Wednesday 26 February 2020

Helmets of the Great War

A cornucopia of helms or mayhap a menagerie?

At the opening of the Great War, in August 1914, all warring nations went into combat wearing cloth, leather or felt helmets. The Germans wore the distinctive boiled leather, pickelhaube, resplendent with a decorative spike. After the great battles of maneuver in the summer and autumn of 1914, the war settled into its distinctive pattern of static trench conflict. It was soon noticed by all combatants that their soldiery was suffering greatly from head wounds, mostly fatal, from exploding shells. Even the cover of the trenches offered no protection from shells designed to burst in flight, thus delivering a deluge of death from above. The answer, of course, was to design a metal helmet to deflect and absorb shell splinters and ball from shrapnel shells. The French in 1915 introduced a metal skull cap designed to fit under the cloth kepi. This was a stop-gap solution and it was clear that a more rigorously engineered helmet was required.

Both the German and British armies in 1915 were considering how to protect their soldier’s heads. Both nations took a lead from medieval designs. The British copied the ‘kettle’ style helm beloved by English archers during the ‘100 years’ war with France. The Germans took their inspiration from the late medieval sallet style of headwear. Each design had strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. It is a common misconception that the helmets were designed to be immune to rifle fire; this was not the case. A helm manufactured to stop rifle bullets would have been too heavy and cumbersome for practical battle use. Helmets were primarily designed to resist low-velocity shell fragments and clods thrown up from air and ground bursting ordinance.

British ‘Brodie’ Helmet
The Brodie helmet was issued to British troops in time for the great Somme offensive of July 1916. It consisted of a shallow bowl with a simple extended rim. It was designed to provide maximum protection from air bursts and in this regard, it worked rather well. The open design also allowed good all-round vision and hearing was not impeded. The helmet was easy to stamp out from a single sheet of metal and was inexpensive to produce. However, because of its open design, it provided little protection from munitions arriving from the front, sides, and back. Paradoxically, it was noticed that the number of head wounds actually increased fivefold after the introduction of the helmet. Some thought that the helmets emboldened the men to think they were invulnerable to head trauma and therefore were exposing themselves unnecessarily. There was even a move afoot, from high, to discard the helmets altogether. But, luckily for the men, wise heads prevailed, especially among those with a sound grounding in statistics and it was quickly realised that this vexed anomaly was due to the helmet providing effective protection from head wounds as soldiers without helmets were unlikely to survive a shrapnel wound to the head. The helmet, even if it did not completely stop the projectile, at least lessened the damage caused.

Brodie Helmet

German 'Stahlhelm'
The Germans adopted a helmet designed to provide maximum protection from incoming projectiles. The dome of the helmet was deep and leaves of metal sloped down across the sides and front. Also, the helmet was extended at the nape of the neck. Due to the stahlhelm's enclosed construction, both hearing and vision were restricted to some degree. The helmet underwent various degrees of modification during the interwar years and the Second World War to alleviate these problems. Characteristically German, the helm was over-engineered and because of its complex shape was time-consuming to manufacture and relatively expensive. The side horns on the Great War helmets enabled the fixing of an additional front plate. This plate was usually issued to snipers and was supposedly proof against rifle fire. The carapace adornment was not issued to general troops due to its weight and cumbersome nature.

Stahlhelm modeled by a pesky Hun

French ‘Adrian’ Helmet
The French Adrian helmet was the first effective head protector to be introduced by the combatants. The design was apparently inspired by the French fireman’s helmet (oo la la, missus). The helmet was composed of a deep bowl with two separate brim pieces welded into position. To the front, a riveted cap badge was introduced and on the top, a metal comb was attached, again with rivets. The helmet was light and the metal thin in comparison to British and German helmets. The holes for the rivets introduced weak spots and compromised the integrity of the helmet. The peaks to front and back provided decent protection to the nape and upper face however, the sides were woefully unprotected. Also, the helmet was complex to make and involved riveting and welding multiple pieces. Therefore, the design was expensive and difficult to manufacture. Later in the war, the French acknowledged the inherent weakness of the front badge adornment and replaced it with a simple painted emblem. To sum up: the helmet was typically French and owed more to style than functionality.

