Saturday, October 26, 2019

Vera Lynn: Nightingale Amidst the Carnage


With the daily news from the UK being about the antics of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the stalemate in Parliament over Brexit, my thoughts are of more inspiring times.  They travel back to World War II, the stalwart Brits who saved civilization, and the singer who inspired them.  Her name is Vera Lynn, shown here.  At age 102 she was still alive in England in October 2019. 

The fortitude of the British people during World War II continues to be inspiring, as German bombing raids over their cities caused major devastation.  The bombs caused enormous destruction and heavy civilian casualties—some 43,000 British civilians were killed and another 139,000 were wounded.  It did not dampen people’s resolve.  An American witness wrote: "By every test and measure I am able to apply, these people are staunch to the bone and won't quit ... the British are stronger and in a better position than they were at its beginning". People referred to raids as if they were weather, stating that a day was "very blitzy” 

Buoying morale was a 23-year-old native of East Ham, England, who had begun singing at the age of seven. In 1932 she had recorded a song written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles called “We’ll Meet Again.”  The song seemed spontaneously to fit the wartime atmosphere and became an emblematic hit not only in Britain but worldwide.  Among its lyrics:

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do,
'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.
So will you please say hello’
To the folks that I know,
Tell them I won't be long’
They'll be happy to know, 
That as you saw me go,
I was singing this song.

The words hit a number of responsive chords with those men called into the military service to defeat the “dark clouds” of Fascism.  Perhaps saying goodbye to a girl friend or other loved one with the promise, “I won’t be long.”  Lynn sang it over and over again, always with enthusiasm and feeling.  She is shown here, singing to workers in a munitions factory in 1941. That same year, the darkest days of World War II, Lynn began her own radio program, performing songs most requested by the soldiers and sending messages to British troops serving abroad. She also visited hospitals to interview new mothers and send personal messages to their husbands overseas.

Lynn’s other great wartime hit was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” by Nat Burton and Walter Kent.  The lyrics were aimed straight at the war and the peace that was expected to follow the Allied victory.  Among them:

                        There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after,
Tomorrow, when the world is free.

In fact, most of Lynn’s songs had a wartime theme, emphasizing the faithfulness of a loved one at home, the joys of a reunion, dreams of a peaceful tomorrow.  While some in Parliament sniffed that her offerings were sentimental “slush,” those doing the fighting did not agree.  When British servicemen were asked to name their favorite musical performer, Vera Lynn was the popular choice and became known as “The Forces Sweetheart.”  One favorite with the troops was the comic song, “The General’s Fast Asleep.”

She also joined with other British artists, touring Egypt, India and Burma, entertaining the troops and visiting those in hospitals, carrying messages back to family members.  She said talking to the troops and giving them the chance to ask her questions and simply being there for them was just as important as the actual singing, if not more so. 

Lynn had just turned 27  and was a major celebrity in 1944 when she traveled 5,000 miles to Burma in treacherous wartime conditions.  The press termed it, “a death defying tour” since Japanese patrols were never far away.   The intense Burmese heat was punishing and Vera also had to cope with insects, humidity, monsoons, lack of facilities and sheer exhaustion.  

She was sick some of the time but kept on.  One observer remembered of one Lynn performance:  “She sang until her make-up was running in dark furrows down her cheeks, until her dress was wet with sweat, until her voice had become a croak.” Lynn also insisted on visiting every field hospital, said to have "sat next to every bed" and chatted with the sick and wounded.

After the war for several decades Vera Lynn continued to be a popular singer with a worldwide following.  Because of her charitable work with veterans, the families of those killed in battle and other causes she was named a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.  In 2000 she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th Century.   

Given the chaos in the UK today around Brexit, some of Dame Vera Margaret Lynn’s stalwart grace might well be a model for the British people — indeed for all of us — in the increasingly problematic 21st Century.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Vintage Automobiles in a Shoe Box II

Foreword:  Old enough to remember the days when electric buggies and Ford’s Model T’s were not totally unusual sights on the streets of my town, I am an aficionado of vintage automobiles and seldom have passed up an antique car show.  That spurred me in August 2012 to do a post on this blog that featured  vintage vehicles on paperweights — much, much cheaper than originals and can be stored in a shoebox.  In the intervening seven years, I have collected additional images and am delighted to present ten of them here, ranging in age from the oldest to the newer models.

The first is a medallion weight issued by the Ford Motor Company to celebrate the 100 anniversary of its founder, Henry Ford.  It shows him with the first motor car he built in a workshop behind his Detroit home.  It was, Ford wrote, “…Powered by a two cylinder four  horsepower motor, with a two-and-half-inch bore and a six-inch stroke, which was connected to a countershaft by a belt, and then to the rear wheel by a chain. The belt was shifted by a clutch lever to control speeds at 10 or 20 miles an hour augmented by a throttle  Other features included 28-inch wire bicycle wheels with rubber tires, a foot brake, a 3-gallon gasoline tank, and later, a water jacket around the cylinders for cooling.  Ford is said to have driven it 1,000 miles before moving on to his second vehicle.

