Wednesday, February 15, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Profile of a Hero: Lt.-Col. George Harold Baker

     We've been a bit WWII-heavy the past few weeks, so I thought it might be nice to add in a bit of First World War heroism this week! Lt.-Col. George Harold Baker was Canada's only Member of Parliament to have been killed in the First World War, over a hundred years ago.

     Baker was born in 1877 in the town of Sweetsburg in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. His family were United Empire Loyalists and were prominent in the area's political sphere. At the time of his birth, his father, The Hon. George Barnard Baker, had already served in the Quebec National Assembly and been elected three times as the Member of Parliament for Missisquoi, Quebec. George Sr. was later called to the Senate in 1896 and served as a Senator until his death in 1910.

     The younger Baker, whose friends called him 'Harry,' followed in his father's footsteps in pursuing a career in law, establishing a successful practice with his father first in Sweetsburg then in Montreal. In 1911 he was elected as a Conservative MP for Brome, Quebec. In addition to his interests in law and politics, Harry assumed an active role in various militia regiments in the region, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Scottish Light Dragoons in 1913.

Morning Glory
     At the time, Harry owned a horse called Morning Glory, which he kept at a farm in Brome and used for practicing charges and shooting from the saddle with his men when they were on maneuvers. When war broke out, Harry volunteered for active service and retained his seat in the House of Commons. Shortly afterwards, he was given the authority to raise the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles, a unit comprised of volunteers from the Eastern Townships. When they left for England in 1915, and later that same year to France, Morning Glory was along for the ride. The pair were separated when Harry and his men were reclassified as infantry and sent to the trenches, but Morning Glory was able to escape the fate of so many horses used to drag heavy guns through the mud. She caught the eye of a battalion commander who took her for his personal mount, and Harry even got to see her from time to time. He even mentioned her in a letter home from Belgium in May 1916:
     "I saw Morning Glory day before yesterday; she is in the pink of condition. I hope some day to have her back."

     Sadly, this was the last time Harry ever saw Morning Glory. He was killed around 8:30 p.m. on 2 June, 1916 at Maple Copse in Sanctuary Wood during the Battle of Ypres. 

     At the time, he was planning a leave in London to meet his two sisters who were coming over to visit from Canada. He even had his hotel booked, which he mentioned in letters to the relatives of soldiers who had died under his command while offering to meet with them to offer his condolences. 

     In February 1924, a monument in tribute to Lt.-Col. Baker was unveiled in the Center Block of Parliament by Governor General Lord Byng. The Baker Memorial is dedicated to one man, but it personifies the nation's loss and the spirit of those who served. As for Morning Glory, she returned to Canada at the end of the war and you can read the rest of her story here:
You can also read more about the Baker Memorial here:

     References for this post come from The House of Commons Heritage Collection and CBC's "Morning Golry: Canada's Own WWI War Horse".
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Profiles of Three Heroes: The Faces of the Resistance

Female French Resistance fighters
One thing we really haven’t dealt with much thus far is the Second World War resistance movement. I was particularly inspired recently to read of some of the female intelligence agents, and thought you might appreciate a little mission behind enemy lines this week into the world of spies and sabotage!

Noor Inayat Khan

“I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”
            Born in Russia to an American mother and father of Indian nobility, Khan grew up in France. At the start of the war they fled to England, where she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November 1940. Since she was fluent in French, she was referred to recruiters for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British organization formed with the task of assisting resistance movements in occupied Europe. Once recruited, Khan became the first female radio operator to go into occupied France. In July 1943, she established herself in the Paris Prosper Network, which was soon discovered by the Nazis. The other wireless operators were captured, leaving Khan as the sole communicator with London.
            She continued working until her own arrest on 13 October 1943, and while she didn’t talk during interrogations, the Germans found her notebooks, broke her code, and impersonated her SOE discarded the message as unreliable. London continued to treat the impersonated messages as genuine, leading to several more arrests and executions by the Germans.
            Meanwhile, Khan attempted several escapes and even managed one successfully in November 1943 before being quickly recaptured. The Nazis deemed her “very dangerous” and sent her to Pforzheim, Germany, where she endured ten months of solitary confinement as a Night and Fog prisoner (one of Hitler’s directives against resistance workers whereby local populations would be intimidated by the disappearance of captured loved ones). In September 1944, Khan and three other SOE agents were transferred to Dachau and executed. A bronze bust of Khan now stands in London’s Gordon Square Gardens.

