Archive for WW I

inferno [remembrance day]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2022 by xi'an
O forêt de l’Argonne ! hélas ! je t’ai connue
A l’heure où la bataille a pris tes horizons ;
Un de tes noirs ravins me tient lieu de prison
Et j’y vis face à face avec ta Beauté nue !…
Mais, soit que le soleil chauffe tes frondaisons
Ou que le givre pende à tes cimes chenues,
J’entends le vent râler parmi tes avenues
Comme la voix des morts couchés sous ton gazon.
Marc de Larréguy de Civrieux, Décembre 1915

the odyssey of the Endurance [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2022 by xi'an

While I knew of the Endurance crew’s extraordinary story of resilience in the toughest imaginable conditions, I had not yet read Shackleton’s South, a depiction of the many challenges met by the expedition after the Endurance got stuck in the ice pack. (The title in French is the Endurance Odyssey.) The above map describes the path of the crew once the boat became stuck, on 14 February, two months after it had left South Georgia on 5 December 1914. The ice pack carried the immobilised ship until 25 October 1915, when the ice crushed the boat hull beyond repair and it sank a few days later. (Incidentally, its remain were found at the bottom of the Weddel Sea last month!) For five months, the crew would camp on the ice, along the three lifeboats of the Endurance, drifting westwards until the ice pack broke and forced them to get on the boat on 8 April 1916, sailing in the heart of the Southern Winter with -30 temperatures and reaching the desolate Elephant Island on 14 April. As there was no hope to be rescued by a passing whaler, Shackleton decided to sail back to South Georgia Island with five crew members and against all odds, battled the worst possible weather and sea conditions for 14 days to reach the Island on 5 May. They were in terrible conditions and could not afford to circle the island to reach the Norwegian whaling station. Three crew members, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean, then undertook to cross the mountainous center of South Georgia with no map and no equipment, in another epic feat, and reached the whaling station in a 36 hour trek, on 20 May 1916. From there, they were able to rescue the other three sailors left on King Haakon Bay. Shackleton left almost immediately to rescue the rest of the Endurance crew, but due to ice conditions, it took him four attempts on four different boats to reach Elephant Island on 30 August 1916 and evacuate the twentysome sailors, who had been running short on food, with only two days left of supplies. Most amazingly, no crew member died of the endless hardships met by the men, albeit Perce Blackborrow lost his toes to frostbite… While the text is not written in the highest literary style, but built from the expedition journals, the plain depiction of the two years spent on the ice is telling most vividly of one of the most astounding survival epics of all times. (Most of the crew would survive till the 1960’s, earlier deaths being primarily due to WW I and WW II. Except for Shackleton, who died from a heart attack at the beginning of a subsequent Antarctic expedition, while on South Georgia Island, once again.)

Haldane’s short autobiography

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2020 by xi'an

“I was born at Oxford, England, in 1892.  My father was Prof. J.S. Haldane, the physiologist.  I was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford.  I learned much of my science by apprenticeship, assisting my father from the age of eight onwards, and my university degree is in for classics, not science.  I was in a British infantry battalion from 1914 to 1919, and was twice wounded.  I began scientific research in 1910, and became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1919.  I was at Cambridge from 1922-1932 as Reader in Biochemistry, and have been a professor in London University since 1933.  I was visiting professor in the University of Berkeley, Cal., in 1932.  In the same year I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

My scientific work has been varied.  In the field of human physiology I am best known for my work on the effects of taking large amounts of ammonium chloride and other salts.  This has had some application in treating lead and radium poisoning.  In the field of genetics I was the first to discover linkage in mammals, to map a human chromosome, and (with Penrose) to measure the mutation rate of a human gene.  I have also made some minor discoveries in mathematics.

Whilst I may have been a credit to my universities, I have been a trial in other ways.  I was dismissed from Cambridge University in 1926 in connexion with a divorce case, but regained my post on appeal to a higher tribunal, which found that the university authorities had decided to dismiss me without hearing my case.  At present I have refused to evacuate University College, London, and, with two assistants am its sole academic occupant.  I am carrying on research there under difficulties.

