and human rights. Human rights in this context does not only mean what the contras must do to ensure they do not violate human rights. Rather, it is mostly an explication of the ways in which the Sandinistas violate Nicaraguans’ human rights. Literacy classes are held less often but are necessary because, according to one estimate, as many as half the contras are unable to read or write. Skill-development classes, such as carpentry, are supposed to be taught in order to prepare troops for return to civilian life, but as yet none have been held.

Salvador Perez regional command

speech-to-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989In the Salvador Perez regional command, 500 commandos and some family members live in plastic-covered or wooden huts perched on the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a parade ground which doubles as a baseball diamond and volleyball court. I watched a dress rehearsal of military drills being prepared for a visit by American officials the next day. Commander Jackson gave the troops a pep talk, exhorting them to remember the struggle, and the importance of throwing over the so-called communist dictatorship of the Sandinistas. The weapons carried by the soldiers included AK-47 automatic rifles obtained from the U.S. and some weapons taken from Sandinista soldiers. At sunset, the men sang the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by their own Resistance army hymn. Night fell quickly, as it does everywhere in Central America, and the troops dispersed back up the hill in virtual blackness, to sit outside their tents and talk or play cards by flashlight.

Waiting while war is on hold

Military drills, particularly with arms, are rare now that the contra war is supposedly on hold. They probably provide the most excitement available in a very boring routine. A tiny girl of about child in tent doorway-photo-d-anger-1989three looked out through the doorway of her family’s hut, watched by her grandfather who lay on a hammock inside. A pig strolled across the parade ground during the exercises, causing a recess until it was shooed away.

Back at the strategic command base, there was a bit more excitement this evening, for the guide brought movies with him. The choices are a soft porn movie, “The Terminator” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The VCR machine made the decision for us, giving only Indiana Jones both a clear picture and sound. About 50 men crowded around the rolled-up flaps of the administration tent, standing or sitting on wooden benches, to watch the derring-do of Harrison Ford.

$4.5 million US per month

The overwhelming impression of the camps is of people putting in time. They are no longer actively fighting, but neither are they farming or doing any other type of productive work. They are being paid $4.5 million U.S. per month to be there.

Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the contras over eight years in military and non-lethal aid. Nicaragua has moved ahead elections by six months to February of 1990 as part of a deal which would have demobilized the contras within 90 days. This was the peace plan signed by the presidents of five Central American countries in February of this year. Despite this accord, the Washington administration wants to keep the contras in place until the Nicaraguan elections take place. The American argument is that the contra presence will ensure that the Sandinistas run a fair and open election and that without this threat they would not. The problem is, contra leaders such as Adolfo Calero have stated that, “If it is a free electoral process, it is almost impossible for the Sandinistas to win.” A Sandinista victory, therefore, could provoke charges of unfairness and allow the Americans to justify re-engaging the contras in military action.

Pawns in international games

So for the time being, the soldiers wait, with their material needs looked after but their futures in limbo. They are pawns in the international games of the United States, as ex-contra leaders have said, but they get three good meals a day to be pawns. That is more than they would get in Nicaragua or as civilians in Honduras.

A storehouse by the kitchen hut is filled with sacks of rice and flour. Big slabs of beef are served along with rice and beans for breakfast. Cattle awaiting slaughter are kept in pens near the camps. The men receive soap, toothpaste and other such items. Bedrolls and tents are basic, but durable and warm, and have “U.S. Army” stencilled on them. Cigarette rations are supplied fortnightly.

contra-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989The only items in short supply in the camp are cash and information from the outside. The men get about five Honduran limpira a month – enough to buy a couple of beers and a few packs of cigarettes in Los Trojes, the nearest town. Thirty-five kilometres away, Los Trojes is as far as the men can go without special permission and a pass. The town is small, with wide dusty streets with more horses on them than cars. Along the main street in its small wooden or adobe buildings are stores, restaurants, bars, and even a disco and hotel.

No communication but contra radio

But for the most part, the troops stay at the camps or surrounding area if their families are living there. In the camps, they see no newspapers and hear no radio aside from the contra radio station. They have no communication with their families in Nicaragua. Many have been told that family members are dead or imprisoned.

The level of political analysis ranges from simple repetition of anti-communist slogans, from most of the men to whom I talked, to a willingness to consider both sides of Nicaraguan-American history and philosophy, from Pepe, a senior advisor with the contras. His willingness to discuss the possibility that the Nicaraguan people might want a Sandinista government did not extend to permitting such thoughts to be recorded on tape, however. The other extreme, more commonly found, was the opinion that life in Nicaragua would be better under anyone other than the Sandinistas. An 18-year-old recalled how much better life was under the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and said he was fighting to restore that. When Somoza was overthrown, he would have been eight years old.

