First World War

Photo of the Day

Agatha Christie in her uniform during her period as a nurse in WW1.

The Real Gone Girl

Her life, like her novels, were like an adventure.Yet Agatha Christie, the Queen of crime novel, incorporated many of her personal occurrences and dreams in her work?

Once upon a time in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, a young Gypsy man was out walking near Guildford, southwest of London, when he found an abandoned car down an embankment and reported it to the police. It was early in the morning, a Saturday, in December of 1926. When the police arrived, they were able to identify the owner of the car from an expired driver?s license left inside, indicating that it was the famous writer of detective fiction, Mrs. Agatha Christie.

Also left in the car were a fur coat and various personal belongings, which suggested that the driver may have left poorly protected against the cold.? The police paid a call to the Christie house near Sunningdale, Berkshire, to inquire as to her whereabouts and were told by her staff that she had driven off after l0 p.m. the night before with no word on where she was going.

Agatha Christie was not ?rediscovered? until 11 days later. What happened in the interim? How could one of the country?s most famous writers simply disappear and no one know what happened to her? There was intense speculation about her motives throughout the rest of December and into 1927. Then a wall of silence descended for half a century. In her autobiography of 1977, published one year after her death, Christie skates past it as if it never happened.

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Photo of the Day

Sidney Stanfield in 1918.

Sidney Stanfield in 1918. Photo: courtesy Susan Paris

Wounded,Conflict, Casualties and Care

How battlefield surgeons treated shellshock, shrapnel and gas

And poor Jim was laying there cuddled up in a heap as men die. Don?t forget we was all young, we didn?t die easy. You don?t die at once, you?re not shot and killed stone dead. You don?t die at once. We were all fit and highly trained and of course we didn?t die easy, you see. You were slow to die and you?d find them huddled up in a heap like kids gone to sleep, you know, cuddled up dead.

Sidney George Stanfield (Stan) was born in Tinui, near Masterton, in 1900. He worked as a farmhand before sailing for war in 1916 with the Wellington Infantry Battalion. He saw action in France and Belgium and at the end of the war was still nearly two years under the age limit for service overseas.

On being a stretcher-bearer at Passchendaele 12?14 October 1917

It rained and rained and bloody rained, and rained and rained, see. Just like here in the autumn time, when it comes to rain and it was cold. And we were picking them up from a gathering point as a regimental aid post. Well there were hundreds of men laying out, around. You couldn?t get them inside, it was an old German concrete emplacement and you couldn’t get them all inside, but the doctors were working inside. And they were just laying around where they?d been dumped by the stretcher-bearers from off the field and at one period I believe there were 600 stretcher cases laying round the place in the wet and cold, just dying there where they were dumped off. They weren?t even laying on stretchers, just laying on the ground with an oil sheet tied over them if anyone thought to do that, or if one of their mates could do it. Just laying there, because the stretchers were used for picking up other men, you see, there couldn?t be a stretcher for every stretcher case. We just carried till you couldn?t carry more. You just went until you couldn?t walk really, you just went until you couldn?t walk.

On how infantrymen saw themselves at Passchendaele

An ordinary infantryman at Passchendaele was a pretty dumb beast. That?s how he?s treated, you see. He was only gun fodder and when all is said, and that?s what I feel. We were pretty dumb beasts you see, or we wouldn?t have been slapped, thrown into that sort of warfare, because it was hopeless before you started. We all knew that.

There was one place at Passchendaele ? where we heard a man crying at night out in front and went out and we couldn?t find him and we heard him crying part of the next day. Calling, you know, calling, sort of crying, not screaming or anything, crying out. We just knew there was a wounded man lying down under something you see. We never found that man. That’s the only thing that’s stuck in my memory. The others, I?ve seen them lay gasping and panting and scratching up the dirt with their fingernails on their face and all crawling around semi-delirious and all sorts of things.

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Photo Of The Day

Basil Zaharoff et la comtesse Marchena [i. e. duchesse de Marchena] : [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol] - 1922. He met her on the steps of the palace of El Escorial. The fragile girl walked arm in arm with a Spanish grandee, who suddenly attacked her in a fit of rage - and Basil could not stand up for the lady. Grand turned out to be her husband and cousin of the King of Spain. It was a duel, wounded Zaharoff was in the hospital, grateful the lord came to visit him, but to part with him for a long time could not. This is one of the two versions of their acquaintance, told Sir Basil. Newsboys retold a dozen. "Merchant of Death" was capable of feeling a rare strength and durability. Husband of Maria del Pilar, Duchess de Marchena, was insane. Aristocrat, a Catholic, she could not get a divorce. Zaharoff was waiting for her for almost 40 years. They married after the death of the Duke, Zaharoff was 75, the bride - 55. After 17 months she died.

