Picture The Scene

First, a quick update. There was no weekly blog post last Friday because I was unwell, but after a few days in hospital and an increase in the dosage of one of the tablets I take regularly, I am back in the Care Home. I’ve been very well looked after and I express my grateful thanks to everyone who has helped me. My blog post for last week was almost done, so thankfully I had only a little to do to prepare it for this week! So, here we are. Back in time…

The year is 1921. Here on planet Earth in London, England, a child is born who would become my mother. The child who would become my father was by then around eighteen months old and also living in London. My mother’s parents were originally from Truro, Cornwall whilst my father’s family had Welsh connections, not unexpected with a name like Williams! My maternal grandfather George was born in Truro, Cornwall and so fas as I can tell the family worked in the tin mines, though both that and copper as well as a few other metals such as arsenic, silver and zinc were the most common there. During the 18th century, Cornwall was the mining centre of the world, famous for its base metal and tin production and at that time, the Cornish were considered the best hard rock miners in the world. In Truro, tin was an important local industry where the metal was mined and then smelted in local foundries. The city’s newly built elegant Georgian buildings were paid for by the prosperity from the tin and copper industry and as the town was near to a river it provided good transport. One works even had a horse powered wheel. Then, so far as I can determine, a part of the family moved from there to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk for a while, I think it was most probably for the chalk mining. After that it was over to South Wales for additional mining work and this was where two of my mothers brothers were born. But after a few years they made their way to London, where my mother and younger brother were born. Already both sides of the family had been through much, with grandfather George, who had survived several hours in the sea when his ship was torpedoed at the Battle of Jutland, had also been in the Merchant navy. Meanwhile my paternal grandfather, Alf, who was born in London, had been in the infantry and had been captured by the Germans in World War I, during which time he lost one and a half fingers of one hand. He then got a job working for the Gas Company. So both families were now living in London. My mother decided there was no way she would want to work in a local factory and she got a job at W.H.Smith’s. Meanwhile my father started work in W.H.Smith’s and there he met my mother. I am told they did not exactly agree on a few things but as so often happens, but love blossomed and despite my mother being badly injured in the blitz in London during the war, they got married. But health issues meant moving to Whittlesey, near Peterborough, when I was but eight months old. Dad had become a teacher and so we grew up there. When I left school I got a job with Post Office Telephones.

‘The Bower’, Whittlesey, near Peterborough.

