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a trip to Guernsey
Wednesday didn't arrive quickly enough for Scott. For a week he had been coming directly home from school and, after completing his homework, hitting the internet in search of information about the old coin. He became so preoccupied with the quest that he abandoned the afternoon basketball games he played with neighborhood friends. He even spent hours over the weekend reading about France.
As if preparing for a final examination, Scott crammed for his return to The History Shoppe. He was certain that Dr. Pop would be pleased with how much he had absorbed about the coin and what it revealed about the French Revolution.
Remarkably, during his week-long investigation, he had not relied on his memory. Scott made no lists of dates: instead he read so much and understood so well he now recalled the history because he knew it. He even began to think he owned it. This Dr. Pop method of learning really works, Scott decided.
When the final school bell sounded, Scott was off to Third Avenue. He followed the same path he had taken the previous week, only this time he knew where he was going and why. Jogging along Third he passed the same small stores until he reached the imposing big house set back from the sidewalk.
Scott slowed down to a walk. Stopping before the stone walkway, he tucked his shirt in his trousers and used his pocket comb to put his hair in place. He wanted to make a good impression.
Everything was so recognizable. The small bell announced his entry. The tapestries and Oriental carpets welcomed him warmly. Once again, the old man yelled from the backroom that he would be there in a second or two. This was only his second visit, but Scott already felt comfortable in The History Shoppe.
“Oh, Mr. Tennyson, my young scholar, how nice to see you again,” Professor Papadopoulos said in greeting his visitor. “My, how quickly the days have passed. It hardly seems like a week since you were here. It's a pleasure to see you again, welcome,” he said while shaking hands with Scott.
“Nice to be here again” Scott responded. “I've been anxious to revisit you and the Shoppe. I really enjoyed myself last time, and I've spent a lot of time analyzing the coin you loaned me.”
“Wonderful. I'm so pleased that you accepted the challenge,” the old man replied. “I hope that you learned much about the coin and its historical context.”
“I did,” Scott answered with emphasis. “I've spent lots of time reading about France and the Revolution, especially about 1791, the date this piece of money was minted.”
Scott proceeded to explain what he had uncovered. The two conversed for about twenty minutes, Scott doing most of the talking. The old man interrupted occasionally, adding a fact, expanding a thought, questioning a conclusion. But this was Scott's show, and he shined.
“And I didn't rely on memorization, Dr. Pop, I learned it, even lived it,” Scott boasted.
“I'm impressed, young man,” remarked the Professor. “Memory without memorization: in just seven days you have evolved from history buff to emerging historian. In the process, you've acquired a small taste of what historians do everyday.”
“I really loved it,” Scott exclaimed.
“What you have accomplished, Scott, is a valuable lesson in historical research. You have discovered the importance of context. You received a foreign coin, a piece of historical evidence. You examined it. Then, by deciphering what was inscribed on it, you uncovered its origins and meaning. From there you looked further to place the coin in its context, situating it in its proper time and circumstances,” Dr. Pop elaborated.
“This is the methodology, the science of us historians,” the Professor explained. “When we analyze a document—in your case, this 12 denier coin—we search backward, forward, sideways, if necessary, in every direction to place it in proper context. We seek to know everything possible from the evidence and then reconcile it with what is already known. That way we confirm our understanding of the past. But, if new information is uncovered through our research, we amend our understanding and offer a fuller story, or even a major revision of what had been accepted as historical truth.”
Scott was elated. He felt initiated into a new world. “I liked the assignment so much, I'd like to do it again with some of the other items in the Shoppe,” he declared confidently.
The Professor smiled. “That won't be necessary,” he answered. “All you would do is repeat the methodology. No, Scott, I think you are ready for something much more demanding of your mental skills. I think you are ready for Clio.”
“Clio? What's Clio?” a baffled Scott asked. “Sounds like a musical instrument or a unit of measurement.”
“Enough with the bad jokes, Scott. Clio is very important. Let me explain. In the mythology of Ancient Greece there were nine muses. They were daughters of Zeus, the god of universal order, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Their principal role was to inspire the arts and sciences among humans,” the Professor explained.
“For drama, for example, there were two: Thalia the muse of comedy and Melpomene the muse of tragedy. There was a muse for dance and one for astronomy. Poetry was so important to the Greeks that it had four muses.
