Friday, 30 May 2014

Rounding Them Up R.A.F. Style

     Here's an interesting story from the First World War, when air warfare was in its infancy. It is actually the first reference to strafing I have come across:
. . . . .

     All manner of adventures fell to the lot of our flying men, but on one occasion two officers, while on a counter attack, had an experience rare for the ubiquitous R.A.F.
     The airmen were flying fairly low. Soon they became aware that they were being fired upon from a near-by trench and sunken wood. Down dived the pilot, to promptly discover a party of Germans there, nicely sheltered. At once he returned their fire with his fixed gun, killing one and wounding three. By subsequent counting, it was ascertained that the Huns totalled sixty-five in number. Seemingly panic-stricken by this aeroplane attack, they ceased firing. And immediately a white handkerchief popped up in token of surrender.
     No British infantry were near, so what were the captors to do?
     The pilot came down to within fifty feet of the ground, and he ordered the Germans to come out of the trench. Up they tumbled quite joyously, so long as he stopped firing. Rounding up the good-sized party, the British pilot headed them off in the direction of our own lines. Flying not very far above their heads, and circling round and round to make sure that none escaped, the pilot and observer carefully conducted the batch across No Man's Land, and handed them over to the nearest party of British troops. Then those airmen flew back again, in order to "get on with it!"

Reference: Raymond Raife (1919). 'More Heroes of the Air Service' Boy's Own Annual, vol. 42, pp 179 - 183 at page 181

Saturday, 17 May 2014

10,000 Cups for the Indians

       As you are probably aware, the largest producers of commercial rubber are Malaysia and Indonesia, and they accounted for an even greater proportion during the Second World War. But the natural home of rubber is South America. So when the Japanese swept down and gobbled up southeast Asia into their empire, it wasn't long before the U.S. sent a team of experts to Ecuador to set up rubber production in the trans-Andean jungles of that country. But what most people don't know is that, although most commercial rubber comes from Hevea brasiliensis, which is generally known as "the" rubber tree, what they now had to investigate was a secondary source, the castila or Panamá rubber tree, Castila elastica. And thereby hangs a tale.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

His Hair Stood on End

     We've all heard the expression, "his hair stood on end", but has it ever happened to you? Has it ever happened to anyone you know? In our safe, civilized environment few of us ever get scared enough to put it to the test. However, we may have been scared enough to get "goosebumps", which is a minor version of the phenomenon, for every one of our hairs possesses a little muscle which allows it to be erected. Let me quote a story by Michael Andrews, from his 1976 book, The Life That Lives on Man, p 15 of the 1978 Arrow edition.