Category Archives: Society & Culture

Modern Pentathlon

Modern_Pentathlon_Tokyo_2020-wikipediaThis Olympics, I’m watching the Modern Pentathlon. I heard of it a few months ago, in a novel that mentioned that Gen. George Patton had competed in it in the 1912 Olympics. What’s that, I asked Google. The answer was you want to watch!

It’s five sports, performed by each competitor all in one day. Since 2012 two of the activities have been combined. So it’s now four events with competitors doing two sports within one of them.

The sports are:

1. Fencing
2. Show jumping
3. Swimming
4. Pistol shooting
5. Cross-country running

 

Shooting and running have been combined. All five are Olympics sports in themselves. So Modern Pentathlon Olympians must master five very different sports at the top level in the world.

There are other combined events in the Olympics. Equestrian eventing is show jumping, dressage and cross-country riding. Very different, but all done with a horse. The decathlon and heptathlon, respectively ten and seven activities, are all track and field sports – running, hurdles, long jump etc.

Eli_Bremer_in_2008_Summer_Olympics_modern_pentathlon_fencing_event_3-Tim-Hipps-wikicommonsBut running, shooting, fencing, swimming and riding: what’s the connection? A bit more thought on General Patton might have given me the clue. Soldiering.

Skills of a cavalry soldier

The connection is purpose, not surface. The event was introduced in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. A cavalry soldier needed to be able to ride but also run, swim, shoot and do sword battle.

So the winter biathlon – skiing and shooting – is closest to it. It also started as a military training-based sport. But to make the biathlon comparable to the Modern Pentathlon, let’s add, say, snowboarding, luge and ice dancing. And do that last one with a random skater paired with you 20 minutes before competition starts. That’s how the Modern Pentathlon equestrian teams are chosen.

Eli_Bremer_in_2008_Summer_Olympics_modern_pentathlon_show_jumping_event_2-Tim-Hipps-21-aug-2008-wikicommonsOlympics Modern Pentathlon is an individual competition only. Between 1952 and 1992 there were also team events. It was men only until 2000, when women’s competition was introduced. A maximum of 4 athletes per nation can qualify, 2 male and 2 female.

In the beginning, all five events were separate and took place over five days. Over the years, the event has been compressed in times allowed, distances and requirements for competition. Shooting – lasers now, not pistols – is combined with running. Run 800 metres, stop and shoot, run, stop and shoot, 4 times over. The entire event now takes place over three days at the end of the Olympics. A day for qualifying rounds, then one day each for men’s and women’s competition.

Laser_Run_Mixed_Relay_Modern_Pentathlon_2018_YOG_29-BugWarp-wikicommonsAccording to Horse Sport, in 2024 the Modern Pentathlon will be compacted yet again – 90 minutes for the whole thing. Shortening the event is not the choice of the athletes. It’s the IOC’s decision – and presumably the television networks. But I can’t ever remember seeing it on television. And after beach volleyball took over the summer Olympics broadcasts pretty much 24/7, I’ve scoured the networks and sports channels for anything else.

Chad_Senior_Modern_Pentathlon-swim-2000-olympics-Robert-A-Whitehead-USAF-wikicommonsOlympic Dreams – of everything

I can’t imagine the child who would think to say “I want to be a modern pentathlete.” But I am humbled by the enormity of that dream. Canadian modern pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons says “We are the Swiss army knife of athletes”.

Canadian modern pentathletes receive no funding from Sport Canada. So their sixth skill must be fundraising for their training – in the pool, track, shooting range, riding arena and wherever it is you fence. Going through Wikimedia Commons, it looks like the military connection is still there.

Sadly, Canada will not be represented in Tokyo. Athletes from 31 countries will compete. It will take place August 5-7, at midnight and after in North America. I will watch – in awe, I’m sure.

See my Olympic Games of Chance – the 2016 Rio Games when it seemed  that everything that could go wrong did. Little did we know!

Molly Ann Gell

Robert-Petley-Fredericton-from-the-Oromocto-Road-1837-LAC
Lt. Robert Petley, Fredericton NB from the Oromocto Road, 1837 Library and Archives Canada

In 1807 a Wolastoqiyik girl named Molly Ann Gell entered the Sussex Vale Indian Day School in Sussex Corner, New Brunswick. It was run by The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, an Anglican mission also known as the New England Company. Historian Leslie Upton told Molly Ann Gell’s story in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Here’s part of what he wrote:

Gell (Gill), Molly Ann (Thomas)

Molly Ann Gell was one of the five children of Joseph Gell, whose wife died in the winter of 1807. Aged and infirm, he was unable to provide for his family and turned them over to the company for the clothing allowance and 2s. 6d. a week. Molly was sent to learn domestic service in the household of the Reverend Oliver Arnold, master of the New England Company’s school at Sussex Vale (Sussex Corner) and minister of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Arnold had some half dozen apprentices at a time, for each of whom he received £20 a year.

There were especial hazards for the female apprentices. On 6 Jan. 1809 Molly Ann Gell deposed before the magistrates that, returning from Saint John the previous July, she had met a stranger who “Carried her into the Bushes and Against her Will forced her to Comply with his Wishes.” A son was born to her in February 1809, Joseph Solo Gill, who was taken on as an apprentice at birth by Arnold. Molly Ann Gell’s indentures expired in 1811; years later she confessed that the father of the child was Arnold’s son Joseph, who had seduced her in his father’s house.

This treatment of female apprentices was not uncommon. The illegitimate children were taken on as apprentices and so tended to make the program self-perpetuating. No fewer than 13 persons of the name of Gell, for example, appear on the apprenticeship lists.

Harvesting_Hay_Sussex-NB-Wm-G-R-Hind-1880-LAC
William G. R. Hind Harvesting Hay, Sussex NB 1880. Library and Archives Canada

Dr. Upton says that in 1822 Molly Ann married a black man named Peter Thomas. They had five children and lived near Sussex Corner.

