Truth or Fiction?

Fray Bentos.png

Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay.  The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area.  In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world.  Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy.  Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.

In the mid 19th Century  a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat.  He invented the OXO cube.  His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product.  Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.

When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name.  The company flourished during WW2.  After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above.  As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.

In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro.  The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement.  Since then the brand has gone largely downhill.  It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats.  The products have traded between food companies ever since.

Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene.  G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths.  There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus.  It is related as true history.

King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.

Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.

Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.

Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding.  It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.

FreyPie

Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname.  The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus.  Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons.  You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.

Truly there is nothing new under the sun!

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Scuttled

Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee

Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee

On Dec 17th 1939 the first naval engagement of world war 2 ended with the scuttling of the Admiral Graf Spee after the Battle of the River Plate.  This was a triumph of British Diplomacy and deception.

The diplomats put constant pressure on the Uruguayan government to force the German Heavy Cruiser to leave the port of Montevideo where she wished to remain to effect repairs.  At the same time the British mounted a campaign of deception to convince Captain Langsdorff that the British had a fleet waiting in the estuary to destroy his ship.  He knew that the Argentinians would give him a better welcome if he could cross the Plate to Buenos Aires.

The British had a squadron en route to the Plate, but they were days away.  They had cargo vessels make smoke across the skyline to fool the Germans into believing that a large squadron was waiting for them. Langsdorff fell for the ruse and scuttled his ship.

A decent and honourable man, Hans Langsdorff adhered to the terms of the Hague Conventions and in the course of his commerce raiding campaign he killed none of the sailors on the ships he sank.  After he sank his own ship he secured the safety of his own men before committing suicide, lying on the battle flag of his command.  Symbolically he went down with his ship.

Some naval analysts criticize Langsdorff for squandering his advantage in the Battle of the Plate.  His 11 inch guns were more than a match for the 8 inch guns of the Exeter and the 6 inch guns of the Ajax and Achilles.  A more aggressive captain might have gone toe to toe with the British squadron and could have sunk all three ships.  Langsdorff clearly saw his role as a raider of commerce.  In this capacity it made sense to avoid engagements with battleships.

I think his strategy was to “run away and fight another day”.  A battle cruiser at large on the open ocean is far more potent than a single victory in battle.  While free the Graf Spee tied down 9 British forces which were assigned to hunt her down.

In the Battle of the River Plate a chance shot from the Exeter damaged the Graf Spee’s fuel cleaning system.  It was unlikely that she would be able to operate effectively without significant repairs, and due to British pressure these repairs were never going to be made in Uruguay.  His primary concern was clearly for his men and by scuttling the vessel he succeeded in getting them safely to Argentina.

O Captain! my Captain; by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

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O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

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My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.