“For our purposes, however, the most important was the last daughter, Clio, who was the muse of history. The Greeks and later the Romans honored all these women as spirits of creativity and performance. To this day historians often credit Clio as the inspiration for their endeavors.”
“Could you could say that the muses presided over music and were therefore amusing?” Scott jested.
“Indeed,” replied the Professor, “you inadvertently make a good point. In Greek the words ‘music' and ‘amuse' share the same root as ‘muse.” In English ‘amuse' means to be delightfully diverted, as the muses did through the artists they inspired. Furthermore, music was fundamental to the art forms stimulated by the muses, especially dance and poetry which in ancient Greece was recited in rhythms and even sung while accompanied by musical instruments. And let's not forget that a temple dedicated to the muses is called a museum.
“But, I digress. As I was saying, Scott, I think it is time for you to meet my Clio. More specifically, my Clio machine,” said Dr. Papadopoulos as he motioned Scott to follow him.
The Professor led Scott toward a closed door behind the display cases. Opening the door, he and the young historian entered a large room with more wall hangings and colorful Oriental rugs. Situated in the center of the room was a strange orange-colored contraption that reminded Scott of those one-man ticket booths found at movie theaters in the 1950s. But, there were differences. This machine had no walls and no roof. It was also larger with space for a small movie screen and a chair situated in front of an impressive control panel. In a nod the low-tech past, however, at the rear of the facility Scott spotted an old-fashioned film projector.
“Here she is,” said the Professor, “this is Clio—not the muse, but the machine. Clio is a special machine, a sort of time-travel device. But it's not for fun and recreation. This is a serious instrument meant for historical researchers who wish to learn of the past by visiting it.”
Scott stood amazed. He had heard of time-travel—in fantasy movies and literature. But he had never believed such a device actually existed. “Do you mean this machine will propel someone back to any date in time?” he inquired.
“Yes and no,” answered the old man. “Clio is only for historians who seek to know the past by investigating documents in person. Specifically, it is for investigating the most overlooked historical resource in our culture, the motion picture.
“Films are brilliant reflections of their times and the purposes for which they were made,” he remarked as he reached for a reel of film and began to unwind it to emphasize his point. “More than a spool of film, this is a record of our history,” he continued. “Each movie is a celluloid ribbon of still pictures that pauses before a beam of intense light 24 times per second as it passes through a projector. Think of a half-hour motion picture as more than 86,000 still pictures.
“Just think, Scott, if we had movies from Egypt at the time of the Pharaoh Ramses, or from the Mayan Empire, or the French Revolution. How much fuller would our understanding be of those eras?” continued Professor Papadopoulos.
“Films offer insights not found in traditional written sources such as memoirs and letters. Movies have been with us since the late 19th century. This means that for more than a century filmmakers have been preserving our realities—sometimes deliberately, as in newsreel reports, but more often, unintentionally while making motion pictures for purposes of education, entertainment, advertising, and even when filming family gatherings and vacation memories.
“The important thing, Scott, is that historians have done very little with this resource,” the Professor emphasized. “As scholars in training, they are not taught to consider films as documents. Many historians don't even know if their research would be undermined or enhanced by the information preserved on motion pictures. For them, the film record is irrelevant!”
“Why is that, Dr. Pop?” Scott inquired.
“Why? Because there are so few libraries of vintage motion pictures. Certainly, there are wonderful national collections in cities such as London, Moscow, Paris, and Washington, D.C. A few universities preserve them. But there is much that is missing from even these great archives. And travelling thousands of miles to conduct research in these collections is a daunting and expensive task.”
Dr. Papadopoulos was clearly talking about a subject important to him, and Scott respected his passion. “It's a shame, Scott. Public libraries don't save them. Universities don't want them. Even their creators discard them. To their credit, there are private collectors who save motion pictures. But their holdings are buried in home basements or the vaults of private companies. This means they are inaccessible and unknown to scholarship.
“If you were doing serious historical research, Scott, where would you find old films? How would you even know if films touching your topic were ever made or preserved?” the Professor asked. “And if you were intrigued by a title you uncovered in an old film catalog, how could you ever view it?
“The answer is that you couldn't,” Dr. Pop continued. “A few of these documents have shown up recently on internet websites, but there is no recognizable schedule for their appearance, and no comprehensive list of their existence. If a scholar finds an appropriate film on the web, it's a matter of luck more than of planning.”
