Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Behind the Lines, a WWI Classic

Behind the Lines starts with a flash forward. Someone spotting an old friend facing what appears to be a firing squad just before a shell explodes, obliterating the scene. His old friend, he surmises, is now dead.

Then we are introduced to Peter Rawley, a lieutenant with an artillery battery in the British army of World War I. To him, war is a great man-making experience. It was all intensely interesting after a quiet humdrum life as a provincial insurance man.
Rawley likes Major Cane, Captain Whedbee, and Lieutenant Piddock. And he definitely like the young ambulance driver, Miss Berney Travers. But he doesn’t care for Rumbald, a man of considerable girth who enjoys liquor, prostitutes, and embellishing stories, and taking the easy jobs.
After a particularly harrowing time on the front line, Piddock needs a rest. He heads out for leave, and a shell takes out Cane and Whedbee. Rumbald, now the ranking officer, decides to call Piddock back to the line so that he might enjoy the cushier rear job. Rawley objects. They fight. Rumbald ends up with a broken neck.
Rawley has a license to kill any number of Germans, no matter how good they are, but he has killed a superior officer. For that he could hang. He deserts, and lives an underground existence in the devastated battlefields with other deserters. He teams up with Alf, and they scrounge for anything salvageable in the old trenches and whatever they can steal for stores.
They have run-ins with the self-appointed “lord” of the deserters and the Germans. Rawley masquerades as a chaplain and runs across Berney. When he takes a dead man’s place in another battery, he comes face to face with Piddock, and learns he never should have run.
At times, the story bogged down. Especially when their dug-out is caved in by other deserters, Rawley and Alf spend considerable time digging their way out. At first, Rawley didn’t seem too likable, being so fond of being at war. And the first chapter is misleading. You think you know how the story ends, but it’s different. Rawley grows on you, though. And the ending is filled with promise.
Behind the Lines offers a look at the horrific living conditions experienced by the men who fought in the Great War. The author, W. F. Morris, is included among them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Baby Ruth

Some publishers frown on using brand names in novels. Some businesses don’t take kindly to the use of their copyrighted brands.
But what about in a historical novel? Many products available in the past are no longer available. Others are, demonstrating their longevity.
In my third book, Soar Like Eagles, the Red Cross doughnut girls provided free Milky Way and Baby Ruth candy bars in addition to doughnuts. I used the names. My first publisher crossed them out. I had to resort to chocolate caramels and nutty bars. Sounds clumsy to me. With my new publisher, Celebrate Lit, the names are back in.
The Baby Ruth candy bar started out with controversy. The Curtiss Candy Company was located a few blocks from Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Chicago Cubs didn’t have a good year in 1921, nor did the candy company. Otto Schnering reformulated his Kandy Kake into a chocolate-covered candy bar with peanuts, nougat, and caramel. He gave it a new name: Baby Ruth.
That fall, New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth was the biggest name in baseball. The candy bar had one letter different, but the similarity suggested a connection, and Baby Ruth hit a home run for Schnering.
The baseball player licensed his name to the George H. Ruth Candy Company in 1926. The candy company registered “Ruth’s Home Run Candy” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Curtiss Company sued for infringement, saying their bar was actually named for Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland who had been born thirty years earlier in 1891. 

When Cleveland returned to the presidency in 1893, much interest centered on his “Baby Ruth,” but the Clevelands guarded their privacy and refused requests for photographs of their daughter. Ruth died of diphtheria in 1904, seventeen years before the candy bar’s appearance.
Curtiss’ story sounded flimsy, but the government agreed, and Babe Ruth was ruled to be trying to profit on the similarity of his name with the popular Baby Ruth. Ironically, the legal battle served to strengthen the candy bar’s connection to baseball. In 2006 Baby Ruth became “the official candy bar of major league baseball.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An Unlucky Lucky Runner

I've been reading The Extinguished Flame, about Olympic athletes who lost their lives in World War One. One man's experiences stood out for me.
Jean Bouin was born on 24 December 1888 in Marseille, France. His father died shortly after his birth and his mother remarried a man by the name of Galdini, whom Jean never got along with. Jean enjoyed most sports, especially fencing and gymnastics. In 1903, he met a famous French runner, Louis Pautex. Pautex saw something special in Bouin, and agreed to train him.
Jean won his first race on February, 28, 1904, a 10,000-meter cross-country event. Throughout the year, he won fourteen of the seventeen races in which he ran.
Beginning in January of 1905, Jean ran in his first race outside of the Marseille district. Running in the 11 km Lyon Ayçaguer challenge, he finished ninth. His stepfather then persuaded Jean to run in a race in Genoa, Italy. Jean won the race by a good distance, only to discover that his stepfather claimed his purse and spent it. Jean left home, moving in with his old school friend Joseph Granier and his sister Rose, whom he later married.
He continued to win races and, after finishing first in the 18km Nice-Monaco race, he was selected to run for France in the 3-mile race during the 1908 Olympic Games in London. The French team came in third, and Jean broke the French record. As punishment for an unauthorized night out, however, the French federation refused to recognize the award of the bronze medal or Jean’s record.
In 1909 Jean became France’s cross country champion, and again in 1911 before going on to become the World Champion. That November, he set the first of his world records, in the 10,000 meters. The record stood for ten years.
In 1912 he returned to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Running in the 5,000 meters, Jean won the silver medal, beaten for the gold in the final second of the race by Finnish runner, Hannes Kolehmainen.

