Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blog recalls WWII tank battles

Internet huzzah for retired hussar

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

You can't blame Doug Mayman and his fellow crew members of a British Cruiser tank for wanting to keep out of the way of enemy German Tiger tanks in World War II.

A shot from a Tiger’s 88mm gun could penetrate the front armor of a Cruiser 2,000 metres away, but a Cruiser’s 57mm gun couldn't penetrate the front armor of a Tiger one metre away. (This fact has been revealed only recently. Was it known in 1944?).

Mayman, a member of the tank regiment, the 15th /19th King’s Royal Hussars, kept secret wartime diaries recounting his Army life from November 5, 1943 until his return home from Germany on leave on April 21, 1945.

The diaries, already published as a book, Led Soldiers, are now being posted day by day as a blog on the internet, to the delight of exservicemen - not all of them Brits - and military historians around the world.

These diaries provide a living account of Mayman’s conscription, induction and training, leading up to his experiences under fire as his regiment fought its way through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany.

The diaries are being posted 65 years after the events they describe, just as Harry Lamin's letters from the Western Front in the first World War have thrilled a worldwide audience 90 years after they were written.

Mayman, now 85, unearthed his forgotten diaries two years ago, while rummaging in the loft of his home in Aughton, West Lancashire, UK. He thought no-one would be interested in them but gave them to his two daughters, Merron Mitchell and Joy Murphy, to look at.

“As soon as I started to read them, I was enthralled," Joy told Gemma Jaleel, a feature writer of a local newspaper, the Ormskirk Advertiser

"My dad was only 19 when he started to keep a diary of his war experiences. Every day he would make an entry, however difficult it was. Sometimes he would be writing under a tank after days fighting, always with a fountain pen* and whenever he could with illustrations.

“Given the high mortality rate of his regiment, I think it was a way of trying to leave something behind in case of his death. Fortunately he survived, as did the diaries."

Mayman left school at the age of 15, and began work as a wages clerk for Rycroft and Hartley Ltd, a local textiles company. He then found a better-paying job in a Royal Ordnance Factory which manufactured aircraft shells in nearby Steeton.

He met his future wife Dorothy at the Methodist Youth Club when they were both 17. Two years later, on September 3, 1942, he was conscripted into the Army.

Doug and Dorothy married on April 23, 1945. They have four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

These days, at 85, Doug describes himself

as "a retired finance director - very much EX financial consultant. All jobs too big. Available for social occasions."

Harking back to the first World War: at least one soldier celebrated Christmas 1917 in the trenches in style. Here's an extract from a blog posted by Dumdad, an English journalist living in Paris:

Private William Jackman was a servant to Captain Morrison who was a multi-millionaire. Morrison arranged for hampers of food from Fortnum and Mason’s to be delivered to the trenches regularly and for a bottle of 1900 port from Berry’s to be sent out every three days plus cases of whisky and brandy. These were in boxes marked Red Cross.

By the time Jackman’s Battalion went to the Somme, Captain Morrison had left but he never cancelled the order and the stuff kept on coming. Private William wrote in his diary: “It used to arrive in batches and sometimes we’d have as many as a dozen boxes arriving from Fortnum and Mason’s at the same time. There were boxes of tinned stuff, mostly, like galantine of chicken, soups, puddings, tins of fruit, tins of grouse and pheasant, ham – everything you could think of for the Officers’ Mess.”

Imagine, sitting in a trench with fetid water lapping at your boots and rats scurrying hither and thither and thousands of lice crawling all over your body and shells exploding above your head yet dining out on a tin of grouse washed down with fine port.

What a crazy world!

* Doug Mayman wrote all his diaries with an ink-filled fountain pen. Ballpoint pens were unknown until after the war ended.
... on an October morning in 1945 when a crowd of over 5,000 people jammed the entrance of New York’s Gimbels Department Store. The day before, Gimbels had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the first sale of ballpoints in the United States. The ad described the new pen as a "fantastic... miraculous fountain pen ... guaranteed to write for two years without refilling!" On that first day of sales, Gimbels sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens-at $12.50 each! - From
Anyone wanting a copy of Doug Mayman's book should email OR OR telephone (UK) 01633 676629.