Google could not help me find out more about Molly Ann, Peter Thomas or their children. In his 1892 biography of Rev. Arnold, Leonard A. Allison lists seven Arnold children but none named Joseph (pp. 16-17).

School closed after 30 years

Sussex Vale school closed in 1826. Two reports (Bromley 1822 and West 1825) cited operational and efficacy problems. In terms of the school’s operation, there was maltreatment and abuse of students. Molly Ann Gell’s story was not unique. There was also undue enrichment of school management and local white residents, through the “fostering” stipends and free labour. Secondly, the school wasn’t doing its job. Students were not actually receiving any useful education and neither they nor their families were converting from Roman Catholicism to the Anglican faith.

sussex-vale-currierandives-1868-1878.com
Sussex Vale, New Brunswick. Currier and Ives print ca. 1870

The New England Company didn’t rethink the merits of white, Christian education for First Nations. They just changed how they did it. They moved west from New Brunswick and adopted a fully residential school system.

For more see Judith Fingard, “The New England Company and the New Brunswick Indians: A comment on the colonial perversion of British benevolence, 1786-1826” in Acadiensis (Spring 1972) 1:2:29-42.  Also see Andrea Bear Nicholas, “The Role of Colonial Artists in the Disposition and Displacement of the Maliseet, 1790s-1850s” for more on the artist Robert Petley, in J. of Canadian Studies (Spring 2015) 49:2:25-86.

Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley

Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley was fashion stylist to the stars of Washington DC in the mid-1800s. As dressmaker and companion of Mary Todd Lincoln, she worked in the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

Mrs-Elizabeth-Keckley-1861-wikicommonsBut Elizabeth Keckley was not born into American high society. Well, in a way she was. She was born in 1818 in Dunwiddie County, Virginia. Her father was Col. Armistead Burwell, owner of the plantation. Her mother was Agnes, one of the plantation slaves. So Lizzy, as she was known, was born into slavery.

Agnes was born on the Burwell plantation in 1786. Her mother’s name was Kate.  An accomplished seamstress, Agnes made clothes for the entire household. She also could read and write. She taught her daughter her skills.

Early years of Elizabeth Hobbs

Some time after Elizabeth’s birth, Agnes married George Pleasant Hobbs, a slave on a neighbouring plantation. When Elizabeth was 7, Hobbs was allowed to live on the Burwell plantation with her mother and her. But soon after he was forced to move, maybe to Kentucky or Tennessee. He never saw his family again. All three being literate, and allowed to correspond, they kept in touch by letter. Elizabeth believed George Hobbs was her biological father. Only shortly before Agnes died did she tell her daughter the truth of her parentage.

Elizabeth-Keckley-Hist-marker-Alliance-for-Historic-Hillsborough-NC-wikicommons
Hillsborough NC historical plaque

When Elizabeth was 14, she was sent to the Hillsborough NC household of the Burwell’s eldest son Robert, a Presbyterian minister. There she was forced into a sexual relationship with Alexander McKenzie Kirkland, a friend of Rev. Burwell. She had a son by him about 1838. She named the baby George.

Elizabeth returned to Virginia in 1842, to the household of Armistead’s daughter Anne and her husband Hugh Alfred Garland. Armistead Burwell had died in 1841. His widow Mary now lived at the Garlands, as did Elizabeth’s mother Aggy.

St. Louis, Missouri

In 1847 they all moved to St Louis, Missouri. Hugh Garland, a lawyer, was in financial trouble and hoped the move would improve his situation. He acted for the slave holders in the landmark Missouri case Dred Scott v. Sanford. Elizabeth kept his household afloat with the money she made making dresses for St. Louis society ladies.

In St. Louis, Elizabeth renewed an acquaintance with James Keckley from Virginia. He said he was free. They married. There is little about him in the autobiography she later wrote: “I lived with him eight years, let charity draw around him a mantle of silence.” She kept his surname, however.

While deciding whether to marry Keckley, she asked Hugh Garland if she could buy freedom for herself and her son. She did not want to have more children born into slavery. The price was $1,200 Garland said, knowing she had little chance of saving that amount of money.

Family tree of Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley family tree
Tap to enlarge. ON connection may be Maj. L. Burwell’s great-grandfather Edmund S Burwell.

Then Hugh Garland died in October 1854. Armistead Burwell Jr., a Vicksburg MS lawyer and Unionist, came to sort out his brother-in-law’s estate. He convinced his sister Anne to honour the agreement Elizabeth had reached with Hugh.

But raising $1,200 was still a huge problem. She decided to go to New York and fund-raise among anti-slavery groups there. Anne told her she could go if six white men would guarantee to cover the Garland “loss” should she not return. Five men agreed. Not enough.

Hearing of her distress, one of Elizabeth’s St. Louis clients stepped in. Mrs. Le Bourgois said she still owed Elizabeth money for dresses she’d made. Others also paid their “debts” or loaned Elizabeth money. So Elizabeth got the money she needed and, in November 1855, her emancipation papers.

She stayed in St. Louis another five years, working as a seamstress until she paid back those who had loaned her money. In 1857 her mother Agnes, who had gone to Armistead Jr.’s home in Vicksburg, died.

Washington DC

In 1860, Elizabeth and George moved to Washington DC. At first she taught dressmaking, then set up her own shop. Her contacts in St. Louis proved useful, and she gained a reputation as Washington’s preeminent dressmaker. Mary Todd Lincoln became a client. Eventually Mrs. Lincoln asked Elizabeth to work exclusively for her.

George-KirklandAnne Garland and her children returned to Virginia in 1861, no longer welcome in St. Louis due to their Confederacy sympathies. Her son Col. Hugh Garland Jr. was killed in the Battle of Franklin TN in 1864. He was Commander of the 1st Missouri Infantry.

