The Road to Damascus

Given the evidence of the past eighty years, and especially this past week, it’s difficult to imagine the Middle East has ever known peace. Yet when these words were written in 1926, Beirut and Damascus were recommended to well-heeled tourists looking for an exotic travel experience.

M_BeirutBeirut …. [is a] busy port and a flourishing Syrian town. The visitor sees evidence of this in the fine harbour, the shipping, the commercial buildings and busy streets. But the East is ever present in the native portions of the population with the varied costumes and dwellings. Beirut has its good hotels, fine buildings and a stately Government House from the roof of which one gets a glorious view of the Mountains of Lebanon and the beautiful surroundings to the town.

M_desertThe Lebanon Mountains and plains between provide scenery of remarkable beauty. Contrasting indeed is that apparently trackless waste, the Syrian Desert. Hot, dry and desolate, at times there is practically no vegitation, while after rain, the desert becomes an almost impassable quagmire. On occasions bands of Bedouin horsemen spring seemingly from nowhere, friendly or otherwise, to disappear as quickly as they came. Camel caravans set out to cross this uninviting area, but for the 600-mile journey to Bagdad the motor transport is preferable to the traveller. The cars start from Beirut, additional passengers being picked up at Damascus.

M_olivesThe ancient capital of Syria is set in delightful surroundings, the minarets and domes rising above the white-terraced roofs completing a picture of impressive beauty. Entering Damascus, most of the streets are narrow and ill-kept, while the houses are in a state of dilapidation. But there are many places of interest; the magnificent Great Mosque, the Mosque of the Whirling Dervishes and numerous others. The bazaars also are particularly attractive. Damascus has of course much association with Biblical history. The traveller can pass along the famous ‘Street called Straight’ and can view the window said to be the one from which St. Paul was let down in a basket, also the houses reputed to have been those of Ananias and Naaman the Leper.

M_Damascus street
‘Around the Mediterranean’ cigarette card series, Major Drapkin & Co., makers of the famous ‘Greys’ cigarettes. 1926.

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The Red Cross at the Front

These cards were issued in 1916 by a British cigarette company so we can safely assume there was an element of morale-boosting propaganda involved.

Image of WWI motor ambulances from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.

The Rulers and Princes of India have vied with each other in showing their patriotism and devotion to the British Empire, freely offering their services and lavishly contributing to the expenses of the great war. The Maharajah of Scindia presented to H.M. King George V., 41 Siddeley-Deasy ambulance cars, 5 motor cars for officers, and 10 motor cycles – a timely and munificent gift. Men, money, and material have been generously offered by the Indian Princes, and freely accepted by our Government.

Image of WWI motor ambulance from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.This Motor Raft, or Flying Bridge, is used for conveying motor cars, &c., across a river. The raft, on which the car is securely fixed, is attached to a long buoyed cable, longer than the width of the stream, and fastened to a rock or tree further up the river. A lighter rope is tied to the cable, close to the raft, and taken over to the opposite bank; the raft is pulled across and unloaded. The rope is then played out, the force of the stream swinging the raft back to its starting place ready for another load.

RC_NZEDNumbers of these splendidly equipped Motor Ambulances accompanied our brave New Zealand forces to the Eastern theatre of the war. The strongly built cars were eminently suitable for the very rough roads on the Eastern front. The chassis is a 20 h.p. extra strong Colonial Napier. The men were all thoroughly trained, and rendered splendid service during the historic Gallipoli operations, when our Colonial troops earned undying fame through their almost superhuman bravery.

RC_mcAmboThe Red Cross organisation of the French Army has been carried to a high state of perfection. Motor vehicles of all descriptions are adapted and used in different districts. In the mountainous Vosges, where in many places the roads are so narrow and steep that ordinary Red Cross Ambulances cannot be used, these small sidecars have proved most useful for quickly transporting the wounded from the field of battle to the hospitals, where everything is done to alleviate their pain and suffering.

