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Monthly Archives: November 2012

World War II Carrier Pigeon Mystery: Can you crack the code?

There are always new things discovered about World War II.  I am so lucky to have found my mother’s diaries from 1937-43 and have published them as Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America.  But a diary is not so odd as the skeleton of a carrier pigeon!!!

Yes, The New York Times recently reported how a bird skeleton with a coded message has been found in England!

A chimney in a home in Surrey, England, was found in 1982 to hold the remains of a carrier pigeon bearing a World War II coded message. An effort is now under way to find out what it says. From Alan Cowell’s article in The New York Times, November 2, 2012.

As Alan Cowell reports, the skeleton was found in a chimney between “the site of the Allied landing at the Normandy beaches in 1944 and a famous code-breaking center north of London at Bletchley Park.”  Bletchley Park is famous as the site of top-secret code breaking activities.  Read its wartime history here.  The pigeon’s message has not yet been decoded, but it is being worked on!  How wonderful to have this mystery still to tantalize us.

But how valiant the pigeon, 40TW194, was! And its message still cannot be decoded.  See the discussion of the problems decoding this message here. You can help to crack the code, by reading the message here and below.








If you figure this out, contact  the UK Government Communications Headquarters.

Carrier pigeons have  a long and esteemed history, starting with Noah’s release of a pigeon after the flood.  They’ve been used by ancient Romans, Genghis Khan, and in the Siege of Paris in 1870. In World War I, the Germans even strapped cameras to their bellies to take reconnaissance photos until planes took over that duty.  By the end of WWI, France had mobilized 30,000 pigeons for war duty!

This article by Mary Blume gives more heroic details, but I must report this heart-rending detail here:  “[A] brave French pigeon named Le Vaillant was awarded the Ordre de la Nation…Cher Ami, the equally heroic American Black Check Cock carrier pigeon [, who was one] of 600 birds flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, … saved the lives of the 77th Infantry Division’s ‘lost battalion’ at Verdun by delivering 12 messages and returning to his loft with a shattered leg after he was shot. He won the Croix de Guerre with Palm and died in 1919 as a result of his wounds.”

Here is Cher Ami (Dear Friend) on display at the Smithsonian Musuem

Imagine, winning a medal!  And the Musée de la Poste in Paris has more information about these brave avian aviators.

From the Musée de la Poste. Source:

You can read more about Paris and the Siege of 1870 and pigeons here.  And be sure to check out my upcoming post on Women Cryptographers in World War II.

Giving Quarter

My parents liked to joke.  Not in a mean manner — more a sly way, with a wink, causing me to giggle.  A tradition developed, one whose origins are shrouded in mystery, as follows:

Whenever I achieved something “wonderful” — for example, graduating with my Ph.D. or publishing my first book — I’d receive a quarter.  Yes, an entire shiny coin, usually taped to an index card with some slightly sardonic comment: “For your first published article, Love, M.O.M. and D.O.D.”

In one famous example, I got single quarter for the year I got tenure AND my first book coming out, for which — I jokingly complained — I deserved two quarters!

Now I guess to need to explain “M.O.M” and “D.O.D.”

“M.O.M” was for “Mean Old Mom.”  She often signed this way to all us kids which caused merriment because she WASN’T a “Mean Old Mom.”  The opposite in fact.  But this was our funny way of acknowledging how nice she was.  Irony pervades our existence.

“D.O.D.”, on the other hand, stood for “Dear Old Dad.”  Now Daddy was not mean, but sometimes curmudgeonly in a self-aware way (he was proud of it!), so D.O.D. was also meant somewhat sarcastically.

And only in editing my mother’s journals did I discover (perhaps) whence this tradition came.

Freya’s Day Dec. 16, 1938

Yesterday I had to give my talk in Readings in World Cultures on an analysis of a biography.  I chose Samuel Clemens’ Joan of Arc.  I read the book four years ago and neglected to completely re-read it.  Nevertheless, I got along all right and when done Mr. Denton says, “Any comments?”  Now almost all class comments are derogatory and, when three hands went up, I shivered.  Imagine my surprise when Carl Christ said, “I think it was very good etc.”  And—the other two agreed!  Then Mr. Denton says, “A very good analysis, Jo-anne!” and I went back to my seat.  On the way back, Barbara Smith threw a quarter at me (my quarter at that—which she had basely taken at lunch!!!) and Mr. Denton says, “Oh, I think it’s worth more than that.” So. So…”

Is this the original moment, the Ur-event which trickles down to our family today?

Now, with my parents’ passing, who would give me a quarter for my achievements?

Later in the evening, after the first authors’ books — the first hard copies of Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America — had arrived, my husband, Jim, went to the study.  He returned with this for me:

A quarter from Jim for Home Front Girl–carrying on a Morrison family tradition

“Giving quarter”–a military term meaning to show compassion to a prisoner of war.  Here, the visible sign of Jim showing compassion to me, defeated in grief at my parents’ deaths–the quarter of consolation.

Thanksgiving 1938 and 2012

I have a lot to be thankful for.  After my parents died, I was so sad.  But we found my mom’s diaries, poetry, and short stories in a file cabinet.  It was, unbeknownst to her, a gift to us.  It contains so many poignant moments in her reflections on the impending war.

Even though my mom came from a working class family, her parents were always able to put food on the table, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction of Freedom from Want from 1943.