On August 2, 1914, Jean was mobilized into the 141st Regiment in Nice. He could have remained behind at the base in a training capacity, but he refused, insisting on going to the front with his regiment. Jean Bouin was killed by shrapnel during a French bombardment on September 29, 1914, during the last days of the first battle of the Marne. He posthumously received the Military Medal.
A great French hero, all of France mourned his death. In his will, Jean left everything to his wife, Rose. However, his stepfather challenged the will, demanding that all Jean’s property be handed over to him. After a lengthy legal process, Rose was finally awarded Jean’s effects.
As one of France’s greatest athletes, several sports stadiums and races named after him.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A House's History Reflects Germany Part 2

The creative director had married a Jewish woman and refused to divorce her. They faced escalating anti-Semitism in Berlin, and were happy to move out to the lake. Life wasn’t easy there. To the northeast lay an airfield. Built as a training facility for the rapidly expanding air force in 1935, Berlin-Gatow was a target for bombers. Electricity and water services were disrupted. The people drew their drinking water from the lake, despite dumping their sewage in the lake. Food supplies ran low. With temperatures below freezing, they had to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing and blankets.
The war ended, and the Soviets came. They stole belongings, raped women, and requisitioned homes. This side of the lake was in the Soviet zone of occupation. The creative director and his wife decided they would be safer in Berlin.
The composer and his family returned from Austria in the fall of 1946. Since their apartment was in ruins, they moved into the lake house. Now he was able to buy the property. By the following summer, their apartment repaired, they returned to Berlin.
When the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, the airlift began. Gatow airfield lay in the British sector, and the constant roar of planes over Groß Glienicke commenced. The cottage remained vacant much of the time, as the roads were in terrible condition, crossing the British and Soviet checkpoints was difficult, and the shortage of gas made its price prohibitive.

Then, in 1952, the border between West Berlin and East Germany was closed. If anyone wanted to own property in East Germany, they had to live there permanently. Unable to visit any longer, the composer invited a widow living next to the cottage with her two children to move in as caretaker.
Now, a fence of thin wooden posts and chicken wire ran along the lake’s edge. Children had no trouble climbing over it to swim in the lake. In winter, the summer cottage remained cold, and the family spent most of their time in the kitchen with the only source of heat.
Housing was scarce in East Germany, and families were ordered to share their homes. So in 1958, a truck driver and his growing family moved in with the widow. The widow and her son had three bedrooms, the kitchen, and the bathroom. The trucker’s family had the living room, the master bedroom, a small bedroom, and the chauffeur’s room and toilet, reached from outside and with no hot water. The trucker had building experience, and added a chimney in the chauffeur’s room, turning it into a kitchen. The two families had little contact, and didn’t become friends.
Besides his trucking job, he also served briefly as a Stasi informant. That didn’t last long because he didn’t provide worthwhile information and didn’t appear trustworthy.
In 1961, the Berlin Wall was built. Over three and a half million East Germans had emigrated to West Germany since 1949. The exodus had to stop. Now, besides the fence along the lake shore, another fence was erected thirty meters away, only ten meters from the cottage. Trees, pump houses, everything was cleared away. In between was a no-man’s-land which was patrolled hourly. The lake was no longer accessible to the lake residents.
The widow’s son married and began a family. The cottage was too small for two growing families, so the widow and her family moved out in 1965. The trucker’s family was pleased to take over the whole house with its kitchen, bathroom, hot and cold running water.
They had to be careful in what they did, what they said. In school, the children were asked what radio programs they listened to. If they listened to western programs, they could be reported to the Stasi.
The trucker drank heavily, and abused his wife. They finally divorced in 1986 after the children were grown. He remarried the following year. His new wife brought her seven-year-old grandson.
In 1989, the Wall came down. Former residents came back, trying to claim their property. The composer tried to get the lake house back. His claim was denied because the property had been seized in the Nazi era from Jews.
The trucker died in 1999. His widow moved to an old people’s home. Her grandson, now nineteen, now occupied the cottage. He invited a friend to join him. They spent much time drinking, doing drugs, and playing video games. The house became untidy and unkept. In 2003, the grandson was evicted when the city of Potsdam absorbed the land. The site would be redeveloped.
For several years, the house was vacant, except for vagrants and foxes. The composer’s son tried to claim the property, but because it had been acquired during the Soviet era and because the property had been aryanised, the claim was rejected.
A great-grandson of the Jewish doctor, Thomas Harding, visited the house in 2013. Since then, he worked to save the house from demolition. It is now cleaned up and open to the public as a place of commemoration of German-Jewish history on the shores of Groß Glienicke Lake.