Elizabeth’s son George, Hugh Jr.’s cousin, also fought and died in the Civil War. He enlisted under the surname Kirkland in the (white) 1st Missouri Volunteers of the Union Army. Pvt. Kirkland died in the Battle of Wilson Creek August 10, 1861. (Read more about him.)

Lincoln White House and after

Amazon link for Behind the Scenes
Tap for Amazon link

Mrs. Keckley spent the war years at the White House with the Lincoln family. In 1866 she published her autobiography, entitled Behind the Scenes, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. It shocked Washington society, and angered Mary Lincoln. Mrs. Keckley meant it as a defence of the impoverished and increasingly criticized former First Lady. But the book was seen as airing private matters and trading on connections. Her social standing, and dressmaking business, plummeted.

Elizabeth moved to Ohio in 1892 where she became head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University. She was then 74. She returned to Washington where she died at the age of 89. Examples of her dressmaking – including the gown Mrs. Lincoln wore for her husband’s 2nd inauguration – are in museum collections. So too is a quilt she made from scraps of the silks and satins she’d used in making those gowns. (More on Mrs. Keckley’s design style.)

Keckley-quilt-1860s

Distant cousins, maybe

If my Canadian Burwell family is related to the Virginia Burwells, then Elizabeth Keckley is my 8th cousin 4 times removed. That makes Armistead Burwell and his whole slaveholding family my cousins as well. Mrs. Keckley reconciled that somehow. She didn’t sugarcoat her years in slavery, but she remained in contact with Anne Garland to the end of her life.

Whether or not we are related, it’s interesting. Within the immediate family of Armistead Burwell, you find those who were enslaved and those who enslaved them. Those who worked for slavery and those who worked against it. Soldiers in the Union Army and in the Confederate Army. America in a nutshell maybe.

The White House Historical Association gives more details on Mrs. Keckley’s life and that of the Burwells. George Kirkland’s photo is from Petersburg Preservation. Below are links to a biography of Mrs. Keckley and a historical novel about George Hobbs Kirkland, both by Jennifer Fleischner.

Prince Philip’s Horses

“If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.” That, it is said, is how Prince Philip described his daughter Princess Anne. But if the amount of time he spent with horses is anything to go by, the Prince also had a fondness for hay-eating, farting creatures.

royals-on-horses-1957-p-5-HM
“The Royal Family in 1957. From left to right, Princess Anne on William, Prince Charles on Greensleeves, Her Majesty the Queen on Betsy, and the Duke of Edinburgh on Mele-Kush (photograph from Her Majesty’s album)”

He was a polo player and later carriage driver. From 1964 to 1986 he was President of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the longest-serving ever. He was succeeded by Princess Anne. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

A 1965 book The Queen Rides by Judith Campbell is about the royal horses and their riders. Here is part of the section on Prince Philip, with photographs from the book.

Prince Philip’s Polo Ponies

The Prince originally learned to ride when he was nine or ten years old, and the teaching was continued when he went to Gordonstoun by two well-known instructors, Mr. and Mrs. Saloschin. At school the boys not only rode, they were taught stable management and were expected to look after the ponies…

Prince Philip first began playing polo in Malta, when he was on active service in the Royal Navy. He has an excellent natural eye for a ball, and since he is also a lover of violent exercise, particularly of anything spiced with danger, it was almost inevitable that polo should become his first love in sport…

Philip-and-Global-p-38-Godfrey-Argent
“Prince Philip’s interest in his ponies is not confined to the polo field. He frequently visits them and discusses their well-being with Miss Donaghue. Here he is having a look at Global, a four-year-old, bred by the Queen”

Prince Philip’s Yard, where his polo ponies are kept, is small and compact. The tack and work rooms are at one end, the food stores at the other, and the ten loose-boxes face each other on opposite sides. The yard is paved in grey stone, easy to keep clean but disliked by some of the occupants, the thoroughbreds in particular, who mistrust its apparently slippery surface.

Miss Donaghue runs the yard with the help of three girl grooms, and Cain the Boxer. There is little she does not know of the care of polo ponies, and most of them are old friends…

All polo ponies have to be obedient and supple, quick on the turn, fast on the straight, and immediately responsive to neck-reining: that is, at once moving away from the rein pressed against the pony’s neck, an essential in animals that have to be ridden with one hand. English-trained ponies are given what is almost a form of elementary dressage schooling at first, and are taught to have their hocks well under them, the weight back…

The majority of the Prince’s blood ponies are bred by the Queen at Sandringham. Global, a four-year-old, is one of these, still playing very slow polo. He is a bit of an enigma and Prince Philip thinks he is the sort that could prove useless, or might be very good indeed. Only time will tell…

Bullseye

The Queen sometimes remarks rather despairingly that most of the horses she breeds seem to have lop-ears. There are certainly plenty of good-looking ones without this technical defect, but a pony called Bullseye, belonging to Prince Philip, does illustrate her words. By tradition lop-eared horses are supposed to be quiet and generous, but ears that flop sideways or forwards do tend to give their owners a clown-like, depressed appearance. In addition to his ears, Bullseye has rather ungainly, elongated conformation, and what can only be described as a somewhat loopy expression. In 1963 he was the despair of all, including the Prince, but in the next year Bullseye suddenly became an enthusiastic participant in the game. From obviously having regarded the whole affair as a ridiculous waste of time, he has suddenly decided that polo is fun. The Prince is very pleased with Bullseye, and that despite the fact that it was a fall with this pony that put his shoulder temporarily out of action in 1964. Bullseye slipped when travelling at speed, and his subsequent antics are described by his rider as akin to someone falling on ice – arms and legs splayed out in all directions, and skidding along on his stomach…

Lightning

Like some human beings, there are animals that seem to have everything in their favour – looks, breeding, potential brilliance – yet never quite reach the heights because of their temperament. The bright chestnut thoroughbred mare, Lightning, is one of these… Prince Philip speaks of her with affectionate exasperation as ‘The idiot woman!’ She does her best to bite him before mounting, and though she is very fast and should be a remarkable polo pony, she gets into a ‘tizzy’ and works herself up until she behaves like a ‘raving lunatic!’ in the company of other ponies. Even her tail cannot be bound up to keep it out of the way in the approved style, because she tears around swishing it madly, banging herself until it comes undone, or she goads herself into a worse frenzy. Whether, unlike the leopard, Lightning will ever change her spots and calm down sufficiently to fulfill her promise is a matter for the future.