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want, 1943

Five years before that iconic painting, Joan writes about Thanksgiving.  She always had a sense of humor–about herself most of all!  Here is an entry from Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24, 1938.  Joan is 15 years old.

Then we had Thanksgiving dinner and spent afternoon and evening fooling around and pretending we were cave men having to talk in sign language punctuated by grunts (my idea—effect of Humanities). (Remember when we played Kentucky mountaineer and King Alfred and Lady Guinevere?) Well, Daddy was Chief Mud-in-the-Face, Mom was Lump of Fat, and I was Blockhead (later the Sylph-like Faun). Well, so goeth Thanksgiving. . . .

I love how she and her family were able to still playact when she was a teenager!

I’m also grateful to the generosity of people in Austin.  On Sunday, November 18, 2012, I gave my first public reading of Home Front Girl at BookWoman in Austin, Texas.

Signing a book for my colleague, Nancy Grayson, at BookWoman. Note the snazzy red cast on my left foot!

Dear friends and colleagues came and it was a fun event.

Reading to a crowd of kindred spirits at BookWoman

The Militant Recommender: Review of Home Front Girl

I love this blog that reviews books–and not only because it gave Home Front Girl a lovely review you can read in its entirety here.   I like it because it’s, well, “militant.”  I will read what ever Stephanie Piro tells me to read!  After all, she is in command as the Militant Recommender.

I guess that’s what appeals to me about her reviews.  Books should be seen as being vital and compelling–we need to read to be aware, happy, and tuned into our world and what’s beyond our world–and to listen in our minds and hearts. Her blog also has adorable cartoons. See the cartoon for Home Front Girl at the end of this post.

Here’s a quote from Stephanie’s review: “It often seems a slower, sweeter time. Joan walking home from a trip to the Art Institute and the library where she borrows a work by Kipling and writes: Walked home along the lovely lake with elongated purple shadows along the sands. Still bright haired children playing. Still flowers no less vivid or sky less blue, sun like blood in the West. Oh, I felt the glory and the spring of Kipling’s poem, “But as the faithful years return and hearts undaunted sing again”. Isn’t that a lovely thought- “hearts undaunted sing again”-though ever the years are long and hard-the Spring will always come and our hearts can sing again- oh how beautiful”
Is that not more beautiful than a text? She wrote this in 1937, when she was 14….[Joan] writes a multitude of observances on the boys who come and go through her school years, many funny, some angry and others poignant. ….Joan is afraid of what the impending war will do to her life and that of her friends. She is a pacifist, which seems unusual for those times, and has many thoughts on what war does to the people of the USA and the other countries affected. I could go on and on, because this book is just so quotable… but really, you want to get a copy of Home Front Girl for yourself so you can curl up with it and let Joan take you back in time, as you see the world through the eyes of this appealing narrator.”

Stephanie Piro’s cartoon of Home Front Girl from The Militant Recommender []

Be sure to look at Stephanie’s  cartoon blogspot which is charming!

Armistice Day 1941: A Tribute to Veterans Day

Veterans Day didn’t even exist until 1947.  Before that it was called Armistice Day, in memory of the armistice signed between Germany and the Allies in World War I, bringing an end to fighting on the Western Front.  Famously this took place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

New York Times front page on November 11, 1918 that the Armistice is signed.

Joan is much affected by World War I.  In fact, she sees her generation–those born after World War I in the Roaring 20s— as being ” a generation apart.”  The entry below was written when Joan was 18, just 3 weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II.

Thursday, November 13, 1941

Day before yesterday was Armistice Day, if you can call it that—1941 A.D. . . . If we live, we’ll look back on these days and know, perhaps, either that they were not as important as we thought they were—or that they were much more important. God, in the heavens, look down on the world! . . . Today they finally finished repealing the Neutrality Bill.[1] Arm our ships and send them into belligerent ports—drums beating louder now—we had a peace meeting at school day before yesterday—what the hell, what is Armistice? Time goes on.

The Treaty of Versailles finally brought an end to hostilities between Germany and the Allies in World War I and was signed in 1919. If you are interested, you can read the text of it through this site here.

Treaty of Versailles, 1919

Let us in 2012 remember and pay tribute to all the veterans of all the wars!

[1] One of the bills of the 1930s that came from noninterventionist desires. With its repeal, the involvement of the United States in World War II was only a matter of days.

Guest Blog Post at A Bookish Affair: Our Fascination with World War II

Please read my guest blog post at A Bookish Affair about our fascination with World War II.

And read the latest review of Home Front Girl  at A Bookish Affair:  “[C]ompulsively readable.”

A Bookish Affair blog website banner.

My dear daughter

I just want to be able to thank Sarah, website master extraordinaire.  I had put this website together basically alone–with some help from WordPress Support Pages.  I remember the thrill of conquering drop-down menus!  Woo-hoo.  It only took me 7 hours…..

But the header for my page was causing me problems.  How could I add a photo of the cover?  How could I have the fonts match the book jacket?  Such are the dreary woes of the website owner.

Then, along came my 16 year old genius, a.k.a. my daughter, Sarah.

Sarah, Photoshop whiz extraordinaire. Kudos and thanks!

She knows how to do Photoshop.  She knows how to get fonts that match.  She knows….well…just about everything!  In one hour (or less) she had managed to replicate the book cover’s fonts, change the color palette of the site to match the book, and do everything I asked for.

She made my dreams come true!

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