Scott was taken aback by the Professor's intensity. “I'm stumped,” he responded. “If I couldn't just look up a film at my local library or check out a DVD for a few weeks, I wouldn't know where to begin looking for the kind of films you're talking about.”
“It is a great failing in the contemporary study of history,” said Professor Papadopoulos. "Indifference to the film record of a century of civilization is equivalent to torching libraries and ransacking museums. Not since fire destroyed the great library at Alexandria in 9th century Egypt has there been a cultural loss of such magnitude. Sadly, few people are aware that a part of the human record is being obliterated.”
Scott didn't know what to say; besides, to the young student this was a totally new issue. Still he was pleased that the Professor conversed so openly with him and seemed to respect his opinion. Scott tried, however, to move the subject back to Clio. “Clio is a big machine, Dr. Pop,” he remarked. “How does it work?”
“Oh, I'm sorry. I was off on a tangent again,” the old man replied. “I have had this conversation so many times that once I get wound up, it's difficult for me to stop. But, as you suggest, let's get back to Clio.
“What a beauty! I know it sounds fanciful, but when a film is projected on the Clio machine's internal screen, a person wearing a special headset can actually be transported into the film and interact with the filmmaker or other people associated with the movie,” he explained. “It still amazes me, Scott, but it works. Just think, a person can pass into an old movie, learn about the time and circumstances of its production, then return to the present with a deeper understanding of the events just experienced.”
The Professor continued his explanation. “It makes a difference what film you choose to investigate and what you are seeking to learn. If you select a Hollywood feature film, for example Casablanca, a transported student can interact with the director and the actors and learn the background of the movie. The film will tell you what some Hollywood filmmakers thought about World War II and Morocco in 1941, and what they felt audiences would pay to see.
“If these are the goals of your research, then the experience will be informative. But you won't learn much about wartime North Africa. That's because Casablanca is a drama produced on soundstages and backlot sets in Southern California. I suspect that there's not one Moroccan—not a single authentic scene of Morocco —in the entire film.
“But, if you as an historical investigator pass into other types of motion pictures—say, newsreels, documentaries, travelogues, and industrial shorts—you can learn much about the times depicted,” explained the Professor. “Not only can you witness the filmmaking process, you can ask pertinent questions of people behind the camera as well as those being filmed. In this way the investigator can almost become part of what is happening, at least to the point of experiencing the events first-hand. This is my favorite method for reaching original insights into the past,” declared the Professor.
“And, it's harmless,” he reassured Scott. “You can't get stuck in the past. Just punch the big silver button on the control panel and your voyage is terminated.”
“Outstanding” Scott exclaimed. “Where did you get it? Have you ever used it, personally? Where did you go in it? How long does each trip take?” The questions rolled out of Scott.
“To answer your questions, it has been in my family a very long time,” Dr. Pop responded. “I have used it often to involve myself in historical situations. And a trip lasts only as long as the film lasts. When the movie is over, or if the film snaps or the projection lamp blows out, the experience is terminated.”
Then Dr. Papadopoulos said something that surprised Scott. “Would you like to try it? Would you like to apply your historical skills by transporting yourself into an old film?”
Scott didn't think twice. “Of course I would,” he blurted out. “As long as you say it's safe. I'd love to walk into a movie and learn history from the inside.”
“Good,” replied the Professor. “I think we have sufficient time this afternoon to introduce you to the phenomenon. Come and we'll select a film for you,” he said. “By the way, I forgot to tell you that The History Shoppe has its own archive of old motion pictures. I've been collecting forever. My titles go back to the earliest movie makers.”
Dr. Pop led Scott to a large room. But this one was different. It was very cold and there were no carpets or tapestries to humanize the place. Scott saw only row after row of metal film cans sitting on tall steel shelves. There was a certain industrial quality to the place, but that did not diminish the young man's amazement.
“This archive has taken many decades to assemble,” said the Professor. “And don't be put off by the coldness of our vault. It's refrigerated here because the cans contain fragile motion pictures, and low temperatures prevent deterioration,” he continued.
Scott's eyes quickly inspected the room. “This is awesome, Dr. Pop” he remarked. “There must be thousands of films in those cans. I've never seen so many movies. Are they important?”