Max Charge QH

There is another pony that should, all being well, join Prince Philip’s string in a few years’ time and whose début will be of particular interest. This is Max Charge, a two-year-old bright chestnut quarter horse, at present in Ireland receiving her first schooling as a future polo pony. She was presented to Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Show by members of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association, who were touring the British Shows during the summer of 1964…

Max-Charge-QH-p-45-Chas-C-Fennell
“Max Charge, the young quarter horse presented to Prince Philip by members of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association”

She has the low head carriage, good shoulder and withers, short cannon bones, small feet, exceptionally powerful quarters and broad, ‘fork’ chest, that are typical of her breed. Like the majority of quarter horses she is also good tempered and intelligent, but is of the type that is seldom trained as a cutting horse, being a little less solid, and showing more of her thoroughbred blood. Had Max Charge not been destined for a royal polo pony, she would probably have been trained for taking part in the essentially American and Canadian competitions for reining or roping horses – for which the performance demanded is roughly equivalent to that of our top-class hacks…

No doubt when Max Charge does come to join Prince Philip’s Yard, the Prince of Wales will take as much interest in her progress as his father, wondering if, in the years to come, he may also possibly be able to play this quarter horse polo pony. [pp 38-45]

philip-plays-polo-p-44-Godfrey-Argent
“Prince Philip plays polo whenever he can spare the time”

In 1969 Prince Philip spoke of the impacts on the financially strapped Royal Family: “I shall have to give up polo fairly soon.” His example of cost-cutting caused outrage, but I think anyone who has a horse understands what he’s talking about.

The Queen Rides author Judith Campbell wanted to write about the Queen’s family horses, so she wrote to her. From The Australian Women’s Weekly, Aug. 4, 1965: “‘Looking back, I realize it was rather a daring thing to do,’ says Judith, ‘but I didn’t know then the Queen never gives interviews.’ The Queen took some time to think things over. Then she wrote, ‘I think it would be a good idea.'”

cover-The-Queen-Rides
Look online for copies or in used bookstores.

It’s a wonderful book for anyone interested in the royals or horses. Others of interest are The Duke of Edinburgh’s 30 Years On and Off the Box Seat about carriage driving, Lord Louis Mountbatten’s An Introduction to Polo (Amazon link below) published under the nom de plume Marco, and Ruth Oltmann’s Lizzie Rummel: Baroness of the Canadian Rockies (Amazon link in sidebar) where I learned a bit about the Saloschins and more about a remarkable German aristocrat who settled in Alberta.

The Royal Family posted on Facebook that, in his funeral procession Saturday April 17th, “The Duke of Edinburgh’s two fell ponies – Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm – will pull a carriage designed by The Duke of Edinburgh eight years ago.”

The Sussex Interview

Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan is on a par with the 1995 BBC interview with Lady Diana. It asked for compassion, and got it. And, like Diana’s, did it manipulate too? Oh yes.

So much in those two hours, but a couple of things niggled at me. Things that weren’t only in the murky realm of “they said”. Rather things that can held up and examined.

Romance or irresponsibility

Meghan said she did no research into Harry or the Royals before agreeing to marry him. No, she didn’t google her husband-to-be. And she said, as an American, she knew very little about the Royal Family.

However, as Oprah pointed out, when anyone marries, they are marrying the family as well as a person. In the case of a royalty, you’re also marrying a whole nation, a whole commonwealth maybe. I think it’s incumbent on you, in that case, to find out what you’re letting yourself in for. Or simply learn about the people and country you’re going to be a part of. As my husband said, if you were asked to give a speech to the Caterpillar Collectors of Peoria, you’d likely google them and Peoria just so you’d know a little bit before you got there.

If you don’t, at least in marriage, the person you’re marrying should point familial expectations and potential pitfalls to you. Especially, I’d think, when it’s a royal family with a national – and international – press hungry for any and all details about you.

Harry has had a few girlfriends leave him because they didn’t want to be part of the circus that comes with being a royal in Britain. Plus, as he made clear in this interview, he knows how horribly wrong it can go. So wouldn’t he make it crystal-clear to Meghan what she was letting herself in for?

A funny story Meghan told suggests that he didn’t even make it clear what it would be like being a family member. On the way to Andrew’s house, where the Queen was expected to drop in, he casually asked her if she knew how to curtsy. Five minutes away from arriving, Meghan laughed, no time to even google it. So some practice curtsies outside before she went in to meet the queen of the family, the Queen of the realm.

That gobsmacked me. Harry not realizing that there is absolutely no reason why Meghan would know how to curtsy. Unless she needed to know for a period piece she was acting it, it’s just not something regular people learn. So was he really still that wrapped up in his royal cocoon?

Security

Meghan and Harry said that their security had been pulled when they lived in Canada. Oprah asked who provided the security. The UK, he said. Wait a minute, Harry. You might want to acknowledge Canada did too, through the RCMP. Our government was pretty tight-lipped about the amount because Canadian taxpayers on the whole weren’t very happy about it.