Harry Lamin's book, based on his blog, is complete and has been sent to the publishers, Michael O'Mara Books Ltd. It will go on sale on April 2, 2009 and major booksellers are accepting pre-orders at a discount.

You can see letters and a Christmas card Harry sent home in 1917 in this story in the London Daily Mail.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Supercentenarians (112) share same birthday

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

By a strange coincidence, Britain's oldest man, Henry Allingham, and America's oldest man, George Francis, were born on the same day - June 6, 1896. That means they are 112 years and six months old this week.

Famous in their own countries, they are little known to the rest of the world. They have never met, and are probably unaware of each other's existence.

Henry Allingham is one of only four remaining British survivors of World War 1 (1914-1918) in which nearly a million of his comrades died.

As a teenager, he enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service as a skilled mechanic and a year later, in 1916, he was involved in the greatest naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland.

In 1917, he was posted to France to support the Royal Flying Corps, and helped service and rescue aircraft which had crashed behind the trenches.
In 1919, he married 22-year-old Dorothy Cater in Chingford, Essex. [In another strange coincidence, the writer of this article was born there... in 1919.]

Henry's wife died 38 years ago, while his two daughters both died in their 80s. He has five grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Eight of his descendants and their partners flew from their homes in the United States to join him for his 112th birthday.

A report in London's Daily Telegraph,-Europe's-oldest-man,-celebrates-112th-birthday.html says:

To mark Armistice Day in 2005, Mr Allingham travelled to St Omer, near Calais, France, to lay wreaths to fallen comrades.

A year later, aged 110, as the oldest British World War I veteran, Mr Allingham met his German counterpart, Robert Meier, 109.

The men greeted each other warmly and laid a wreath at the war memorial near Witten town hall.

Mr Meier said it was "amazing" that both men were still alive and went on to say: "Why did we have to have a war?"

In 2007, Mr Allingham marked his 111th birthday on board the Royal Navy's oldest warship, HMS Victory, at Portsmouth.

A military flypast of aircraft from the Royal Navy's historic flight and the RAF marked the occasion.

Henry lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on the south coast of England for many years, but when his eyesight began to deteriorate he moved to the nearby St Dunstan’s care home for blind ex-service personnel.

America's oldest man, George Rene Francis, lives in a nursing home in Sacramento, California. Last month he voted for Barack Obama, whose victory, he declared, “made democracy work.”

"... Francis has lived through 19 U.S. presidents and six decades of Jim Crow laws, when he and all black Americans were forced to endure racial segregation," says a report in the Sacramento Observer

"This week, a beaming, wheelchair-bound Francis told his daughters he felt like jumping up and down after helping to elect the nation’s first black president. 'He is going to give black men a break in the world, and give them a better opportunity to live and make more money,' Francis said.’’

The report says that Francis grew up listening to Louis Armstrong play trumpet on his front porch in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward.

A lifelong Democrat, Francis cast his first ballot in the early 1930s, when he voted for Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1949, before the civil rights movement, he moved west to California seeking a better job.

His wife of four decades, Josephine, died in 1964 at age 63. But Francis’s extended family — which includes four children, 18 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren —say the man they call “Papa’’ never lost his spirit, nor his interest in politics.

An article about American supercenturians (people aged 110 and over) in Wikipedia says: "He credits his longevity to nature, and enjoys a rich diet of pork, eggs, milk and lard. He gave up smoking cigars at the age of 75."

On the other hand, according to the London Daily Mail, Henry Allingham has joked that his secret to longevity is "cigarettes, whisky and wild women".


Henry Allingham:

George Francis:

FOOTNOTE. The world's oldest living person is Maria de Jesus (115) of Portugal, born on September 10, 1893. The oldest living man is 113 year-old Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, born on September 18, 1895.

Sadly, George Francis died on December 28. "Francis, who lived in Sacramento's Eskaton Care Center Greenhaven retirement community, passed away Sunday after being hospitalized recently for heart problems," Sacramento TV.