Somocistas, anti-Sandinistas and non-affiliated

There are some Somoza-regime leftovers in the contras. Some others are disenchanted Sandinista supporters. However, most had no overt political affiliation with any side in Nicaragua, but are poor peasants or labourers who volunteered or were recruited by the contras. Coming from these men, the political rationale of oppression in Nicaragua sounds like so much cant. For example, torture by the Sandinistas was frequently given as the reason for joining the contras, although the only example of torture provided was the men’s conscription into the Sandinista army.

Despite the ban on military action, the troops still get to see some fighting. During my visit, they were talking about a recent incursion into Nicaragua and another planned for the next month. And the next week, near the border on the Nicaraguan side, I was told of a recent attack in which contra soldiers repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl in front of her house and then kidnapped her.

Secuestrados

There, I met two “secuestrados,” people who had been kidnapped and held by the contras. In April they and two others were released by the contras after two American doctors and a journalist located them in the camps. The Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Council, a bipartisan committee headed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, says that 3,000 of the contras are secuestrados. The contra leaders do not like discussing the point, acknowledging only that they “conscript” people.

Dr. Susan Cookson and Dr. Tim Takaro, now living in North Carolina, worked in the northern Nicaraguan province of Jinotega. They knew nine people from the area, including several community health workers, who had been kidnapped by the contras. Finding these people in the Honduran camp was made very difficult by the contra officials, but the doctors succeeded in talking to five of the nine. One young woman to whom they talked did not want to leave the camp. She was pregnant by one of the soldiers and wanted to stay with him.

They were examined and interviewed by the doctors, with a contra lawyer in full military uniform present. The four who left signed statements which were taken to the United Nations human rights officer in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, who arranged for their return to Nicaragua.

Health-care worker and a cook

I talked to José Gabriel Lopez, a farmer and health-care worker near the village of Mancantal in northern Nicaragua, and Gema Valásquez, a 16-year-old who had been working as a cook at a Nicaraguan army camp near the town of Jinotega. Both still feared that the contras would return and kidnap them again.

gema-photo-d-anger-1989José Gabriel spent nine months with the contras after he was taken from his house at night. Gema had been walking home from work when she was taken, and spent 10 months in Honduras.

The prisoners’ walk to the camp took six weeks. Neither José Gabriel nor Gema attempted to escape during the walk; José Gabriel saw what happened to people who did try. One of the men with him tried to run the night they were abducted, and was shot as he ran. Gema was beaten with the butt of a rifle when she was unable to keep up the pace.

Isolation and indoctrination

Once in the camp, isolation combined with indoctrination to make the secuestrados believe that they had no choice but to stay with the contras. Gema was told that her mother, a Sandinista supporter, had denounced her. When Dr. Cookson told her that her mother sent her love, Gema simply cried, saying, “I knew my mother hadn’t forgotten me.”

Neither Gema nor José Gabriel have strong political leanings in either direction. Gema is a young girl concerned with music and clothes, the usual interests of 16-year-olds, even in Nicaragua. José Gabriel is a Catholic lay minister whose foremost allegiance is to his faith. José Gabriel assumes he was abducted because of his health care work and Gema says the contras took her employment at a military camp to mean she was a Sandinista supporter.

La Capucha

For two weeks after her arrival in Honduras, Gema was imprisoned in the military police camp. She was kept blindfolded the whole time, was beaten with a hose, tied up all day with no water. What she especially dreaded was having a poncho wrapped tightly around her head smothering her, a torture widely used in Latin America, and known as la capucha, or “the hood.” Dr. Cookson said that many women are sexually molested but Gema was fortunate to escape that, although she did see another woman die after being beaten by the soldiers.

Gema said that during the night that the doctors talked to her, Pepe, Jackson and other officials warned her that she would be killed by the Sandinistas if she left, offered to move her to any camp she wished to go to, and, finally, asked that she make clear in her statement that she had not been mistreated in any way so that negative publicity would not result for the contras.

Gema and José Gabriel both said that there are many in the camps – “hundreds,” according to José – who would like to go home. They do not go because, unless people like Drs. Cookson and Takaro find them, there is no escape. They do not know whether they will be safe in Nicaragua or if their families are alive. And even if they do not believe what the contras tell them, they have no money and they cannot get further in Honduras than Los Trojes without official contra permission. If they overcome these obstacles, they must then navigate through the contra land mines on the border with Nicaragua.

marching-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989“they don’t want to leave”

According to the contra human rights officer at the base camp, although the contras do take people by force, “after they see what it’s like with us, they don’t want to leave. There is no one here who does not want to be.”

Gema and José Gabriel, as well as the other two men who were freed, have returned to their customary routines. José Gabriel is again living with his wife, child and parents on their farm about an hour’s walk from Mancantal, a small community north of Jinotega. He said that he intends to continue his health care work.