But we had no choice while you were working royals. You were then classified as IPPs – internationally protected persons. All countries agree to pay security costs for visiting IPPs. So while you were here, we paid. When you no longer were working royals, the security obligations ended. That’s how it works. It wasn’t personal.

Archie

The security discussion led Meghan to talk about Archie’s titles, or lack thereof, and again the unidentified “them”. Security being withdrawn from Harry and Meghan meant no security for the baby either. If he were a prince, she implied, he’d be entitled to security. Huh? Is he a working royal? He’s two.

Then she went into a confused and confusing explanation of why Archie doesn’t have a title and won’t in future, she says. The “George V or George VI convention” – her words. There’s probably several libraries in the palaces, and there’s a resident queen who knows a lot about this stuff. But, failing those, there’s Google.

I goggled it: Archie will become a prince, and HRH, when he is a grandchild of the reigning monarch. At present, he is a great-grandchild. It was the Queen’s grandfather, George V, who decided how many generations for what titles in his 1917 Letters Patent.

Queen Elizabeth changed some of those rules in 2012 before the birth of Prince George. She removed the male heir precedence and she deemed all children of direct heirs to the throne to be styled Prince or Princess. That would be the children of William, who is the heir after Charles. Harry and his children are not in that direct line. Charles may do his own Letters Patent and change things again when he is king.

As working royals, the Sussexes – and their children – were entitled to security paid for by the British government. But now, with their change in status, they’re not. Again, it’s not personal.

Commonwealth

Towards the end of the interview, Harry and Meghan said what a great loss for the Commonwealth that their removal from official royaldom was. They were emblematic of it, and as Meghan said “see it, be it.” True, and quite possibly part of the Queen’s thinking when she appointed them President and Vice-President of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.

  • Here’s what I wrote when Harry and Meghan got married. Feels like a long time ago, but less than three years.

The Trump Goodbye

Every day there’s something on the television screen that you’ve never seen before. Something that you want to capture for your own historical record. The departure of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, has produced many. More than any other president in the history of the country, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Trump.

Jan. 9, 2021 CNN

Here are a few of the shots I grabbed my camera for. They are just from the past ten days. Only one more day, and he’s gone. But I think there will still be newsworthy, even historic, images on our tv screens for quite a while to come. He may be going, but I doubt he’ll quietly retreat.

Jan. 11, 2021 CNN

But I gave up predicting what Trump might do a long time ago. Soon into his term, I didn’t think he’d make the full four years. He’d quit – bored by all the work people expected him to do. Be impeached – for just about anything he was doing. He was impeached, but his fellow party members made sure it didn’t come to anything. The 25th Amendment. A military coup to take power away from a madman. I actually saw that as an option preferable to him remaining as president!

A Teflon Horseshoe

None of those things happened. He’s got a horseshoe – the luckiest horseshoe ever – firmly up there somewhere. The Teflon President, Ronald Reagan, has nothing on The Donald.

Trump has often been compared to Richard Nixon, the last president before him to be impeached for political chicanery. But Matt Tynhauer, director of The Reagans, compares Trump to Ronald Reagan. It is a compelling argument, in terms of the two men’s media styles, their responses to domestic crises. and the international political havoc they wrought. Also in their long-term effect in moving to Republican Party to the right, the evangelical, and the lunatics. Reagan gave voice to the Moral Majority, which led to the Tea Party, which led to – well, a siege of Capital Hill by Trump supporters.

Jan. 11, 2021 CNN

I will miss Donald Trump, though. Living in a Biden presidency, I think, will be like being back with Dad after a wild weekend with crazy Uncle Donny. You never knew from one minute to the next, with Trump, what would be headlined in the news. “He did what?” was a phrase often heard in our household. Sometimes whatever it was made us laugh ’til we cried. Other times, we just cried, or got really angry. Four years of watching a nation unravel.

and Melania

I will also miss the First Lady. Melania, we hardly got to know you! Her clothes spoke for her mainly. Fitting, I guess, for a model. But what messages they so often gave! Where were the handlers, the image managers?

Jan. 11, 2021 CNN

Sometimes, though, Melania herself speaks. Maybe best of all was her heal-the-nation statement following the attack on Congress. After expressing her disappointment that people had been mean to her, she wrote:

“It is inspiring to see that so many have found a passion and enthusiasm in participating in an election, but we must not allow that passion to turn to violence.”

I hope this sentence is put on a plaque and displayed prominently in the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. Right above a picture of QAnon Shaman sitting in the Vice-President’s Senate seat. Or the mob beating a guard with a flagpole, American flag still affixed. It’s like Participaction endorsing dine-and-dash: Eat healthy and get your exercise!

Jan. 13, 2021 CNN

And a park!

The Trump legacy will maybe best be found in a New York park. The Donald J. Trump State Park in Westchester and Putnam Counties. He donated the 486 acres to the state after being unable to turn it into a golf course. He got a substantial tax deduction for doing so. It hasn’t been developed as a park either. It is vacant land. There is, apparently, lots of road signage for it, but nothing there. That’s beautifully emblematic of Donald Trump. And it’s likely the only land that Donald Trump has ever protected. For both those reasons, I think the state of New York should leave it exactly as it is, both the land and its name.

Jan. 15, 2021 CNN

Goodbye, Trump family. We’ll never forget you. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

and also see…

  • From way back in the early Trumpian era, here’s my First Hundred Hours, when I couldn’t really imagine that it could get much worse.

General Jack and Warrior

Warrior was called “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill.” He was a war horse. The 15.2 hand Thoroughbred gelding was General Jack Seely’s charger. Gen. Seely was a British career soldier and MP. He was also the first commanding officer of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Warrior and Seely painting by Munnings Canadian War MuseumThe Brigade was comprised of three cavalry units and an artillery battery. They were:

• Royal Canadian Dragoons
• Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians)
• 2nd King Edward’s Horse (The King’s Overseas Dominions Regiment)
• The Fort Garry Horse (replaced the British 2KEH in1916)
• Royal Canadian Horse Artillery

Lucky man, lucky horse

Seely himself was called “the luckiest man in the Army.” He and Warrior narrowly missed death many times over four years of battle. They both returned to their home in England.