Odette Hallowes

“They will kill me, I know. But then they would not win anything. What is the point? They’ll have a dead body, useless to them. They won’t have me. I won’t let them have me… it’s a kind of bargaining.”
            It all started with a postcard. French-born Hallowes had moved with her three daughters to England at the start of the war. In 1942, the Admiralty asked civilians for photos and postcards of the French coast for military intelligence. Hallowes accidentally addressed her postcard to the war office, which led to an interviewer with a recruiter for the SOE.
            While she was reluctant to leave her daughters, Hallowes trained as one of the first female SOE recruits. She landed in France in November 1942, where she contacted Captain Peter Churchill, another agent. She aided him in the resistance for the next five months.
            Meanwhile, a German intelligence officer had captured one of Hallowes’s contacts and infiltrated the resistance. He captured Hallowes and Churchill on 16 April 1943 and transported them to Fresnese Prison. When the bribes failed to extract information, the two were interrogated and tortured. They quickly fabricated a story that Churchill was the nephew of the prime minister and Hallowes was his wife, hoping that this would give them a reprieve.
            By July 1944, Hallowes was at the RavensbrΓΌck concentration camp as a Night and Fog prisoner. She survived five months on a starvation diet before she was released to a normal cell. Her trial ended in May 1945, when her ward turned her over to American troops in the hopes of shortening his sentence. He was tried and executed, while Hallowes went on to enjoy life into her eighties.

Nancy Wake

“I have only one thing to say: I killed a lot of Germans, and I’m sorry I didn’t kill more.”
            Wake was always a strong and independent woman. At sixteen, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse and journalist before settling in Marseille with her husband. He was a member of Marseille’s upper society, and Wake lived a life of luxury until the Germans invaded France.
            Without any formal training, she became an essential member of the resistance in Marseille. She used the cover of her expensive flat and socialite status to aid refugees and Allied spies. She was so successful that the Germans nicknamed her “White Mouse” and made her the Gestapo’s most-wanted person. When the situation grew too dangerous, she fled to England in 1943.
            There, she immediately joined the SOE, trained with a group of male recruits and parachuted back into France in April 1944. She became one of the leaders of the resistance group Maquis d’Auvergne, coordinating supplies and sabotage attacks for the 7,000 men under her command. Before the war’s end, the group fought 22,000 Germans and suffered only a hundred casualties, but wounded or killed 1,400 German soldiers.
            Here’s an interesting anecdote about Wake: Sometimes, a firm hand was required in demonstrating to over 7,000 men that a woman could lead them. On one occasion, several new recruits refused to do their share of chores. “You don’t want to collect water, I hear?” She asked, marching up to them. They were all sitting on a tree trunk and indicated that this was so. “Well then, of course, you mustn’t,” she said sweetly. “You are gendarmes. Water-carrying is not for you. Now you just stay there comfortably in the sun and I’ll get the water for you.” She put the buckets in her car, drove to the nearby lake, filled them up and drove them back to the headquarters. Then, grim-faced, she opened the door of the car, took out one bucket of water, marched across to the first gendarme and deposited it violently over his head. “Don’t move!” she bellowed to his startled companions. Petrified, they sat where they were. One after another, she helmeted every one of them with a pail full of water. (Russel Braddon, Nancy Wake: SOE’s Greatest Heroine)
            I appreciate your “dropping in” to celebrate these remarkable women with me this week. All information and images come from Victoria Van Vlear’s article “Subversive Heroes” in Heroes of World War II Fall 2016, pp. 87-91.
            Thanks for reading,

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Raise The Roof - Double The Donation

Our Carriage House Visitor Centre needs a new roof this summer and a very generous community member has offered to match $1000 in donations from YOU!  