Gema is in Managua living with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father lives in Jinotega, but the teenager does not intend to visit him again until she feels safe, for the contras still patrol the area. Sitting on the couch holding a doll, she talked only to an intermediary until he convinced her that I was trustworthy.

Aileen Tobin is a Canadian nurse working in Mancantal, the village close to José Gabriel’s farm. Several of the area’s health care workers have been kidnapped or threatened by the contras, and the small clinic in town has been attacked five times in the past three years.

Afraid to travel

Ms. Tobin said many health workers have stopped going about their jobs because they are afraid: they have to travel long distances to small settlements and outlying farms and they are vulnerable to attack on the lonely roads. More importantly, they feel that they are special targets for the contras because of their work in the health field. Ms. Tobin agrees with them, but laments the resulting loss of proper health care. A Canadian doctor in Jinotega, Dr. Myung Kim, said that his tuberculosis patients often do not get the necessary treatment because they don’t have transport to the clinic and he can’t travel to outlying areas because of risk of attack.

Dr. Kim, Ms. Tobin and other health workers are angry because they see the deterioration of a health system which won a World Health Organization award in 1983, and they can do little about it. They have no medicine or supplies, and a worsening economy means there is no money to buy any. Fear of contra attack keeps patients away from clinics.

If children start to die again…

Ms. Tobin said health care workers and teachers are targets of the contras because they represent the most basic and universally available improvements in ordinary people’s lives brought about by the revolution. If children start to die again from malnutrition and other easily-cured illnesses, and if access to basic education is lost, then ordinary people will no longer see that the revolution is giving them fundamental social benefits. Combine this with an inflationary economy which means that while food is available, people have no money to buy it, and the foundation is laid for a crisis of confidence in the government.

On both sides of the Nicaragua-Honduras border there are Nicaraguans carrying no strong ideological flag who have become part of a battle which, at root, is about the right to self-determination on the part of Central America. The United States has long considered Central America to be its backyard, with plantations and industries which produce goods for the American market, and governed by American-installed or approved leaders. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made official policy of the American belief that no other country had any right to intervene in the Americas. Nicaragua is the first country since Cuba in 1959 that blatantly went against this dictum, accepting support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Contras, Cubans and Washington

The perception of Nicaragua is so radically different in Miami, Honduras and Nicaragua that one could be excused for not realizing that the same country is being discussed. In Miami, contra leaders and the Cuban exile community plan a new Nicaraguan revolution, a reversed one. In their minds, even if Washington backs down in its support of the contras, their movement will continue, with the help of “right-thinking” Americans like Oliver North.

In Washington, the highly charged rhetoric of the Reagan administration is being downplayed by President George Bush, but the same interventionist policy is being pursued.

In the Honduran contra camps, where the commanders imagine victory and the U.S.-supplied soldiers regularly eat meat, Washington is criticized because more aid is not forthcoming. In the Honduran capital the views are more diverse, but with one factor remaining constant. If you walk through the crowded main square, it is almost impossible to find a Honduran who does not want the contras to leave immediately.

tegucigalpa central plaza-photo-d-stewart-1989
Tegucigalpa Central Plaza with poster of missing Roger González (his story Nov 27/18)

Coping with an embargo and war

And in Nicaragua the leaders cut back on social programs, and devalue the currency, and scramble to obtain the hard currency needed to buy industrial equipment and other goods. They try to cope with the continuing American trade embargo and rebuild the Atlantic coast after the devastation of Hurricane Joan. They still find time to release National Guard prisoners, remove restrictions on La Prensa, an opposition newspaper, and prepare for the February 1990 election. Ordinary people now watch their children die of malnutrition and lack of health care. (In Mancantal, Aileen Tobin says, “Even aspirin, I often haven’t even got that to give people.”)

In this eight-year war, 40,000 have been killed on both sides and hundreds of millions of dollars given to the contras by the United States. Although former president Ronald Reagan did not succeed in displacing the Sandinista government, his actions in promoting trade embargoes and a costly war did succeed in destroying the economy.

“Washington created them…”

Now, thousands of Nicaraguans are leaving the country. Because the U.S. considers them to be fleeing “communism,” none have been sent back to Nicaragua. If the American demobilize the contras, most spokespeople for all sides of the issue believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take them in. Julio Somoza, a Miami restaurateur who is the nephew of the ex-dictator of Nicaragua, has said “Washington created them, Washington has to look after them.”

There are two great tragedies in this seemingly never-ending war. One is the waste of lives on both sides, through death in battle and through the slow death of poverty and displacement. The other tragedy is the possible death of a Nicaraguan idealism which brought social justice to a country and a region more accustomed to mass poverty amid pockets of opulence and brutal repression.