Professor Papadopoulos smiled with amusement. “There are millions of feet of film here, Scott,” he explained. “And, yes, they are important, very important, because they are all historical documents. With the correct scholarly methodology the historian can learn much from them.
“I am pleased to see you so eager to be transported. Let me choose a movie for you to enter,” he said as his eyes scanned the shelves looking for an appropriate title. “As you see, Scott, there's no scarcity of movies to be entered. However, one comes immediately to mind. I think you will be fascinated by it—if I can find it.”
The Professor continued to search until he spotted the can he sought. “Ah, here it is,” he said with a noticeable degree of relief. “Someday I must buy a computer and properly catalogue these documents. It would make searching so much easier.”
“Or, you need a good librarian,” Scott quipped.
Ignoring this feeble attempt at humor, Dr. Pop turned to Scott. “Now, young man, this is a simple film from 1939. On the surface it's about dairy cows. But, it is rich in information and lessons for an emerging historian such as you.”
He continued to explain the movie. “It's called Darrel Brady's Guernsey at War. At the outset it's about a breed of cattle that originated in the island of Guernsey. But, as the title suggests, it will startle you. So, hang on and be prepared for an amazing adventure. This will be a trip you never expected and one you will never forget. Are you ready to enter it?”
“Absolutely, I'm set” Scott answered. “I can't wait.”
Professor Papadopoulos opened a small box that was sitting on a table behind him. He pulled out a black helmet that resembled something from an old science fiction movie. “This is the magic instrument that makes Clio work. This is the headset, the transporter,” he announced. “We'll take it back to the machine and get you ready to go.”
The old man directed Scott back to Clio and seated him in the chair. “Before I place this mechanism on your head and start your journey, two points of caution. These are old films. They are used, and that means they sometimes have imperfections such as scratched lines and dirt marks. You may even encounter splices where they have broken and been repaired and have lost some footage in the process. These flaws are annoying to the average viewer, but they will have no adverse effect on your voyage. You won't even notice them.
“My second point: you enter these films with a modern understanding of the past. The people you will meet, however, are caught in their own time. You must not speak to them about what is going to happen historically. You may talk about their past and present, but never about their future. That would be anti-historical and unethical.
“Are you ready to start?” he asked Scott who nodded affirmatively. “If so, place the transporter over your head. Make it comfortable for yourself. Now, sit back, relax, and use your brain to learn as you plunge into the past. I'll see you at the end of the movie.” With that the Professor switched on the projector, and the film began rolling.
Scott was thrilled, but the title of the film passed so quickly that he didn't have time to dwell on the fantasy he was experiencing. “Hi, kid, I'm Darrel Brady,” said a tall man in his 30s. “I'm a journalist from Minneapolis, but I'm here in New England to make a film that will trace Guernsey dairy cattle back to their land of origin. Come along, you'll learn a lot about cows,” he said.
“I'm Scott Tennyson, and I'd love to join you,” the time traveler responded. “Where are we going?”
Scott didn't have time to get an answer. He quickly discovered that Darrel Brady had been commissioned by an American dairy trade association, Golden Guernsey, Incorporated, to make a short film celebrating the famous brown and white dairy cows that came to the New World long ago from the island of Guernsey. Before he even learned that Guernsey was a tiny island situated in the Atlantic Ocean between France and England, he was off to New Hampshire.
“First we're going to Peterboro,” Brady explained, “where I'll get my instructions from Golden Guernsey. Then, we're off to Europe.”
It wasn't long until Scott, Darrel, and the two friends that constituted his film crew, Bob Picard and Joe Marshall, found themselves motoring through Switzerland. “Isn't this great,” Brady commented. “I've always loved the picturesque villages and friendly people you find in Switzerland. We're driving to the town of Altdorf, then we're going to the 1939 State Exhibition—a Swiss version of a county fair. Switzerland, you know, Scott, is famous for its dairy products—especially cheese and milk chocolate. So, I need to film scenes of milk products for my movie. And maybe, we can eat a little chocolate candy, too.”
It was an exhilarating experience for Scott. He liked the Swiss and their relaxed manners. But something strange struck him about the next country they visited. Sure, he enjoyed meeting farmers in central France and children like himself in the streets of Paris. He also loved the memorable sights: the Sacre Coeur cathedral and the Eiffel Tower of Gay Pair-ee as the film crew called the French capital.