But back to 1921. Many things happened during the year and there simply isn’t enough room here to catalogue every single world event, so here are just a few of them. More things happened in some months than others, so I have done my best to make it easy to follow the events as they occurred!
The first recorded public performance of an illusion “the sawing of a woman in half” was given by an English stage magician by the name of P. T. Selbit at the Finsbury Park Empire Variety Theatre in London.
Peter Sallis, the English television actor known for the situation comedy ‘Last of the Summer Wine and for his voicing of Wallace on Wallace and Gromit in Twickenham, was born. He died in 2017. George Formby, the English stage comedian and singer died, aged 45.
The Australia national cricket team led by a Warwick Armstrong became the first to complete a whitewash of the touring England team in the Ashes and this was something which would not be repeated for 86 years. On March 31 the British government formally returned the coal mines from wartime control to their private owners, who demanded wage cuts; in response, the Miners Federation of Great Britain called on its partner trade unions in the ‘Triple Alliance of 1914’, this being an alliance of British trade unions, to join it in strike action, leading in turn to the government declaring a state of emergency for the first time under the Emergency Powers Act 1920.
On April 1, a lockout of striking coal miners began and on April 3, rationing of coal was introduced. Then on April 15 came “Black Friday” in Britain, where transport union members of that Triple Alliance refused to support national strike action by coal miners. The actor Peter Ustinov was born this month, he died in 2004. In the U.S.A., plans for national airline of airships designed to transport passengers between New York, Chicago and San Francisco before the end of 1922 were announced by U.S. engineer Fred S. Hardesty, who told reporters that fifty million dollars worth of stock would be sold to finance the construction of dirigibles 757 feet (231 metres) long. Hardesty also said that the new dirigibles would be able carry 52 passengers at speeds of up to 100 mph (160 kph), with services between New York and Chicago to start by the spring of 1922.
During this month British cotton weavers and spinners had their wages reduced by 30% by their employers. The province of Northern Ireland was created within the United Kingdom and two days after that event, Chanel No. 5 perfume was launched by Coco Chanel. On that same day, only thirteen paying spectators attended the football match between Leicester City and Stockport County F. C., the lowest attendance in the Football League’s history. On May 24 the first Northern Ireland General Election for its new parliament was held. The Ulster Unionists won forty of the fifty-two seats and the dominant party system then lasted for fifty years. The following day the Irish Republican Army (IRA) occupied and burned the Customs House in Dublin, it being the centre of local government in Ireland. Five IRA men were killed and over eighty were captured. The U.S. boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was born , in Ailey, Georgia. He died 1989. The jazz musician & broadcaster Humphrey Lyttelton was born, he died in 2008.
Nelson Riddle, the U.S. musician and bandleader, was born in Oradell, New Jersey. He died in 1985. The Northern Ireland Parliament began operations in Belfast, with 40 of the 52 seats filled by the swearing in of Unionists. The remaining 12 seats remained empty as the Sinn Fein and Irish nationalists who had won office refused to take the oath of loyalty to the crown. Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, the highest-paid major league baseball player in the world, was placed in jail by a New York traffic court magistrate after being convicted of speeding and fined $100 after having driven 26 miles per hour (42kph) on a city highway. Placed in a cell at 11:30 in the morning, “The Home Run King” served five and a half hours and was then released at 4:00 in the afternoon, forty minutes before he was scheduled to bat for the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, consort of Queen Elizabeth II was born on the island of Corfu in Greece. He died in 2021. Marie Curie completed her visit to the U.S.A. and departed for France, having been presented with a $100,000 sample of radium by U.S. President Harding. The United Kingdom Air Navigation and Transport Act, which had been passed into law on December 2, 1920 to provide for the regulation of all air travel within the British Commonwealth, went into effect. It gave the British Empire authority over all air navigation in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The coal strike in the United Kingdom ended as the Miners Federation of Great Britain dropped objections to accepting a cut in wages. The new agreement was designed to expire on September 30, 1922 if either labour or the government gave three months notice of intent to terminate. Formal approval was made by union members on July 1. General Electric (GE), Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) entered into an agreement with Westinghouse Electric Company to combine their research in radio broadcasting into a common technology rather than creating rival systems.
On July 1, Britain’s striking miners voted to approve a settlement proposed by the British government. The House of Commons then voted a subsidy of ten million pounds to the mining industry to cover the pay increase. John Glenn, the U.S. astronaut and later U.S. Senator for Ohio, was born in Cambridge, Ohio. He was the third American in space, and the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962. He died in 2016. The Church of Scotland Act 1921 received royal assent from King George V, giving the Presbyterian Church of Scotland complete independence in spiritual questions and appointments.
Enrico Caruso, the Italian operatic tenor, died aged 48. For the first time, what is now called a “fax“ was sent across the Atlantic Ocean when “a written document was transmitted fac simile by wireless telegraphy” by the Belinograph machine, which had been used in Europe but hadn’t been employed in North America. A handwritten message by New York Times editor C. V. Van Anda was transmitted from Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.A. to Malmaison, France. Esther Williams , the U.S. champion swimmer and actress, was born in Inglewood, California. She died in 2013. The British government relinquished control of the United Kingdom’s railways, seven years after having taken over jurisdiction of them during World War One. Gene Rodenberry, U.S. screenwriter and producer and creator of ‘Star Trek’ was born in El Paso, Texas. He died in 1991. Great Britain announced that its population for 1921 was 42,767,530 of whom almost 17.5% (7,476,168) lived in the London metropolitan area. In addition, because of losses during the Great War, women outnumbered men in Britain by a margin of 22 million to 20 million.
The first thing I learn is that on September 1 the “Poplar Rates Rebellion broke out in London after several members of Poplar Borough Council were arrested, including the council leader, for refusing to hand over payments to London County Council. The first Italian Grand Prix was staged on a 10.7 mile (17.2km) series of roads near the village of Montichiari in the province of Brescia. However, the race is more closely associated with the course at Monza, a racing facility just outside the northern city of Milan, which was built in 1922 in time for that year’s race, and this has been the location for most of the races over the years. Harry Secombe, CBE, was born. He was a Welsh comedian, actor, singer and television presenter. He was also a member of the British radio comedy programme ‘The Goon Show’ which ran from 1951 to 1960, playing many characters, but most notably as Neddie Seagoon. An accomplished tenor, he also appeared various in musicals and films, perhaps most notably as Mr Bumble in ‘Oliver!’ (1968). In his later years he was a presenter of television shows incorporating hymns and other devotional songs. He died in 2001. The first ascent of the steep north face of the Eiger, the 13,015 feet (3,967 metre) mountain in the Alps of Switzerland, was made by a team of four climbers, these being Maki Yūkō of Japan with Fritz Steuri, Fritz Amatter and Samuel Brawand of Switzerland. Dock workers in parts of Ireland were forced to accept a reduction of one shilling per day in their wages because of a downturn in the industry. The State Alien Poll Tax law in California was declared as being unconstitutional in an unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of California. The first White Castle hamburger restaurant opened in Wichita, Kansas, marking the foundation of the world’s first ‘fast food’ chain of restaurants. At the city of Madurai, India, the Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the passive resistance movement against British rule, decided to abandon the Western attire that he had worn as a lawyer, in favour of the traditional robe and loin cloth worn by the poorest of the Indian people. He would continue to dress in the style of the common man for the rest of his life. For the first time in more than six years, residents of the United Kingdom were allowed to have alcoholic beverages served to them at pubs, restaurants and hotels in the evening, as restrictions issued in 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (known by the acronym “D.O.R.A.”) were lifted. Alcohol could be served up until midnight, and patrons were allowed until 12:30 in the morning to consume their drinks.
New York City’s dockworkers and longshoremen walked out on strike after disagreeing with their union leaders over the extent of a wage cut. On the same day, an earthquake struck near Elsimore, Utah, prompting fears of the end of the world. The quakes also rocked the towns of both Richfield and Monroe. Rioting broke out in London following a peaceful march by 10,000 unemployed people to Hyde Park, escorted by 500 policemen who also controlled side traffic. At Hyde Park, parade leaders announced that the group should march through Trafalgar Square to the London County Council building and an estimated 3,000 people proceeded on this unauthorised march. When speakers attempted to climb on the monument to Admiral Nelson, the police rushed in and charged the crowd and rioting began. The U.S. Army tested a new type of flashless explosive power to make night artillery invisible, and made the first public demonstration of “the world’s greatest gun”, the new 16-inch (410mm) diameter cannon that could fire an artillery shell 20 miles (32km). The Blue Boy, the most famous of the paintings of British artist Thomas Gainsborough, was sold at auction to an American art dealer, Joseph Duveen by the Duke of Westminster. The Daily Telegraph commented that “We have seen too much in these stressful times of that rigorous code of national taxation which has shaken the foundations of private ownership in inherited lands and treasures. Some relief may be derived from the fact that it is the generous wont of American millionaires to leave their spoils of European art treasures to public galleries.” Duveen bid £170,000 (roughly $809,000 at the then exchange rate of $4.76 to a British Pound, and equivalent to $12,030,000 in 2021). He also bought the Joshua Reynolds painting Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse for an additional £30,000 after the Duke of Westminster had declined to sell The Blue Boy by itself for £150,000. Shortly after the start of the peace conference between Ireland and the United Kingdom in London, the German police, tipped off by a British liaison officer, discovered a ship laden with weapons in the port of Hamburg, bound for Ireland. In a ceremony in the French city of Châlons-en-Champagne, the unidentified soldier to be interred in the United States Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was selected from four possible persons. U.S. Army Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valour during World War One, was tasked with picking from four identical caskets, and he placed flowers on the third one from the left. The U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon announced new regulations concerning physician prescription of alcohol. Doctors could prescribe up to 2½ gallons of beer or two quarts of wine for medicinal purposes for as often as necessary, but whisky and other alcohol were limited to one pint, no more often than every ten days. The action came at the same time that the U.S. Senate was considering a bill, passed by the House of Representatives in August, to prohibit beer from being prescribed as a medicine. U.S. president Warren G. Harding spoke at the 50th anniversary of the founding of Birmingham, Alabama to an audience of black and white residents, declaring that there must be equality between the races in “political and economic life” but that the black and white needed to remain segregated. The U.S. Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi said later, “The President’s speech was unfortunate. Of course, every rational being desires to see the negro protected in his life, liberty and property. I believe in giving him every right under the law to which he is entitled, but to encourage the negro to strive through every political avenue to be placed upon equality with the whites is a blow to the whole white civilisation of this country that will take years to combat.” Harrison added, “If the President’s theory that the black person, either man or woman, should have full economic and political rights with the white man or white woman, then that means that the black man can strive to become President of the United States, it means white women should work under black men in public places, as well as in all trades and professions. Place the negro upon political and economic equality with the white man or woman and the friction between the races will be aggravated.”
Charles Bronson, the American film actor who starred in The Great Escape was born in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. He died in 2003. On the 11th, the UK’s first official “Poppy Day” took place on Remembrance Day. Poppies were sold by the Royal British Legion at the instigation of Madame Guérin. Initially, her Poppy Days benefited the widows and orphans of the war devastated regions of France. She was christened ‘The Poppy Lady from France’ after being invited to address the American Legion at its 1920 convention in Cleveland, Ohio about her original ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea which was for all World War I Allied countries to use artificial poppies, made by French widows and orphans, as an emblem for remembering those who gave their lives during the World War I and, at the same time, creating a method of raising funds to support the families of the fallen and those who had survived, thereafter. Nowadays the Remembrance Poppy encompasses all conflicts that have occurred ever since. The first radio broadcast in New Zealand was made by Professor Robert Jack, a physicist, from the Physics Department building of the University of Otago.
Deanna Durbin (Edna Mae Durban), a Canadian-born actress and singer, was born in Winnipeg. She had an amazing vocal range. She later settled in France and died in 2013. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, establishing the Irish Free State as an independent nation incorporating 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, was signed in London. Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was performed for the first time by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Russian composer, pianist and conductor himself performed the piano solo during the premiere concert. Camille Saint-Saens, the French composer of Romantic classical music which included the popular musical suite Carnival of the Animals, died. He had refused to allow performance of this work during his lifetime.

This is by no means the full detail of all that happened a hundred years ago but I hope you have found it interesting, nonetheless. Much has happened, many changes have occurred and will continue to do so.

For this week, as it has been a challenging one.
“It is difficult for humans to fully comprehend how Nature is constantly working in our bodies, how universal forces are constantly inspiring us, providing us with knowledge and experience of how we are deeply connected to them and guided by them. The next step is to understand the seemingly contradictory statement that we cannot hold anything for too long in our hands although in truth, everything, including the whole Universe, belongs to us.” ~ Srinivas Arka, 19 July 2018

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