It has been said that the real threat posed to the United States by Nicaragua is not the threat of encroaching communism, but “the threat of a good example.” That example is of a Central American country which despite the opinion of its critics is democratic and independent. Against all the odds, it still exists.

Sunday Express 20 Aug 1989 Killing Time article
St. John’s Sunday Express 20 Aug 1989 Killing Time article

World War I Reunion 1987

63rd-battery-1987-veterans reunion LFP.
click/tap to enlarge

Battery mates knock back last one

Treasured jug becomes casualty of final reunion

By Pat Currie, London Free Press

With reverence, Bill Davis cracked the seal on a carefully preserved bottle of 51-year-old whisky Thursday [Sept. 25, 1987] and tipped out shots for himself and three old buddies.

“This is it. There won’t be any more,” said Davis as he clinked glasses with Walter Allsop, Walter Day and George Parker.

Davis wasn’t talking about the bottle of whisky in this bittersweet moment at the Grosvenor Club on a bright September afternoon.

It was the 67th and final reunion of the 63rd Battery.

Davis, 88, Walter Allsop, 91, and Walter Day, 89, all of London, and George Parker, 89, of Sarnia tipped their glasses and drank a final toast to Bill Riseborough, 90, of Goderich, who couldn’t attend, and to all their dead comrades of long ago as trumpeter Earl Todd sounded the Last Post.

1921 was 1st reunion of 63rd Battery

“There will be no more reunions, at least not as a unit,” said Davis, who could recall Toronto in 1921 when 600 attended the first reunion of the London-based depot battery that supplied trained gunners and drivers to the Canadian artillery on the voracious western front.

“It’s gradually slipped,” Davis said of the number attending the annual reunion down the long years. In 1978, at Blenheim, only eight of the old-timers were on hand.

The carefully hoarded bottle of Seagram’s Crown Royal was set aside at a battery reunion at the old Hotel London in 1936.

“The stipulation was that it wouldn’t be opened until the reunion of the last four or five members,” Davis said. “This is it.”

The four who gathered Wednesday with a handful of friends and relatives are all old men. All, except Parker, spent time on the western front in 1917-18.

All are deaf to some degree, perhaps as a result of the crash of howitzers across the mud of Flanders.

The Western Front

“I was there – everything from Passchendaele to the armistice in 1918. I was in Mons the day after the war ended,” said Day. I never expected I’d be sitting down at a reunion in 1987. But then, I never thought that even last year.”

Allsop said he “started at Vimy and went right through.”

How was it?

“Oh, good and bad.”

The manpower shortage was so bad in late 1917 that Davis and his draft were shipped out of Halifax on Dec. 1 after only one week of what was supposed to be a two-week quarantine. Five days later, an ammunition ship exploded in the harbour, killing 1,630 people.

“We were supposed to still be there,” Davis said.

Parker admits he got only as far as England but there, he says, “I learned to roller skate.”

His combat was limited to a trip to Dublin “where we all ended up in jail.”

Bob Symington, a nephew of Davis and a Sarnia justice of the peace, drove Parker to London for the reunion.

When the glasses were recharged with what Davis called “sipping’ whisky,” Symington proposed the toast: “We’ll all meet again in 20 years.”

Replied Parker: “Not unless some of you young fellows change your ways.”

1936 Seagrams Crown Royal

Davis said the group had planned one toast, then would decide on the fate of the remainder of the bottle of 1936 whisky. But it soon became apparent the bottle was about to become a certified casualty of the day.

Davis said the bottle – “they don’t make them like this any more” – had been sought avidly by a distillery representative.

“I’m going to give to the RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) Museum …

… was opening that bottle, all I could think of was all the fellows who have passed on.

“I feel it in my bones, I know I’m going to be the last guy.”

Mom clipped this article out of the London Free Press in September 1987. However, she missed part of the conclusion on the other side of the page. That’s why there’s a bit missing at the end of my transcript.

So I don’t know who felt it in his bones that he’d be the last guy alive. But from what I found out about these men, maybe it was Bill Davis. Here’s what I learned googling them:

William Carlton Davis, Driver, Reg. No. 334049

wm-c-davis-exeter-ont-findagraveBill Davis was born June 29, 1899 in Exeter in Huron County, Ontario, son of Ellen and Arthur Silas Davis. His attestation papers give printer as his occupation. He married Ruth H. Hills. He died in 1996, aged 96 or 97. The troopship he sailed on from Halifax, just before the explosion, was the White Star Line’s SS Megantic. She went out of service in July 1931.

Walter George Day, Gunner, Reg. No. 334125

Walter Day’s attestation papers say he was born in 1895. This article says he’s 89, making his birth year 1898. Perhaps he made himself older when he enlisted. His papers list his occupation as farmer. He died in 1990. An online genealogy of his wife’s family says, “On January 15, 1917 Walter enlisted with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force with the 63rd Artillery Battery… While in Europe he was involved with the battle at Vimy Ridge.”