But the people he encountered, especially those in Paris, were very somber. No gaiety here for, as Darrel explained it, there was a feeling of tension in the air. This was July 1939, and international relations between Nazi Germany and both France and her ally, England, were at a feverish level. After years of distrust and threats of war, matters now seemed headed for open hostilities.
As a Parisian woman off-camera described it to Scott, under Adolph Hitler and his fanatical Nazi leadership the Germans were scheming to conquer Europe, maybe even the world. They had already conquered Austria, a large part of Czechoslovakia, even a part of Poland. And, now, they were demanding that Poland surrender even more of its territory.
“The Poles will fight,” she told Scott. “They may lose, but the Poles will fight. They are too proud to surrender without a battle. I'm afraid a war is coming.
“France and England are pledged to defend Poland. German aggression eastward will force the Anglo-French alliance to declare war on the Nazis,” she lamented. “Then, it will be the World War of 1914-1918 all over again. We are heading for a second World War.”
Scott wanted to be reassuring, but that was impossible. He knew the outline of events to come: that World War II would begin soon; that much of France, including Paris, would be occupied by the Germans for years; that life as he was now viewing it would be changed forever. He wanted to share this information with the people he was meeting, but that was not possible. His response to the French woman's sadness was hollow, an insincere optimism about things improving with time. But the young visitor knew his comment was inaccurate.
Scott was only too happy to be out of Paris and on the way to the French port city of St. Malo. “In St. Malo we can catch the ferryboat that makes a daily trip to the island of Guernsey,” Darrel explained. “I'm sure things will be much happier there.”
Indeed, as they made the 50-mile boat trip to St. Peter Port in Guernsey, the twin rainbows Scott and Darrel spotted on the horizon gave them both a momentary reason to smile. It wasn't everyday that a person saw a double rainbow. Maybe it was a sign of better things to come, they agreed.
St. Peter was a delight. It was small, only about 15,000 residents. And it was solitary, the only city on an island nine miles in length and three miles wide. Still the young historian was impressed by the small British town, where the speed limit was eight miles per hour.
The countryside was beautiful, too. He saw the house where the French writer, Victor Hugo, lived many years earlier. Scott was duly impressed by the imposing Carnet Castle, the citadel which had guarded the harbor since the Middle Ages.
When the crew went on a filming flight over Guernsey, Scott eagerly joined the group. The views were beautiful. There were no threats here, just a deep serenity that pervaded the island and its citizens.
Scott had lived in a small town, but nothing as rural as Guernsey. The woods, brooks, and pastures were breathtaking. And those spotted dairy cows that provided milk and its by-products to the world, they were everywhere, even though Guernsey was so small that every day the cattle were tethered in the field for a few hours until they ate all the grass available, then moved to another spot and tied again until that area was eaten clean, then relocated again in a regularized grazing pattern.
Then there were the people he met. Scott was struck by their friendliness, but also by the beauty of their existence. It was there in the nature surrounding them as well as the sparkling houses and glorious flower gardens they preserved. These were hard-working people who milked their cows and often harvested their crops by hand.
Then there were the jogging carts pulled by donkeys. The ride wasn't as comfortable as in his parents' new Plymouth at home, but they seemed to fit perfectly into this forgotten Eden in the English Channel.
Scott didn't realize it, but it was already August, and this was a month of celebration in Guernsey. First there were the Isle of Guernsey Races on August 7, and a few days later a beauty contest to select the young woman who would preside over The Battle of the Flowers, that glorious event celebrating the island's respect for nature. One day Scott found himself on the beach watching race cars tearing around a sandy track, many of them competing with female drivers. A few days later he was with the film makers as they helped decide which Guernsey beauty would be Queen.
“Come on, Scott, let's go for a swim,” yelled cameraman Bob Picard as he raced to get his bathing suit and join the others preparing to board a private yacht. “There's a remote cove nearby that's supposed to be great for swimming and diving, and a local has invited us to sail there for the day.”
He didn't have to be asked twice. It was a hot day and a dip in the Atlantic sounded invigorating. Scott borrowed a swim suit and boarded the small boat anchored in the harbor.