The carriage house contains the archives from the West Elgin Genealogical & Historical Society, our resource library, visitor and tourism services, taxidermy display, staff offices, kitchen, meeting room and visitor washrooms.  This building is used for all events, facility rentals, special occasions, and daily operations.  Can we count on you to donate and help us Raise the Roof by April 30, 2017?  

To donate online please click here.

You can also call the office 519-762-3072 to donate using a credit card, drop by with cash in person at the museum, or mail your donation cheque payable to Tyrconnell Heritage Society to 
Tyrconnell Heritage Society, Raise The Roof, Box 26, Wallacetown, ON, N0L 2M0
Please mark the memo line of the cheque "Raise the Roof Donation"  

Thank you in advance for your donation and a huge thank you to our anonymous marching donor!  We appreciate you! 

Again here's the link to donate online today.   

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

World War Wednesdays: WWII On the Small Screen

Two gals watching a 1940-41 model Philco television as part of a 1946 Philco publication called The Servicing of Television Receivers 
     Welcome back to another pop culture edition of WWW! With the new semester comes new perspectives on things, and I'm really enjoying a class with Dr. Sean Graham about the history of radio and television in America. One of our assigned readings this week was a super fascinating article by James A. Von Schilling called "Television During World War II," and I thought I'd share some of the highlights with you all this week. Hopefully it intrigues and surprises you as much as it did me!

     First of all, I was quite shocked to learn that TV did not actually begin in the 1950s with Lucy and The Honeymooners, as I had always thought. It turns out that that belief has actually traditionally been shared by most textbooks on American media, and we've all just taken it for granted that the popular medium we know and love was a postwar phenomenon. In reality, television was actually developed in the 1920s! Another common myth is that the technology was put on the back burner during the war, which Von Schilling's work argues was certainly not the case.

     Although the factories used for producing TV sets, cameras, and station equipment were converted to military production, on 16 October 1941 the American government gave the broadcast industry an A-10 priority rating, which meant that stations already in operation could remain on the air and maintain existing equipment. The unfortunate part was that radio, which was included in the rating, was by that time a developed medium and had been an important part of everyday American life for over a decade, but the nature of TV at that time meant that the war stopped its growth in its tracks. Sets were still extremely expensive, and people still largely preferred the radio as their source of entertainment.
A late 1940s ad for the General Electric 806. Notice how tiny the screen was!
     However, this did not mean that the war killed television completely. Especially after Pearl Harbor, the technology was harnessed as an educational tool which could help people prepare for the possibilities of wartime conditions. On the night of 5 January 1942, a special wartime instructional show called "Air Raid Protection- Fighting the Bomb" aired on a network of three stations. The program included films on civil defense, a forty-minute talk by a New York police lieutenant, and demonstrations of air warden tools. For the TV industry, civil defense training programs brought good publicity (surprising considering the nature of TV today) and gave it a clear wartime role, Von Schilling observes.

     In terms of the actual war itself, TV technology also played a role. General Electric kept the programming side of things going, while RCA actually developed a system in which TV cameras and monitors would be used to guide unmanned air torpedoes, which was sponsored by the government beginning in 1940. Cloaked in secrecy and given code names, the company developed the first airborne camera system that same year and called it "BLOCK." In April 1941, seven months before Pearl Harbor, it passed the Army's field tests and was approved for production. In all, 4,000 of the BLOCK camera systems were built during the war, which saw use by both the Army and Navy in glider bombs, drone planes, and other aircraft. In the Pacific, they were used to attack Japanese shipping vessels beginning in August 1944, and that same month a television-guided U.S. Army airplane packed with explosives struck at Nazi V-1 rocket bases in France. The plane had a crew of two, who were supposed to parachute into the English Channel as the crew in a nearby plane took control via remote television. The plane exploded in mid-air, and no bodies were ever found. The pilot was Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., whose father had been grooming for the presidency, and whose goal now passed to the family's second son, John.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., LIFE
     Overall, the reason we associate the emergence of TV with the 1950s is that the technology was finally able to continue the trajectory of development it had begun in previous decades, and reach widespread popularity among consumers. As with so many other things, TV's wartime connections are just as interesting, and I hope you enjoyed this little exploration. If you're interested in reading more, be sure to look for Von Schilling's piece, which was the source of information for the post.
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)