Adrian Helmet

All types of helmet had an internal webbing structured for adjustment. The webbing was designed to leave a space between the wearer’s head and the helmet. This reflected sound practice and prevented dings and dents from impinging on the soldier’s delicate bonce.

In conclusion: The British helmet could be considered the best trench helmet as it provided excellent protection from projectiles raining from above. However, due to its lack of side and back protection, it was less efficient than the German stahlhelm in open combat. The French helm provided the least protection of the three designs because of the thin metal used and design weaknesses. The best, all-round helmet, in my opinion, was the German stahlhelm and it is a testament to the helm’s efficiency that modern combat helmets contain many features of the original German design.

Friday 21 February 2020

Crony Virus: Part I

As I negotiate the highways and byways of the great metropolis of Tipton I am often accosted by random drunk folk asking for 20 quid in order that they can indulge their culinary appetite at Mr. Wong’s authentic donner kebab house and exotic disease centre. I look askance and in abject horror berate accordingly: “Have you not heard of the crony virus. A disease so virulent that it can species hop from a ferret to man and back to a slug in a single afternoon. A contagion so contagious that you can become infected simply by looking askance at the virus in a crowded room. A virus so deadly that once it clamps onto your writhing moist organs, you lose all violation of bowel movements and collapse in a disgruntled heap of bubbling ichor. And didn’t you know that Mr. Wong's kebab and rat rescue emporium is a seething hotbed of riotous organisms awaiting a billet to inhabit in order to fester/foster bodily havoc”.

The object of my distilled and disgruntled wisdom usually scurries off with alacrity to find solace in the arms of the local ‘lady of the night’, ten Gilda Hilda. So gentle readers here is Flaxen Saxon’s take on this ‘crony problem’ that skulks and hulks amongst the good folk of Tipton. Take heed and be cognisant.

The virus first alighted and emerged in Tipton after the 8.30pm 127 bus (Birmingham to Tipton, via Smethwick and Coleshill) careened/careered into the local midden pit. The calamitous calamity stirred up detritus and debris that had lain hidden and unbidden in the midden for 1,200 years. An elder virus that had slumbered for a millennium suddenly awoke as if from a slumber (it had been asleep). The virus’ first stop was the Birmingham to Dudley canal. Here it picked its way through the dead dogs and moldy perambulators til it espied (metaphorically speaking- viral particles lack sense organs) the indigenous, itinerant denizen of these parts: ‘Filthy Eric’ (for it is he). At this time ‘our Eric’ happened to be engaged in scraping off the patina from his bespattered and encrusted sundry underwear and dispatching the resultant crud into the foaming, broiling grime besmirched waters that comprise/compose the canals of Tipton. Our intrepid viral particle wafted upon the prevailing Tipton wind and hereby inculcated into Eric’s exposed nether bits and once ensconced began to replicate akimbo........

The virus first became prevalent in Tipton during the 9th century. At the time Tipton was ruled by the unlearned Saxon king: Athelstan ‘The Unready’. This was a time of war and famine and the kingdom of Tipton was gripped in a deadly conflict with the adjacent kingdom of Dudlleeee on Canal. It was whispered on the wind that the crony virus was introduced into the kingdom by a wandering band of gypos. These begrimed, filthy, dirty, scum laden thieving bastards harboured a host, nay a retinue of disease organisms, including impetigo of the kneecaps and scrofula. But it was the crony virus that decimated the good burghers of Tipton. The Tiptonites in order to rid themselves of the pestilent gypos hatched a cunning plan. For it was spread amongst the gypos that a cascade of scrap iron, and the occasional ferret, was about to be dropped awf at the local midden pit. And so the gypos rushed en masse to the midden pit to forage ferrous and ferrets as is their wont. Once the gypos were ensconced and distracted by the shiny iron and the occasional ferret athwart their pantaloons, the thegns of Tipton fell upon them in a frenzy and smote every gypo that tarried in the midden pit, that day. King Athelstan dispatched four score and ten gypos with his mighty sword, ‘Arse, big fat arse, biter’. While his brother Nigel did account for a further fifty gypos with a mighty swing of his double-headed Dane axe, ‘Twat cruncher’. The blood did rage and the blood did spill forming rivulets of crimson clot that soaked/cloaked the midden pit in a sheath of retribution. Afterward, the Tiptonites, satiated and sanguine, heaped the gypo corpses on the midden pit and set fire to the foul vile carrion in an orgy of conflagration. It was hoped that the virus had been vanquished from the land but little did the Tiptonites know that the virus was hibernating and awaiting a more propitious epoch to release its seeds of doom and dread........