Although in an anniversary piece, the Nash Company in 1952, identified this motorcar as its own Rambler, the original builder was the Thomas B. Jeffrey Co.  Jeffery was an inventor and industrialist who built his first prototype in 1897.  By 1902 he was mass producing an automobile he called a Rambler from a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Note that instead of a steering wheel, the Rambler relied on a tiller.  Jeffrey owned the plant until 1916 when it was purchased by Charles W. Nash, former head of General Motors, who changed the name.

One of the truly iconic automobiles was Ford’s Model T, affectionately known as “The Tin Lizzie.” It was the first genuinely affordable automobile, a vehicle that opened motor transportation even to working class America.  Cost was kept reasonable because of Ford's efficient fabrication, including assembly line production instead of individual handcrafting. The Ford Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th Century in the 1999 Car of the Century competition.  It also meant the final doom of the horse and buggy.

Many automobile manufacturers sprang up in the 1905-1920 era, most of them short lived.  The perfect example is the Marvel, an automobile built on Rivard Street in Detroit by the Marvel Motor Car Company.  The Marvel was a two-seater runabout. It came equipped with a horizontal two-cylinder engine, a planetary transmission (as did the Model T Ford) and single chain drive.  Production occurred only one year, 1907.  That was just enough time for the company to issue a paperweight promising:  “The Greatest Value on the Market, A Car of Superior Merit, Gives Most Satisfactory Service.”  Given the Marvel’s history, maybe not.

In 1904 Joseph J. Cole of Rockford, Illinois, bought a local buggy plant, renamed it the Cole Carriage Company, and built an automobile.  It was a high-wheeled motor buggy with a two-cylinder engine.  A Rockford story goes that Cole forgot to fit brakes on this prototype and on his first trip, had to drive until the gas tank was empty.  After reorganizing in 1909, the company began producing conventional automobiles, Big news came in mid-1915: Only one year after Cadillac had pioneered the V-8 engine, Cole brought out its own V-8 powered automobile — and would stay with it until the very end of the make in 1923.  The so-called “Aero-Eight” came in several styles, including a sedan, shown above.

Packard Motor Car Company was founded by James Ward Packard with two partners in the Northeastern Ohio city of Warren, where 400 Packard automobiles were built at factory from 1899 to 1903.  The latter year Packard moved operations to Detroit. Until 1903 all Packards had a single-cylinder engine.  The company was innovative, inventing the modern steering wheel and, years later, the first production of 12-cylinder engines. Shown here is a ”Twin Six" model series of 12-cylinder car along with familiar Packard slogan, “Ask the Man Who Owns One.”

Trucks, because of their need to haul heavy loads, were longer in development than motorcars.   The first Chevrolet truck available for purchase was the 1918 Chevy Model 490, a year after Ford introduced its first truck, the 1917 Ford Model TT.  Considered a light delivery vehicle with a half-ton rating, the Chevy 1918 Series 490 was sold as a chassis only, meaning the truck cab and body had to be installed by the customer. Shown on the weight here and sold alongside the light-duty truck was the 1918 Chevrolet Model T, a one-ton rated truck. Described as Chevrolet’s first purpose-built truck, the 1918 Chevrolet One-Ton had a 224-cubic inch OHV 4-cylinder engine with 36 horsepower.

Arthur Holmes, formerly an engineer for the Franklin Automobile, struck out on his own to organize the Holmes Automobile Company in 1917 in Canton, Ohio.  About 500 cars annually rolled off its assembly line in a range of open and closed models.  As shown here, the sedan also could be used in the funeral and ambulance trade.  The Holmes 6-cylinder engine was the first production engine to use three valves per cylinder.  Holmes planned to produce a lower-cost 4-cylinder car, but financial difficulties halted production in 1922 and the firm went out of business in May 1923.

The Dort Motor Car Co., named after co-owner, J. Dallas Dort, built automobiles in Flint, Michigan, from 1915 to 1924.  Almost immediately successful, the company sold 9,000 cars in its first year.  Compared to Fords, Dort models were fairly expensive but by 1920 had climbed to the country’s 13th largest automobile producer.  Having invested in a large new plant in Flint right after World War I, Dort was caught in an economic downturn, began bleeding cash, cut staff and expenses, and by 1923 forced into bankruptcy.  J. Dallas Dort died the following year.

The Ford Model A was Henry’s second big success in the automotive industry.  Popular in my younger days among the hotrod set, the automobile was unveiled in December 1927, replacing the venerable Model T. (There also had been a very early “A” model.) Rather than all black like its predecessor, it came in multiple colors.  Again the price was right:  The Tudor sold for an accessible $500 and top price was $1,200 for the fancier Ford Town Car with a dual cowl.  By mid-1929 the Model A had sold three million cars. When production ended in March 1932 almost five million were on American roads.

Of the ten vehicles featured here four manufacturers — Marvel, Dort, Cole and Holmes — were soon out of business.  Nash and Packard survived into my youth and Ford and Chevrolet, though batter by economic winds over time, still survive.  So do the paperweights issued to advertise and memorialize each of them.  Material abounds on every automobile make and model, even the short lived.  A wealth of information awaits the collector with a historical interest regardless of the size of the shoebox.

Note:  The information for this post principally came from Internet sources, particularly Wikipedia.