Seely and Warrior arrived in France in August 1914. Warrior first saw shell fire the next month at Mons in September 1914. In December, Seely was made commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. He and Warrior were at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915, where the dismounted Brigade fought as infantry. They were at the Somme on July 1st 1916. In 1917 they were at Passchendaele and then Cambrai. In March 1918 Warrior and Seely led one of the last cavalry charges in modern warfare. It was the Battle of Moreuil Wood. The renowned horse artist Sir Alfred Munnings painted the scene.

Alfred_Munnings-Moreuil-Wood-wikicommons

War is over

In April 1918 General Seely inhaled poisonous gas. So his war was over. But Warrior’s was not. He stayed until the end. General R. W. Patterson took over command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, with Warrior as his mount. Finally, in December of 1918, Warrior returned to Seely’s home on the Isle of Wight.

Jack Seely continued his political career after the war. He did not forget, though, that many hundreds of thousands of British horses remained in Europe. He spoke to his friend and colleague Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill, a soldier who knew the value of these horses’ service, successfully repatriated about 60,000 of them.

Queen-Mary-with-Warrior-1934-warriorwarhorse.comGeneral Seely was made Baron Mottistone in 1933. Warrior was a respected celebrity. He attended remembrance events and greeted visiting dignitaries to the island, like Queen Mary. He won the 1922 Isle of Wight point-to-point, a race his sire had won 15 years earlier. Jack Seely wrote several memoirs, including My Horse Warrior. It was illustrated by Sir Alfred Munnings.

Gen Seely and Warrior warriorwarhorse.comSeely and Warrior lived at Mottistone Manor for the rest of their lives. Warrior died in 1941, at nearly 33. Lord Mottistone died age 77 in 1947.

Warrior was sired by Straybit, bred by Mr. E. Hobson. Straybit was by Burnaby out of Myrthe. Warrior’s dam was called Cinderella. Her registered name is not known, and so neither is her ancestry. Seely bought her in 1902 after watching her in military manoeuvres.

warrior-pedigreequery.com
Warrior pedigree from Pedigree Query – tap to enlarge

Jack – or John Edward Bernard Seely – was the son of Sir Charles Seely, 1st Baronet, and Emily Evans. Sir Charles too was an MP and son of an MP. Jack had seven children with his first wife Emily Crichton, and a son and stepson with second wife Evelyn Murray Nicholson. Military and political service, the Isle of Wight and horses are found throughout the careers of his descendants.

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Brough Scott, son of Seely’s daughter Irene, is a horse racing journalist and former jockey. He wrote a biography of his grandfather entitled Galloper Jack and reissued My Horse Warrior. In honour of the centenary of World War I, Warrior was awarded the Dickin Medal for animal bravery in 2014. On his website Warrior, Scott writes:

“His greatness was also in the simple, uplifting, heroism of having faced danger without flinching and never having let fear take the reins. That same heroism was shown by the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules that were not blessed with Warrior’s outrageous slice of fortune for survival.”

In The Army Now

Bill Stewart received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Minnesota on December 18, 1941 (See Pt. 2). That was 11 days after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

bill stewart abt 1942I went directly to induction into the military at Ft. Snelling MN. Military service was not completely strange to me because I had two years of ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] in high school. I passed through three training schools. The first in Tulare CA, next at Taft CA and the last at Phoenix AZ. There were “wash outs” but we never knew who or what; they simply disappeared.

I had a great sense of accomplishment when I made my first solo flight. My wings were pinned on me by my flight instructor in bill-stewart usaaf wingsPhoenix. I was one of a group of P38 pilots sent up to Everett WA on a train. No sooner were we off the train than we were sent on another train to Orange County CA airport. Our job was to defend Southern California. Ha! The Air Force was trying to determine where we were needed most.

Shipping out

After two weeks in California we were flown to New York and put on a “banana boat” for shipment to England. The interior of the ship had been modified to accept bunks rather than produce. My good friend Andy Winter and I were standing on the stern of the ship when the gun crew on the deck above decided to let go with three inch deck guns.

My ear drums were blasted at that impact. The ship was sunk later in the war at the Straits of Gibraltar with all personnel lost.

We docked in Scotland. Some of us pilots were stationed at Ayr – a rehabilitation area for exhausted RAF pilots. These were seasoned fighter pilots; we were supposed to learn from them. The US command apparently didn’t know what to do with us. That first day at Ayr we heard that a US pilot had flown into a mountain in the north of Ireland with an Admiral on board.

capt-bill-stewart-blackpool-nov-1943-or-1944I was soon sent to London for treatment for my ear damaged by the deck gun blasts. The doctor treated my ear with a sulpha solution. This was before sulpha was commonly available.

In London I worked in US fighter command headquarters for one month. While there I prepared an accident chart for General Hunter. This was a simple bar chart comparing pilot error accidents with mechanical failure accidents. Most accidents, I confirmed, were caused by pilot error. The General was pleased with my work.

Then I was sent to another air base in England to learn to fly all the different airplanes. There is a use for pilots in many different aspects of war. By that I mean flying in gasoline, bombs and ammo and flying out wounded to hospitals. We didn’t have helicopters for flexible use as are commonly available today.

Tailored Jacket

Discipline was a bit lax in the squadron I was in. But one day when a pilot from Oklahoma came to flight line for duty wearing his western boots, he was very firmly corrected. There was, however, a gradual change in jackets that was not in any of the manuals.

