Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling Tuesdays: The German Occupation of British Soil

Did you know that the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey were occupied by the Germans during WWII? Between June 1940 and VE Day, more than 40,000 German troops were in residence of these two British territories. (The island of Alderney had been vacated days before the arrival of the Germans.)

Shortly after the Allied defeat in France, England decided to forego a military presence on the islands because of their lack of strategic importance. With the exception of propaganda purposes the Germans didn’t need them either. It was a morale booster for Germany to boast the occupation of British land.

Prior to the invasion, the British government made boats available to the residents of the islands in order to evacuate those who wished to leave. Over forty percent of the population of Guernsey took advantage of the opportunity vacate, however, less than fifteen percent of the residents of Jersey evacuated.

There are many reports of incidents of resistance against the Germans on both islands. After radios were confiscated in 1942, Frank Falla created a clandestine newspaper, an act for which he was deported to a prison in Frankfort. Officials of the Parish of Saint Helier provided ration cards and identity cards for fugitives. A study by Dr Gilly Carr has found examples of small radio sets that were concealed in books, biscuit tins and even light switches. Other resistance was symbolic such as the woman who stitched a dedication to George "V" (for victory) into her tablecloth, her German occupiers apparently oblivious to the fact that George VI was on the throne at the time.

There were just as many stories of collaboration with the Germans. Some of the prisoners joined the British Freikorp (a division of the Waffen SS formed by POWs), and there were dozens of babies born of relationships between island women and German troops. According to papers released in 1992, there is also evidence proving that individuals in the government collaborated with their captors.

Seventy five years later, it’s easy to cast aspersions on people and the decisions they made during a situation about which we know very little. I’d like to believe I would have resisted, or at the very least simply minded my own business and live day to day. Would I have collaborated if it meant saving the lives of friends and family? Hard to say.

What would you have done?



Friday, June 26, 2015

Forensic Friday: Can You Smell That?

Dogs and humans are different. You probably already knew that. But did you realize just how different we are? Think about it. Humans primarily use sight as the way we process the world around us. Dogs, on the other hand, use their sense of smell to interpret their experiences.

Do you own a dog? What happens when you come home? My Boston Terrier, Ben, immediately jump off the couch and sniffs my pants and my shoes. If I bend down to greet him, he sniffs my blouse, face and any other area he can reach. If he could talk, he’d tell me exactly what I had been doing all day.

How is that possible? Well, a human has about five million scent glands as compared to a dog who has anywhere from 125 to 300 million scent glands. Therefore, a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than our own. According to James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well." I don’t know about you, but that is mind-boggling to me.

According to searchandrescueassist.org, dogs have been doing search and rescue for three hundred years. It all began with the St. Bernards of the Monks of the Hospice in the Swiss Alps. The dogs were trained to locate travelers who had become stranded or lost in winter storms while crossing the passes between Switzerland and Italy.

Search and rescue dogs can be broken into two categories: air-scenting dogs and trailing (or tracking) dogs. Air-scenting dogs primarily use airborne human scent to home in on subjects, whereas trailing dogs rely on scent of the specific subject. Specific applications for search and rescue dogs include wilderness, disaster, avalanche, drowning, and cadaver recovery. Cadaver dogs can locate entire bodies (including those buried or submerged), decomposed bodies, body fragments (including blood, tissues, hair, and bones), or skeletal remains; the capability of the dog is dependent upon its training.

In the United States a volunteer civilian organization, Dogs for Defense, helped convince the military to use dogs by training sentry dogs for the military to try out. In 1942 the Army authorized DFD to train 200 sentry dogs. Later the military took over the training, and DFD was appointed the sole procurement agency for the Armed Forces. Dogs were trained as sentry dogs, message carriers, sled dogs in the Arctic, and scout dogs.

Not surprising that dogs are referred to as Man’s Best Friend!

Got a favorite dog story to share? I’d love to hear it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wartime Apple Cake

A single anachronism in a historical novel can draw a reader out of the story and impact the credibility of the writer. Therefore, to ensure my books are accurate, I conduct a tremendous amount of research. I am fortunate that a World War II museum, the Wright Museum, is located in the town where I live. I have access to genuine artifacts and a curator who has answered many questions through the years.

During a recent research junket about the availability and rationing of food during WWII, I stumbled on a website called www.1940sexperiment.wordpress.com. The author of the site is using recipes from the war to help her lose weight. I wasn’t interested in the dieting part of her site, but I was fascinated with her use of wartime recipes.

I’m not much of a cook, but I love to bake. Probably because that’s what I love to eat! I was intrigued by the idea of doing hands-on research by using a wartime recipe and baking without or with a limited amount of certain items that we take for granted in the 21st century, such as eggs, sugar, and milk.