RC_disguised

These cars have been painted to represent the surrounding scenery, and to harmonise with the country in which they work. In the Vosges, where they are doing excellent service, the French first used the ordinary ambulances with the Red Cross painted on each side, but owing to the frequency in which they were shelled by the enemy – regardless of the Geneva Convention – protective colouration had to be adopted, as the cars have frequently to work within range of the enemy’s guns.

While on the subject of non-combatants in WWI, I can recommend this post from Heritage Calling about the almost forgotten men of the various Labour Corps recruited by the British army from all over the world.

The Navy gets its wings

During the late war [World War One], the Navy acquired its wings with the formation of the Royal Naval Air Service, which corresponded to the the Royal Flying Corps ashore. But these two separate forces were merged into the Royal Air Force, and for many years a dual control of the aircraft attached to the Royal Navy caused a great deal of muddle and misunderstanding. The aircraft were supplied by the Air Ministry. While they were embarked in H.M. Ships they were under the control of the Navy, but when disembarked they were commanded and administered by the R.A.F. The pilot personnel was 70 per cent Naval, while all the observers were Naval officers and men. In 1939 the Admiralty assumed control of the Fleet Air Arm.

Image from cigarette card of H.M.S. Eagle, with Fairey Flycatcher biplane.The first of our ships built to carry aircraft was H.M.S. Eagle, which was under construction as a battleship for the Chilean Navy when war was declared in 1914, and was bought by the British Government as she lay on the stocks in 1917. She is of 22,600 tons, but carries only 21 aircraft. The aircraft in this picture is a Fairey Flycatcher.

World War Two Royal Nay aircarft carrier Furious. Image from a cigarette card.Three heavy ships, of 22,500 tons each, were converted later into aircraft carriers – Furious, carrying 33 aeroplanes and completed in 1925; Courageous, carrying 48, completed in 1928, and Glorious, carrying 48, completed in 1930.

H.M.S. Hermes was the first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. She is of 10,850 tons, and carries only 15 aeroplanes. But design has advanced rapidly, and the more recent ships – Ark Royal and her successors – have accommodation for 70 aeroplanes.

HMS_sharkIn this picture a Blackburn Shark torpedo-bomber aircraft is seen taking off from the flight deck of H.M.S. Courageous. The wire stretching across the deck in the foreground is an “arrester” which catches on to a hook under the aircraft as it lands. The Courageous carries aircraft of various types adapted for torpedo-bombing, fighting and spotter-reconnaissance work.

HMS_RecPlaneThis shows a Fairey III F reconnaissance ‘plane taking off from H.M.S. Courageous. An aeroplane takes off and lands into the wind, the direction of the steam jet seen coming from the bows of the ship indicating to the navigator when the ship is steaming dead into the wind. The aircraft carrier Courageous belongs to what is admitted to be the Navy’s ugliest class of vessels.

Image from a cigarette card of a WWII Walrus aircraft in flight.The most popular machine in the Fleet Air Arm is the Walrus, an amphibian biplane with the propeller behind the cockpit – a “pusher.” This is essentially a reconnaissance plane, and as it is a very sturdy type of flying-boat it is very seaworthy. It is used chiefly on patrol duty on trade routes, for intercepting ships, spotting submarines and floating mines, and carrying out bombing attacks if necessary.

The Skua is a larger aircraft, a low-winged monoplane, and fighters are usually Gloucester [sic] Gladiators, small biplanes with a very high climbing speed and the utmost manoeuvrability.

Gloster Gladiator

Edited from ‘The Royal Navy’, Wm. Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., June 1941, and cigarette cards from 1936 and 1938. Aircraft design advanced so quickly during this period that the Fairey IIIF and Blackburn Shark had been withdrawn from frontline carrier service by the outbreak of war. Curiously, the 1941 book doesn’t admit that Courageous was sunk back in 1939, although it does mention the loss of H.M.S. Hood in May.

Parachute training

parachuteParachutes are to the airman what lifeboats are to the sailor; the service pilot of to-day has one for use in emergency. More than 100 lives have been saved since they were introduced into the R.A.F. ten years ago. Training in their use is given to all pilots in the Service, and a mass descent demonstration has been a feature of the annual display at Hendon for several years past. We show a cheerful parachutist on the wing of an aeroplane, waiting to pull the ripcord which will release his parachute and draw him backwards into space.
Cigarette card, Ardath Tobacco Co., 1936.

