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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year: December 31, 1937

This is what my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, wrote one week after she turned 15 years old, on December 31, 1937.

Friday, December 31, 1937

I had the awfullest dream last night. I dreamt a war was begun and people were running about with brightened looks in their eyes. I was a boy and I knew I would have to be a soldier. I was afraid to go to war. I kept seeing trenches and mud and horror and pain and things—and killing people—and I was terribly scared inside. But I knew I would have to join the army anyhow because otherwise people would call me coward. I went to enlist and that’s all I remember. I figured I might have three months in a training group before I would have to fight. It was a terrible dream and I was so scared. That’s all I remember. . . .

I sit here and wait for the last minutes of 1937 to come to an end. 1937 sounds like such a momentous year—like 1492 or 1066 or 1588 or 1776, doesn’t it? I’m sure it marks a crisis in our history. But 1940 sounds even greater—well, we must wait.

I’ve been reading my journal over, my journal of this year—and plenty seems to have happened. A king has been crowned—England’s George VI. Edward married Wallis

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry "the woman I love."

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry “the woman I love.”

and closed that part of England’s history—or did he? The Spanish Civil (?) War continued and the Japanese began and conquered an undeclared war in China. Now the civilization of thousands of years is under the flag of the rising (or setting?) sun of Japan. . . . Add to things that have happened: the Hindenburg, last but one of the great airships, burned to cinders in New Jersey. . . .

P.S. Marconi[1] also died this year.

[1] Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, who was also considered the father of the radio.

Happy Holidays from 1937, 1939, and 2012 — 1940 is less happy…..

As Joan wrote in her journals over 70 years ago:

[Age 15] Dec. 25, 1937

Hello! It’s Christmas Day! Isn’t that a lovely word—“Christmas”—the very sound of it makes you think of bright snow and blue stars and shining laughing things – especially the “Christ” part – the sound of the word is like bright snow or sunlight. The sound of “God” makes you feel strange too. Not like “Christ,” not bright and shining, but like something glowing deep within you. Words – some of them – seem to come from the very heart of men —some bright and some deep within you. Words are terribly beautiful—sometimes.

December 25, 1939

A clipping from Joan's scrapbook.  A photo from the newspaper in Chicago, 1939.

A clipping from Joan’s scrapbook. A photo from the newspaper in Chicago, 1939.

[Age 18] Christmas 1940

Then on Michigan Blvd I passed suddenly the Cunard window…. An exhibit for the BWR [British War Relief]—pictures of little children in Britain—homes bombed—helmets that could be knitted for the RAF—a noble purpose—but it’s making war in our hearts…The little German children are bombed and hungry too…And all the sudden, in an emotional intensity, I thought, “This may be the last Christmas we shall have”…Christmas 1940…I should be wise and know the world will never end…Time is a funny mirror—sometimes the image is distorted…An unofficial truce played over Christmas in Europe today—Hitler said, “German fliers will not fly on Christmas if British flyers will not.” And they did not…And so a white bloodless Christmas there and the sky is weeping here…Christmas 1940—

And from Jim, Sarah, John and me (Susie): Merry Christmas 2012

Here we are with our dear friend, Don Singer--Happy Holidays to all!

Here we are with our dear friend, Don Singer–Happy Holidays to all!

Dedicated to those brave heroes: Life as part of the crew of a Stirling Bomber

 A dear friend in England sent me this link to the website at the BBC called WW2 People’s War.

WW2 - People's War

Pete Smith is a delightful raconteur and eminent scholar, and shared his dad’s adventures with me. Here is one hair-raising story his dad, Roy Smith, shares on the website:

“[S]etting out for a trip to Mannheim, and routed over N.W. London, it seemed that the ground defences had not been informed and we were subjected to some anti-aircraft fire. George, our wireless operator, fired off the colours of the day to no avail. As a precaution, the flight engineer opened the hatch, in case we had to make an emergency escape. Our mid-upper gunner bent down from his turret to see what was going on and seeing the hatch was open, switched on his intercom to contact the pilot. 113499533223485575805_1-1However, when bending down he must have pulled his intercom plug slightly out of the socket, so there was no connection to other crew members. Having seen the open hatch and being unable to communicate with anyone, he assumed that we had all jumped, and quickly followed suit. We were given to understand that he landed in Walthamstow and his parachute had caught on some railings, leaving him suspended a foot or tow above the ground. He was arrested by the Home Guard, but after establishing his identity, was returned to the station.”

Other stories of Roy’s can be read here.  And many other stories you can read on this page of the BBC site.

These war memories are so important to have, so that past history is not lost forever.  After all, history is made by each one of us, not just politicians and famous people.  That’s why my mom, Joan Wehlen Morrison, was an oral historian.  The words and stories of everyday people constitute our communal history.  Be sure to write down your own story or record the memories of older folks for posterity!

Thanks for sharing, Pete and Roy!  I’d like to dedicate this post to Roy who is ill and wish him a speedy recovery.

Women Cryptographers in World War II

An article in the Austin American-Statesman by Ken Herman tells the wonderful story of two women cryptographers in World War II.  What did cryptographers do?  They had to put messages into code so that the enemy wouldn’t be able to understand.  Helen Nibouar, now 91, is quoted as saying, ““I have to admit I was a little frightened, just thinking how important that was and how responsible I had to be.” She and her fellow cryptographer and friend, Marion Johnson (now 95!!!), were honored in November 2012 at the National Security Agency‘s National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Here is a picture of Helen today.

Helen Nibouar, age 91, in an article from the Austin American-Statesman, November 2, 2012 by Ken Herman

Nibouar is quoted as being “shocked” that anyone would be interested in what she did during wartime.

Oh, but how fascinating what she and other women and men did during the war!  Especially important are the legions of “unknown” people who worked for the war effort.  All such stories are valuable, indeed invaluable, for the historical record.  Thank you, Helen and Marion, and the countless others, for all you’ve done!

Here is the Enigma Machine at the National Cryptologic Museum.  To learn how it works, click here.

The Enigma Machine at the National Cryptologic Musuem

And, if you are equally intrigued by the concept of the National Cryptologic Museum, check out this page where you can download documents from the World War II era about cipher machines, Western Communication Intelligence and the Holocaust, and Woman and Cryptology, among other fascinating and important topics.  Here there is more about Women and Cryptology.

And be sure to check out my post on Carrier Pigeons who carried coded messages during World War II–and before and since!

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