To be continued...

Medication is overrated.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Martinborough 2.0

What follows is a frank and truthful account of the day’s proceedings at Martinborough fair: I do solemnly declare.

The plan, on this fateful day, was for an early rise in order to reach Martinborough town before 7am. But the best-laid plans..... Anyway, all involved developed an unusual affinity with their beds that early morn and therefore we awoke from our slumber way past the time originally planned. Luckily we had prepared and stocked our transport the night before and we were soon on our way to sunny Martinborough, hurray!

We managed to arrive in the centre of town at about 7.45am. Already the environs were a seething mass of humanity and it occurred to us that we might struggle to find our way through the writhing crowd. Luckily, our pitch was situated in a car park and therefore we were able to traverse the area without too much trouble. By this time the other stall holders were in position and hawking their wares with gay abandon. Within 20 minutes we had managed to raise the awning, position the trestle tables and place our bows, arrows, assorted arm guards and slingshots for critical inspection. Our knife selection was carefully arrayed in the perspex box allotted for their confinement: Health and Safety is always our main concern, except when it isn’t.

Within a minute of arranging our goods we were approached by two young men of the parish: stout burghers, tall as trees and strong as oak. They expressed an interest in our knife selection and promptly purchased two of our finest ‘bush knives’. More knife orders were to follow and a distinct pattern of purchase was soon to emerge: the knives and slingshots were hot sellers and were whisked from the stall as if caught in a maelstrom of doom. The bows on display elicited much interest and my son and I grew increasingly hoarse as the day progressed as groups coalesced on our stall frontage demanding to hear of tales of daring-do of a time long past....... My ancestors in serried/arrayed ranks swam before my beautiful blue eyes. Stalwart yeomen bedecked in gambeson and kettle hat marched past clutching poles of mighty yew. Strained sinews send forth feathered shafts of ash, finally to rest and lay low the finest chivalry of the French nation..... Tears did upwell and roll like a babbling brook down my fair cheeks. I blame the French onion vendor in the adjacent stall. Damn syn-propanethial-S-oxide! I considered charging my son with the task of dispatching the Gallic offender responsible for assaulting my lachrymose faculties, with a yard shaft, but on second thoughts I considered the action ill-advised. I’ve digressed.

As the day progressed our supply of quality knives and slingshots became exhausted. Although many expressed an interest in our bows it became clear that none were prepared to put forth the significant outlay to purchase a quality bow and associated accessories. This was as predicted so we were not overly discouraged. The plan was to promote our brand to as many folks as possible and the large Martinborough venue amply provided for this. In the end, we made a shade under 500 dollars. A reasonable return for a day’s toil. The only glitch: some light-fingered nerk managed to steal a single arrow. Not a catastrophic loss but underscores the need for eternal vigilance.

After a long day of hawking our wares and explaining the arcane mysteries of the archer’s craft, we finally packed up and placed our goods on my son in law’s pick up truck. To end our arduous day of toiling under the hot New Zealand sun, we stopped off at the local hostelry to imbibe a couple of fine ales.

The whole procedure will be repeated on the 7th March and we have made plans to replenish our stock. Hopefully, the weather will be glorious and the day will unwind as before. We may try to promote one of cheaper entry-level bows. Although relatively cheap, the bow is a sturdy and consistent ‘shooter’ and a great introduction to the sport. Anyway, I will pen a progress report of the coming day unless I become terminally bored with the whole thing or am distracted by the latest shiny thing. Arse.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

The Aether

"To deny the aether is ultimately to assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatsoever"   
Albert Einstein

Aether, the intractable and intangible aether: the substance that never was, perhaps. The concept of 'The Aether’ has a long and delectable history. Aristotle in the 4th century BC theorised that the aether was the 5th element and together with the four terrestrial elements, earth, air, fire, and water were essential components comprising the divine universe. However, the aether was altogether superior to its four lesser earthly elements as Aristotle considered the heavenly bodies solely formed from this mysterious substance. As the West began its ascent from the intellectual miasma and stagnation of the ‘Dark Ages’, sometime in the 13th century, the concept of ‘aether’ transmogrified into the quintessential element of alchemy. 

