The History Girls: Eugene Bullard, Black Swallow of Death Catherine Johnson

Originally posted on The History Girls.

Eugene Bullard

Another WW1 story you might not have heard, that of  Eugene Bullard,  a young black man who found freedom and respect far from his homeland. I’d never heard of him until recently and  found there are heaps of parallels between his life and that of Mathew Henson,  a hero abroad but ignored in his native land. Bullard became the first ever black military pilot in 1916 and won the Croix de Guerre, but ended his life working as a lift operator in the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship and ended up in Aberdeen. He said he witnessed his father’s narrow escape from a lynching. He made his way to Glasgow and worked there for a while. Life outside segregated America held a whole load more opportunities for a young black man and he settled in Paris in 1913 and worked as a prize-fighter and sometimes…

via The History Girls: Eugene Bullard, Black Swallow of Death Catherine Johnson.

Tales of a Polish Woman


Originally posted several years ago on a curated site elsewhere 

Christine Granville, nee Krystyna Skarbek, O.B.E., GM, Croix de Guerre, died tragically on June 15, 1952. She was a Special Operations Executive Agent during the war, celebrated for her daring and resourcefulness in intelligence and irregular warfare in Nazi occupied Poland and France. She was one of the longest serving of Britain’s wartime agents and was decorated by the King after the war.  In 1941 she began using the nom de guerre Christine Granville and adopted it with her naturalization as a British citizen in February 1947. She was 37 years old when she died.

Krystyna Skarbek, “Vesper” to her father,  was the daughter of a Polish Count, well educated, fluent in English and French, an avid skier and horseback rider. It was at the stables, in fact, where she first me Andrzej (Andrew) Kowerski while their respective fathers discussed…

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Remembering Reg, an Old Contemptible

Writer's notebook


Today is Armistice Day, and I want to pay tribute to Reg Hill, one of the last of the Old Contemptibles.

He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star for conspicuous gallantry and I was sent to interview him when I worked on a weekly newspaper. Being a junior reporter and only 19 I didn’t really know much about anything, and that day when I arrived on his doorstep in November 1978 was no exception. My knowledge of the Great War was fairly sketchy and I had just pushed the doorbell when I realised I had nothing to write on and nothing to write with.

croix de guerre

But by then it was too late. Reg had already opened his front door. He was 96 and he looked small and vulnerable. I couldn’t help thinking that he actually looked like a tortoise that had lost its shell. But in two ticks he…

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A bucket of shrimp

Fix Bayonets!

They say old folks do strange things. At least, I think that is what young people say about us when they talk about us at all —which isn’t all that often. I think this is because we old folks are a bother. I think this must explain why younger people want to place us in nursing homes.

In any case, this story unfolded every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the wide blue ocean.

Seagull Feeding 001Old Ed came strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp. Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now. Everybody has gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on…

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