Guernsey showed off its rugged coastline until the pleasure seekers reached their destination, a small sandy inlet where the ocean didn't threaten to smash swimmers against the jagged cliffs. The group spent the remainder of the day diving from the boat and otherwise relaxing in the sunny climate.
Before Scott knew it, however, Guernsey was ready for its own peculiar type of warfare: The Battle of Flowers. As a local resident explained it, this was an annual celebration of harvest time by a people thankful that the little island again had been so bountiful. For days the residents had been constructing large floats and decorating them with colorful flowers. Today automobiles and trucks would pull the floats and their passengers to a soccer field in St. Peter for a grand exhibition.
It was a wonderful time for Scott, Darrel and the rest of the film crew. The aroma of roses and lilies and countless other flowers permeated the air. And everyone was there. It seemed as though the entire population of the island turned out for the event.
One float offered London 's famous Tower Bridge festooned in fragrant blossoms. Another, called “Joy A-Wheel,” portrayed a giant roller skate with several girls skating around it. Scott liked the hula dancers on a Hawaiian-themed float. Other floats reproduced a farm jug and a large shoe bedecked in flowers. There was a marching band, and local Boys Scouts paraded by.
Then the festivities exploded: flower fight! People began throwing buds at each other. White shorts and skirts were soon smudged with pinks and greens and blues, remnants of the flowers being thrown in every direction.
Swept up in the event, Scott found himself picking up buds and hurling them at whomever he spotted. The people atop the floats had the best angle and greatest supply of flowers which they plucked from the decorations. But, Scott valiantly fought on. It was all in great fun and everyone seemed exhilarated as the mock battle continued for about 15 minutes.
“Isn't this great, Scott?” asked Darrel. “I'm so glad we're here to witness and record it. It symbolizes Guernsey 's spirit of romance. It's the war of love and not hate.”
Two weeks later, however, the joyousness of the memory was shattered. Real war had come to Guernsey. On September 1 the Germany military machine invaded Poland and began the conquest of that country. Two days later France and Great Britain, true to their alliance with Poland, and aware that their attempts to make peace with Nazism would never be successful, declared war on Germany.
Mobilization of the military had begun even before the official declarations in Paris and London. And Scott experienced those first hours of World War II as he watched about 100 young men from Guernsey marching in military uniforms to ships that would carry them to England for integration into the British armed forces.
He saw families gathered at the harbor to say good-bye to departing loved ones. He recognized people from The Battle of Flowers held only a few weeks ago. He was affected powerfully by the juxtaposition of emotions he felt. The happiness of a flower-fight one day was pure innocence; the fearfulness of participating in actual warfare few weeks later was horrifying. Scott was shaken. So were Darrel and his two assistants.
“This is a sad time,” Darrel said. “I think it's time for us to go home, back to the United States. We'll go back to Paris, finish up some business matters, and then book passage on a neutral freighter back to New York City.” Everyone agreed that this was no time to be filming cattle. It was time to leave.
Scott was relieved to be returning home. He felt sorry for the people of Guernsey whose paradise had been smashed by war. He had never experienced the beginning of global conflict, and he didn't like it. When Darrel remarked that he was so glad the United States was not involved in this new European war, Scott nodded in agreement, unable to reveal that in a few more years, Americans would be fighting as this World War spanned the globe.
Paris was unrecognizable to Scott. He had witnessed tension on his trip several weeks ago, but the city now was near panic. France was at war and readying for the worst. Mobilization bulletins pasted on building walls advised Parisians to report for military duty. People were warned of air raids by the German air force. Gas masks were distributed to the public. Posters solicited the purchase of War Bonds, or as the French called them, Bons d'Armament.
As he drove through the streets of the French capital, Scott saw a fabled civilization, one of the most beloved cities on Earth, confronting the savage potentials of war. Glass windows were taped to protect them from breaking when bombs exploded. People ran to shelters and trenches dug in the city parks. Like many other beautiful French buildings, the American Express office in the swanky 8th Arrondisement was reinforced with sandbags. Trucks were made ready for quick evacuation at the U.S. Embassy on the ironically named Place de la Concorde, the Place of Harmony. From the placement of religious shrines on rooftops for divine protection, to the blackening of white-walled tires so German pilots could not see them at night, this was a city in crisis preparing for bombs to fall from the skies. Bombs on Paris ! The thought was terrifying and very sad.