Jacket_Owned_and_Worn_by_General_Dwight_D._Eisenhower_-_NARA_-_7717661_page_1-wikicommons
Gen. Eisenhower’s Ike Jacket, NARA photo

A pilot named Costa reported for flight duty in a handsome jacket none of us had ever seen before. It was of Air Force uniform material with generous shoulder width and a slim waist The jacket, professionally made by a London tailor, was cut off at the waist and patterned after a Cuban dinner jacket. The jacket was so becoming that it soon became popular with other pilots who could afford to have one tailored. The senior officers knew something had to be done before the situation got out of hand. But what to do?

Apparently the senior officers liked the unauthorized jacket so much that they decided to go to the top: General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They wisely named it “The Eisenhower Jacket” and it must have been readily approved.

Pilot Costa was thought to be from a family of Cuban diplomats. He was part of our squadron because he was one of the few men to have experience in a B17. Costa was flying one of the original B17s in the Pacific when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

* See English Channel 1944 for section Bill wrote here.

Squadron Operations Officer

After several months of service, I was made squadron operations officer. But when pilots crashed, disappeared or were transferred, I was not told what happened to them. However, I was asked on several occasions to write letters to the families of deceased pilots.

Another problem for me was the lack of instructions. For example, I was sent to investigate and report on crashed aircraft. I did not feel qualified to properly do this job but probably was better qualified than the other pilots. Did I have the authority to go on another air base and question the ground crew of the crashed airplane? I made a natural assumption that the pilot was the ultimate person to determine whether a plan was flyable and not the ground crew.

Preparing for a flight of P38s from England to Africa, one pilot objected to the flying readiness of the aircraft. The ground officer of the departure field threatened to bring charges of insubordination against him. I was one of the pilots, not the squadron leader, so I had no jurisdiction over the situation. The pilot apparently ran out of fuel over the Straits of Gibraltar and crashed. He died.

Later a general asked me if I wanted to lead a squadron of P38s on a flight to Africa. I said I did not. The general did not take kindly to this response. Several weeks later I was reprimanded verbally by another general over the phone.

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“Bill Stewart in the 32nd P38 Lightning ever built”

I still think that I am correct that the pilot determines the flying readiness of an aircraft. All aircraft are not in proper condition all the time. In Germany I had 21 stretcher cases and one or two nurses and one engine was missing fire. I immediately turned the aircraft around and landed.

Memorable Flights

Among my memorable experiences is the flight where I had a planeload of British prisoners captured at Dunkirk. So they probably had been in France or Germany almost seven years. The ex-prisoners would come up to the cockpit and look ahead to the land of England and cry. I helped them a little bit on this one because I cried too. Their teeth were in deplorable condition but they were so happy. These men were still fairly young.

I also had the opportunity of flying repatriates from Buchenwald concentration camp. I did not even turn off the motor of the airplane. Someone else directed the loading and bench seating along the sides of the plane. Then I quickly took off. During the war the pilots did not know what was going on on the ground, such as the concentration camps and crematoria. We knew nothing about that. The leadership knew but intelligence told us only what they wanted us to know.

bill-stewart-B17-1944-mid-Atlantic
“Bill Stewart in B17, 1944 Mid-Atlantic”

I wish to mention one other incident because of the unusual severity of the situation. In the summer of 1944 Andy Winter and I were flying a B17 from England to Oklahoma City. At approximately 2 a.m. we took off from the Pan American air base at Belem, Brazil.

It was my turn to pilot on this leg of our journey. We immediately entered an intense rainstorm. I had never before seen or experienced rain of such volume and force. No lightning, no thunder. Just rain and turbulence. This was above the estuary of the Amazon River. I was flying by hand since we had no operating automatic pilot. The B17 was acting like one of those twenty five cent bucking broncos at fun places! I was surprised that the airplane could take it. But it never missed firing in this deluge. I was exhausted when we landed at Puerto Rico.

Commercial Pilot’s License #283070

I was honorably discharged from the service 22 Oct 1945. I had earned the rank of Captain sometime in 1943 and probably had flown about twelve different heavy aircraft. Upon discharge I was awarded a Commercial Pilot’s License to fly multi-engine aircraft. License number 283070: I held in my hand what I had worked toward for so many years.

I had accomplished my lifetime goal. But my values had changed. I Marji Smock Stewarthad to make a decision. Did I want to continue flying and being away from home? Or did I want to seek a non-traveling job? By this time I had been away from friends and loved ones more than nine years, which had a profound effect on me and my ultimate decision.

I loved my family and, by now, a pretty girl named Marji. I placed a stable family life and marriage above a flying career with its financial rewards and recognition.

Thanks and Apologies

I appreciate the Air Force teaching me to fly. The feeling of unbounded freedom in the sky does indeed increase one’s confidence. I needed that. Also there is that spiritual bond to one’s creator when you know that the only thing between you and death is a higher power.

flying-fortress-Boeing_Y1B-17_in_flight-USAF-wikipedia
B17 or “Flying Fortress” in flight, USAF photo

My profound thanks to the British people. I was there three years. Although I had very limited time for personal contacts or sightseeing, I appreciated their courtesies and their strengths.

And my apologies to the new PX in Germany for an incident sometime in 1945. If it was my plane that brought you a planeload of cups – A, B, C and D – I had nothing to do with choosing brassieres instead of paper cups!

bill-stewart-ca-1987We in Bill Stewart’s family are very grateful to the men who fired the deck guns on that transport ship. The ear damage Bill sustained prevented him from becoming a combat pilot. Their life expectancy in WWII was 4 weeks.

My professor and friend Dr. George Park was a US combat pilot who, thankfully, did survive. He said he loved flying. So I asked if he’d thought about becoming a commercial pilot after the war. No, he laughed, the kind of flying he’d learned didn’t translate well. Wouldn’t make for a reassuring flight for civilian passengers.

Next: Life on Civvy Street.