In possession of a bag of apples I needed to use before they spoiled, I wandered the internet until I found a recipe that used ingredients I already had in the house. The recipe, originally from the 1943 Victory Cookbook, came from a blog authored by a staff member of the National D-day Museum (www.ddaymemorial.blogspot.com) in Bedford, VA: “Spicy Apple Coffee Cake.”

I was rather skeptical of how good the cake would be when the recipe created a dough rather than a batter, and an ungreased cake pan was called for. (I had visions of hacking the cake out of the pan – didn’t happen). The end result was a huge success. The cake was deliciously sweet despite the reduced amount of sugar in it and had a texture more bread-like than cake-like. I’ve already had requests to make it again!

Here is the recipe:
2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening

2/3 to 3/4 cup milk
2 to 3 apples (your favorite type)

1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter

½ cup nippy cheese (I didn’t use and never missed it)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and set aside.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Cut in shortening (and cheese, if using it). Add milk to make a soft dough. Turn onto lightly floured board and knead for about 30 seconds. Pat the dough into an ungreased 9-inch cake pan. Pare and core the apples. Slice them into 1/4” slices. Arrange apples in petal design on top of dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar/cinnamon mixture and dot with butter.

Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.



Monday, June 22, 2015

How to Start a Mystery (Or any other genre) Book Club

image: clipartbest.com
I’m a voracious reader. There are always at least a half dozen books on my night stand or in my office waiting to be read. How about you? Are you constantly on the lookout for the next book you want to read? Or do you find yourself sharing thoughts at church socials or over the water cooler at work about the latest book you read?

If so, you’re probably a great candidate for a book club. But what if there isn’t a club nearby? Guess what? You can start one yourself.


It’s not hard. Here’s what I suggest:

Determine the logistics of the meetings: how often will you want to meet, time, location, etc.
Determine the style of the club. Will it be scholarly/academic or social/bonding? Folks will want to know this up front.
Brainstorm a list of friends and family who might be a good fit for the club. BUT don’t confine yourself to only people you know. Post a sign at your local library or bookstore, or advertise in the newspaper. Strangers quickly become friends over a shared interest in books.
At your first meeting, decide on the title selection policy, and it can be as easy as a majority rules vote. Lay other ground rules as well. Trust me. It’s best to handle them before the club begins.
Select a facilitator for each book. Just because you started the club, doesn’t mean you have to lead
every discussion.
Work with your local reference librarian on how to find author information and reviews about the book. This will help move the discussion along.
Consider keeping a group journal. It can be as simple as a list of books selections or as involved as themes and plot points discussed.
image: clipartbest.com
All groups have a life cycle. Your book club may function for years. Even better, a sub group may form. Or you may discover that after a half dozen books, you’re ready to call it quits. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself. When it stops being fun, it’s time to move along.

Got a success story about your book club? I’d love to hear it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Selah Saturday: Come as You Are

“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

My husband and I recently went to England on vacation where Spring has already arrived. In addition to visiting many of the famous buildings in London such as Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London, we had a chance to enjoy Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

Both parks are beautifully landscaped and filled with numerous gardens, ponds and statutes. Foliage was coming on the perennials, and splashes of color were provided by the crocuses, daffodils, snapdragons, tulips, and primroses. Swans, ducks, gulls, herons, geese and cormorants played and fed in the water while, jays, robins, thrushes, and finches flitted among the trees.

Along the shore, the pigeons vied for attention. Not from us, but from each other. The male pigeons were quite a sight. If the female pigeons they wanted to impress weren’t looking at them, they would either peck at her back so she’d turn around, or they’d take flight then land in front of her. Once the male pigeon had his potential wife’s attention, he would puff up his neck and sing to her all while performing an intricate dance. Usually she turned away and continued searching for food, so the poor, male pigeon would have to start the ritual all over again.

Watching the pigeons got me thinking about what we as Christians often do in our relationship with God. We think we have to look a certain way or perform all sorts of fancy moves to get his attention and make him love us. The good news is that God loves us no matter what we do, and often times in spite of what we do. It’s not about the number of committees on which we serve or how many people we bring into the Kingdom, although those are both worthwhile pursuits. It’s about approaching God as we are, with child-like faith and gratitude that we can rest in his arms. In the days ahead, try not to let busy-ness and preconceived expectations prevent you from experiencing sweet fellowship with your heavenly Father. And next time you see a pigeon, remember God loves you just as you are.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Talk Show Thursday: My life as a War Correspondent

Ruth Brown, main character in my historical mystery series, is a war correspondent in London during WWII. What is life like for these plucky women? Let's find out:

Linda: How did you come to be a war correspondent?