“Some good news, guys,” Darrel announced, “We're getting out of here. I've booked us on an American freighter, the Independence Hall. That will get us back to the States in a few weeks. She leaves from Bordeaux. We're just about finished here, so let's move southwest to the coast. We're sailing October 9th.”
The old steamer proved to be slow and uncomfortable, but no one was complaining. Like his friends, Scott had to work for his passage. But he decided being a deck-hand was a small inconvenience. A voyage home and away from war was well worth peeling potatoes and preparing meals in the ship's galley.
The trip seemed relatively uneventful compared to the situation Scott had just left. Uneventful, that is, until day nine, October 18, about 600 miles off the French coast. In the late afternoon, the captain announced that he had just received an SOS signal from a nearby British freighter that was under attack by a German submarine. It was the freighter, S.S. City of Mandalay.
At first, the American captain was uncertain what to do. Should he rush to the rescue in his neutral vessel? But the Independence Hall had no weapons and no experience with hostile Nazi U-boats. Maybe, the American steamer should sit nearby and await the attack to end, and then move in to rescue any survivors? But, how many would die before the Americans arrived, and who was to say the Germans would not sink the Independence Hall. The captain opted for the latter course of action.
Scott was anguished as he and the crew watched off the starboard side as in the distance the City of Mandalay was sliced in half by Nazi torpedoes. It was ghastly watching the ship sink. Then the American captain ordered full speed toward the sinking vessel.
While the American freighter raced in the dark to find survivors, the captain received another distress call. This came from a second British ship, the passenger liner S.S. Yorkshire. It, too, had been struck by a German torpedo and was sinking fast.
For many hours Scott and the crew worked feverishly to pluck people from crowded lifeboats. When the task was completed, the Americans had rescued almost all of those who had been aboard both ships. In total, the Independence Hall saved the lives of three hundred people. Unfortunately, dozens were killed by the torpedoes or drowned trying to escape their sinking ships.
In the morning light, the ravages of war could be seen in the faces of the survivors. Some were badly burned, other were shivering uncontrollably from the brutal experience as well as from the hours spent in the cold Atlantic. All of them, however, were traumatized by this act of barbarity against unarmed shipping in the earliest days of the war.
Scott was moved to tears as he witnessed the burial at sea of a crew member from the City of Mandalay. The sailor had been fatally injured by a torpedo blast and passed away shortly after being rescued by the Americans. Naval protocol demanded that his body be wrapped and then covered in a British flag. But with no Union Jack aboard the Independence Hall, the captain ordered the fallen man covered by the Stars and Stripes. With ceremonial honors, the body was committed to the sea. Scott knew immediately that he had just observed one of the first acts of wartime cooperation between the United States and Great Britain.
It took several days for Independence Hall to return to Bordeaux. After safely landing the survivors, the steamer renewed its homeward journey. But this time the crew was somber throughout the voyage. Everyone aboard realized the magnitude of what they had accomplished in the middle of the ocean. Totally by accident they had been called to action, and they all performed magnificently. Theirs was a ship of heroes.
As the freighter entered New York harbor, Darrel became emotional about their adventure. When they steamed by the Statue of Liberty and all that it symbolized in a world at war, his feelings were summarized by a fragment from a favorite poem, America for Me, composed thirty years ago by Scott van Dyke.
So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.
Just as he was prepared to react to Darrel's poetic comment, the film ended. Clio went dark, the transporter switched off, and Scott was startled as if from a deep sleep. Immediately he began to tell Professor Papadopoulos about his experience. “It was fantastic, Dr. Pop. I was there when World War II began. I saw a peaceful, almost-perfect world ripped apart by war,” he explained.
Scott spent the next quarter-hour recounting his observations as if he were the first to experience the film. The Professor, of course, knew all about the film. It had been in his archive for a long time, and it was one of his favorite historical documents. He had viewed it countless times, gleaning something new each time he watched it.
When Scott remarked that the incident on the high seas must have been one of the first instances of Anglo-American cooperation in World War II, the old man stopped him. “That's an excellent point,” he said. “And you may be correct because in those early weeks of warfare, the U.S. was trying to maintain its neutrality. Isolationism was still the dominant attitude when it came to foreign affairs in this country. A majority of American sympathized with the British, the French and the Poles, but few people here wanted to become involved in another World War.