Besides strictly scientific books I have written a number of popular works including a book of children’s stories.  I consider that a scientist, if he can do so, should help to render science intelligible to ordinary people, and have done my best to popularize it.

Till 1933 I tried to keep out of politics, but the support given by the British Government to Hitler and Mussolini forced me to enter the political field.  In 1936-1938 I spent three months in Republican Spain, first as an adviser on gas protection, and then as an observer of air raid precautions.  I was in the front line during fighting, and in several air raids behind the line.  Since then I have tried, with complete lack of success, to induce the British Government to adopt air raid protection measures which had proved their efficacy in Spain.

Mr. Chamberlain’s policy, and the recent developments in physics and biology, combined to convince me of the truth of the Marxist philosophy.  Though I am a member of no political party, I have of late years supported the communist party on a number of issues.  At present I am engaged on research in genetics, & research intended to save the lives of members of the British armed forces, and writing and public speaking designed to prevent the spreading of the present war, and if possible to bring about peace.  I am a fairly competent public speaker.

It will be seen that my life has been a full one.  I have been married for 14 years, measure 73 inches, weigh 245 pounds, and enjoy swimming and mountain walking.  I am bald and blue-eyed, a moderate drinker and a heavy smoker. I can read 11 languages and make public speeches in three, but am unmusical.”

J.B.S. Haldane, circa 1940

the story of Gertrud and Auguste Macé

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2020 by xi'an

The discussions about the links between early statistics and eugenism brought back to memory the tragic story of a German-Norman couple, friends of my grandparents, Gertrud(e) and Auguste Macé, whom I met in the mid 1980’s. Auguste Macé was a school friend of my grandmother, born near the harbour city of Granville, Manche and, like my grandparents,  a war orphan, son of a French conscript killed in combat during WW I. During WW II, when Nazi Germany promptly invaded France in the Spring of 1940, Auguste Macé was part of the millions of French conscripts captured by German troops and sent to a stalag, in North-Eastern Germany (Prussia), where he was made to work in farms missing their workforce conscripted to war. In one of these farms, he met Gertrud, daughter of the farm owners, they fell in love, and Gertrud eventually got pregnant. When her pregnancy was revealed, Auguste was sent to another POW camp. And, while Gertrud was able to give birth to a baby boy, she was dreadfully punished by the Nazis for it: as she had broken their racial purity laws, she was sterilised and prevented from having further children, presumably staying in her parents’ farm. At the end of WW II, Auguste was freed by Soviet troops and went searching for Gertrud. It took him around six months of traveling in the chaotic post-war Germany, but he eventually found both her and their son! They then went back to Auguste’s farm, in Normandy, where they spent the rest of their life, with further hardships like the neighbourhood hostility to a Franco-German couple, lost their young adult son in circumstances I cannot remember, and tragically ending their life together in a car accident in 1988, on a trip to Germany… [When remembering this couple, I have been searching on-line for more information about them but apart from finding the military card of Auguste’s father and Auguste’s 1988 death record by INSEE, I could not spot any link in birth or wedding certificates or in the 98 lists of WW II French POWs. Where I could not find my great-uncle, either.]

trip to the past

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2019 by xi'an

When visiting my mother for the Xmas break, she showed me this picture of her grand-father, Médéric, in his cavalry uniform, taken before the First World War, in 1905. During the war, as an older man, he did not come close to the front lines, but died from a disease caught from the horses he was taking care of. Two other documents I had not seen before were these refugee cards that my grand-parents got after their house in Saint-Lô got destroyed on June 7, 1944.

And this receipt for the tinned rabbit meat packages my grand-mother was sending to a brother-in-law who was POW in Gustrow, Germany, receipt that she kept despite the hardships she faced in the years following the D Day landing.

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