Like the ancients, medieval scholars considered the aether divine but it was not confined/consigned exclusively to the heavens. It was envisaged that all things on earth, even humble rocks, partook of the divine nature. The aether was bound and invisible and could only be perceived and let loose by God. The great polymath of the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton, was a firm adherent of the aether. For Newton, the aether was an elastic medium permeating all space and its presence was essential for the propagation of vibrations. Most folk, if they consider him at all, think of Newton as a hard thinking rationalistic scientist, and there is some truth in this. However, Newton had a dark irrational side and was a fervent follower and practitioner of the pseudoscientific activity of alchemy. After Newton’s death, his ‘work’ in this area was actively suppressed by a scientific community fearing ridicule.

The Dutch scientist, Christian Huygens (d 1695) considered the presence of the aether essential for the propagation of light waves. By this time Newton’s conceptualisation of light as consisting of particles (corpuscles) had fallen into disfavour due to lights demonstratable wave-like characteristics. Of course, Newton’s corpuscular theory would reemerge when it was discovered that light could behave, depending on circumstances, as a particle or a wave (wave/particle duality).

By the 19th century, the aether was becoming rather troublesome. For here was a substance that was supposed to fill all space but it stubbornly remained invisible to scientists and it could not be measured or detected- a most perplexing phenomenon. In 1887, Michelson and Morley designed the ultimate experiment (at least to their mind) to determine once and for all whether the aether was real or whether it was a figment born of a phantasm spawned by a fancy....... Our intrepid scientists reasoned that light should travel at different speeds as it traversed the aether in different directions. As the earth rotated through space/aether, it should generate an ‘aetheric wind’ which would slow down light beams travelling contrary to the earth’s orbit. The experiment was set up in a basement and the apparatus was set upon a large pool of mercury for stability and accuracy. The experiment showed no evidence of ‘light drag’ and thus the concept of the aether was abandoned. Physicists had to face the strange conclusion that light travelled through the vacuum of space without a meddling, mediating, manifold, medium, manifest.

By the 20th century, and after 2,000 years as a cogent theory, ‘The Aether’ seemed well and truly discredited. There was still the problem that all known waves, except light, required a medium through which to travel. How can light waves be propagated in the vast vacuum of space without a propagating substrate? In our modern age, it has become clear, that the empty vacuum of space is not as empty as first thought. Space is imbued with a quantum field: atoms come into existence and disappear spontaneously and the fabric of space is capable of expansion, therefore, resulting in cosmic inflation. It was hoped that Einstein’s theories of relativity would one day provide a grand unifying theory of physics, but this has not been the case. While Einstein’s genius was able to explain the universe of the very large and very fast it has not been so successful at the quantum level. Leading physicists are contemplating the unthinkable: Einstein’s theories are not the answer and another theory awaits to fill the void- an overarching universal paradigm that will unite the quantum and cosmic worlds. It has become apparent that Einstein’s special and general relativity theories are at odds with the newly acquired and elusive concepts of dark energy and dark matter. Although we haven’t been able to observe this exotic non-baryonic matter and energy it is likely to be the driving force in the universe's expansion. Indeed, according to current cosmology, 68% of all energy in the universe is present in this occult (I mean 'occult' in the hidden sense with no reference to the supernatural) form. Mayhap dark energy is the force pervading all space and hence it may not be scientifically impudent to call it the fifth force of the universe or aether. Thus after a hiatus of 100 years, the concept of 'The Aether' is making a come back in serious scientific circles. If it does exist as a real quantum phenomena, then we should be able to detect its presence, eventually. If not, it will have to remain as a powerful, but theoretical concept. From this scientific darkness, we await enlightenment.   

Friday 7 February 2020

Are you going to Martinborough fair?

I was hoping to post this piece before the 1st of February, but alas real life intruded and I had to postpone completing this post. Therefore, this post has been edited and completed after the fact. A most unsatisfactory eventuality but necessary considering the intervening/interfering and interposing circumstances. Arse.

And so it came to pass......

