Category Archives: World War 1

Sinking of the Tuscania, 1918

SS Tuscania (1914)

SS Tuscania. Wikipedia Image.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Tuscania, February 5, 1918. The ship was a luxury liner of the Cunard Line, and was serving as a troop transport, carrying American troops to Europe. The ship left Hoboken with 384 crew and 2013 army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, a German submarine sighted the convoy and stalked it until darkness. At 6:40 p.m., it fired two torpedoes, one of which sent the ship to the bottom of the Irish Sea. 210 men were killed in the attack.

Color picture; An elderly man holding a glass and wearing a hat stands in front of a wooden lodge.

Harry Truman. Wikipedia image.

One of the notable survivors was 20-year-old soldier Harry R. Truman (not to be confused with the President), notable for becoming a victim of Mt. St. Helens in

1918 Ground Current Telegraph

1918JanPS1With civilian radio (both transmitting and receiving) shut down for the duration of the war, hams a hundred years ago still had a desire to engage in communications. As we’ve seen prevsiously (here, here, here and here), one method of communicating without the use of radio waves is a ground-conduction telegraph. And a hundred years ago this month, the January 1918 issue of Popular Science showed how to do it.

The magazine noted that “because the Government, for good and sufficient reasons, has put a ban on amateur wireless stations, it does not follow that all your activities must stop.” It noted that communicating by ground wireless was “almost as interesting” as actual radio and was “permitted by the Government, since high tension apparatus need not be used, at least not in their normal capacities.”

While the magazine noted that the Allies were apparently not using this type of communication, “for all we know the Germans may be using it now,” and that it had a potential range of forty miles, and perhaps more through salt water.  (The 40 mile estimate seems extremely optimistic, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried it.)

1918JanPS2In addition to the basic circuit shown above, the magazine also showed this more advanced setup, which permitted full break-in operation (with the addition of a normally-closed contact to the key).  It looks just slightly dangerous, and would probably trip a modern ground fault interrupter.  It doesn’t appear to send any signal over the power lines, but does use the electric service ground as one of the two connections.

Dec. 31, 1917, Bray-sur-Somme, France

Bray-sur-Somme, December 31 1917 (Art.IWM ART 4915) image: a view across the roofs of buildings in Bray-sur-Somme, with a line of telegraph poles crossing the foreground. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Imperial War Museum image. Bray-sur-Somme, December 31 1917 (Art.IWM ART 4915)  Copyright: © IWM.

This sketch was made a hundred years ago today, December 31, 1917, by British officer Major Geoffrey K Rose.  It shows the French town of Bray-sur-Somme.

Major Rose (1889-1959) served on the Western Front for three years, and made over 150 sketches during that time.  Bray-sur-Somme was initially occupied by the Germans in August 1914, but was evacuated in October of that year, with the front being north of town. For the next 26 months, including when this sketch was made, the town served as a center for rest and recuperation for the French Army, and later the British.

It is thus likely that Maj. Rose was on leave when he made this sketch. In March 1918 the town was, however, taken again by the Germans, and it remained in their hands until the town suffered heavy damage when the British re-took it in August 1918.

L'église Saint-Nicolas, vue depuis l'office du tourisme.

L’église Saint-Nicolas, Wikipedia photo.

Recognizable in the sketch is the distinctive tower of the Church of Saint-Nicolas, shown here in a modern photo.

Christmas 1917


This painting by J.C. Leyendecker appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post a hundred years ago today, December 22, 1917.  The American soldier is sharing his meager Christmas meal with a French girl.

Peace Light 2017


This cartoon marking the 1st anniversary of Pearl Harbor appeared 75 years ago today in the Pittsburgh _____, Dec. 7, 1942.

This cartoon marking the 1st anniversary of Pearl Harbor appeared 75 years ago today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 7, 1942.

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, marking the entry of the United States into World War II.


The Peace Light

As a symbol of peace, we show the flame above, which has been burning for hundreds of years.  This flame was burning throughout the Second World War, the First World War, the U.S. Civil War, and every other war in modern history.  It’s shown here in my living room, but it originates from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where it has been continuously tended for hundreds of years.  The exact date that some monk struck a flint to ignite it is not known, but it is believed to be about a thousand years ago.