The Birthday Lunch

The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark on Amazon.ca
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Maybe it’s because Sussex NB is now my hometown. Or maybe it’s because Joan Clark wrote an amazing book about family and place. Whatever, I read her 2015 The Birthday Lunch with only grudging stops for my own lunch.

It’s about a death, sudden and unexpected, and how the woman’s husband, kids and sister cope. It mostly takes place over the following week, summer of 1981 in Sussex. The shock, the whys and hows, the obituary, what would she want done, the funeral. In the course of that week, we learn about the lives of these people and their friends, neighbours and family members present and past.

Downtown_Sussex-2006-Rangeley-wikipediaThe son having believed he may have fathered a child with a local girl seemed a pointless tangent, according to a reader’s review I read. But keep following that string. It will give you the skein that is life in a small town. Your history is not yours alone, everyone in town shares in it. Ms Clark isn’t slapping you in the face with this, but the intertwining of lives is there on almost every page.

Neighbours and friends aren’t slapping it in anyone’s face either. They are just there, like the streets, worn hills and creeks. A woman who watches passersby on Main Street with binoculars sees a lot more than who’s walking where. A neighbour, knowing from the loss of her husband how painful words of condolence can be, silently leaves meals for the family on their doorstep. These are good, but not cloyingly good, people. They simply have learned from their own hardships.

The person who has learned lessons from her problems, but maybe not the most useful ones, is the dead woman’s sister. Laverne is probably the least likeable character in the whole story but one who lives the most interesting life inside herself, inside her walls. She has done something that I’ve never thought of, yet once you read it, you think well, why not?

Woman with a Child in a Pantry

Pieter_de_Hooch_007-woman-with-a-child-in-a-pantry-ca-1658-rijksmuseum-wikicommonsLaverne lives inside a 17th century painting. (The book, of course, explains this.) Noted in passing is that she doesn’t care that the woman and child are missing in her rendition. They’re central to the artist. But to Laverne, I think, what’s central is the artist and maybe the sense of love or belonging. Conveyed in a painting, there is no reciprocal obligation. In her small time capsule, she is central. She does not share any of this with anyone else, not even really with her sister.

Another peripheral, but important, character, is fascinated by Laverne’s creation and thinks of how he can use it. Does he wonder about who this woman is that she could, and did, do it? No. But he’s mightily impressed by her ability to adapt architecture and real light to perspective and painted light.

A beautiful book about Sussex. A beautiful book about anywhere where an accident causes a family and a town to grieve. Regret and remember. Come together in some places and pull apart in others.

Laverne made asparagus and Stilton soup and  scallops for the birthday lunch. Here’s how I make any cream soup.

English Channel 1944

William Stewart, a US Army Air Force Captain in World War II, tells about his flight across the English Channel on December 15, 1944. Enemy planes were a risk, yes, but so too was the weather.

bill-stewart-usaaf English Channel postI was standing back of the pilot in a B17 stripped down bomber with about 17 pilots on board. I was flight operations officer for our squadron. We all were riding as passengers, flying over the English Channel and back to our base in England.

I was not trying to tell the pilot how to fly the plane. He was a better pilot than I. But I wanted to see the weather ahead through the pilot’s window.

Fog and clouds were the major nemeses for countries surrounded by water. Most of the deaths in my squadron were caused by fog or poor weather and only a few by mechanical failure. I was surprised to have spent so many hours over France and Germany – flying gasoline, ammo and bombs in and wounded out – and not taken any gunfire to my airplane. But, while flying over Muenster in Germany one day, I struck a balloon cable between my fuselage and right engine. This ripped all the de-icing boot off my right wing but it didn’t bring me down. I was flying an old dependable DC3 or, as some call it, a C47.

Foggy English Channel

So, this December day, crossing the English Channel, I was looking out the front of the cockpit to see how bad it was ahead of us. The weather was terrible to say the least. Most think of the weather as moving from west to east. But it forms and changes all the time in place.

vloa Spitfire - wwii photo Bill Stewart
Photo of Spitfire taken by Capt Bill Stewart from his plane, 1943 UK

We were flying about 100 feet off the water in what looked like a tunnel. This tunnel obviously was made by the heat of aircraft engines ahead of us; there was no air movement.

Suddenly the pilot said “That looks like an airplane on the water down there.” I had not seen anything. Maybe we had met another plane or overtaken another. Things happen quickly when you meet head on, each going over 150 miles per hour.

bill-stewart-wwiiI asked the pilot if we had enough gasoline to get back to Paris and he said “No.” This is an example of a difficult and tight situation. Most are not as bad as this but there are many bad ones.

The pilot continued to fly ahead. Soon we could see the cliffs of Dover or a similar place dead ahead. When we got close to the cliffs, the pilot turned north. The tide was out, thus we had a sandy beach if we had to crash. We all had to look up to see the church steeples and houses on top of the cliffs. The pilot was an excellent flyer and, by radio, the co-pilot somehow located a control tower and airfield close by. This was one of the most difficult situations I was ever in during my years of flying in England.

Glenn Miller, Air Force Major and band leader

Glen-Miller-Major-US-Army-Air-Corps-wikicommons disappeared English Channel 1944We landed at some RAF base near the coast. Only a superb pilot could have found it and lined up with the runway in near zero visibility. Later the next morning we learned that a plane flying Glenn Miller had disappeared over the channel.

There may not be any air movement, yet fog just forms in still air. You don’t realize that, unless you are flying in it. Over water, fog is a real killer for pilots. The pilot has no horizons.

Glenn_Miller_Band-1940-1941-rayanthonyband.com-wikicommonsBill Stewart (1915-2005) is my father-in-law. This is from an unpublished memoir he and his wife, Marji Smock Stewart, wrote. He never knew if the plane that pilot saw in the water was Glenn Miller’s plane. But it was that same day, same place.