Ruth: Well, fortunately my editor, Mr. Isaacs, apparently has connections. Normally, it could have taken months of paperwork, interviews and waiting. But he was able to pull some strings and get me certified in a matter of weeks. You see, the issue is that men don't want women in the journalistic ranks, especially covering combat. I think it helped that I'm not interested in going to the front. I'm covering London.

Linda: With all the bombing, London must have felt a bit like the front.

Ruth: That it did. I tell you, I'm so impressed with the citizens of London. They carry on as if nothing is happening. They are determined that Hitler will not win this one. The other day one of the secretaries apologized for being tardy. I discovered later that her home had been bombed. No wonder she was late! But she didn't use that for an excuse. Yes, I'm very impressed.

Linda:  Can you tell me about your latest story?

Ruth:  Sure. I wrote a piece about the children, elderly and infirm being evacuated from London.
You should have seen the train stations. Packed with kids of all ages, tagged like a piece of luggage, moms and dads crying. It was tough to see, but I understand their desire to keep their children safe. I hope it all works out in the end.

Linda: How do your articles get published?

Ruth: Well, I'm a stringer. That means I get paid by the piece rather than receiving a salary from the news agency. I submit to United Press each time and it's not a given that they'll take my stuff. But I'm lucky. My home paper always carries my articles and is still paying me my salary.

Linda: Can you tell us what you're working on currently?

Ruth: I'm afraid not. A journalist is always afraid of being scooped.

Linda: Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Operation Pied Piper

In 1938, Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal, was tasked with keeping vulnerable civilians (pregnant women, children, elderly, and the disabled) safe within the six cities that had been deemed as potential targets of Hitler’s bombing should Britain and Germany go to war. Anderson devised a plan to evacuate these civilians over a four day period when necessary. On September 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland, Anderson executed the plan.
From the government’s standpoint, the evacuation program achieved its goal. Of the approximately 60,000 English civilians who were killed during WWII, only 5,000 were children. In the opinion of the evacuees and their families-biological and foster-the program was a mixed success. The Imperial War Museum and others have conducted interviews with evacuees, and many memoirs and fictionalized accounts have also been written.
The common thread I found during my research was the fear experienced by the children, whose age ranged from two or three years old to sixteen or seventeen. Most didn’t understand why they were being separated from their parents, nor did they know where they were going or for how long.
With name tags tied to their coats, the children were evacuated by bus, train and boat to locations
within Britain as well as overseas to Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Upon arrival, the children stood in churches, community centers, and train stations or on docks gripping their gas masks and suitcases waiting to hear the words, “I’ll take that one.” Once selected by a family, these urban children and their rural hosts dealt with significant cultural and class differences.
Given the large numbers of people involved, individual experiences ran the gamut from excellent to terrible. On Dec. 6, 1941, Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, reported the results of a 12-month study she had authorized. Its conclusion was that “separation from their parents is a worse shock for children than a bombing.”
Fast forward six years later to the end of the war. Scores of children returned home as veritable strangers to their parents and siblings, never fully adjusting to living back in the city with them. Through hard work, others were able to re-establish family relationships.
I cannot imagine the mixed emotions felt by the evacuees’ parents: a love strong enough to send their children away to safety mingled with regret at missing out on the development of their children.

What would you have done?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Famous and Not-so-Famous

When I decided to re-launch my blog, I knew I wanted to explore the field of fictional detectives. There are so many out there – beginning with perhaps the most famous, Sherlock Holmes. Even non-mystery readers are familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's intrepid sleuth. In fact, Sherlock has become synonymous with the word detective.

I like Sherlock well enough, but tend to be drawn more toward amateur sleuths. Characters like G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown or S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance. Favorites include Ellery Queen, Lord Peter Wimsey and Nick and Nora Charles.

While rummaging around on the internet to compile a list of fictional detectives,
I stumbled on a list that included quite a few characters I had never heard of (but can't wait to read or watch):

Mr. and Mrs. North: This couple first appeared in the New York Times during
the 1930s. Short vignettes were written by husband and wife team, Frances and Richard Lockridge. Ultimately 26 novels were written, followed by a long-running Broadway production, movie and radio program.

Montague Egg: This character appeared in several short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers. A traveling salesman by profession, Montague did not go searching for murders to solve. He typically stumbled upon them by chance. During his adventures, he often quoted from The Saleman's Handbook.

Hildegarde Withers: Created by Stuart Palmer, Boston, MA native, Miss Withers is a school teacher who turns amateur sleuth. Palmer's books were published between 1931 and 1954. Reminscent of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, the character is a umbrella-toting spinster. Several movies were produced in the 1930s.