Each year during the Advent season, it is transported from Bethlehem to Europe and North America, courtesy of Austrian Airlines.  This year, it was brought to Kennedy Airport on November 25.  From there, volunteers fan out across the country to distribute the flame.  Most of these are connected with Scouting in some way, and Scouts and Guides in Europe participate in similar activities.

As I did last year, I played a small part in the distribution.  Prior to my getting it, the flame traveled to Indianapolis, and then to Chicago.  From there, it went to Des Moines, and I met an Iowa Scouter in Albert Lea, Minnesota, to transfer it to St. Paul.  From me, it was picked up by others who took it to Wisconsin and North Dakota.  From there, it will travel to Winnipeg, and probably to other points.  Meanwhile, others are taking it to other parts of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

You can read more about the Peace Light at the U.S. Peace Light website or the Peace Light North America Facebook group.  If you’re close to St. Paul, Minnesota, and would like to receive the Peacelight, feel free to contact me and we can make arrangements.  In other areas, you can find a local source on the Facebook page.



One common question is how the Peace Light travels on two international flights from Israel to Austria, and then to North America.  The flame is transported safely in an antique blastproof miner’s lamp.  On the ground, it is walked through customs by airline employees to the airport chapel.



On the ground, the most common way to transport the light is with a lantern such as the one at the top of the page.  These are rarely used these days, since mantle type lanterns provide considerably more light.  But in the 19th century, the cold-draft kerosene lantern was something of a revolution in lighting, since it provides a fairly bright flame and is also relatively safe, since it will self-extinguish if tipped over.


A good history of the lantern can be found at this site.  Prior to such lanterns, the best available option for camp lighting was the candle lantern.  As the name implies, it was just a ventilated enclosure in which a candle was inserted.


The ad at the left, from the June 1916 issue of Boys’ Life, shows both types of lamps.  Interestingly,  in addition to providing more light, the kerosene lantern is actually less expensive.  Candle lanterns start at $1.50, but the cold-blast lantern is only 75 cents.


Both types of lanterns are readily available today.  The cold-blast kerosene lantern can be found at Amazon at any of the following links:


You can also obtain the lantern at WalMart with this link or this link.  The fuel is available at this link.  You can order the lanterns and fuel online with these links, and then pick them up the same day at the store.

And for those who want to be even more retro in their camp lighting, these candle lanterns are also available at Amazon:

The lantern shown below is very similar, or possibly identical, to the 1916 candle lantern shown in the ad:

How to Transport the Peace Light

If you need to transport the flame only a short distance, one good option is to use a votive candle at the bottom of a coffee can. For longer distances, I place the lanterns at the top of the page inside a 5 gallon bucket similar to the one shown at the left, wtih sand or cat litter at the bottom.

Carrying it in this manner is very stable, and I have never experienced it tipping.  If it does tip, the entire lantern is safely contained, and the lantern will self-extinguish.

It should be noted that because there is an open flame, you should not refuel the vehicle with the Peace Light in the car.  Fill up your gas tank before picking up the light.  If you need to buy gas before you reach your destination, it will be necessary to leave the lantern at a safe location before driving to the pumps.  And while the combustion of these lanterns is very complete, it is a good idea to keep a window of the car open slightly.

Plans for a more a elaborate carrier are also available at the site.



Patrick Vincent Coleman, 1872 – 1917

Vince Coleman. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917.  We remember it as a great act of heroism by a telegrapher, train dispatcher Vince Coleman.

Tall cloud of smoke rising over the water

Only known photograph of the blast, probably taken about 15 seconds after detonation from about one mile away. Wikipedia photo.

The 1916 explosion in Halifax harbor killed approximately 2000 people and injured 9000 more. It represented the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, and released the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT.

It was the result of a collision between the SS Mont-Blanc, a French freighter carrying high explosives, with the Norwegian vessel SS IMO. The Imo was en route to New York to take on relief supplies for Belgium. The ship was given clearance to leave the harbor on December 5, but had been delayed due to fueling. By the time the ship had taken on fuel, the submarine nets were up for the night, and the ship had to wait.

The Mont-Blanc had arrived from New York the night of December 5 and was heavily loaded with explosives. The ship intended to join a convoy, but was also arrived too late to enter the harbor due to the submarine nets.