George William Parker, Sgt. Reg. No. 3132758

George Parker was born in 1897 in Watford, Lambton County. His occupation is farmer on his enlistment papers. He died in 1990. The Lambton County Museum website says, “William and Sarah [Parker]’s son George served in the 63rd Battery in World War I where they used horses to pull big guns into position. When he returned from the war, he began working at Mueller’s Brass Foundry in Sarnia. Despite having only a Grade 8 education, he became President of the company. He also had a farm at Lot 28, Con. 1 SER.”

George Walter Allsop, Gunner, Reg. No. 333829

Walter Allsop was born in 1896 in Toronto. His parents Charles and Matilda lived on Askin Avenue in London when he enlisted in 1915. His occupation was given as printer. I found reference to a marriage that might be his. If so, he married Madeline Mabel McCullough, on September 23, 1922 in Middlesex County, Ontario.

William James Riseborough, Driver, Reg. No. 334338

William-James-Riseborough-gatheringourheroes.caBill Riseborough was born in 1899 in Blenheim, Chatham-Kent in Ontario. His parents were Elizabeth and George William Riseborough. He was a student at the time he enlisted.

That is all I could find out about these five men. Their attestation papers are at Library and Archives Canada. And the Seagrams bottle? The RCR Museum at Wolseley Barracks in London doesn’t yet have a full listing online of their artifacts. I took a virtual tour of their WWI display (in Gallery) but did not see it.

63rd Battery, CFA CEF

recruiting poster 63rd-Battery-London-Ont-iwm.org_.uk_collectionsThe 63rd Battery was based in London and Petawawa, Ontario. It was part of the Canadian Field Artillery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Organized in March 1916, absorbed by No. 1 Artillery Depot in Oct. 1918, it disbanded on 1 Nov. 1920.

I am so glad my mother kept this article. It was a joy to read and to get to know these men a bit. Also humbling. Especially Mr. Allsop’s assessment of going “right through” from Vimy Ridge to the end as “oh, good and bad.” To their descendants, you have good reason to be proud. Thank you, Drivers Davis and Riseborough, Gunners Day and Allsop, and Sgt. Parker.

poppy photo d stewartLest We Forget

100 years ago today, the guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  After four years and three months of war. 1,564 days. Nearly 60,000 of about 620,000 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died in battle.

York and Mountbatten Weddings

A big year for royal weddings. Tomorrow, October 12th, Princess Eugenie will marry. In May, her cousin Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Both large, lavish and televised. But, in between the weddings of the Queen’s grandchildren, a distant Mountbatten cousin got married. That wedding was private but it caused a big ‘wow’.

Princess Eugenie

The Royal Family Facebook eugenie and jack oct-2018Princess Eugenie of York is marrying Jack Brooksbank. “Who?” seems to be a common question in online comments – about both of them. She is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Jack worked in a bar in London. Yes, he’s a commoner. But it’s an upscale bar, and his pedigree has baronets and the like in it. He and Eugenie are third cousins and he has kin connections with other royals. As the Daily Mail put it, his family may have started as Yorkshire farmers, but “they grew rich… and married well.”

Eugenie and Jack will marry in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, same place as Harry and Meghan. A two-day reception will be at Eugenie’s family home, the Royal Lodge in Windsor. Their guest list, at over 850 for the ceremony, is even larger than Harry and Meghan’s.

But there is not as much public hoopla for Eugenie’s wedding as there was for Harry’s. That is despite Eugenie’s being the first wedding of a British Princess since her Aunt Anne’s. Maybe that’s because she’s the daughter of the Queen’s second son whereas Harry is the second son of the first-born. Maybe too because Jack, in himself and his family background, does not cause celebration of Royal Family diversity and inclusivity as Harry and Meghan’s marriage did. Also as the wedding of their distant cousin did.

Lord Ivar Mountbatten

town and country-facebook-ivar and james-7-oct-2018‘I’ll see your divorced American bi-racial bride, and raise you a white English groom.’ So might Lord Ivar Mountbatten have said. His engagement caused a flap when it was announced in June. The second marriage of a British aristocrat – what was the big deal? First gay marriage in the Royal extended family, that’s what. Lord Ivar married James Coyle in front of a couple hundred family and friends. None of the Royals were there, but they sent their best wishes.

Who’s Lord Ivar Mountbatten? You might ask. I did. His late father was David, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven. David was the Queen’s third cousin and Prince Philip’s first cousin. He was Philip’s best man at his wedding and a close friend. Read any biography of Prince Philip, you’ll find David Mountbatten stories. He was quite the lad.

Mountbatten Family
ivar-mountbatten-fam-tree d stewart
Click/tap to enlarge Mountbatten family tree

David and Philip’s uncle was Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The last Viceroy of India, he was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Louis’ wife was Edwina Ashley. Read any book about interesting – ‘scandalous’ – women of the early 20th century and you’ll find Edwina Mountbatten.