Keep an eye on my Monday posts to discover more about these and other fictional detectives. Got a favorite? Let me know.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: Murder on the Home Front

Every now and then I read a book that stays with me long after I have finished the last page. That happened to me recently when I stumbled upon Molly Lefebure's "Murder on the Home Front." Originally published in 1955 as "Evidence for the Crown," it was reissued in 2014 by Hatchette Books.

Miss Molly, as she became known, began her career as a newspaper journalist. A chance meeting with pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson led her to change jobs and become his secretary between 1941 and 1945. She was the first woman to work in a mortuary, and over time was present at more than 8,000 post mortems!

Written in conversational style and interspersed with wit and spot-on
observations about people and events in war time England, the memoir reads like a fictional whodunit. As with many women at that time, Molly quit her job after the war to get married and raise her children. Fortunately for her readers, she returned to writing and published children's books, novels, two studies on drug addiction as well as a biography on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 93.

Highly recommended! Available for those local to Wolfeboro at The Country Bookseller or you can find it on Amazon.

What book have you read recently that made an impression on you?

Friday, June 12, 2015

CSI: The Early Years

As part of my blog re-launch, I'll be running some of my past posts. Here is one of the more popular ones:

More than 2,000 years before William Peterson or Marg Helgenberger prowled Las Vegas to collect evidence and solve crimes, the attending physician for Julius Caesar stated that of the 23 wounds on his body, only one was fatal. Fast forward to 1247 when the first textbook of forensic medicine was published in China. Nearly 400 years later the first book on document examination was published in France. The wheels of progress ground slowly until 1829 when Scotland Yard was established - a mere six years later the Yard used the first bullet comparison to catch a murderer.

After that the discoveries came fast and furiously. Here are just a few:

  • 1836 – James Marsh develops a test for arsenic in tissues
  • 1853 – First test for hemoglobin
  • 1863 – First published paper on time-since-death determinations using temperature
  • 1883 – Alphonse Bertillon invents anthropometry to identify and differentiate criminals
  • 1891 – First book published describing the use of physical evidence to solve crimes
  • 1892 – Francis Galton classifies fingerprints into the basic patterns that are still used today

Enter the computer. Thanks to technology, information can now be collected in
databases and shared across borders. One such database is IAFIS - the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System – the national fingerprint and criminal history system. It is the largest biometric database in the world, housing the fingerprints and criminal histories for more than 70 million subjects in the criminal master file, along with more than 34 million civil prints. According to fbi.gov the average response time for IAFIS is 27 minutes. Compare that to the weeks or months spent combing over paper records in the past and consider that in 2010 IAFIS processed over 61 million submissions!

But wait! There's more. About twenty five years ago, the use of DNA matching became an integral part of solving crimes, and in 1995 the world's first national DNA database was set up in the UK. The US followed a short time later, and thanks to this wonder of science criminals have been caught, cold cases have been solved and innocent people have been released from prison.

I'll never look at those sticky fingerprints on the kitchen counter the same way again! How about you?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Meet Ruth Brown, WWII Correspondent

Ruth Brown is the main character in my historical mystery series. I have completed three manuscripts and will shortly begin the fourth. Here's a brief interview so you can get to know her:

Linda: Thanks for spending some time with us. Why don't you tell us a bit about yourself, Ruth.

Ruth: I'm a New Englander, born and bred, being raised in a small town in New Hampshire. I was a journalist with my hometown newspaper where I primarily covered the social pages. I was bit by the investigative bug when I inadvertently stumbled on some illegal goings-on with our town manager. Then in June 1942 I became a stringer with the AP wire service and got stationed in London.

Linda: You joined the AP in order to follow your sister's killer to England where you managed to bring him to justice. You also helped the police solve two other murders. How did that come about?

Ruth: Well, the murders found me. I didn't go looking for them. The first time,
our boarding house was bombed, and when I went back later to pack up some of our surviving goods, I fell through the floor onto a skeleton. The second time, a good friend of mine was killed just as I arrived to take her to lunch.

Linda: That must have been scary! I also understand you've received threats as a result of some of your newspaper articles. What happened?

Ruth: Actually just one so far, but it's not unusual for an investigative reporter to stir up emotions and receive letters from readers. I wrote an article explaining the difference between communism, socialism and fascism. One of my readers accused me of being a Fascist. Fortunately, nothing has come of the threat thus far.

Linda: What are you working on now?

Ruth: I've started a series on the how the war has impacted women. Job opportunities, military service, volunteer roles. That sort of thing.

Linda: Sounds interesting. I can't wait to read your work. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to chatting with you next Thursday.

Ruth: Thanks for having me.