“Still, the men of the Independence Hall risked their own lives to rescue survivors and take them to the nearest port for medical aid. It was bravery and humanitarianism—and it was a political statement that the Americans, even those chugging across the ocean on a defenseless old freighter, would not be intimidated.”
Justifiably, Scott swelled with pride at the flattery. He felt that he had added a bit to the Professor's understanding. He knew more than ever that he wanted to be an historian when he grew up. He was also beginning to know better what historians did.
“And you‘ve learned this without recourse to rote memory. That's the most important thing, Scott,” Dr. Pop continued. “You are beginning to comprehend historical scholarship. You are starting to understand what learning is all about.”
Scott was still quizzical. “What can you tell me about the fate of people I met and the events in this film?” he asked the old man. “What happened to the people of Switzerland, Guernsey, and Paris? What happened to the Independence Hall? What happened to… .”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted the Professor. “I'm not an encyclopedia. I could answer your questions for the next several hours, and you would probably have more to ask. Why don't you discover the answers for yourself? In fact, let's make that your next assignment. Just as you did with the old coin, come back in a week and tell me what you've learned about the events encountered in Darrel Brady's Guernsey at War.”
“OK. That's sounds fine, Dr. Pop,” Scott said.
“Good, but before you go, I want you to learn a new word. It will guide your analysis next week and maybe for the rest of your life. It's a made-up word that's not in any dictionary. The word is STAMPIERE. And despite my critique of your faith in memorization, I want you to memorize the word STAMPIERE.”
“What does it mean? I've never heard it before,” Scott asked.
“That is correct because it is not an actual word,” acknowledged the Professor. “It's what we call a mnemonic device, a shortcut that helps a person to remember something more complex. Interestingly, that word, mnemonic, comes from the name of the Greek Goddess of memory, the mother of all muses, Mnemosyne.
“STAMPIERE is a formula for remembering the most important perspectives from which historical events may be analyzed,” the old man explained. “Each letter represents a word that reminds you how to approach an historical situation. Let me be more specific.”
Dr. Papadopoulos moved toward a small blackboard attached to an open wall. “When you are assessing history, it can be understood from in a variety of perspectives. The S in STAMPIERE stands for Social. The event may be looked at in terms of its social implications. T means technological. What does the experience tell us in terms of technology and its impact at the time? Do you understand, so far, Scott?”
Scott clearly followed what the Professor was telling him. “Yes, I see what you're saying. STAMPIERE is an acronym, isn't it?”
“Precisely,” replied the Professor. “Now, let me itemize all the perspectives for you.” He turned toward blackboard and finished his list of categories.
S = social
T = technological
A = administrative
M = military
P = political
I = intellectual and cultural
E = economic
R = religious
E = external (foreign policy)
“Now, Scott, not every category may be applicable,” Dr. Pop continued. “Maybe three or five or six of these frames of reference will be useful in a given historical situation, but learn them all because they all have importance. If you remember STAMPIERE you will be well equipped to inquire and understand.”
Scott pulled a piece of blank paper from his shirt pocket and copied the word and the categories. “Thank you,” he said, “I'll keep STAMPIERE on this notebook paper until I get it firmly in my memory. This is one time it pays to memorize.”
Scott reached out and shook the Professor's hand. “I've taken up a lot of your time today,” he remarked. “I've had an amazing time. I'll search for answers during the next week and be back on Wednesday with my conclusions. And I won't forget the Mother of the Muses—or her daughter Clio.”
Professor Papadopoulos smiled and opened the door for his visitor to leave. “Oh, Scott, there is one more rule I implore you to follow,” the old man stated. “I know it may be difficult to do, but you must not tell a soul about Clio or your visit to the past. When a muse inspires, she does so with great discretion. It is strictly between her and the artist. It has always been that way. To tell your family or your teacher, or to brag about it to your friends, would be to dissolve the bond that now exists between you and the muse.
“To this day all of our great historians have been visited by Clio, but they have never spoken about it. Doing so would be to shatter the ties of inspiration. Every historian before you has kept this confidence. It must remain your personal secret.”
Scott sensed the special quality of his Clio experience. “I'll keep the secret. You can trust me,” he pledged.
The Professor believed him.
|Copyright © 2009 J. Fred MacDonald-All Rights Reserved.|