If this caption is accurate, parachutes were first issued to R.A.F. pilots in 1926, so they took their own sweet time in handing out the “lifeboats”. You can read more about the Service’s shameful attitude to parachutes here.

Pulling the ripcord before jumping sounds like a good way to get the canopy wrapped around the aircraft’s tail, but we have to assume they knew what they were doing. Don’t we?

You can see a British Pathé newsreel of the 1937 Hendon air display on Youtube.

Health and Sunny Hours

An advertising card for Ayer's Sarsaparilla from late 19th century.FOR SCROFULA and all scrofulous, mercurial, and blood disorders, the best remedy is AYER’S COMPOUND CONCENTRATED EXTRACT OF SARSAPARILLA – called, for convenience, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA. It is composed of the Sarsaparilla-root of the tropics, Stillingia, Yellow Dock, Mandrake, and other roots held in high repute for their alternative, diuretic, tonic, and curative properties. The active medicinal principles of these roots, extracted by a process peculiarly our own, are chemically united in AYER’S SARSAPARILLA with the Iodide of Potassium and Iron, forming by far the most economical and reliable blood-purifying medicine that can be used.

If there is a lurking taint of Scrofula about you, AYER’S SARSAPARILLA will dislodge it, and expel it from your system. For the cure of the disorders, lassitude and debility peculiar to the Spring, it has proved to be the best remedy ever devised. If your blood is vitiated, cleanse it without delay by the use of AYER’S SARSAPARILLA.
Prepared by
Dr. J. C. Ayer & Co., Lowell, Mass.

There are some pretty outrageous claims being made here. Scrofula is tuberculosis of the lymph nodes in the neck so equating it with blood impurity and suggesting it can be “dislodged” and expelled from the system with, essentially, a detox treatment is clearly ridiculous. Incidentally, the inclusion of Mandrake, a dangerous narcotic, in the ingredients should raise a red flag as well.

So was this a deliberate fraud? It’s hard to tell given the level of medical knowledge in the late 19th century. It certainly isn’t the worst example of overly enthusiastic claims. The patent medicine industry at the time thrived on a gullible public and a big advertising budget. The Ayer company had one of the biggest, and it shows in the printing quality of cards like this one.

A Graphic World

I quoted some interesting text from an old school geography book called ‘The World’ in an earlier post, but one of the things that prompted me to buy it – for loose change at a second-hand stall – was the graphic art at the head of each continent’s section. Published around 1913 or 1914 by McDougall’s Educational Company Limited, the illustrations suggest the influence of Art Nouveau, a movement that was going out of style by that time. Unfortunately the artist’s identity is confined to the initials A.D. in the corner of each drawing.

graphic_Europe

Europe

graphic_East

The Eastern Continent

graphic_Africa

The Dark Continent

graphic_America

The New World

(Yes, it seems school text books still called Africa “The Dark Continent” in 1914!)

Surplus to requirements

An old abandoned farm cottage, South Island, New Zealand.

If you drive far enough on New Zealand’s country roads you’ll stumble on a sight similar to this. You might assume it’s a sad reminder of rural depression, economic failure and abandonment. Somebody gave up and walked off the land. That scenario, while not impossible, is very unlikely.

Look around and you’ll notice the old house is sitting in a quiet corner of a working farm. It’s a sign of progress and changes in agricultural practice. Perhaps farm amalgamation or the introduction of modern machinery made the farm worker redundant. He would have moved on to another farm or a nearby town for work. If the cottage is old enough, and this one might be, it was the first house on the farm, with fruit trees planted in the front garden (this one is a pear), while the land was being “broken in”. As the years passed the owner moved up to a bigger and better home for his growing family. But if it has a roof, it has a purpose, so this old house has followed a familiar life cycle of home, storage shed, hay barn, and animal shelter before settling down as a picturesque ruin. The history of rural life in four walls.