This coming Saturday (1st February 2020) unveils the Martinborough Fair: the premier event in the Wairarapa calendar. For on this day (for it is none other) the centre of Martinborough (twinned with Tipton) is closed to all vehicular traffic as up to 500 stalls set pitch and ply their goods according to their want. And on this day, Flaxen Saxon and his son, Adelbert ‘The Unsteady’ will be hawking our various and sundry goods, comprising: bows, arrows, archery arm guards, protective finger tabs, slingshots, and knives- the stabby variety. 

This year, we will set a stall showcasing our bows and archery accessories as a prelude to the launch of our new venture (nay adventure‘Saxon Archery’. My son has assured his hoary old father that the website is about to go live and subsequent to this prestigious event, bows will be offered for sale on ‘Trade Me’- the New Zealand equivalent of e-bay. Addendum: the web site is indeed ‘live’ and can be accessed here: WWW.SAXON.CO.NZ

A lot of effort has been put forth, especially by my son, who has been responsible for the construction, design, and population of the site with articles. My role has been to provide content in the form of articles and take a few photos/videos of bows in action.

The weather this Saturday tide is predicted to be fine and our ‘pitch’ of 18 square metres will encompass a 3m x 3m awning to provide respite from the unrelenting Wairarapa sun. This represents a sound policy as the sun and the heat in this part of the world, and at this time, has been known to send sensible and sane men quite mad. What effect it will have on my tenuous grip on reality is difficult to predict.

An early start is predicted and it is hoped we will alight in Martinborough about 7.00am (we made it for 7.45am- but more on this is in the followup post). This will provide ample to time to pitch site, assemble the canopy and trestle tables allowing the placement of bows and associated fine accouterments.

Our main items for sale will be the ‘Thunnor’ and ‘Frigga’ Bows. Thunnor has a draw weight of about 39lbs. This bow is aimed (geddit?) at the more experienced archer who appreciates a quality bow at an intermediate draw weight. Although the bow is sold as ‘bare’ and ‘denuded’ (redundant tautology), attachments can be added, such as, sights, a clicker, a sophisticated arrow rest and stabiliser rods. This bow would suit an individual hankering for an Olympic style bow and consequently, the bow is fully ILF compliant (see/seek explanatory note at the end of this blog post). The riser is composed of durable magnesium, aluminum alloy, while the limbs are made of glass fibre overlaying a wood core.

Our second bow (Frigga) is suitable for the novice archer and is priced accordingly. This allows the newbie to savour, nay wallow, in the delightful archery experience without spending/expending too much gelt (tight arse wads). The bow breaks down into three pieces for ease of carrying and can be reassembled in but the blink of an eye without tools. Also, the draw weight is a tad lighter than Thunnor at a mere 30lbs. The riser is aluminum, and like Thunnor, the limbs are a mix of fibre glass and wood. Traditional bows will be available for archers wishing to pursue a pure and unsophisticated archery experience. Feel the atavistic thrill that can only be obtained from the simple, but alluring, ‘stick and string’ and let us not forget their historical and cultural significance. In addition, I’ll demonstrate a few of my own bows, to a populace agog, such as the English longbow and a cavalcade of Asian horse bows. Perhaps I shall be moved to put forth a show whereby I will exhibit my arrow casting skills by shooting an apple off Adelbert’s head..........Not to worry- I have another son in reserve.

Lastly, there will appear a gaggle of fine knives for sale. A mixture of ‘folders’ and ‘bush’ style knives will be exhibited under a custom-designed glass spring-hinged draw container. Health and Safety always remains a top priority with the flaxen haired one and the cunningly fashioned container is designed to shut down like a steel bear trap and remove the digits from any ‘customer’ with light-fingered tendencies. All fingers thusly and justly removed will be returned to their rightful owners after a thorough and exhaustive inspection.

To be honest, we are not expecting to sell much in terms of inventory. Tis more about showcasing our brand and promoting our company to a wider audience. It is estimated that about 15,000 people will attend this year, so it well worth the effort.

Anyway, we shall see how it all transpires. Hopefully, we will elicit a lot of healthy interest. A further post will ensue next week to provide feedback on the day’s proceedings.

Note: The acronym ILF stands for International Limb Fitting. Limbs of this type can be fitted to any number of ILF risers. Thereby limbs can be exchanged and the bow upgraded without discarding the riser. This enables a cost-effective bow system not limited/allied to a particular archery brand.