Cycling Suffragettes!

Bikergirls

Victorian Biker Girls (Sophie Bryant not shown)

In the long and arduous fight for womens rights the simple act of owning a bicycle was considred radical in Victorian times.  One of the first women in the United Kingdom to own a bicycle was the Dublin born Sophie Bryant.  Born Sophie Willock, a native of Sandymount, February 15th 1850.

At the age of 19, living in London, she married Dr William Hicks Bryant, a man 10 years her senior, who died within a year of the marriage.  Thus liberated as a respectable widow with the ability to make her own decisions she went completely off the rails.  Stark staring feminist mad.

Apart from buying a bicycle she also became a teacher. When the University of London opened its doors to women she became one of the first women to be awarded a first class degree.  As a mathematician she earned her doctorate of science and became only the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society.

When Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women they marked the occasion by awarding Bryant the first honorary degree given to a woman.

She wanted votes for women, but said that first women should be educated.  She devoted much of her life to that cause and the institutions founded and managed by her made an enormous contribution to that end.

She died doing what she loved, in Chamonix in the French Alps, climbing mountains at the age of 72.

Zermatt To The Matterhorn; by Thomas Hardy

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
and four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
and when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
to that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
as though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
and brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
when darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

Happy Birthday Thomas Hardy

Yesterday I posted about the hanging of Breaker Morant, one of the first men in history to be convicted of a “War Crime”.  That was in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

Today, on Thomas Hardy’s birthday I am staying in South Africa with this poem.  Written shortly after the commencement of the Second Boer War, to which Hardy was opposed, it is an anti-war poem.  Hardy thought the Boers should be left to their own devices and were entitled to defend their independence from a grasping British Empire.

Hardy selects a Drummer for his subject.  It is worth noting that the drummers were only young boys, innocent mascots of the regiment.  A boy from Wessex, Hardy’s own home, a local lad.

Hardy is well known for using colloquial words to give local colour to his writings.  In this case he adopts many Boer words to describe the fate of a village lad in a foreign land, tossed into an open unmarked grave beneath unfamiliar stars.  Young Hodge died a pointless death.

This poem presages the full flowering of the war poets in the Great War.

 

Drummer Hodge; by Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
uncoffined — just as found:
his landmark is a kopje-crest
that breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
fresh from his Wessex home —
the meaning of the broad karoo,
the bush, the dusty loam,
and why uprose to nightly view
strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
will Hodge for ever be;
his homely northern breast and brain
grow to some southern tree,
and strange-eyed constellations reign
his stars eternally.

Sea Change

HMS_Dreadnought

On this day, 110 years ago, the world changed.  The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought.  With this single act every other battleship on the planet became obsolete.  It is difficult today to imagine the impact a single weapon had on the world.

The navies of the world ordered dreadnoughts and an arms race began.  All battle-ships extant were now labelled “pre-dreadnoughts”.

Conceived by Jacky Fisher, first Sea Lord of the Admiralty, this ship was different to all that came before.  Primary differences were in her steam turbine engines and her gunnery.  She was the first capital ship to be powered by steam turbines, and was immediately the fastest ship of the line in the World.  Added to this was the advantage of mounting only 12 inch guns.

Before Dreadnought navies were experimenting with various mixes of heavy, medium and light caliber guns.  They often had blind spots for their larger ordnance.  A good example of this is the USS Maine which had deck section cutaways to allow large guns to traverse, but did not have all round fire capability.

Dreadnought has clean decks which allow the big guns to sweep and elevate at will.  She is a ship designed as a mobile platform, intended to fire on the move at moving targets.

 

In WW1 the Fischer philosophy proved itself correct.  A ship with 12 inch guns could destroy a flotilla of enemies armed with 8 inch guns before the smaller ships could even close to firing range.

But the reign of the battleship was short.  In WW2 the Bismarck was lost to a torpedo from an obsolete biplane.  The Italian navy was destroyed in Taranto by british aircraft and most famously, the US capital ships were lost in Pearl Harbour to Japanese carrier based aircraft.

The great 12 inch guns were no match in range, power and accuracy for bombs and torpedoes dropped by aircraft.  In defending ships from attack by aircraft the big guns were useless.  They were replaced by a plethora of pom-poms, ack-ack, ‘Chicago Pianos’, Flak and heavy machine guns.

Channel Firing ; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

What’s it all about?

Juggernaut

Seasons come and seasons go, fortunes rise and fall, the tide is a constant ebb and flow, what is up will soon be down and what is down will rise again.  Laugh loudly in your joy and celebrate before the good times wither.  Weep to the full while sadness reigns because that too is a season and soon will pass.  Give your all to the moment, live in the now, the past is done and the future will arrive like a juggernaut and will crush the unwary beneath its wheels.

The Darkling Thrush; by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

That Sinking Feeling

Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (Pennant No 91) sank on this day in 1941.  Probably the most famous ship to bear this illustrious name, because of her role in sinking the Bismark.  The Ark Royal was the first British Aircraft Carrier with integrated flight decks (as opposed to them being a superstructure) and signaled the transition from battleship superiority to air-craft carrier led fleets.

The Battle of Taranto (Nov 11-12 1940) was the first clear display of the impact of naval sea power.  Obsolete biplane Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from HMS Illustrious wreaked havoc on the Italian Fleet at harbour, in an action that was closely observed by the Japanese.

Six months later the Bismark sank the HMS Hood and forced the HMS Prince of Wales to retreat in the most notable battleship to battleship action of WW2.  As the Bismark steamed for safety in St Nazaire in occupied France, she was spotted by the Flotilla out of Gibraltar led by Ark Royal.  It was a Torpedo from one of the obsolescent Swordfish aircraft that clipped Bismark’s rudder and put the great battleship into a circular course, allowing the fleet to catch the flagship of the 3rd Reich.  Bismark was scuttled after a sustained bombardment by the British fleet.

Ark Royal herself was lost to a Torpedo from U-81 on the return from the Gibraltar to Malta supply run delivering aircraft.  Struck on the 13th, she listed, inverted, broke in half and sank in the early hours of the 14th.

The naval war in the pacific, Pearl Harbour, Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf etc went on to seal the fate of the dreadnoughts as capital ships of navies.  The day of the battleship was over.

Channel Firing; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
shook all our coffins as we lay,
and broke the chancel window-squares,
we thought it was the Judgment-day

and sat upright. While drearisome
arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
the worms drew back into the mounds,

the glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
it’s gunnery practice out at sea
just as before you went below;
the world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
they do no more for Christés sake
than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
for some of them’s a blessed thing,
for if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
and rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
will the world ever saner be,”
said one, “than when He sent us under
in our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
my neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
roaring their readiness to avenge,
as far inland as Stourton Tower,
and Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.