When the nets were lowered the next morning, the ships passed in a strait called the Narrows. At 8:45 AM, the two ships collided. While damage was not severe, barrels of Benzol broke open and flooded the hold. Sparks ignited the vapors, and a fire started at the water line. As the crew of the Mont-Blanc frantically boarded their lifeboats, they shouted warnings that the ship was about to explode.

At 9:04, the ship exploded, with a cloud of smoke rising over 11,000 feet. The shock wave was felt over 129 miles away, and an area of over 400 acres was completely destroyed. A 50-foot tsunami hit Halifax.

Panoramic view over traintracks to destroyed cityscape

Halifax ruins. Wikipedia photo.

Vince Coleman, 45, was a dispatcher for the Canadian Government Railways. He, along with Chief Clerk William Lovett, was working at the Richmond station, only a few hundred feet from the pier. He was responsible for controlling trains along the main line into Halifax.

Minutes after the fire started, a sailor had been rushed ashore to warn people of the ship’s cargo. The men in the station began to rush out of the building, but Coleman hurried back to send a warning message to the other stations down the line. In particular, Coleman was aware that a passenger train was due, and that its path would take it right to the explosion. He sent the following message to all of the other stations down the line:


The message was heeded. The passenger train, with 300 aboard, was halted at Rockingham station, about 4 miles from the downtown terminal. It is almost certain the Coleman’s message saved the lives of those 300 passengers. In addition, the message, which was received by numerous other stations, along with the line then going silent, gave news of what had happened, allowing relief supplies to be immediately sent to Halifax.

This was critical, since a winter storm soon delayed further relief supplies. The passengers and crew of the first arriving trains began rendering assistance, but the first dedicated relief train was udnerway by 10:00 AM, and arrived by noon.

The next day, Halifax was blanketed by 16 inches of snow, delaying other relief trains from Canada and the United States. Coleman’s heroic message ensured that relief was on the way while there was still time to save hundreds of lives.

This short video dramatizes Coleman’s heroism:

It also features in the 2007 miniseries “Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion”:




Nipper Goes to War: 1917

1917Nov26PGHWith the nation at war, the Victor Talking Machine Company was doing its patriotic duty by cranking out phonographs and records.  This ad appeared in the Pittsburgh Press a hundred years ago today, November 26, 1917.

Elizabeth Rickard, Radio Pioneer

1917NovElecExpShown here, from the November 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter,
is Miss Elizabeth Rickard, the first woman to graduate as a radio operator from Hunter College, New York City. According to the magazine, she received her first grade commercial license.

The school had a “very enthusiastic wireless class who are blest with every provision for quickly assimilating the intricacies of radio telegraphy.” The Marconi company had presented the college with standard receiving and transmitting equipment, as well as instructors.

Miss Rickard entered the college’s wireless class in April 1917, and in May of that year, she was detailed to the Marconi school for intensive training. She passed her tests in July, with the highest scores of the class of 20 men and 3 women.

Armistice Day 1942


Seventy-five years ago today, November 11, 1942, was the nation’s first wartime remembrance of Armistice Day.

The two pictures shown here appeared in that day’s Pittsburgh Press, showing a parade of 20,000 men who marched in celebration of the end of the last war. The included both the veterans of the First World War, along with their comrades fighting the Second.

The newspaper noted that the parade, which had been underway for an hour, halted at 11:00 AM while buglers sounded Taps in “an official and solemn recollection of the end of the last war, the tribute to the honored dead of that war, and, it seemed, a spiritual pledge of victory in the new and immensely greater war.”

Halloween 1917


Before the kids had video games, they kept themselves occupied with things like paper dolls, and this Halloween set from the October 1917 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal was practically guaranteed to keep the little goblins busy. The magazine suggested that the page could be mounted on muslin or linen before cutting, which would make sure they would last longer without the tabs tearing quite so easily. The magazine also suggested that a one inch strip of cardboard at the waistline, bent slightly, would allow the dolls to stand.  A slit can be cut along the dotted line on the hats, allowing them to slip on to the respective doll.

Another article in the magazine stated that despite the war, there should be some pleasure, and suggested some party ideas for Halloween.

By clicking on the image above, you can get a full-size image in case you want to try your hand with some century old paper dolls.