Nada-de-Torby-marchioness-Milford-Haven-c1916-wikicommons
Nada, 2nd Marchioness of Milford Haven, ca. 1916

In those same stories is Edwina’s friend and sister-in-law, David’s mother Nadejda de Torby. An English marchioness by marriage, Nada was a Russian countess by birth. She was also Russian literary ‘royalty’, being a great granddaughter of Alexander Pushkin.

So an interesting family. Lord Ivar Mountbatten’s own life was pretty standard for the aristocracy. A geologist and gentleman farmer with a wife and daughters. Then, in 2011, an amicable divorce. Four years later, he came out. He and James Coyle made public their relationship. Mr. Coyle, an airline cabin services director, has no royal antecedents as best my googling can detect.

Lord Mountbatten and Mr. Coyle married Sept 22, 2018 at Lord Mountbatten’s Devon estate. Those are the names and titles each will continue to use. So the protocol people didn’t have to scramble to figure out title usage for same-sex spouses, but this marriage gives them a heads-up on it.

Princess Eugenie’s wedding will be televised on TLC in the US (starting live at 4:25 ET). It’s on ITV in the UK. But apparently not in Canada at all. Pity! You can read more here about the Mountbatten family. For my thoughts on Harry and Meghan’s wedding, see Princess Harry.

West Virginia

In 1971 my parents and I drove through West Virginia on our way from Ontario to Kentucky. We’d never been there before and it was stunningly beautiful. So we took back roads and made lots of stops.

for-sale-antiques west virginia house photo r angerThe stop I remember most was at a small house. A wooden sign, “antiques for sale”. A table covered with old glass bottles and china. Over by a tree, machine parts and old tools.

family-west-virginia-1971 photo r angerEverybody came out to see the pickup with Ontario plates come in the driveway. A man from somewhere out back. Woman and kids from the house. Lots of kids, teenage to toddlers.

Mom looked at the glass, Dad the car parts. But I saw a kid holding a pup. Then I saw kittens playing in the flowerbed. Chickens scratching around the side of the house. I went to the kids, and the animals.

with-pup-and kitten-1971 photo r angerWe stayed a long time, long enough for the woman to ask if we’d like a cold drink. So lemonade and cookies, served on a small table under a tree. When we left, with some blue medicine bottles, they asked if I wanted a pup or the kitten I held. A gift. No, sorry, our dog doesn’t take kindly to sharing.

dad with dog and truck-1971 photo r angerThat small farm in the hills was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. They farmed a bit and they hunted. The kids knew the woods as well as they knew the inside of their house.

Coal Mining

I don’t remember anyone mentioning coal. But it had to be coal country. Commercial coal mining had been a part of West Virginia for a century and a half by then. But underground mining, not strip mining. Not mountaintop removal. Not on a large scale anyway. Mountain-top removal mining started in the 1950s but didn’t take off as the preferred method of mining until the early 1970s. Just a couple years after we stopped at that house to look at glass bottles.

West_Virginia_Route_10-near-Man-WVa-Seicer-wikicommonsThe oil crisis of 1973 gave an impetus to fast, cheap coal mining. Bulldozing and blasting soil, trees and rock to reach the seams of coal under the land. Taking down the mountain to reach what’s underneath. And taking it down further and further, to reach each seam deeper in the mountain. Until there is no mountain left.

Mountaintop_removal_mine_in_Pike_County_Kentucky-2010-flickr.com-iLoveMountains.orgAll that soil, vegetation and rock has to go somewhere. Into the valleys, filling them. Thereby filling rivers and lakes, farms and houses. Then the mined coal has to be cleaned. More waterways polluted by the runoff from the washing process.

This is the industry that President Trump wants. Despite the demand for coal having dropped over the past years, due to no real need for it and no desire for the air pollution that burning it causes. Yes, less coal mining in Appalachia caused unemployment. But retraining and economic aid programmes were helping. Then Trump swore he’d revive coal. Miners would go back to work, he promised. Are there really markets for what they’d produce? Not so sure, even in China where coal-burning plants are being phased out.

EPA and coal lobby

Andrew_Wheeler_official_photo-Apr-2018-US-EPA-wikicommonsThe US Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump, is now headed by a former coal lobbyist. Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator, took over from Scott Pruitt, himself a former energy industry lobbyist and a big friend of big coal. Neither Wheeler nor Pruitt have rethought their former employment positions. Both have publicly stated their support for coal and energy industries, even their pride in their former work. Both in charge of the federal agency responsible for, well, protecting the environment. Fox guarding the henhouse?

Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed the mountains of West Virginia and throughout Appalachia. Destroying the mountains also means destroying the entire waterway system of lakes, rivers and ponds. It destroys wildlife and fishstocks and their habitats. It also destroys human habitats.

Martin_County-KY_home-mountainroadshow.com-jun-2006-wikicommonsThe other big industry in West Virginia is drugs; meth labs and distribution of opiods. That filled the economic gap left by the loss of mining jobs. It destroys people’s health and lives. But it doesn’t destroy the environment as well. Mining destroys people’s health, their homelands and the whole environment. That damage hurts Appalachia and everywhere else too.

Amazon.ca link Grisham Gray Mountain
Click/tap for Amazon

If you want a quick primer in the coal industry and mountaintop removal mining, and a good story, read John Grisham’s 2014 novel Gray Mountain. He also writes about those fighting back. The lawyers and legal clinics who fight big coal and fight for the miners suffering black lung disease and other debilitations caused by their profession.

fb-2018-NZ-Libraries-snopes.com_fact-check
August 14, 1912 New Zealand newspaper, from NZ Libraries archives

Today, the Trump Administration announced a major scale back of constraints on emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA said the regulations set by the Obama administration were “burdensome”. President Trump will celebrate this at a political rally in Charleston, West Virginia, tonight.

Princess Harry

Prince_Harry_and_Ms._Markle_Northern-Ireland-Office-Mar-2018-wikicommonsOn Saturday, Meghan Markle will become Princess Harry. That is when she will marry Prince Henry of Wales, second son of the Prince of Wales and better known as Prince Harry.

She probably won’t be called Princess Harry. Although it is the proper form for non-royal wives of princes, it has not been used often. The only example I know of is Princess Michael. That is how Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz has been known since 1978 when she married Prince Michael of Kent, first cousin of the Queen.

The Queen likely will give Harry a dukedom or earldom, as she did his elder brother William upon his marriage. That way, his wife can be called the Duchess or Countess of whatever.

Meghan is American and an actress. Although Grace Kelly and other American actresses have married into European royalty, this is a first for Great Britain.

British_Royal_Family on balcony_June_2012-Carfax2-wikicommons
Meghan’s inlaws L-R: Sophie, Camilla, Charles, Edward behind QEII, Anne, Philip, Louise (Edward’s daughter), Timothy Laurence, Catherine, William, Eugenie (click for larger view)

A more serious aspect of British royal marriage rules does not have to be an issue for them, or the Queen or Parliament. Meghan is divorced, with a living ex-husband. Despite being founded by a King who wanted to divorce and remarry, the Church of England long forbade the marriage of divorced persons unless the ex-spouse had subsequently died.

1992

For being free to marry Harry in the Church of England, Meghan has 1992 to thank. That year, called by the Queen an “annus horribilis”, sarah-ferguson-tabloid-headlineHarry’s parents Charles and Diana separated after scandal upon scandal. Tabloid photos of his Aunt Sarah, Duchess of York, scandalized the world after she and Prince Andrew split up. His Aunt Anne, Princess Royal, divorced her husband Mark Phillips then married Timothy Laurence. All this in one year.

Princess Anne and her second husband Timothy Laurence married in the Church of Scotland. It allowed the marriage of divorced, but not widowed, persons. So by getting married at a church near Balmoral, her family home in Scotland, they sidestepped Church of England dicta.

Prince_Charles_Diana-1985-Ronald-Reagan-Library-wikicommonsDissolution of Charles and Diana’s marriage was a thornier issue. He was heir to the throne, therefore the next head of the Church of England. Their marriage and its problems were much more public than his sister’s first marriage had been. However, Charles and Diana did divorce in 1996.

The next problem was what to do about his relationship with Camilla Barker-Bowles. She too was divorced, and her ex-husband was alive. So in November 2002 the Church of England changed its rules. The General Synod said that divorced people with living exes could remarry in the Church.

Despite having the way open to a church wedding, Charles and Camilla did not marry until 2005 and then in a civil ceremony, followed by a Church of England blessing.

Three Kings in One Year

Vincenzo_Laviosa_Duke_and_Duchess_of_Windsor-ca-1934 wikicommonsIt is the story of Harry’s great-great uncle, 82 years ago, that has been most compared to Harry and Meghan. In December 1936, the new King Edward VIII abdicated the throne rather than give up the woman he loved. She was an American divorcée, Wallis Simpson.

1936 was commemorated in a plate my mother had as Three Kings in One Year. George V died in January, Edward abdicated December 10th, and his brother became George VI. The former king and his new wife were given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and effectively banished from the UK.

Three-Kings-One-Year-1936-Sovereign-Potters, Hamilton, ON CanadaWhile Meghan Markle’s story invites comparison with Wallis Simpson, Harry’s story is maybe more like that of Princess Margaret. Like Harry, Margaret was a member of the inner circle of Royals and always would be. Also like him, she was in little danger of actually ever becoming monarch.