Basil Zaharoff et la comtesse Marchena [i. e. duchesse de Marchena] : [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol] – 1922.?When he wasn?t busy wheeling and dealing, he dabbled in his own brand of leisure, inviting beautiful women ? preferably redheads ? to join him in his usual compartment on the Orient Express (No. 7) when the train stopped in Vienna.?His usual routine was interrupted one evening in 1886, when he heard screams coming from the compartment next door and went to investigate. It was his first encounter with Maria del Pilar, who told him her husband, the Duke of Marchena, had been trying to strangle her. The man fell headlong in love with the Spanish duchess.?Although social conventions prevented them from marrying until the duke died in 1923, they carried on a torrid love affair, and Zaharoff brought up her three children as his own. Sir Basil never forgot that fateful meeting on the Orient Express, and when he died he left instructions for his ashes to be scattered from the window of compartment No. 7, on the very spot where he had first encountered Maria.

Merchant of Death

?’The Mystery Man of Europe’

Reputedly one of the richest men in the world, Basil Zaharoff was a wealthy and psychotic arms dealer. Zaharoff was known as the “Merchant of Death,” the “Mystery Man of Europe” and eventually “Sir,” due to his being such an evil genius that the British had no choice but to knight him.

Zaharoff had?three rules he would always live by; that the best way to gain influence over a man was through a woman, that one should bet on all sides in a contest, but bet the most on the strongest man, and in politics, one should ?begin on the left?and then work over to the right??.?Zaharoff excelled in bribery, blackmail, with a reputation for having competitors assassinated.

Sinister, mysterious, credited with vast influence, this man who evoked such fierce passions that he was also branded the ?High Priest of War?, a man who had risen from obscure origins in Asia Minor to control a worldwide empire. His trade was arms, anything that fired, floated, submerged and ? later ? flew. His life spanned the muzzle-loading musket and the prototype Spitfire.

Zaharoff started his career of villainy modestly, as an arsonist for the Constantinople firefighters. Yes, you read that correctly. The corrupt Turkish fire department actually hired people to start fires in rich people’s houses so firefighters could go in and steal all their belongings. It was fun as far as evil enterprises go, but Zaharoff had grander aspirations.

He later became a huge-time international arms dealer for Swedish munitions company Thorsten Nordenfelt, but with a twist: Zaharoff figured that the best way to make a living selling weapons was to first create demand by starting a bunch of wars, so that’s exactly what he did.

After selling the world’s first submarine to the Greeks, Zaharoff went running to the Turkish government to tell them what he’d done. Understandably frightened, the Turks bought two submarines of their own. Realizing he had a good thing going, Zaharoff then went to Russia and helpfully informed them that Greece and Turkey were stocking up on submarines, and furthermore, he’d heard them saying that Russians were a bunch of idiots. So Russia bought some subs. The icing on the cake was that much of the product that Zaharoff was shilling was faulty, overpriced garbage. His submarines?fell apart?as soon as they tried to fire a torpedo.

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Photo Of The Day

Trench rats killed by a terrier, 1916. ?The result of 15 minute?s rat-hunting in a British trench.? Note the Jack Russell Terrier in the gentleman?s arms at left.

Trench rats killed by a terrier, 1916. ?The result of 15 minute?s rat-hunting in a French?trench.? Note the Jack Russell Terrier in the gentleman?s arms at left.

Hell on Earth

??The result of 15 minute?s rat-hunting in a French trench.? Note the Jack Russell Terrier in the gentleman?s arms at left.

?Imagine living in a muddy trench in the First World War (1914-18) and having to share your small space, not only with men but also with rats and lice. By 1918 doctors identified lice as the cause of trench fever, which plagued the troops with headaches, fevers and muscle pain. They would also get into clothes and cause the men to itch constantly. As there were so many dead bodies and scraps of food lying about, and the battle was static, the rats grew very fat and bold.

The experience of one soldier in the trenches:

‘Rats came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. While I stayed here with the Welch, a new officer joined the company and, in token of welcome, was given a dug-out containing a spring-bed. When he turned in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.’

?The trench soldier of World War I had to cope with millions of rats. The omnipresent rats were attracted by the human waste of war ? not simply sewage waste but also the bodies of men long forgotten who had been buried in the trenches and often reappeared after heavy rain or shelling. Some rat grew to the size of cats. It was not uncommon for rats to start gnawing on the bodies of wounded men who couldn?t defend themselves. Many troops were awakened by rats crawling across their faces. Trench conditions were ideal for rats. Empty food cans were piled in their thousands throughout No Man?s Land, heaved over the top on a daily basis.

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Photo Of The Day

Photo: Michael St. Maur Sheil Nearly 70 feet deep, the Lochnagar Crater was formed after an explosive-packed mine was detonated during the Battle of the Somme.

Photo: Michael St. Maur Sheil
Nearly 70 feet deep, the Lochnagar Crater was formed after an explosive-packed mine was detonated during the Battle of the Somme.

Landscape Is Still Scarred by World War I

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