This time of year publications are devoted to two themes—looking back at the year ended and forward to the one ahead. As a historian, I like the former but at years long ago. I’ve been working on a future article and in preparation for it I‘ve bought a couple of books, some coins and stamps, and a copy of Life magazine dated October 31, 1939.

This time of year publications are devoted to two themes—looking back at the year ended and forward to the one ahead. As a historian, I like the former but at years long ago. I’ve been working on a future article and in preparation for it I‘ve bought a couple of books, some coins and stamps, and a copy of Life magazine dated October 31, 1939.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939 and because of a pact between Britain and Poland, the former came to the aid of the latter by declaring war on Germany Sept. 3, 1939. This issue of Life, therefore, was published as Britain was ramping up to total war and the rest of the world—including the U.S.—was still enjoying peace. My comments are from those printed in the magazine. [I have only the inchoate memories of a three-year old.]

1939 Mercury

This is a good place to introduce one of the few Latin phrases I know e.g., res ipsa loquitur [the thing speaks for itself]. Once the U.S. entered WWII on Dec.8, 1942, civilian auto production ended within days and auto companies shifted to military vehicles. We were fortunate in having bought a new 1941 Nash which lasted us until 1945 when the war ended. My Dad paid about $700 for the vehicle and because of the scarcity of vehicles by 1946, sold it for more. Kids didn’t get bikes or wagons or metal toys throughout the war and the bikes that were made in 1946 were piles of junk. The fenders on my new bike fell off almost immediately because screws were threaded into the frame to save one washer and one nut one each.

G.E. Ad

The text reads, “Let your eyes and ears decide” how much you like this beauty. Then, we sat in front of it every Sunday night listening to radio programs like Amos and Andy, Jack Benny, and Bob Hope. It played 78 rpm records then which later evolved in 33rpm and 45 rpm. The “eyes” reference referred to the wood cabinet—not to TV pictures.

Hitler’s Study

The next persons having access to this room were those you saw depicted in the 2001 television miniseries, Band of Brothers as they tromp around Hitler’s Berchtesgaden aerie while der Feuhrer’s remains molded in his underground headquarters back in Berlin.

Jean Sibelius

I was in his home and sauna in 1975 while in Helsinki studying the Finnish health system. It was full of bunting awards and surprisingly modest. [His sauna was rustic. They said neighbors routinely came over to share their sauna in winter. They would sit and visit in the nude then go out and leap in the adjacent lake.]

WWII Begins in Britain

Britain had endured four years of war with Germany 21 years earlier so they not only anticipated WWII, they had experience in preparing for it. Some of the clothes and procedures the British women had employed in The World War as it was called were hauled out of closets and put into use before Germany struck. We’ve traveled around England a bit and every small village has a prominent monument in the middle of town commemorating WWI so great was the loss of their men.

A mere 8 weeks after the beginning of WWII over a million British ladies were already well organized and performing war duties in their various auxiliaries. Women from all walks of life added new duties and time to their war positions. War has been the greatest single force behind the movement of women into the work force and occupations previously closed to them—the greatest beneficiary of this boost being the nursing profession.

Women at War

I was in Leningrad in 1975 and saw first hand the devastation of WWII. It was a city of many widows and a few old men proudly displaying their military ribbons on coats worn in the heat of summer. [The elderly women were called ‘babushkas” which in Russian literally means ‘grandma’ or ‘elderly lady,’ but then it largely referred to war widows.]

The final two pictures depict women at war. In picture number 7 the women have just arrived in their barracks and in number 8 the nurses are on break in the 22-car train recommissioned as a field hospital in London which Air Marshall Himmler would bomb nightly. A train houses the medical personnel as well as the patients. It could be moved safely over the underground’s tracks to the location of the most casualties. Civilians began sleeping in underground stations.

Comment

The British have a high sense of national pride and togetherness in all ways except Parliament. Part of the reason is they are an island which conveys a sense of common fate, but war and common enemy also pulls them together. My take on the CCC and WPA during our Great Depression was that they brought us together and WWII really brought us together. As you can see in these pictures, we were carrying on with pluribus safely removed from WWII while Europe was drawn into unum by shared sacrifice and common cause. Of course I’m against war, but I do think some type of mandatory public service for all youth would be good for the country.