Princess Margaret

In 1953 Margaret was third in line for the throne, behind her RAF-Peter_Townsend_Imperial-War-Museum-ca-1939-B-J-Daventry-wikicommonsnephew Charles and niece Anne. She was in love with RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend, and he proposed to her. Problem was he had just divorced his wife. The Queen and Parliament would not agree to their marriage. Over the next two years, they sought ways to allow it without compromising Church or government rules. If Margaret gave up her place in the line of succession, they eventually decided, she could marry him in a civil ceremony. But in 1955 Princess Margaret said that, due to “the Church’s teachings” and her “duty to the Commonwealth”, she would not marry Townsend.

Antony_Armstrong-Jones_1965_Dutch-National-Archives-Eric-Koch_Anefo-wikicommonsIn 1960 Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones. Wikipedia says she “reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning from Peter Townsend that he intended to marry a young Belgian woman [who] bore a striking resemblance to Princess Margaret.” True or not, it fits well in the story of thwarted romance. Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones’s wedding was the first to be televised. Fitting for her, the glamorous sister and maybe the first Royal media star. Also maybe in keeping: in 1978 they divorced amid tabloid scandal.

So, from Edward VIII and Wallis, through Princess Margaret to Harry’s own parents, the path has been cleared for him and Meghan. The Church, the Queen and the public have given their blessing.

Princess Margaret 1965-Dutch-National-Archives-Erich-Koch_Anefo-wikicommons

Tinseltown Princess

A girl from Tinseltown and a prince. Maybe General Hospital will use the storyline. The soap opera is part of Meghan’s story. Her parents met while working on it and Meghan got her acting start there.

The Princess Harry story is a  happy-ending romance, one hopes. Wallis and Edward, Princess Margaret too, are more tragic romance stories.

See The King and Us for why I think Wallis Simpson and Parliament did us all a favour. Also, although Coronation Street hasn’t yet mentioned Harry’s wedding (at least in Canadian airtime), I loved their take on William and Kate’s marriage in 2011.

The Story of Seabiscuit

the story of seabiscuit stable decisions madeThe Story of Seabiscuit was released in 1949, only two years after the great racehorse died. It is the story of his life – sort of. His son Sea Sovereign portrays him.  Shirley Temple co-stars. The former child star was a young woman by then, and The Story of Seabiscuit was the second to last movie she ever made.

Seabiscuit ahead of War Admiral, match race at Pimlico Nov. 1938
Seabiscuit ahead of War Admiral, match race at Pimlico Nov. 1938

The real Seabiscuit is also in the movie. It includes archival footage of two of his races. The Santa Anita Handicap of 1938, a photo finish that Seabiscuit lost to Stagehand. Also the famous 1938 match race that he won against that year’s Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The race footage is the very best reason to watch the movie. Well, aside from also seeing his son Sea Sovereign, it’s the only reason.

Fiddling with the real story of Seabiscuit

While the movie portrays Seabiscuit’s career fairly accurately, it takes a lot of licence with the people around him. Owner Charles Howard and jockey George Woolf are portrayed in the movie. But fictional characters take the place of his trainer, Tom Smith, and regular jockey, Red Pollard.

His trainer in the movie, the man who recognizes his potential, is Shawn O’Hara, played by Barry Fitzgerald. O’Hara arrives in the United States from Ireland accompanied by his niece Margaret, shirley temple and lon mccallisterplayed by Shirley Temple. Seabiscuit’s jockey is called Ted Knowles, played by Lon McCallister. He falls in love with Margaret but there is conflict. It’s quite painful to watch.

Very painful to watch is derogatory stereotyping of African-American and Chinese characters – indeed Irish too. It starts very early in the movie and can put you right off watching any more. Also hard to watch is a discussion between nurse Margaret and jockey Ted about jobs for men and women. So be warned: pretty much every insulting portrayal of anyone is in here.

fictional racing programme
Racing form mixes real and fictional information

But the race footage! When the picture goes from Technicolor to black and white, you’re about to see the real races. Then you see the real tracks with the real horses and the actual crowds. Interwoven with the historical footage are shots of the actors to move the story along. Still, it’s spine-tingling to see the real horses in action. And, of course, to watch Sea Sovereign up close throughout the movie.

This movie makes you ask yourself questions about the nature of headline seabiscuit romps homestorytelling. Why was Seabiscuit’s well-known and real-life rags to riches story fictionalized in some ways and not others? Did some of the real people refuse to allow the movie to use their names? What did movie viewers think of this bastardization of a story many of them knew? It had all happened only a decade earlier.

Sea Sovereign as Seabiscuit in winner's circle Santa Anita 1940
Sea Sovereign as Seabiscuit in winner’s circle Santa Anita 1940